Maxine's Journal

Adventures of the Polka-Dotted One

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I Am Not Here For Your Entertainment. (The Story)
If you were watching my twitter, or my tweet-archive (http://emanix-tweets.livejournal.com/) on the 14th of October you'd have seen this series of tweets:

  • Mon, 18:29: I suspect those who ought to see this won't, but #PSA: MEN! FOR THE LOVE OF FUCK, WOMEN ON THE STREET DO NOT EXIST FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT!

  • Mon, 18:29: #PSA brought to you by several groups of assholes who demanded I 'perform' in some way on the street today, just bc I'm female. #SmileDarlin

  • Mon, 18:34: Not usually quite so angry at male entitlement, but after 1hr outdoors & a 5th demand to please a total stranger, nearly threw a punch.

  • Mon, 19:10: Actually, now I think about it, a T-shirt reading "I AM NOT HERE FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT" would be the perfect answer. @bigcalm

It was a Monday afternoon, I'd been at home looking after my partner's cat and doing some work. Y'know, hanging around the house.

And, oddly enough, despite my reputation, I'm not in the habit of hanging around the house dressed in anything provocative, or even particularly eyecatching. A T-shirt, a skirt (ankle length), a fleece hoody. Not things that yell "Look at meeee!"

And then I step out for just a second, to talk with the next door neighbour, and the door slams behind me.

So, perhaps not the most auspicious start to an afternoon, but I figured it was a sunny day, I'd view it as an opportunity to enjoy the sunshine, take a walk, run some errands.

Perhaps it was the weather. Perhaps I'm just not often walking around my area on a Monday afternoon. I don't know, but it seemed like there were more men around than usual. And they all wanted something. Attention? Yeah, mostly.

I bristled as I took the shortcut down the edge of my local park, when a guy accompanied by two pals yelled 'Give us a kiss!'
I gritted my teeth, clenched my fists and checked there was a wall behind me if I needed to defend myself (since I walk with a stick, I'm always conscious that, given fight or flight, the 'flight' bit really isn't an option), and I kept on walking past. Shoulders tensed. Very, very aware that they were behind me.

Does that sound like an overreaction? Overly paranoid? As a lone woman, in a quiet, and not particularly overlooked area, being approached by three guys, one of whom is yelling at me, even if it is 'friendly', I don't think so.

The next guy? I don't remember what he said. It wasn't anything that could have got him arrested, but whatever it was he wanted me to do, I didn't feel like doing it. And I could feel the waves of disapproval coming off him as I didn't comply. As he walks past, frowning. Muttering about what a miserable bitch, or something to that effect.

The thing is, after an hour out of doors, and several of these approaches, I'm so keyed up and on my guard that I'm even ready to punch the elderly gentleman who passes me outside the rail station and cheerily shouts "Smile, Darlin'!" - but what business of his is it if I'm smiling anyway? It's not YOUR face, it's mine.

The worst bit, though? This isn't even that unusual. It's all the time. It's everywhere. women put up with this sort of behaviour every day.

Kitty Stryker posted a blog about the same thing, the very next day: "hey baby, nice tits, where you going?"

Check out the cartoon with that blog. It's the fifth panel that says it all to me: The guy yelling out of a car window, "Hey, I'm talking to you!... Fuck you then!" There's this undercurrent, you see, of aggression to a lot of these 'exchanges' (I use 'exchanges in quotes, since usually the approaches are entirely one way). There's so often this air of entitlement - and when the guy doesn't get what he wants, of anger. As though, as a female person, I owe him. And, perhaps, just possibly, if he doesn't get his way, maybe he'll resort to violence.

Yes, I've exclusively used male pronouns to refer to people who behave this way. Would I be just as pissed off at this behaviour if it was women demanding that I 'perform' in some way on the street, for complete strangers? Yes, I would. Especially if they were in groups, and bigger than me, and I were on my own. But 99.999% of the time, it's a man, or multiple men.

And even if it's just one guy, who isn't all that aggressive, it's hard to challenge this shit. We're trained, as girls, as human beings, to be polite. Even to people who aren't being polite to us. We're trained to try to help, to try to please. Maybe we'll even try to oblige, just to 'be nice'. But sometimes, it's time to make a stand, and draw a line, and say 'this is not okay', so here I am.

I really don't imagine for a minute that anyone reading this blog will be the sort of guy who demands anything on the street from a total stranger. But just in case... if you find yourself about to call out a demand, or even a request. Even "Smile!" have a think about it. You have no idea who this person is, where they came from, or where they're going to. You have no idea what the last half-dozen people they passed said to them. Maybe they got locked out. Maybe they're on their way to a funeral.

Fine, if you get eye contact, wish them a good day, but do me a favour... do us *all* a favour, and don't give orders to random women on the street. Respect people's personal sovereignty, people!

NOBODY owes you a smile, or a kiss, or the time of day, or even a hello. No random person on the street owes you ANYTHING. And you don't owe them either.

Actually, what you can *really* do to help if you are a guy, and you see this sort of behaviour, what you can really do about it, is calling that stuff out. You don't need to make a massive fuss. Just a shake of the head and a comment along the lines of 'That's not cool' will go a very long way, especially coming from another guy. From someone who is, near enough, their peer group. If you get the opportunity to expand, see if they can empathise with the hypothetical woman who's on her way to a funeral, and really doesn't want to be yelled at. Explain why the behaviour is shitty.

And if you're a guy, and I hear you explaining to another guy why this sort of thing isn't respectful of women? I will happily owe you a beverage of your choice.

And in the meantime, to take the message to the people who actually need it, on the street, in the politest way I can, I'll be wearing this:

I am not here for your entertainment.

If you want to take the message out there too, the awesome  joreth (@Joreth on twitter) has made these shirts available in her Spreadshirt store here: https://shop.spreadshirt.com/polytees/your+entertainment+tee-A12719401

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What horrible behaviour from those men. I'm sorry you had to deal with that - and I agree about the massive sense of entitlement!

I blogged something similar a few months ago http://valkyriekaren.livejournal.com/1405978.html

and just the other week I was catcalled twice between my flat and the corner shop. It can be quite scary as well as humiliating especially if it's dark.

(Deleted comment)
The link to the Kitty Stryker cartoon with the man at the end absolutely not having a clue is bang on. While I may not have encountered his reaction from describing how similar incidents have semi-regularly happened to me and to very many other women, I have had men appear shocked that this sort of thing does occur. Go you for awareness-raising.

I'm not sure I've seen this happen before, but I've heard of it happening. I shall attempt to help.

Coming back to this post I find a picture. I find the shirt entertaining. (^_^)

(Deleted comment)
The Devil's Advocate in me usually wants to comment on posts with a balancing point of view. It's all too tempting to reply with something sympathetic when someone's having a bad time, without really stopping to think about what's really going on. Trouble is the Devil's Advocate in me thinks it sounds shitty too :(

Unsurprisingly, no-one's ever admired my tits and asked me where I was going, but the last stranger who told me to "Smile, it may never happen!" got told my brother had just been killed in a car crash. OK, so it wasn't true and I felt slightly sheepish about it, but I bet he thought twice before pulling the same line the next time.

Hope the T-shirt does the trick, or better still that you start to encounter more people who earn that beverage of choice for their intervention.

Hmmm. I'm in two minds about this. In one I agree with you and in the other I disagree. (Useful eh?)

The bit that agrees with you has little to say other than that, short but sweet.

The bit that disagrees suggests the following:

Perhaps it's be uncool to say to someone "that's uncool" because you'd be implying they should do something other than what they wanted to do, in the same way that you didn't want to say hello or smile - that was ok. Are we implying that an action is not ok but an inaction isn't?

What is the inaction of smiling? It's quite often a frown. Was that ok to frown in sight of other people? No one asked for your frown, but you gave it them anyway. Perhaps some people were offended by the frown, and felt the need to point it out in the way way the person who may say "that's uncool" points out such things.

I think this is an age old case of one person's freedom infringing on that of other. The freedom to frown vs the freedom not to be frowned at.

Personally, both sides of me (the agreeing and disagreeing sides) would admit that I'd like to live in a happy world, and so it can appear that frowns go against this achievement, and part of me would feel the desire to address all forms of frowns. I think from happiness and positivity can be elicited from this desire, and if one is able to focus on the positive side of their experiences then there would be less frowns - yes, it may seem inappropriate if the person is on their way to a funeral, but still ok.

I'm often in discussions with people talking about what sort of a world do they want to live in. Often people say things like that London is too hustly and bustly, but quite often those same people contribute to that hustle and bustle by rushing through crowds when they could have afforded more time to get ready and travel at a more leisurely pace. I think, quite often, we don't realise what a difference we can make to the world we live in. I may be deluded (and I'm happy for anyone to believe this!) but I do feel that I've been able to transform the vibes of places I've been to, even if it's just a carriage on the Jubilee line, by consciously transmitting the vibes of peace and joy.

I'm digressing slightly, although I do think it would be far better if everyone did some "vibe transmitting" such as this rather than the rather abrupt and invasive phrases such as "Smile, Darlin!"... I reckon that if enough people can start this, then others will follow, even without explaining that this is what we're doing, it probably will even help with dealing with the "Smile, Darlin!" comments if we're already doing it before that happens....

What's the worst that could happen...?

Hmmm. I do realise my comment completely ignored/missed the sexual intimidation aspect of your blog.... somehow didn't seem relevant (to me) - was it relevant (I notice it was relevant in the blog you quoted which I just read) to how you felt that day? (It didn't come across strongly as being relevant when I read your entry compared to the one you quoted.)

Re: devil's advocate waffle

Ed, yes, you totally missed the point about *all* of these interactions carrying with them an aspect of intimidation. Violent/physical, not necessarily sexual, due to the (offensive and inappropriate) attitude of 'I get to tell you what to do, and am entitled to be angry, and further, punish you, if you do not comply.'

It's surprisingly difficult to find a good definition of the concept of Personal Sovereignty, which is where I'm coming from (This wikipedia page is reasonable-ish http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-ownership )

The essence of this is that it is an individual's right to choose what they do with their own body, not what any other person does with theirs. So a *request* that you or I smile/dance/display my underwear/provide any other 'service' to someone else is okay, but a *demand*, with implied consequences if I do not comply is not, and violates my personal sovereignty (a concept which, while tricky to find a good definition for, is still happily enshrined in law in a variety of ways, protecting our rights to go about our lives choosing what to do with our own bodies on a daily basis).

And in this world, a depressingly large number of men believe that their 'feelings' override a woman's right to personal sovereignty. I don't expect you to have experienced this first hand, nor to have noticed it, as you are not living in a female body - this is what Kitty means by a position of privilege. You have the privilege of being able to claim that this doesn't exist/ isn't so bad, because it doesn't actually apply to you, and you do not have to calculate this particular type of threat into your every day life.

You're free to frown as much as you like. You don't get to tell me not to. As a wise chap once said, your freedom to swing your fist ends where it reaches my face. Transmit all the vibes you like, but you don't get to demand that other people do the same.

Given I'm in a position of privilege does that make it unwise to converse further about this?

Re: devil's advocate waffle

It means that this is something you need to take into account if and when you do. Did my explanation make sense to you?

I've posted a question on kitty's blog about privilege which I think might help me to understand it. I think understanding how to deal with it is probably more useful than understanding what it is. It seems that it's closely connected with derailing - in fact, it seems that derailing may only possible when privilege is involved. My understanding is that the privileged person cannot really empathise or fully understand the subject matter being talked about as it seems closer to fiction than fact based upon their own reality, and so the natural tendency is to move the subject onto something more tangible (from their perspective) that they feel they can usefully contribute to. I don't think therefore derailing should be considered a bad thing, but just a natural consequence of their privilege. However, I do agree that there is an onus on the person to have an awareness of their privilege and therefore their derailing. What I'm still trying to understand is what exactly changes when someone becomes aware of their privilege and derailing - obviously the privilege doesn't go away by becoming aware of it, but what about the derailing? Is that supposed to stop? Or are they simply supposed to bow out of the conversation given that they cannot contribute effectively?

Please note: this comment deals purely with privilege, not the originating subject. I'll admit I'm derailing (if I understand the term correctly) currently! That's not bad though is it - as long as I'm aware of it, right?

Re: devil's advocate waffle

Yes, it's sexually intimidating. It's also incredibly entitled. My mother has suggested she start grinning at men in business suits and telling them "give us a smile then" and pinching their asses at the grocery store as payback for years of catcalling. Now that she's fat, fierce and 50, she feels she can without worrying that they'll take it as a flirtation.

I'm not bothered by someone who compliments how I'm dressed politely and then moves on. "Love your outfit!" said brightly before continuing along is nice. "Oi, your legs look great in that skirt" makes me feel like they've just jizzed on me verbally. It's infuriating.

Playing Devil's Advocate is a position of privilege.

Re: devil's advocate waffle

Kitty, can you explain the purpose behind your last comment about Devil's Advocate and privilege please? It wasn't clear to me.

Also, what wasn't clear was what the "it" (2nd word of your first sentence and 1st word of your 2nd sentence) referred to. Thanks.

Re: devil's advocate waffle

I think "it" in both cases was the action. 'It' refers to telling a girl to smile or asking for a kiss or commenting about their tits.

Kitty is saying that these orders from men make her intimidated, which is unsurprising given as any response other than smiling and acting like they're just being friendly results in verbal abuse most of the time.

I'm sure most men do think it's just a friendly thing, "smile" is an attempt to cheer you up. "give us a kiss" is just a cheeky flirt, "nice tits" is just "lads being lads." But it just doesn't really come across like that at all.

I know being ordered to smile after being told my mother had cancer again just put me in a fouler mood. Conversely, a guy later on asked me "Are you okay?" and enquired about my family, which I found a little odd, but it actually made me feel a little better, like someone was genuinely concerned about a stranger, instead of making me feel like I have to have a permanent grin on my face at all times of the day.

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