Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Girl Who Cried Wolf, Part I

A woman walks the streets of New York City. She is wolf-whistled and catcalled in uninvited ways by men whose paths she crossed over and over and over again. The video was a successful marketing attempt by a group seeking to combat “street harassment.” It went viral, and quickly.

Men kinda suck, was my inevitable and initial reaction. Why do we do this crap? Why do we, as a species, suck? What personal fulfillment does this kind of behavior give a man?

Easily the most disturbing part of the video is when one guy sallies up alongside the woman and walks with her for five minutes. Uninvited. Unwanted. With absolutely no chance of Romeoing his way into a relationship of any kind or length. But walking with her anyway. What kind of crime is it, exactly? I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. The eyeball test says what he’s doing is wrong, and that she shouldn’t have to tolerate it.

Upon repeated viewings, however, it gets more difficult to take offense at the flippant, shouted grunts and compliments-called-harassment by random dudes up and down the street. Are these comments uninvited, unwanted, offensive? Perhaps. Then again, so are the comments people make to one another from inside their cars. And so are the things we say to referees or players on an opposing team. If we criminalize these “assaulting” behaviors, the Cameron Crazies will end up on death row, right? Perhaps I should continue reading, discussing, considering...

A few decades from now, we’ll realize 2014 was a critical moment in the cultural struggle for feminism and women’s rights. I worry we’ll realize that too many feminists spent too much time fighting the wrong fights for the wrong reasons, alienated too many men by making all of them feel culpable for the actions of the few, and set many of their causes back in the process.

#YesMeansYes, #GamerGate, #YesAllWomen, Street Harassment. These are just a handful of the salient 2014 topics around issues of women, women’s rights, and our (changing… or unchanging) notions of equality and equal rights.

To follow these kinds of issues in the media and not snap to judgment is practically impossible. Too many moronic sideline commentators, too many journalists and opinionators paid to react, to judge as quickly and extremely as possible, before expending even 20 of their brain cells genuinely contemplating the matter at hand. Why actually learn about an issue when farting out a reactionary opinion is so simple?

It’s amazing what happens when you research these issues. Answers stop being so binary, so easy or obvious. Details stop being so clear-cut. What I crave, being an extrovert, is a chance to talk through these matters, to discuss and debate, preferably with those who can bring a different perspective to the matter, who can offer me insights I cannot achieve on my own. I cannot learn much in an echo chamber.

Take, for example, the #YesMeansYes slash Affirmative Consent movement in colleges. The general idea is that advancing sexually without clear and explicit consent from your partner can be judged as sexual assault by the educational institution. Said institution can suspend or expel you for doing so.

The immediate reaction to this rule, for even many (if not most) reasonable and sensitive males, is apoplexy. It seems to be counter to our entire notion of a healthy justice system. Men* can be found guilty with minimal chance of defending themselves, of being presumed innocent. (* - c’mon. This is gonna mostly be about men.)

And you read the initial Ezra Klein piece about it where he damns the idea with faint praise. And you read as the Internets gang tackles Klein and labels him 80 different kinds of idiot.

And you read the open letter from Harvard Law professors decrying and denouncing such an unjust law.

I instinctively feel aggravated. I imagine scenarios where I could have, as a naive 19-year-old, found myself being accused of awful things despite being one of the most non-aggressive, non-assertive lusty heterosexual males to have ever attended college. I wouldn't even dance in direct contact with a girl on the most crowded of dance floors unless she practically wrote the invitation on her forehead, but that doesn't keep a male from imagining all of the land mines, all of the nightmarish pitfalls of being wrongfully accused.

But then I read Ezra Klein’s response to all his detractors. Students get kicked out of college all the time without a jury trial, without any real judge rendering any real legal judgment. They’re called cheaters, usually, or they’re breaking some other aspect of a school’s honor code.

And that’s been happening in schools for a long time. And no one has been angry about it. In fact, most people are proud, mega-proud, for having graduated from an institution with a strict and tightly-enforced honor code that kicks possibly-innocent people out on occasion.

And I realize that my initial anger is -- and this is almost always true -- misguided. So I try to readjust my mindset and approach to the subject and seek out more information. Because that's what lifelong learners should do.

To Be Continued...

1 comment:

troutking said...

Hey lifelong learning! I heard about that today.