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Just putting this out there

January 17, 2010

There’s this blog I like that has a section titled “Stuff what boys can do”. (link, trigger warning she often discusses sexual assault, and sometimes other trigger-y topics). The point of the section is to keep a list of instances when men stood up for women around them, as a way to thank these men and encourage others to be like them. I read a blog post today that made me think of it.

Two relevant quotes (but go read the whole thing):
“Time for that dance he says. I try to beg off, but he literally isn’t taking no for an answer. He’s grabbing my forearm for godssake and pulling me onto the dance floor.”

“Why wasn’t I able to say no when this guy pulled me onto the dance floor? I didn’t want to make a scene, didn’t want to alienate this guy. He’s in my sub-field. There’s a very good chance that he’ll be a reviewer on my future paper (for which I have yet to collect data). So I sucked it up, danced with him though I didn’t want to. And when he continued to make me uncomfortable, I had to leave.”

THAT is a “Stuff what boys can do” situation. That right there. This woman was facing three very powerful forces: 1. Women are very strongly socialized to be quiet and not make a scene, 2. The harasser is in her field and could potentially affect her career, and 3. He was very probably stronger than her and could hurt her. Three very powerful reasons to acquiesce. Now, was I the only person who felt sick to their stomach reading her descriptions of the dance? Or imagining what it felt like for her to leave early, in fear?

THIS is a “stuff what boys can do”. Right there, some man, any man in the room, could have helped. Could have stepped in and told the harasser to stop harassing. It sounds like he’s well known – it can’t be just the women who know what he’s like. There must also be men who know what’s going on. There must be men who watch this guy pull women on to the dance floor. There must be men who watch it and think it’s wrong. And I’m here encouraging these men to speak up. When you see a situation like that, step up. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. If you see a guy trying to force a woman to dance, ask her if there is a problem. If you are aware of That Guy, who does those things at conferences, make it clear to him that you don’t tolerate it. Don’t condone it obliquely with silence.

Yes I know, women can do this also. But there is a lot more fear in a woman standing up for another woman. If I try to stop That Guy from harassing my friend, odds are he’s gonna move on to me next. I’m asking for the attention of a known harasser by doing that. I don’t know what I would do in that situation, but I would be much more likely to find an oblique to that situation. Men have more power in this situation, because That Guy is not going to harass them. Also, That Guy is likely to respect men more than women anyway, so the opinion of a guy matters more.

I don’t mean to be preachy (I know. I should work on that.) I just want to put this out there, to the attention of all men. And women too. Pass these stories around, but add in the part the original poster forgot: there were dozens of men in the room that could have helped her. There are a lot of smaller situations where men can stand up for the women around them, when That Guy gets to talking. Be a no tolerance zone for harassment. Thanks in advance. I’ll buy you a drink for your efforts.

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