I'm better than that. That's what I've always told myself. The ignorant shit that men do to women – the stalking, the catcalling, the lewd staring, the unwelcome touching, the filthy suggestions – is all beneath me. I'm not that kind of guy, and I don't like that kind of guy. I don't sexually harass women. A hundred gold stars for me.
But a funny thing happened to me recently. I listened to women talking about their everyday experiences with sexual harassment. Like, actually listened. And you know what? I heard some uncomfortably familiar shit.
As it turns out, guys have some pretty uncouth habits when it comes to women. It's easy to overlook how awful they really are, because we generally only do it among ourselves. What a woman can't hear can't offend her, right?
Until she can hear it.
I heard a story from a woman who unwittingly overheard some “guy talk" about her. She wasn't impressed.
It made me wonder: how often do I say things about women that I'd rather they never hear? How many things have other men said to me that I found amusing and shouldn't have? How pristine is my view of women, exactly, and is it even close to what it should be?
Guys. We're not all sexual predators. Good for us. But sexual harassment is more subtle than just the butt-groping, innuendo-spewing, suck-my-dick-and-I'll-give-you-a-raise crap that we think of when we think of what sexual harassment is.
We have a view of women that isn't right. It doesn't matter if they can't hear us. We have some toxic notions about females, and we need to work on them, because whether they can hear it or not isn't even the point. The point is that we ever believed it was OK to think it in the first place. It reveals a callousness within us that dehumanizes women and turns them into inanimate objects for our entertainment or self-aggrandizement.
Consider whether you've ever done the following:
“She'd be hot if…"
What? She had longer hair? Bigger boobs? A smaller butt?
Here's a thought for you. Maybe your opinion isn't relevant. Maybe you don't get to decide what makes her hot and what doesn't.
Maybe that one thing you think should be different is the one thing she most likes about herself.
Or maybe she agrees with you.
Maybe she wishes she had a bigger this, or a smaller that. And maybe every guy who confirms it is just giving her a bigger complex about it, and maybe she doesn't need that in her life. Maybe there are a thousand hot things about that girl – some of them not even physical things – and assholes saying, “She'd be hot if…" make her forget every one of them.
Maybe don't be that guy.
Pointing her out to the guys.
We like pretty girls. It's natural, and there's no shame in it. But telling the guys around you to “check that one out" is pretty much the epitome of objectification.
When you tell the guys to look at a woman, you're thinking of her like a decoration. You're not saying, “That human being with thoughts and feelings has a pleasant looking exterior shell." You're pretty much saying, “I'd like to do sexual things to that exterior shell." You're skipping right over the whole “human being with thoughts and feelings" bit. And that's the bit that has to deal with the fact that she saw one guy nudging and pointing, and now four guys are staring at her while she walks by.
My guess: she's not actually flattered by that.
Rating her from 1 to 10.
Nothing says, “I think of you as an object," quite like creating a system of measurement.
Ignoring the whole complicated issue of inner beauty, guys have come up with a brilliant shorthand for quickly describing a woman's relative value with a simple number. I can say, “Oh, she's about a seven," and now you know that she's better than average-looking, but doesn't compare to the hottest girl you've ever seen.
Equipped with this data, you can now do super important evaluations like, “I'd fuck her if I wasn't married," or, “I'd fuck her even though I'm married," despite the fact that you have no idea if she'd even like you.
The secret that makes this equation solvable is to remove the complex elements that can't be described mathematically, like would she even let you?
Excellent work, guys. It's like, rocket surgery and shit.
Testing the waters with a sexual joke.
A female friend of mine was covering a male temp's job when he had to step away from his desk for a minute. When he came back, he told her, “You have a hot ass." When she responded with a pretty understandable, “Excuse me?" he went on to explain, “You kept my seat warm. You have a hot ass."
Guys. Can we all agree that joking about a woman's body when you barely know her is probably not going to amuse her into sleeping with you?
How exactly did you picture that going down?
“Thank you for noticing! There's a supply closet out back!"
Some women think sexual jokes are absolutely hilarious. I know a few. You could say almost anything and they'd roll with it like it was written in a script. But you know what? Not if they don't know you.
Maybe my friend's office temp should have tried something more like, “Hey, thanks for the help." Not only would she probably have liked him more, but he might have been able to keep his job.
Talking to the guys about your girl's private behaviors.
Finally. You talked her into doing that one nasty thing she always refused to do. Your powers of persuasion are amazing. With a gift of eloquence like that, you should probably make sure you tell the whole story to all the guys at work.
Not satisfied with being merely coercive with your own girlfriend or wife, you step up your game by painting the whole picture for other people. Oh look, she even let you take pictures that you're not supposed to show anyone. But they help you tell the story, so you might as well whip out your phone and show them off.
The woman you're sleeping with is trusting you with her most intimate secrets. She chose you. She chose to share herself with you.
A solid 99% of the time, she did not choose all of your coworkers as well.
She's not your property or your plaything. She's an autonomous human being with her own individual dignity, and you steal some of it when you choose to tell all your buds what you got her to do last night. That choice – to share that part of herself with someone – is not yours to make, no matter how manly you think it makes you look. It affects her. It leaves her vulnerable.
A real man doesn't make his woman vulnerable.
I hope we can initiate a serious paradigm shift. Women are getting the short straw in a lot of areas right now. They work harder for less money. They're treated like five-year-olds by men who aren't necessarily any smarter than them. They deflect a steady barrage of unwanted come-ons and insinuations every day. We body shame them. We discourage them from certain fields of study, from serving in combat, and from doing certain kinds of work because it's “man's work".
At the heart of it all is not some shadowy patriarchy holding secret man-meetings every Tuesday at Hooters. Nope, at the heart of it is just you and me – regular guys who don't realize how deeply ingrained our cultural sexism is.
And you know what I think drives it?
Fear, plain and simple.
Fear that if we ever take women seriously – if we ever give them the full range of choices – they'll choose something other than us. They'll stop doting on us and doing what we want them to do. They'll start doing what they want, and what they want won't be serving men. They'll stop dressing in sexy things, they'll stop worshiping the ground we walk on, they'll stop treating us like we know so many things that they don't.
I think we're afraid that if we admit women are just as human as we are, we'll have to start earning their attention instead of thumping our chests and demanding it.
Guys. We can do better than this. I know we can.