Defensive Womaning and Navigating Missing Stairs

 

My husband and I met a potential new landlord yesterday, and without either of us realizing it, each of us walked away with very different impressions of what had happened during the meeting. The meeting was an ambiguous image, like the rabbit-duck or old-woman-young-woman illusion. Many human meetings are like that, particularly between the sexes.

Those of us who occasionally follow what feminists are saying, if only as reconnaissance, may have heard of the “missing stair problem” (warning: link not entirely SFW). Imagine a house with a poorly-lit stairway containing a missing stair. Everyone who lives there knows to step over the missing stair. Everyone who visits regularly knows about the stair, too. But a new visitor would not know, and if not told in time, might stumble and fall. Some people, the analogy goes, are like that missing stair – others must carefully work around them to avoid getting hurt, and the hazard they pose is simply taken for granted by those in the know. Sexual predators, in particular, are likened to the missing stair, especially sexual predators who aren’t “lone wolves” but who have ingratiated themselves into a community, where they become a fixture, and others take on the duty of attempting to protect innocent members from the predator (while also protecting the predator from social ostracism or having to change his ways) rather than “fixing the stair” by refusing to tolerate his predatory behavior.

Eventually you take it for granted that working around this guy is just a fact of life, and if he hurts someone, that’s the fault of whoever didn’t apply the workarounds correctly.

I have seen this happen. Most memorably at a church.

Myriad caddish, wolfish, or creepy behaviors fall short of being criminal, while some go beyond merely overstepping moral bounds and actually violate the law. Some guys are merely awkward and sometimes accidentally overstep bounds without meaning to. Others use ambiguity and the pretext of accident as cover for deliberately overstepping boundaries. The truly predatory are masters of the art of exploiting social ambiguity to take advantage, but many young men in love or at least in lust are a mix of trying to take advantage while also being rather overwhelmed themselves. How young women ought to act when surprised by – let’s just call it caddishness – is obviously an endlessly absorbing topic of conversation.

Evidently, young women should be schooled in defensive womaning, just as we school youths in defensive driving. It seems that girls used to get defensive womaning lessons, but we’ve dropped the ball with the past few generations:

I was a teenager in the late 1970s, long past the great awakening (sexual intercourse began in 1963, which was plenty of time for me), but as far away from Girl Power as World War I was from the Tet Offensive. The great girl-shaping institutions, significantly the magazines and advice books and novels that I devoured, were decades away from being handed over to actual girls and young women to write and edit, and they were still filled with the cautionary advice and moralistic codes of the ’50s…

…They told us over and over again that if a man tried to push you into anything you didn’t want, even just a kiss, you told him flat out you weren’t doing it. If he kept going, you got away from him. You were always to have “mad money” with you: cab fare in case he got “fresh” and then refused to drive you home. They told you to slap him if you had to; they told you to get out of the car and start wailing if you had to. They told you to do whatever it took to stop him from using your body in any way you didn’t want, and under no circumstances to go down without a fight. In so many ways, compared with today’s young women, we were weak; we were being prepared for being wives and mothers, not occupants of the C-Suite. But as far as getting away from a man who was trying to pressure us into sex we didn’t want, we were strong.

Neither liberals nor conservatives have given girls great lessons in defensive womaning lately. Anyone on the Right can recite the litany of what makes the Left’s lessons to young women bad – generally some variation on “this lesson encourages young women to avoid taking responsibility for themselves”. The Right’s lessons to young women don’t share a unifying flaw. Some lessons are too moralistic (“don’t do bad things and you won’t have to worry”). Some suffer from not being moral enough (“boys will be boys” or “experience is the best teacher!”). Advice on when and how young women should resort to violence in defense of their innocence tends to be conflicting: As conservatives, we don’t want to say violence is never the answer, but preparing young women to use violence to effectively deter unwanted sexual advances is, in fact, tricky, and it’s not really surprising when the underprepared freeze, especially when a strong desire to do violence to the one wronging them (a desire conservatives encourage) clashes with inexperience in handling sexually-charged scenarios (inexperience conservatives also encourage, since we value sexual innocence).

While plenty of people seem worried about stranger rape, the caddish behavior women find themselves (successfully or unsuccessfully) fending off typically comes from acquaintances. Even sources highly skeptical about what counts as rape or assault acknowledge that most sexual assaults occur between acquaintances. Furthermore, a great many invasions of personal space that shouldn’t be prosecuted as assault (after all, the law cannot demand that men be able to read minds, or decipher every subtle cue) are nonetheless morally violating, and understandably leave young women feeling wronged when they occur.

We’re conservatives: we more than any other group ought to recognize that the law does not exist to right all wrongs. And this means we ought to be able to understand that young women can be sexually traduced even when no crime has occurred; that their sense of having been wronged isn’t necessarily in error, even when the vocabulary they use to describe the wrong (such as “assault” when it’s not assault) is grievously in error.

Conservatives generally suspect more damage is done by labeling a sexual encounter as assault when it isn’t than is done by failing to label it assault when it is. We can believe this while still acknowledging that not every mislabeling of an incident as assault is terribly inaccurate, nor are the men involved in such incidents innocent of wrong just because they’re innocent of a crime.

Which brings me back to missing stairs. A dude doesn’t have to be a criminal to be sexually predatory. Because we’ll never create a world free of sexual predation, of course we want to equip youth – and young women in particular – with skills to fend it off: hence defensive womaning. But neither should we tolerate a world where it’s everyone else’s job but the sexual predator’s to prevent sexual predation from happening. So, while we can teach young women truisms like guys are on average more socially clueless than girls, and can’t be trusted to respect every soft refusal, we rightfully won’t be believed if we push such lessons too far.

If we treat the disparity between men and women’s social skills as so great that we sound as if we’re claiming women are the ones responsible each time “clueless” men wishfully misinterpret women’s cues as sexual when they aren’t (rather than men being primarily responsible for themselves), we rightfully won’t be believed. The truth is, plenty of men are capable of understanding subtler social cues, at least when it’s convenient for them to do so, and while there are plenty of awkward young men out there, it’s also common for predators – or to use more neutral terminology, the sexually over-eager – to use “I didn’t geddit” as cover as long as they think they can get away with it.

If we treat young women’s freezing or hesitation in the face of shocking scenarios as something that only happens to babies with “no moral agency” – as if it’s impossible to be an adult who froze – we rightfully won’t be believed. If we keep on yammering on about women’s duty to carefully step over each missing stair, but we’re mysteriously silent on ever fixing a missing stair, we rightfully won’t be believed.

Even today, there are times when the plea, “Could we stop treating it as women’s duty to learn the art of carefully stepping around every missing stair and sometimes just fix the goddamn staircase instead?!” is a sensible one. This may come as a shock, but just because it’s a plea feminists make doesn’t automatically make it wrong.

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  1. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Stina (View Comment):

    The Whether Man (View Comment):
    I think there’s an example in universities, and among a certain breed of long-established (overwhelmingly male) professors who are used to having certain access to their students. In my direct observations, these have rarely crossed into prosecutable sexual assault, but can put women grad students in horrible positions where they are flirted with, their looks commented on, propositioned, touched inappropriately, and they may feel like they have little recourse because the person doing all these things has an outsized amount of control over their futures.

    I wish there was a system of reporting that didn’t result in automatic firing… It just served as a documentation process.

    It is, in my experience, a problem that campuses are so hypersensitized that you risk bringing disaster crashing down on the head of a guy who’s just been inappropriate, not criminal, if you tell the wrong person.

    When I was inappropriately surprise-groped as a student (by a fellow student, not a prof), the first thing I had to consider was my groper’s future. Not my own safety or well-being, but what any action I took might do to him, since I’d heard the horror stories. Fortunately, I had gotten to know a fair number of “older brothers” at college, who helped me understand the groper’s possible perspective.

    What I ended up doing was filing an informational report with the campus police. Maybe the guy who groped me was as confused as I was. Or maybe he really was a predatory perv, who’d do this (or worse) to others, too, if given the chance. There was no way I could tell. If he later escalated his behavior into something criminal, the campus police would already have this report. If he didn’t, no harm done, ever, to him. Or so the police told me.

    To be honest, I think it would be better for wronged young women, too, if the atmosphere on campus were less Manichean about sexual misbehavior. A gal shouldn’t have to be anxious that simply requesting guidance from university authorities about handling inappropriate attention risks making her judge, jury and executioner.

    • #31
  2. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Larry3435 (View Comment):
    Twenty years earlier I would have expected any woman to put on a demonstration of reluctance, whether she desired a sexual encounter or not. At that time, “no” did not necessarily mean “no.” It might mean “no,” or it might mean “yes, but you are going to have to work at it because I don’t want you to think that I’m ‘easy.’” I’m sure it is very politically incorrect for me to say that, but that is the way things were in the 50’s, and both young men and young women understood it. So while the “sexual revolution” made it easier for women to say “yes,” it also made it easier for them to say “no,” and there was much less of an excuse for men to persist after their advances had been rejected. The excuse of “mixed messages” had much less validity once women were under less social pressure to give the appearance of chastity.

    Oddly enough, though, not being mistaken for “easy” is still a big deal for many girls. It’s just that the definition of “easy” has changed. “Easy” doesn’t mean “will say yes with just a little coaxing”, it means something like “already hot for it” – and to be mistaken for “already hot for it” when you’re not can be, well, surprising.

    • #32
  3. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I think whatever the answer is, it has to end with women protecting themselves largely because we tried the other way, having good men protect us from bad men, and it was in itself the source of the oppression that was driving women nuts. It’s what’s still happening to Muslim women. When people protect you, they feel they have the right to control you, and they do so in some crazy ways.

    Young women can’t imagine how bad it was for women who were told where to work, where to drive, where to go, what to wear, and whom to talk to and whom not to. This is unimaginable for young women today–such overbearing and suffocating paternalism had become completely unacceptable by the 1970s at least in the Northeast–but it was pretty much routine before the sexual revolution. The reason given for the restriction was, “Men are beasts, and you are too weak and timid to protect yourself.” Women were living in fear, fear as much of the person protecting them as from the unknown attackers out there in the regular world.

    When we talk about the sexual revolution, we are usually talking about the right to behave sexually. But there was a deeper issue in play in the sixties and seventies: It was women saying, “I can protect myself. Don’t control me. I will go where I want to. I will do what I want to do.”

     

    • #33
  4. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    To be honest, I think it would be better for wronged young women, too, if the atmosphere on campus were less Manichean about sexual misbehavior. A gal shouldn’t have to be anxious that simply requesting guidance from university authorities about handling inappropriate attention risks making her judge, jury and executioner.

    I agree with this. When the authorities overreact, as they are doing now, they are making it impossible to handle little problems and keeping them as little problems.

    This happens on playgrounds too.

    • #34
  5. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):
    The reason they are in denial about it is because they just can’t believe that anyone else would: It’s too horrible to contemplate, so they just go into denial. But I get the feeling that isn’t what you are talking about.

    Actually, that denial can be part of protecting a “missing stair”. People get the feeling someone’s behavior is “a little off”, but the full implications of what that might mean are just too horrible to contemplate, and so… nobody does.

    Everyone can get sucked into a collective exercise in never-wanting-to-discover-how-bad-it-gets. The lucky ones, who get warned in time, hear, “There’s something not quite right about him” (and it’s usually a him). Their steering clear at least reduces the number of incidents, which is not nothing. The unlucky ones slip through the cracks and don’t get warned in time, though. And if they’re unfortunate enough to find out how much is not quite right about him, they may not be believed. “Oh no, he’s only a little peculiar/troubled, he would never…”

    And I get it. Wanting to believe the best of people is usually a good idea.

    Although, when push comes to shove, giving the benefit of the doubt to the missing stair takes the benefit of the doubt from those who report being hurt by the missing stair.

    • #35
  6. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    MarciN (View Comment):
    When we talk about the sexual revolution, we are usually talking about the right to behave sexually. But there was a deeper issue in play in the sixties and seventies: It was women saying, “I can protect myself. Don’t control me. I will go where I want to. I will do what I want to do.”

    I don’t think so. There were a lot of things that happened alongside the sex revolution that don’t fit this.

    Women in the West were never as oppressed as they were in the Middle East. Our heritage testifies to this, whether it be Norwegian Vikings and their free-women and shield maidens, Etruscans and their liberated wives, or Jewish-Christian women who managed their homes, procured wealth for their families, and were given the freedom to be generous with it, our heritage speaks of far more freedom than the East ever experienced with their women.

    Birth control and it’s advent freed women to experience sex without concern for security. So it wasn’t as much about male oppression as it was the oppression of motherhood.

    Do not forget that women had already secured the right to vote and were the spine of the economy during the wars.

    • #36
  7. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Stina (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):
    When we talk about the sexual revolution, we are usually talking about the right to behave sexually. But there was a deeper issue in play in the sixties and seventies: It was women saying, “I can protect myself. Don’t control me. I will go where I want to. I will do what I want to do.”

    I don’t think so.

    It really was. I was there. :) :) :)

    It was definitely a messy snowball, but this oppression “because I’m protecting you” was one big reason it attracted so much support among women generally.

    • #37
  8. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Although, when push comes to shove, giving the benefit of the doubt to the missing stair takes the benefit of the doubt from those report being hurt by the missing stair.

    How many times have you witnessed this happening within a group of people? I have never witnessed it. I brought up the sexual abuse scandals withing the Catholic Church because that is the closest thing I have ever seen to what you describe; I was raised Catholic, but neither I nor anyone I know has ever as far as I know personally known a priest who was accused of abuse.

    Have you repeatedly witnessed adults protecting sexual deviants whom they know personally? You have obviously seen it at least once, but I would argue that what you describe is not normal or accepted behavior in our country.

    The problem of college professors hitting on students is more normal and more accepted; one of the reasons it often goes unaddressed is because often, the students are not necessarily opposed to being hit on. Some are, but many are not. I actually had a professor who was known for sleeping with many of his students; one of my male friends was very concerned about this. He approached every woman he knew who he knew had slept with this professor, and he asked them how they felt about it: every single one of them said they were totally fine with it. They had nothing but good things to say about the professor. So, my male friend just kind of threw his hands up and said, “Ok, whatever”. I am not sure what else he could have done. College professors hitting on students definitely happens a lot, I would never dispute that-everybody knows that, right? But men surprise groping unsuspecting women in churches, and doing it repeatedly, and being protected by everyone around them? Is this really a widespread problem? I am sure it happens, but everything happens. The question is, how often does it happen, and is it a reflection on our entire society, or is it just something that happens in a few weird churches filled with weird people?

    • #38
  9. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Annefy (View Comment):
    from the OP:

    ” …sexual predators who aren’t “lone wolves” but who have ingratiated themselves into a community, where they become a fixture, and others take on the duty of attempting to protect innocent members from the predator (while also protecting the predator from social ostracism or having to change his ways) rather than “fixing the stair” by refusing to tolerate his predatory behavior.

    I’m trying to think of an example – for the life of me, all I can come up with is the fictional mother in “The Dead Zone”.

    If you at what young women write agony aunts these days, you’ll find examples. Here, for example, is “Ben”:

    Ben has also creeped on tons of other girls, including every friend I’ve brought around. Other instances of Ben’s behaviour have included:

    • Offering to drive my stranded friend home from a party, then informing her that he expected sex as “payment” when he dropped her off; following her to the house after she said no
    • Sending gross, inappropriate or just plain crass messages over Facebook
    • Texting my friend about how he’s “jerking off” while thinking about her
    • Straight-up fondling (fully awake and conscious) girls that he’s just met, or at the very least getting uncomfortably touchy-feely with them
    • Attempting to have sex with his friend’s girlfriend, on more than one occasion

    For what should be obvious reasons, every single girl in our group of friends completely hates Ben, and none of us want him around. However, when I tried to bring up the subject with Boyfriend and our guy friends, none of them seemed willing to admit that his behaviour was predatory or threatening, and they seemed reluctant to take a strong stance against him. They never spoke to Ben about his behaviour; in fact, they treated him as if he was a fragile child who was unable to deal with the consequences of his own actions. They also continued to include him in our activities…

    I later found out from another friend… that Ben has been emotionally manipulating my boyfriend, and probably others, so he can continue his horrible behaviour without being called out.

    The agony aunt replied, “Your boyfriend’s friend Ben is pretty much going to rape someone if he hasn’t already… Everything you describe about his behavior is how serial sexual predators work.”

    Harsh, maybe, to say of guy who’s just being a jerk to people who, let’s face it, are being pretty doormatty themselves, and letting him get away with it? Yeah, I think a lot of conservatives might find the assessment harsh.

    But it’s not necessarily wrong. Push that behavior a little farther, and you begin testing whether someone has the heroic presence of mind to head off immanent rape. And, in a group that’s been tolerating a missing stair indefinitely, I wouldn’t bet on anyone having that.

    So no, the “missing stair” isn’t a veiled reference to famous men, but a much more everyday occurrence.

    • #39
  10. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Okay. Thanks for the specifics. I think we’re getting somewhere. Your original comments were way to vague.

    So am I correct that what you’re referring to is women who are uncomfortable with a guy’s predatory/creepy behavior and they don’t get any support/protection from men in their “community”, by which you mean circle of friends?

     

    • #40
  11. Merrijane Inactive
    Merrijane
    @Merrijane

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:If we treat young women’s freezing or hesitation in the face of shocking scenarios as something that only happens to babies with “no moral agency” – as if it’s impossible to be an adult who froze – we rightfully won’t be believed. If we keep on yammering on about women’s duty to carefully step over each missing stair, but we’re mysteriously silent on ever fixing a missing stair, we rightfully won’t be believed.

    Even today, there are times when the plea, “Could we stop treating it as women’s duty to learn the art of carefully stepping around every missing stair and sometimes just fix the goddamn staircase instead?!” is a sensible one. This may come as a shock, but just because it’s a plea feminists make doesn’t automatically make it wrong.

    I’ve posted before about punching a boy in high school who couldn’t keep his hands to himself. Yet in college I found myself in the ridiculous position of sitting next to a friend who very gradually by degrees over the course of about 30-60 minutes slumped down and lowered his head onto my lap while we were watching a movie at someone’s apartment. To be clear, he wasn’t welcome. I wasn’t there on a date with him, and I never touched him or encouraged him in any way. Still, I literally had no idea what to do because I was worried about embarrassing him in front of all the other people in the room if I told him to stop or pushed him off. If he’d confronted me more forcefully, I would have had no problem popping him one, but something about the sly slowness of the tactic totally threw me off.

    After it was all over and I had completely ignored him for a couple of weeks, one of my girl friends told me how hurt he was that I had “dumped” him. We were never dating. Talk about interpreting the same situation differently!

    A lot of women (especially very young women) are too concerned about not coming across as mean or abrasive. You can teach us all you want, but the tendency toward smoothing things over is pretty deeply ingrained. On the other hand, you can teach young men all you want about how to behave and some of them are still going to be completely frigging idiotic. So basically, I have no answers.

    • #41
  12. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    So no, the “missing stair” isn’t a veiled reference to famous men, but a much more everyday occurrence.

    Ben is a total creep: I don’t think any criticism of him would be too harsh, and I am kind of offended that you suggest that conservatives in general would in any way tolerate his behavior. I have never been in any group of people-liberal, conservative, or otherwise, who would tolerate Ben. The men who are allowing Ben to get away with this should be immediately abandoned by all the women in their lives: why hasn’t that happened?

    Look: there are good guys and bad guys. There are men who protect women, and men who protect bad guys. Ben’s friends have clearly proven themselves to be in the latter group; the girls in that group should en masse cut them off, with no hope for redemption. Ben is obviously more important to them than the girls are: they made their choice, let them live with it.

    • #42
  13. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    The agony aunt replied, “Your boyfriend’s friend Ben is pretty much going to rape someone if he hasn’t already… Everything you describe about his behavior is how serial sexual predators work.”

    Harsh, maybe, to say of guy who’s just being a jerk to people who, let’s face it, are being pretty doormatty themselves, and letting him get away with it? Yeah, I think a lot of conservatives might find the assessment harsh.

    But it’s not necessarily wrong. Push that behavior a little farther, and you begin testing whether someone has the heroic presence of mind to head off immanent rape. And, in a group that’s been tolerating a missing stair indefinitely, I wouldn’t bet on anyone having that.

    So no, the “missing stair” isn’t a veiled reference to famous men, but a much more everyday occurrence.

    I understand what you are saying. My mother used to say that people dismissed Hitler’s rise to power because he was evil to other people but not to me. The he’s-not-bothering-me syndrome. People absolve themselves of any responsibility to act.

    It’s true of all bullying situations too.

    The victim cannot help himself or herself in these situations. They have to get help, and it is not right to ignore people who need the help.

    Someone bigger and stronger is the only person a bully will respect and back down from.

    Sexual assault is a kind of bullying, and the business world, of necessity, is coming up with solutions for it. They have to–their financial life is on the line.

     

    • #43
  14. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    MarciN (View Comment):
    The victim cannot help himself or herself in these situations. They have to get help, and it is not right to ignore people who need the help.

    This is not always true: the women in the scenario described by agony aunts are not trapped in any way. They are freely choosing to associate with men who feel no obligation to protect them in any way. Why they would even want to associate with such men, I have no idea, but nobody is forcing them. Tragically, if these women continue hanging around with Ben and the men who protect him, someone will be seriously hurt, and when that happens, I fully support throwing the book at Ben, but that will be cold comfort to the woman who gets seriously hurt.

    The women in this particular situation have a choice: they have lots of choices.

    • #44
  15. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Stina (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):
    When we talk about the sexual revolution, we are usually talking about the right to behave sexually. But there was a deeper issue in play in the sixties and seventies: It was women saying, “I can protect myself. Don’t control me. I will go where I want to. I will do what I want to do.”

    I don’t think so.

    It really was. I was there. :) :) :)

    It was definitely a messy snowball, but this oppression “because I’m protecting you” was one big reason it attracted so much support among women generally.

    I see this used frequently to self-describe the sometimes savage behavior of men toward women in the Middle East. Or they might invoke Allah. Don’t know if that’s the case with South Asia and the Far East, maybe that is more just oppression.

    Different item: was the resulting abortion on demand (men shut-up) part of this messy snowball, or am I conflating in error?

    • #45
  16. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):
    The victim cannot help himself or herself in these situations. They have to get help, and it is not right to ignore people who need the help.

    This is not always true: the women in the scenario described by agony aunts are not trapped in any way. They are freely choosing to associate with men who feel no obligation to protect them in any way. Why they would even want to associate with such men, I have no idea, but nobody is forcing them. Tragically, if these women continue hanging around with Ben and the men who protect him, someone will be seriously hurt, and when that happens, I fully support throwing the book at Ben, but that will be cold comfort to the woman who gets seriously hurt.

    The women in this particular situation have a choice: they have lots of choices.

    Are they aware that they have choices here though?  And are they willing to face up to the consequences of those choices?

    Is she aware she can give an ultimatum to her boyfriend that Ben is not allowed around her?  Can she ask him to ditch Ben before someone is really hurt?  Does she want to come across as “that woman”, you know, the one who is telling her boyfriend what friends he can, and cannot have?  Is she worried that her boyfriend will think her manipulative, or controlling?  Is she willing to risk a breakup over this?  Yes, she has a choice to make here – stay silent and risk the rape of herself or one of her friends, or speak up and risk losing her boyfriend while unfairly earning the scorn of his friends.

    I’m reminded of a saying: when you marry, you aren’t just marrying your spouse, you’re buying the whole family package.  That applies to your spouse’s circle of friends too – you get them in the mix too.

    And in light of that – suppose Ben were not merely the boyfriend’s friend, but maybe his brother, or cousin, or uncle instead?  That would make Ben an even bigger problem.

    • #46
  17. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):
    The victim cannot help himself or herself in these situations. They have to get help, and it is not right to ignore people who need the help.

    This is not always true: the women in the scenario described by agony aunts are not trapped in any way. They are freely choosing to associate with men who feel no obligation to protect them in any way. Why they would even want to associate with such men, I have no idea, but nobody is forcing them. Tragically, if these women continue hanging around with Ben and the men who protect him, someone will be seriously hurt, and when that happens, I fully support throwing the book at Ben, but that will be cold comfort to the woman who gets seriously hurt.

    The women in this particular situation have a choice: they have lots of choices.

    Great points Judithann. I am often appalled by behavior women will put up with and / or engage in. I am embarrassed by how many times I have said “60 years of feminism and you’re sending a naked picture of yourself to some guy??”

    The scenario laid out by MFR’s comment would have been barely worth a discussion when I was young (70s) and certainly wouldn’t have warranted a letter to Dear Abby.

    Who needs to be taught to not hang out with creeps?

    • #47
  18. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):
    The victim cannot help himself or herself in these situations. They have to get help, and it is not right to ignore people who need the help.

    This is not always true: the women in the scenario described by agony aunts are not trapped in any way. They are freely choosing to associate with men who feel no obligation to protect them in any way. Why they would even want to associate with such men, I have no idea, but nobody is forcing them. Tragically, if these women continue hanging around with Ben and the men who protect him, someone will be seriously hurt, and when that happens, I fully support throwing the book at Ben, but that will be cold comfort to the woman who gets seriously hurt.

    The women in this particular situation have a choice: they have lots of choices.

    That is true up to a point. However, because one must assume that others around him or her are acting in good faith, he or she is quite apt to ignore warning signs and dismiss things that don’t fit as our own misreading of other people. Context is a big qualifier for people. If I don’t expect this to happen, it’s hard to switch gears and realize it actually is.

    It is not an easy call to make when you are on the scene. We tend to reassure ourselves that others around us are playing by the same rules we are.

    I’ve always told my kids this story about my father-in-law. He was driving on a road late at night and saw headlights coming toward him on his side of the road. He swerved just in time to survive the crash and tell the story. He didn’t act sooner because he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He didn’t expect to see someone coming at him on his side of the road. I always told my kids that it is our incredulousness that will get us killed. :)

    It is difficult. Usually sharp elbows can end unwanted advances. But if that is not sufficient, then people should not hesitate to get help.

    What’s happening now through such discussions as we are having here, as @katebraestrup pointed out earlier in the thread, is that a needed vocabulary is emerging. And that will make these situations easier for people to diagnose sooner rather than later, and it will help people describe the problem so they can get help with it.

    • #48
  19. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Are they aware that they have choices here though? And are they willing to face up to the consequences of those choices?

    Obviously, they aren’t willing to accept the consequences of their choices. I was born in 1970, to WWII parents: I always took it for granted than men who refuse to protect women, especially when doing so is pretty easy, as it would be in the case of Ben-it’s not exactly like they have to drown in freezing waters here- are the lowest form of scum. I think Ben’s friends are just as disgusting as he is. Why any woman would want to be around them is beyond me; why any woman would feel any sympathy for Ben is beyond me. But, things have changed since I was a kid: has the emphasis on fairness and equality resulted in a situation where young women feel that they can’t expect anything from men? There has been talk about the education girls used to receive in the old days: a big part of that was discerning the good guys from the bad guys. There have always been bad guys. In the past, they were the object of contempt, not sympathy, and no one felt guilty about showing them the contempt they deserve. Nobody worried about hurting their feelings.

    • #49
  20. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    I’m reminded of a saying: when you marry, you aren’t just marrying your spouse, you’re buying the whole family package. That applies to your spouse’s circle of friends too – you get them in the mix too.

    If the girl is willing to walk away from the guy on her terms, it may have a bigger impact then her trying to have it both ways – the boyfriend and no Ben.

    Small comfort to her, but may reinforce better policing of friends.

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    And in light of that – suppose Ben were not merely the boyfriend’s friend, but maybe his brother, or cousin, or uncle instead? That would make Ben an even bigger problem.

    That is tricky. In many ways, though, there needs to be laying down of the law by the healthy males to keep the unhealthy ones in check. A lackadaisical attitude that makes you prone to manipulation makes for a bad recipe. “Dude – what you did there? Not cool.”

    It needs to be out in the open and men need to be in front of it in their own circles.

    I have heard from people here that there is that unspoken code among women that they all know that one. I have never witnessed the ones as serious as Midge suggests. My broken stairs were awkward but nice. Insistent, but not pushy. I wished they would leave me be, but it was just not knowing any better. I can see them getting into trouble because they are clueless and no one is giving them good advice or teaching therm how to handle themselves. In all cases, friends and family (of mine) enabled them and encouraged them.

    Or maybe they were the serious ones and I just didn’t know?

    • #50
  21. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Here’s a good example of men protecting the broken stair:

    https://www.thedailybeast.com/i-tried-to-warn-you-about-sleazy-billionaire-jeffrey-epstein-in-2003

    • #51
  22. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    So no, the “missing stair” isn’t a veiled reference to famous men, but a much more everyday occurrence.

    Ben is a total creep: I don’t think any criticism of him would be too harsh, and I am kind of offended that you suggest that conservatives in general would in any way tolerate his behavior.

    I don’t think we would in person.

    I’ve observed, though, that sometimes online we work ourselves into the rhetorical corner of defending the Bens of the world. And when we do, it does us no favors.

    I have never been in any group of people-liberal, conservative, or otherwise, who would tolerate Ben. The men who are allowing Ben to get away with this should be immediately abandoned by all the women in their lives: why hasn’t that happened?

    I completely agree that girls in such a situation ought to make it clear that it’s either Ben or them, and personally, I agree with your cynical assessment below that it seems their boyfriends have already chosen Ben:

    Look: there are good guys and bad guys. There are men who protect women, and men who protect bad guys. Ben’s friends have clearly proven themselves to be in the latter group; the girls in that group should en masse cut them off, with no hope for redemption. Ben is obviously more important to them than the girls are: they made their choice, let them live with it.

    It’s possible to dismiss the girls that haven’t figured this out yet as the dregs of womandom, freakishly broken females who don’t deserve to be let out of the house. Or, we could recognize that, without guidance, in a world where many sexual boundaries have broken down, uncertainty like this is a phase that many girls are likely to pass through.

    Would these girls be writing agony aunts with what I’m sure strike old-timers as these absolutely ludicrous problems if they’d been taught better how to assert their boundaries? Perhaps some would – the world is a vast and wondrous place, including some people who really are too stupid for words.

    But in a world where you can load the King’s College Christmas Service on YouTube and find some joker in the comments saying, “Haha! I fapped to that!”, maybe it really does become harder for young girls to assert that there is, in fact, something wrong with guys paying them the unsolicited “compliment” of, “I just jerked one out in your honor.” Maybe girls could use more instruction, not less, in how to effectively enforce sexual boundaries.

    • #52
  23. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    MarciN (View Comment):
    Context is a big qualifier for people. If I don’t expect this to happen, it’s hard to switch gears and realize it actually is.

    This is true. I was in a situation in college which involved women mistreating another woman. When I was 19, one of my friends got pregnant. Her boyfriend was a guy in the department who was very popular with most of the women. When he found out that she was pregnant, he dumped her, told her that he wanted her to get an abortion, and started lobbying for support from other women who wanted to date him. They eagerly came to his defense, and joined him in pressuring my friend to get an abortion. I couldn’t believe or conceive of what I was witnessing. I made sure that he knew that I strongly disapproved of what he was doing: I refused to ever speak to him again, and I stayed away from the women who were supporting him; I never really had a relationship with them anyway. I put serious distance between myself and many of the people in that group, but I did not leave that group at that time, and I should have. I didn’t leave partly because the whole scenario was so horrific I didn’t even want to think about it, and mostly because I wanted to continue attending classes and being part of that department: I wasn’t willing to accept the consequences of walking away from that group. I wish that I had been.

    I begged and pleaded with my friend to not have an abortion: I was as far as I know the only friend who defended her; most if not all of her other friends were pushing for an abortion. She ended up having a miscarriage; she is still friends with the girl who was most enthusiastic about pushing for the abortion, but she hasn’t spoken to me in years. Needless to say, I think she is not wise in her choice of friends, but wisdom does not arise out of nothing. Her father was aware of what was going on, and at no point did he point out to her that what these women were doing was pure evil. He seemed to think that what was going on was acceptable: he did not attempt to push her in either direction, but he did not attempt to defend her or help her to defend herself in any way. I was flabbergasted by that.

    From that point on, my relationship with virtually all of the people in that department was strictly business. I looked elsewhere for my social life; within a year or two, I was basically driven out of the department by people who felt that I was arrogant and unfriendly, and I laugh about it now, because I really was arrogant and unfriendly-for good reason, I think. But I should have left a lot sooner than I did.

    • #53
  24. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Annefy (View Comment):
    Who needs to be taught to not hang out with creeps?

    If you’re asking this question, it’s probably because you were taught early on, perhaps not even realizing that this was something you were taught.

    But we can tell it’s something that’s taught by what happens to the girls who aren’t taught it.

    • #54
  25. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Stina (View Comment):
    That is tricky. In many ways, though, there needs to be laying down of the law by the healthy males to keep the unhealthy ones in check. A lackadaisical attitude that makes you prone to manipulation makes for a bad recipe. “Dude – what you did there? Not cool.”

    And in well-functioning social circles, this still happens.

    One potential “missing stair” among my college group was a graduate student who… Well, he got so nervous around girls he couldn’t speak, so he’d just sorta grab instead. This proved fixable. First, he did have to experience some painful ostracization making it clear his actions had not been OK, but he also got help and encouragement from male friends more skilled in approaching women. When nudged, he could learn to use his words to express interest, not inappropriate action.

    How does a guy get to graduate school without having learned you have to talk to the gals you’re interested in, not just grab them? Search me. But this wasn’t a fellow playing dumb – he really was that dumb at first, and hence teachable.

    Young men and women having each others’ backs and looking out for one another isn’t a problem, and so doesn’t attract the attention that problem behavior does, but it’s when young men and women look out for one another that fixing or avoiding problem behavior becomes easiest: it’s cooperation between the sexes rather than a “war”.

    • #55
  26. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Annefy (View Comment):
    Who needs to be taught to not hang out with creeps?

    If you’re asking this question, it’s probably because you were taught early on, perhaps not even realizing that this was something you were taught.

    But we can tell it’s something that’s taught by what happens to the girls who aren’t taught it.

    Well, yes and no. I have no idea who taught it to me; I seriously don’t remember even having a conversation about it with either my mom or dad. Probably more in the way of stories they told rather than direct directions.

    There’s another part of this that hasn’t been touched on, which is the predatory behavior of females. Women like the power they have and it’s not unusual for them to abuse it. They might not like the guy who is pursuing them, but there is power and satisfaction in being pursued.

    I know of two young women who have signaled to a guy in their life that they’re interested; they’re not. Not even a little. But to be blunt and clear on that would end the pursuit.

    I spoken to each of them privately and told them what they’re doing is wrong.

    On a parenting note, I had one trick that was very effective. I was bullied pretty bad and shared those stories with my kids. And I told them over and over, every time you think about bullying someone or you see someone being bullied, just remember, that was me.

    With my sons, they were reminded constantly that they had a mom and a sister, and that they should treat every single woman in their life the way they would want their mom and their sister treated.

    My daughter was reminded similarly; she saw her brothers getting strung along by females and she was instructed in no uncertain terms to not be that chick.

    • #56
  27. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Merrijane (View Comment):
    A lot of women (especially very young women) are too concerned about not coming across as mean or abrasive. You can teach us all you want, but the tendency toward smoothing things over is pretty deeply ingrained.

    Ingrained, yes. Maybe in a time of “girl power” we tend to overlook how much it is ingrained and must be deliberately compensated for if we want to keep our boundaries.

    • #57
  28. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):
    Needless to say, I think she is not wise in her choice of friends, but wisdom does not arise out of nothing. Her father was aware of what was going on, and at no point did he point out to her that what these women were doing was pure evil.

    “Wisdom does not arise out of nothing.” That is perceptive, and goes to the heart of what I’m getting at.

    • #58
  29. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Annefy (View Comment):
    Who needs to be taught to not hang out with creeps?

    Whenever this comes up, I always want to say, kids in foster care, kids in severely broken and poor homes, . . .

    You’re right generally speaking, but when self-respect is missing for some reason, young girls are very vulnerable.

    • #59
  30. Merrijane Inactive
    Merrijane
    @Merrijane

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Annefy (View Comment):
    Who needs to be taught to not hang out with creeps?

    If you’re asking this question, it’s probably because you were taught early on, perhaps not even realizing that this was something you were taught.

    But we can tell it’s something that’s taught by what happens to the girls who aren’t taught it.

    I have a sister-in-law, and I know a few other young women, who erroneously assume that if their parents or other authority figures designate a guy as a “creep,” they are being judgmental and not recognizing the intrinsic value of that person. The put themselves at risk because of some sort of combination of rebelliousness, naivety, and Wendy syndrome.

    • #60
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