The Harvey Weinstein issue has been hitting the front page of the internet, and I have been reading a lot of reactions to men who say they didn’t see it. Because I lived for 40 years as a woman and all the harassment that entailed, and now live as a man, I have a few insights into this issue.
I want to say when I lived as a woman, I thought harassment was a normal daily event for everyone. Whether it was creepers on the bus, guys cat calling form cars, dudes approaching me in the grocery store, it happened all the time.
I remember vivid incidents when I was especially young of just horrific scary violent harassment. The younger, and more feminine you look, the more predators target you. Predators target their victims well, and look for vulnerability.
I remember walking home from high school, where I looked 12 rather than the 16 I was, and a man tried to give me a ride. When I refused politely, and thanked him, he started screaming he would cut my head off, and pealed out so fast and close to me, that I thought I was going to be hit by his car.
That doesn’t even count the times a grown ass man has reached over to grab a breast, my ass, or physically pushed me to sleep with him. I have been sexually assaulted, harassed, and even raped as a woman.
However, due to the prevalence of this kind of harassment and assault, I only ever counted the rape. It wasn’t until I was much much older, that I realized that living in a world where I felt I had to downplay these types of harassment was not my problem. It was a world problem.
I did not identify the creep on the bus that kept touching me as harassment because I didn’t want to be “one of those girls” and “make a big scene”. There is a lot of pressure on women to avoid confronting or speaking about men that prey upon them. You don’t want to be any trouble, and often people around you will enforce this.
This brings me to my transition. I’ve talked before about how all that disappears. Once you are read as male, every creepy shitbag predator just evaporates. It’s like you don’t even see it anymore.
This is because these men are not random in their harassment. They do it to their victims, which are vulnerable. They often don’t do it around anyone else unless they are sure bystanders will be complicit in the behavior.
It’s an overwhelmingly successful strategy. Even a stand up guy, that would never condone that kind of behavior might have a hard time believing how prevalent this is because it’s so out of sight for him. It would be an alien concept to think a man would just drop trou and whack off to a 14 year old girl on the bus, on his way to a job that requires wearing a suit.
Once I was reliably read as a cis gendered man by the world, the very most I would get was occasionally an off colored joke in my presence. I almost never actually see the harassment that goes on every day for women, anymore.
It’s hard to differentiate crap socially acceptable jokes that are shitty to women and minorities from actual predatory behavior. Some guys just tell tacky unreflective jokes as a way to fit in, and some predators use it as a way to test the waters. If you aren’t really into the joke, a predator moves on to other people.
I had a racist guy try on a racial slur in my presence recently, and I asked him what the hell was wrong with him. He has steadfastly never once revealed any obviously indication of racism in my presence again. Yet, he shops Hitler picks to my other friends that froze in horror and laughed nervously as a reaction. He chooses who he shows this kind of thing to. I was strategically not a target for his shit anymore. He moved on to people that would not call him out.
This is why the people that predators surround themselves either just don’t care, if they are not shitty predators themselves. The Harvey Weinstein’s of the world, are careful to cultivate that, and enforce it with whatever power they have. (I know, if a guy is powerful enough, he can enforce acceptance of his harassment and assaults in the people around him, but that’s a totally different issue to what I’m talking about.)
My years of living as a woman are fading in the distance of time for me, but as I continue my life being accepted as male I have a couple of possible solutions.
The first is to take women at their word when they tell me they are uncomfortable around some men. No questions, and no issues. I know from first hand experience that I was not believed in so many small ways, so to believe women when they say they are being harassed is important.
When a woman makes it past the socially constructed barrier to make a fuss, she has already thought about the issue forever. She has dissected it, and weighed the possibility of “making a scene” versus how dangerously uncomfortable the predator makes her feel.
Secondly, I make it clear when the jokes come out about sexual assault (and racism) that I don’t think it’s funny. I am not going to give any social approval by laughing. I’m a bit more confrontational than most, but I feel it’s important not to be a part of a cultivated approval network for a guy that thinks he can get away with this kind of behavior.
However, by doing this, it means I will not see this kind of harassment or assault happen almost at all. By believing women, and not approving of these testing behaviors, predators will almost never engage in this behavior around me.
This is why good stand up men say they don’t see the harassment happen. Predators have identified them as someone that will not condone their behavior, and strategically prey upon their vulnerable victims elsewhere.
The best we can do, is make sure to be vigilant, keep a protective eye out towards those that are vulnerable to predation, and believe victims when they come forward.