serina_ds: (Dark eye)
[personal profile] serina_ds
So I recently was involved in a conversation with a guy about why women should be friendlier to him in the street. All he wanted was a nice 'Hi!' or smile back when he said hello when passing them in the street, after all! Why, oh why, was every female so impolite and unfriendly, and in some places downright rude? They would ignore him, or just look through him, or even walk quickly to the other side of the road. Why couldn't they just show normal, common decency and respond to his 'Hi!'?

Since I've filled multiple comments about this subject before, and it's getting a little tiring to repeat it each time, here are my main points, collected together where I can just point people at it in the future:

So. This is addressed to and for the guys (and please, please, for love of chocolate, please, don't leave a What About The Menz! or Not All Men or 'Women are X too!' type argument in the comments. I've heard it all before, and that's not the point of this piece). If your reaction upon hearing this is not "Wow, that sucks!" or "We need to make society better" or "I think I understand, but I want to find out more" then you may want to consider how your experiences might have influenced your reaction to this piece. If your reaction starts with "But...!" or "This is a blatant exaggeration" or "I have women friends and they don't think this!" then see what I said about leaving comments, above.

I'm not trying to speak for all women, I'm trying to bring some points up that might be helpful in understanding why women don't always respond to your friendly greeting in kind.

I don't disagree that as a society we should be more friendly and open, and it's great that some people really enjoy saying hi to strangers. I'm sure that many of you guys reading this are decent blokes, and I'm saddened if you were upset at an unfriendly reaction you received when you just wanted to say hi.

May I just bring a few things to your attention, however.

1. Women often discover, from a very young age, that nodding back, or saying hi, or responding in any friendly way, even if a bit distantly, is considered by a lot of men to be a come on. A flirtation. An invitation to approach you until you're backed up against a wall in an empty car park, and put their hands on you. An offer for something, anything, everything, which they have decided you're being coy about, and that they need to 'persuade' you that it's ok to follow up on, even if you say no (because you're just playing hard to get, right?)

2. If you do actually manage to persuade them that you were just being friendly and polite, the same men will call you a cocktease, and a slut, and a bitch, and all sorts of names, because they felt a response meant that you wanted them. They will swear at or harass women, or worse just ignore the no and carry on going anyway.

3. If you are harassed or raped or killed, people will say it is your fault. For responding in a 'friendly' manner, or returning a greeting, or for not putting them off quickly enough. For engaging. Men will tell you that they aren't like that, and that they would only have come on to you if you gave some kind of strong suggestion that it was wanted, therefore this is what must have happened, that's what you must have done to that stranger who hurt you and ignored your no. Except that this line is different for every single guy, so how can we tell that this particular man isn't one of the ones that treats "hi" as a 'strong suggestion'?

4. When this sort of response happens again and again, with varying levels of intimidation and/or aggravation, you learn not to respond, or to put men off very quickly, because otherwise you're 'asking for it'. The likelihood that we will meet that guy who will be a soulmate or a great lifelong friend or launch our careers from a friendly greeting in a dark street is infinitesimally small, compared to the likelihood that we will meet a guy who follows us in his car, honking and commenting on our boobs, or walks 2 metres behind you all the way home, or swears at us and screams that we're just a cockteasing slut, or tries to get a kiss, or sticks a hand up your skirt, or, or, or....

Now, I'm pretty friendly. If someone says hi, I respond, if someone smiles, I do the same or nod back, assuming I feel safe enough to do so. I live in a big city that is well known for its extensive and frequent public transport system, as well as the large numbers of tourists and multicultural options. I'm lucky enough to have never been raped or badly harmed. I got over a mugging pretty quickly and was going out by the next day. I've walked home alone at 3am on a saturday night. And you know what? As a woman, it's in the back of my head each time I walk home in the dark. I can't help myself, thinking 'is this going to be the time that I'm killed?' when someone moves quickly out of the shadows on a dark empty road. I've held my keys in my fist, in case someone attacks me. This is what society tells women they should be doing to protect themselves. I know that if I got badly hurt, walking alone at night whilst having the audacity to be female, there will be people that blame me for stringing along the guy. Police won't take my rape case seriously. I will have practically no hope of ever getting someone charged, let alone a prosecution.

I'm sure that you, the reader, are a nice person, and maybe we could have been friends had we randomly bumped into each other at some sort of event and got to talking. But if we walked past each other on a dark empty road in the middle of the night, I'm not going to say hi. Because history and society tells me that if a man takes that as an invitation to do something more, then I will have deserved whatever I get.

I know some people hate this word, but it's still true: part of your privilege in life is that you don't have to experience this sort of stuff. You don't have to think 'is this the time I get unlucky?'. So please don't tell me 'you women are so unfriendly, why don't you respond!' when you don't know the history of the person you just said hi to. You don't know what they've gone through. Maybe they are just impolite and rude as a person, but *you can't know that from this interaction*. You can't tell whether she's thinking you're not worthy of her time or whether she's shaking internally because she fears you. And equally, we don't know you, so maybe we're being overly, unfairly cautious. We can't tell from you just saying hi. I keep coming back to this quote:

“Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear rape and death.”
― Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence

When the scales are so unbalanced, please don't tell us from your place of privilege that we're all rude for not responding. Please instead try to help change society so that we can feel safe to respond (or perhaps even take it further if we're interested in that). Try approaching in ways and places that aren't inherently dangerous or intimidating for women. If we're alone, in the middle of the night, walking along a dark street, please try to respect that we don't know you. We don't know what you'll do. And for us, the risk in getting it wrong is far worse than your risk of being laughed at or ignored.

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