Breaking the Silence #MeToo

Sexual harassment has been in the news recently and it is about time that this issue is more widely discussed. I’ve written on here before about how as a straight bloke it is very easy not to notice that sexual harassment is taking place right under our noses. I’m more aware of that now so I knew that there was a high likelihood of friends of mine suffering from sexual harassment. Yet it is a subject that is rarely discussed, or seems not to be with straight blokes.

So I wasn’t surprised to see on my Facebook feed lots of #MeToo postings. This social media campaign was a really good thing because it really brought the issue home when you know the victims personally, it’s no longer a statistical probability, it’s more real. Some of my friends were even brave enough to share details about what had happened to them.

Sexual harassment is perhaps the thick end and everyday sexism is the other. The everyday comments and banter just wears you down as it happens day after day.It’s a shame these things are not discussed more widely so there is greater awareness.

We are all different and sensitive to different things. As an anxious person, I too have suffered from the negative effects of everyday banter, which seems worse because it was nothing to do with my gender, so seems more personally directed.

I get the wearing down of everyday banter because I’m Welsh. When the Six nations rugby tournament is on, the banter of jokes directed between nations is part of the thing. However, being Welsh we get the jokes a lot of the time all through the year and mainly from men: The endless sheep jokes and attacks on our language, maybe be justified as merely ‘banter’ or ‘taking the piss but not meaning anything by it’ are really just tedious, but when we do get fed up of them we can usually find solace with fellow Welsh folk.

Maybe that is partly why women, the vast majority of victims of sexual harassment are women, seek solace with other women, rather than discuss the issue with straight blokes they know. and maybe that is why it is tougher on the anxious as there is no ready made group to seek solace in.

This isn’t saying that banter is wrong, it can be a bit of fun, especially between friends where we know where the limits of taking something too far are and it is established that we really don’t mean it. However men are generally more cautious about such banter with women, when they are not cautious then it is harassment. It is harassment because harassment is defined by the victim, they state when it is harassment, not the behaviour itself. Knowing the limits comes from knowing the people, which is why friends can take the piss out of each other, however when someone ‘wolf whistles’ at a woman in the street, they do not know the woman, so that is just pure harassment.

The issue with sexual harassment is that men generally don’t suffer from it, so men don’t understand it, so men are unable to know where the limits of banter are for women they know a bit from the workplace. In the same way banter affects the anxious because the non-anxious don’t understand anxiety. Really , if there were to be daily comments about how big our penises are, most men would quickly collapse sobbing in states of insecurity.

While being a victim of abuse is horrible, that such harassment is commonplace also affects blokes. To not be an anxious person I decided to be a lot more open about my feelings, which includes being open with women. Often I prefer to talk about my feelings with women as generally they listen more. However sometimes that openness can be misinterpreted as seeking a deeper relationship, or trying to get into their knickers. This troubled me because surely it was obvious from my words and how I expressed them that that wasn’t my intention. However, it took me years to realise that you can accidentally harass someone, when you don’t understand what the daily lived experience of being a woman is like.  The thing is I have been a harasser of women, but the blame for those events lies with the whole widespread commonality of sexual harassment.not anything i did or said specifically.

I’ve always been reluctant to touch women to express empathy and support because it may be inappropriate. Now I know the reason for that , because the woman may not know that I am not trying to take advantage of the situation to cop a feel. Yet straight blokes always desire copping feels, because women’s bodies are ace, yet we learn to restrain ourselves, it’s not something worth doing. Because of this blokes miss out on so much of warmth of human physical contact, to the extent that some men seek ways to slyly cop feels or worse to make up for this missing out. The solution has to be talking more about these issues, for abuse to be recognised, so these men don’t end up raping or otherwise abusing women.

Even today, there still seems to be a reluctance to take on board that everyone is different and jokes about gender, race, sexuality, nationality, mental health, religion, anything and everything else cause a lot of harm and there is too much casual banter.

This doesn’t mean that straight blokes have to somehow try and not be fascinated by women’s bodies, or that we are not allowed to talk to women we are attracted to, even if we do want to get into their knickers. What it means is simply respecting other people and realising that we can easily hurt people without realising it because we don’t know who they are. and who has been harassing them in their personal history.

 

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Privileged Ignorance & Harrassment

I am a privileged white male. As such I haven’t ever really suffered from discrimination or harassment. I have never been racially abused or been sexually discriminated against. I have on occasion suffered a little homophobia from men who presumed I was gay.

Yet, in spite of this privilege, I have suffered from anxiety. I have been hyper-sensitive to discrimination that never really came my way, it was all in my own head. Having overcome this anxiety I ran into a new problem, that people were still behaving peculiarly around me, notably women and something seemed to be triggering it. This issue vexed me greatly and had me going around in circles trying to work it out for years, wondering if I had overcome anxiety after all.

I eventually worked out that the reason for the shift in the behaviour by these women, was that they had decided that I was seeking a relationship with them. The thing is, i wasn’t seeking a relationship, well no more than I do with everyone. I mean I wasn’t trying to force a closer or indeed a sexual relationship. Yet once they had ‘decided’ this, their behaviour towards me changed completely. In itself this isn’t a problem, the problem was that it bugged me for not knowing why the behaviour had changed and made me anxious again.

However, most of us are attracted to other people and it is a ego boost, a positive thing when we discover that other people are attracted to us. However the reaction to me seemed something much stronger, much darker and more sinister.

The answer dawned on me one evening in London. I was following a man and a woman down the street, they seemed to be having an argument. This seemed quite a normal occurrence until the man stopped and walked the other way, he seemed almost instantly calm as if he didn’t know the woman. It then dawned on me that perhaps he didn’t know this women, who was striding purposefully on, looking straight ahead, you would at least think about looking around to a friend or partner who had left an argument. I then realised that he may have been simply harassing her, or giving unwanted attention to this woman and quite possibly sexual harrassment.

This may well have been an everyday incident on a city street. However it was new to me and I began wondering how much abuse has been taking place in front of my eyes, yet somehow I had been blissfully ignorant of it.

If you are lucky never to have really been abused, you do not know what it is like, or what it looks like. If you live within a privileged bubble, such events are not on your radar. Being a reasonably educated person, I tend to socialise with other educated people, so this world of discrimination and abuse must happen elsewhere outside this bubble. So safely enconsed in this privileged bubble we don’t even notice such abuses when they may be right in front of us.

The thing is, I’ve been an anxious person and am highly sensitive, why hadn’t I noticed all this going on before. If I hadn’t noticed it, then surely it must be even harder to spot for more conventional white males whom are more central in the white male privilege bubble.

This revelation opened up this horrid tawdry world of abuse that exists everywhere. In particular, it made me realise the shit that women have to put up with, probably on an almost daily basis. If you are regularly harassed you are going to develop strategies to protect yourself.

Hence, I had stumbled upon the reason why these women were behaving strangely towards me. They were detecting cues and clues for potentially abusive behaviour from me and raised their guard. This was such an amazing relief for me to uncover, there wasn’t anything wrong with me, I really didn’t need to be anxious! There was no reason, or anything about me as a person that was being  guarded against, but simply a manifestation of how awfully too many of my ‘fellow’ white males behave.

The great thing about this, is I can now detect it. So, when I start seeing a lady being uncomfortable with me, I am able to recognise it and back off and fortunately this doesn’t mean  I end up in uncomfortable situations anymore or lose friendships because of it anymore. I am aware of my own privilege, though I view it as a curse, it has clouded from me truths about the world. I am always welcoming people who are not members of this odd group of people called ‘white males’ into my circles and am always amazed now by how happy  people are to accept white males into their circles despite the potential increased risk of abuse.

Seeking Relationships or Not

Beginning heterosexual relationships is a weird, complicated, fraught, scary process. There is perhaps only one reason for this, that there is the possibility of a romantic or sexual attachment.

I’ve always been somewhat jealous of the ease with which my gay friends establish friendships with women. I think that the reason is purely and simply that the possibility of romantic attachment isn’t there. I have many female friends, with whom there is an ease with each other, this has occurred as at some point the possibility of a romantic attachment was settled and moved on from, this settling usually happens sub-consciously, it is perhaps a product of time and getting to know the person. some women who I meet sometimes start acting dismissively as if I am seeking a relationship with them. What has disturbed me is sometimes men, even heterosexual men, start acting strangely towards me as if I am seeking a romantic relationship with them.

The thing that has troubled me about this is that it seems that everyone deals with this issue differently, and sometimes distressing situations can occur whereby individual systems clash. In Western society this is a particular problem, the society is so socially liberal that etiquette has been largely rejected, anything goes. Etiquette is a essentially a set of social rules to make social interactions easier. So, why has Western society adopted a position of making social interactions harder?

This has been an issue for me as I suffered from anxiety for so long that it has perhaps warped my own interaction system. Basically in my system I don’t seek relationships. I enjoy communicating with people, sometimes things click and there is a kind of understanding of who the other person is, sometimes there is a liking of that person,there are then three possibilities: 1/ Nothing, 2/ a friendship begins to form, 3/ a romantic relationship begins to form. For me, these things just happen.

It seems as though everyone has, perhaps it’s another personality spectrum, a degree to which interactions are monitored for the seeking of relationships, perhaps people always invest some effort in interacting in seeking a relationship. If this is the case, then perhaps I am at an extreme end of this spectrum.

What I have struggled with is that I am sensitive to people thinking that I am seeking a relationship, because it annoys me, as conversation dries up, the question you are asking is is no longer about the question but responded to as if by asking you are seeking a relationship. I feel like crying out ‘I’m not seeking a relationship, I’m just talking to you”. It seems that people once they get the idea in their head that you are seeking a relationship, normal relations are no longer possible, that can be very awkward, particularly in environments where you spend time together, such as a working environment. I find it quite ridiculous as both parties then go out of their way to avoid each other.

It is quite understandable how this situation arises. I do speak to women just because I am attracted to them. Fairly quickly one realises that they are not interested in a romantic liaison, I immediately take that on board and move on (Well I might find a corner to cry in at some juncture). However, some men, continue to seek relationships after this point, this continuing strategy does work, sometimes, as it is possible to change your mind after getting to know someone better. Such a strategy is generally acceptable, however if it continues it becomes harassment, how much to employ such a strategy varies as people are different, it is a grey area. Once members of a population use a strategy, there then arises a counter-strategy, the women develop strategies for dealing with unwanted attention, to monitor people for seeking relationships to trigger the defensive response. Really, the whole ‘game’ of finding a sexual partner is complicated and some people actively play this game.

This is perhaps why it becomes problematic for people such as myself, who are very low level relationship seekers. This group don’t seek relationships, so such people don’t really know what is going on when people are analysing a situation for relationship seeking. It is possible to think that this group are victims of being in a game they don’t know the rules of. It is tempting to join in and simply ‘play the game’, however fighting against your own personality is dangerous.

Of course, this non-relationship seeking is a strategy in itself, it is simply not purposefully used as a strategy. I have many male and female friends whom I’ve formed relationships with precisely because I wasn’t seeking a relationship. I like having relationships, I just hate all the faff involved in getting to a point of mutual trust and respect. The thing that perhaps bothers me is that social groups form due to social type, one only socialises with people like yourself. There are positives to only socialising with like minded souls, but it is also limiting, the perception is missing out on understanding other types of people.

Non-relationship seeking does tend to be the preserve of introverts. Because introverts are really happy to be alone, there is no need for social interaction to be fulfilled. Introverts simply like social interaction, but are equally happy doing things by ourselves. Then there is this low self-monitoring issue, whereby low self-monitors don’t change their behaviour to suit others.