… and, for the first time in my life, I finally feel like an adult. At least partially.
I’ve written many times about the various ways in which I don’t feel like a real adult. Be it because of my lack of artsy home decor or finding myself in various situations I have no knowledge of how to handle because life doesn’t come with a How-To manual, there’s plenty of times that I’ve been left wondering when the adult switch in my head would flip and everything would change. I’m slowly realizing it doesn’t work like that.
Oddly enough, the one thing that has made me feel like an adult for the first time in my life is tied to the ongoing rift in the atheist/skeptic community over feminism and sexual harassment. I stopped paying much attention to the atheist/skeptic community quite some time ago in part because I felt that people on both sides of the ‘debate’ were acting like assholes, but there are still a few people that I follow on Google+/Twitter and as a result I occasionally allow myself to get sucked back in when the next big drama flares up like a virtual hemorrhoid. The latest controversy has arisen from a blog post by PZ Myers in which he accuses prominent professional skeptic Michael Shermer of raping a woman at a conference at some unspecified point in the past based on an email he got from the alleged victim who neither wants to be named nor to press charges (supposedly because it was long enough ago that it’s no longer possible).
That’s a pretty major accusation to be tossing around and Shermer has already threatened to sue PZ for defamation if he doesn’t take the blog post down and apologize. PZ (obviously) has not complied and has added in further statements from other anonymous women that seem to bolster the claims made by the first anonymous woman. That’s about as far as I’m going to bother describing the situation because it’s really not the point of this entry, but rather the catalyst that led me to realize that I’m an adult in at least one fundamental way. As for my opinion on it: Fuck if I know if Michael Shermer is guilty of rape. I don’t know the man personally and have only read a couple of his books on skepticism and how the brain works. His books are pretty good reading. He may very well be a sexual harasser for all I know, but until someone has the gumption to come forward with some evidence beyond anonymous emails sent to a prominent blogger, I’ll continue to give him the benefit of doubt as I don’t know him, or the other people involved in this mess, to make any value judgements about their character or honesty.
That said, what there is no doubt in my mind is that there is a huge problem with men — in a number of communities I care about — that can’t seem to grow the fuck up and treat women with a modicum of respect. While I’m unwilling to commit to the idea that specifically Michael Shermer is a rapist (or even a harasser) without more to go on, I don’t doubt that women at skepticism/atheism/video game/anime/business/underwater basket weaving conferences are routinely sexually assaulted/harassed. It’s been years since I last attended a con of any kind, but even back when I did it wasn’t uncommon to see women being harassed by idiots who somehow thought that being in the presence of a breathing woman was an open invitation to cop a feel. So I know this shit does happen because I’ve seen it. It seems to become more prevalent with alcohol consumption, but I’ve seen plenty of sober dickheads who couldn’t keep their hands off of someone else too.
Still, I always thought (believed?) that these guys were the exception to the rule and were limited in number. These days with the Internet giving all of them a means of voicing their ‘opinions’ worldwide it’s become clear to me that they are not the small minority I thought they were. In perusing the various blog posts about Myer’s bombshell I eventually stumbled across one that linked to a YouTube video by Ashley Paramore wherein she describes a recent sexual assault she was victim to at a conference. It’s lengthy, but worth a watch:
As I listened to Ashley describe how someone she considered a good friend repeatedly assaulted her in an attempt to get her to sleep with him all I could think to myself was how the fuck does anyone think that’s an appropriate approach to take. It’s like Jim-Bob, her friend, was somehow stuck in the first grade where the height of romantic thinking was that pulling a girl’s hair somehow indicated that you liked her. Except instead of pulling her hair he was grabbing her ass and reaching for other personal areas.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m your typical white, middle-aged, heterosexual male who occasionally looks at attractive, naked women on the Internet because, hey, it’s attractive, naked women. And there have been plenty of women over the years as I grew up — that I’ve known personally and that I’ve never met — whom I have fantasised about and whom I would have given my left arm to bump uglies with. That right there probably rules me out of being considered a feminist, but not once did I think the right way to try and make my dreams come true involved just assuming she wanted me and going for it. Maybe I’m exceptional in that way.
I can clearly remember an event in Junior High when most of the boys had noticed that most of the girls were suddenly developing new and interesting shapes on their figures and there was a rash of uninvited gropings that prompted the principal to haul all of us guys down to the gym one afternoon to tell us not to touch the girls without permission. A few days later he had to haul us all down to the gym again to revise his statement to just don’t touch the girls because apparently all of the idiots who had been groping them were now endlessly pestering them for permission to grope them. I remember being amazed that anyone had that much chutzpah to begin with, despite desperately wanting to touch a boob myself.
Not that I was a paragon of virtue. In high school I’d often remark to my male friends about a passing female that I would love to “bend over a table” because I thought it was a funny thing to say and I was a stupid teenager, but there was always the unsaid coda of “but only with her enthusiastic permission.” There were many times I tried my hardest to convince someone that fooling around with me was something they’d regret missing out on… and I got really good at handling rejection. All without deciding that I should just go ahead and show them what they’d be missing.
Perhaps it’s because I was bullied so much as a kid. I am well aware of the helplessness that comes from someone forcing their will upon you. Though in my case it was an ass kicking instead of a groping. Still, a lot of the power dynamics behind it seem similar to me and that’s enough to keep me from doing it to someone else.
I’ve grown up and I don’t worry about being bullied anymore, but lots of women — too many women — still wake up every day wondering where the next sexual assault will be coming from. Too many men haven’t grown the fuck up. They’re still acting like the selfish, entitled, spoiled brats they were as kids thinking they have the right to do what they want with the opposite sex. I just don’t understand it. I also don’t understand what it is they hope to accomplish when they respond to a woman speaking up about feminism or rape and sexual assault by threatening to rape and/or kill her.
How the fuck is that supposed to change her mind? I know, I know. It’s not supposed to change her mind. It’s supposed to intimidate her into shutting the fuck up. I guess I just answered my own question.
I’m far from being an example of the perfect male, but I’ve always tried to keep my baser instincts in check. I’ve also spoken out when I witnessed someone being harassed. I can recall one example from my early 20’s late at night at a Denny’s where my best friend and I had stopped for a late supper. A couple of drunk rednecks wandered in and took a seat at the table next to a pair of women and started to “flirt” with them. The women clearly weren’t interested and said as much to the men in no uncertain terms. The men didn’t take the rejection well and redoubled their efforts by physically touching the women on their hair and clothes and asking how much for a lap dance. My friend and I looked at each other and then spoke up. The dunks told us to mind our fucking business and we suggested they take their own advice. The sized us up as they threatened to kick our asses and then opted to leave deciding that us being sober probably gave us the advantage. We weren’t trying to be white knights, we just thought it was the right thing to do.
So, yeah, watching that video and trying to understand how anyone above the age of 10 could think it was the proper approach to wooing a woman made me feel like an adult for one of the first times in my life. I may not have completely grown up in many other ways, but as I approach my birthday I feel that I’ve grown up in one of the more important ones. Now if only more of us could do the same.