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September 2013

I Don’t Discuss Street Harassment As A Leeway To Dating Advice For Men

As I’ve written about before, mentioning street harassment—as with any emotional or physical violence—opens the door to incredibly ignorant yet common responses or victim blaming altogether. This is expected because my conversations do occur within the context of living in a rape culture, which globally exists and America is no exception. However, despite this, it’s still important to me to name and deconstruct what happens to me and speak the truth associated with it.

Mentioning street harassment is a portal for the absolute most entitled and self-centered men to continue with their agenda, one that their male privilege won’t allow them to see is completely inappropriate. It’s men asking "well, how should I pick up women then?" in response to hearing about a woman dealing with the disrespect, stress, hatefulness, and abuse involved in street harassment. And…these men are serious. I, however, remain angry and disgusted about this, which I recently tweeted about.

Male privilege means that most men are never street harassed, period. Most are in denial that it exists altogether (no different from from Whites who discount Black people’s experiences, cis heterosexuals who discount LGBTQ experiences or thin people who discount the existence of fat shaming and fatphobia; the oppressors’ privilege means they oppress while pretending said oppression doesn’t exist). And despite some men (i.e. gay men, gender non-conforming men) facing street harassment in a gendered and sexually abusive way like women cis or trans do, and some men (i.e. Black, Afro-Latino) facing constant public harassment from the police, both of these examples aren’t enough for men as a whole to actually consider how awful street harassment is for women. I’ve had gay men and/or Black men question my experiences despite knowing the reality of their own. This is male privilege.

Apparently whenever I mention dealing with street harassment, I’m supposed to stop, change my focus, and teach men how to “pick up” women. This disrespectful derailment is one of the worst because it dares to connect abuse with dating situations, as if they are supposed to be the same. (Men cannot distinguish abuse from healthy interactions? One of the poisonous realities of patriarchy.) This derailment is a toxic but milder form of expecting a woman who experienced domestic violence to immediately stop recounting her experience to teach men not to hit or expecting a woman who survived rape to explain to men how to try to sleep with women without raping them. It’s ludicrous and genuinely cruel for men to expect this “education” to occur at the same moment.

In my experience, the same Black men who wouldn’t want to have to teach White cops how not to abuse Black men expect immediate date coaching anytime I recount dealing with street harassment from Black men. Again, without an immediate parallel to racism, not even for a second are they willing to consider my experience with sexism, intraracially or interracially. (Oh and um, Black women also face racism. It’s not just Black men. News flash.)

The men (and I’ve experienced a variety of men who’ve asked me this) who ask for this “stop, drop and date coach me” nonsense are not truly interested in learning a thing. Again, this is derailment of the worst kind. They do this so that they can try to parse how their behavior is somehow not street harassment and/or shift the conversation to their needs, and away from the fact that they operate as oppressors here. Further, they want the onus of educating the oppressor to be on the oppressed—a common tactic of the oppressor—to use up the energy, time and resources of the oppressed.

Another thing that’s worth noting is the level of entitlement and ignorance involved in these requests for date coaching upon hearing about a woman’s experience with street harassment. The assumption that all women go outside looking for heterosexual hookups is based in patriarchy and heterosexism and reveals how pervasive male privilege is for heterosexual men. They never stop to question why they are spending day in and day out trying to acquire women like objects in a store. Some of the women who recount street harassment experiences aren’t heterosexual. It most definitely isn’t their job to coach men on how to “pick up” women and how street harassment is not flirting. Some of the women, like me, are in fact heterosexual. It still isn’t our job to coach these entitled trolls who are in fact engaging in derailment when they expect “advice.” The idea that if I am heterosexual, I must be on the prowl for men anytime I leave my house is rooted in sexism, yes, but also in misogynoir. It’s not a coincidence that sexualized stereotypes about Black women make us key targets for street harassment. The concept of our worth is devalued via media and notions of our “hypersexuality” and “deviance" persist since the days of slavery (via everything from controlling images to actual legislation). Its not a coincidence that the White men who street harass me assume I am a sex worker (in a patriarchal context where I am then subject to degradation; not in a liberating context where I choose sex work and expect respect for that work) and many Black men who street harass me speak to me in ways that they would never speak to a non-Black woman. Both White and Black men, divided by race yet connected by gender and patriarchy have absorbed the lies (created by White supremacy and racism; proliferated by men of every race) of Black women’s worthlessness and availability for sexual encounters.

When a woman recounts something traumatic, that is not the time for men to seek answers to their questions or try to exploit an already horrifying experience into a tool for their needs. I am not a dating coach who will lead men to the promise land of trying to acquire someone new to fuck on command. I don’t speak my truths for men to enter a dating course so that everything I say is relative to yet another heterosexual conquest. The dating “advice” market is actually dominated by women’s dollars as consumers. Men are not seeking this out or spending large amounts of money on this. Thus, the notion that they are really seeking dating advice at the most inappropriate time ever (while a woman is recounting street harassment experiences) is truly a lie; it’s solely derailment on their part. Their general behaviors do not reflect people genuinely looking for “advice.” Patriarchy, racism and sexism are such that heterosexual Black women’s dating standards and desires not Black men’s, for example, are deemed “unreasonable.” Even anti-Blackness shaping heterosexual Black men’s dating preferences is not deemed problematic. The onus is always placed on Black women. Even so, street harassment is NOT flirting or a precursor to dating, period. These do not need conflation, ever.

What surprises me most is the sheer level of entitlement involved here. It never occurs to these men that there’s nary an incident where I want them to speak to me in public, ever. That this tweet below sums up my feelings on this.

It never occurs to them that even their genuine compliments I can do without let alone can do without street harassment. That I am not interested in abuse or “flattery.” That I literally celebrate the days when men completely leave me alone.

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