While doing some housekeeping behind the scenes of these Coconut Chronicles, I stopped to read some of my old posts (I swear I’ll get around to re-formatting them some day). Overlooking some of the more egregious grammatical errors, it was kind of fun looking back on the Princess of ten years ago, what she thought, how she felt, where she was. Fun until I came upon this post and this one that described some truly awful days I spent working at the Canadian Princess Resort in Ucluelet, BC.
What did I feel after reading those posts? Disappointed. In myself for not speaking up. In that small percentage of the opposite sex that makes life awful for women. In the company that did not take steps to protect their staff.
It’s hard to read…
On top of the drive-ins, McFishing has two daily plane loads of guests, which yours truly meets and greets at the airport. These flight guests are usually drunk, often missing teeth, and are ready to make the best of their three days away from the old ‘Ball and Chain’. During the half hour bus ride back to the resort I give them some information, fill out registration cards, fend off wandering hands and try not to get drunk myself off all the fumes. Over the past three months I’ve noticed a correlation between the amount of alcohol a man consumes and how charming and handsome he thinks he is. I once had a drooling, farting, Jabba-the-Hut-type man ask me if I wanted to come to his room for (wink wink) ‘french lessons’ (insert rude tongue gesture here). He thought this was hysterical and looked genuinely surprised when I, politely, declined. So I’ve nicknamed our bus “The Meat Bus” – if you haven’t already guessed, I’m the meat.
…and remember that I did nothing, nothing to protest this or demand management deal with this terrible situation. Sure, I needed a job and the money was good but no amount of money should involve opening yourself to sexual harassment every damn day.
But there is another more insidious reason I did nothing about that abuse: it seemed normal. That is to say, over the years I’d witnessed and been on the receiving end of so much bad male behaviour that one more instance didn’t jump out at me as something shocking. This was merely how the world worked—some guys were creepers and you just found workarounds to deal with it.
I don’t feel that way anymore but getting to that place involved a good amount of education and self-awareness. I had to take a lot of steps back and examine everything I had internalized as normal. “Normal” isn’t chiseled in stone. “Normal” is what you learn from birth onward. “Normal” can be changed if it is wrong.
Changing “normal” can be tricky. The first instinct when you realize you (and the other 49.99% of the population) have been duped is anger. That anger can be useful. Laws change when large groups of people get angry enough to change them. But anger can also put people on the defensive, especially when those people lack a common reference point.
We [women] have all learned, either by instinct or by trial and error, how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable. How to avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all, on many occasions, ignored an offensive comment. We’ve all laughed off an inappropriate come-on. We’ve all swallowed our anger when being belittled or condescended to.
It doesn’t feel good. It feels icky. Dirty. But we do it because to not do it could put us in danger or get us fired or labeled a bitch. So we usually take the path of least precariousness. ~ Gretchen Kelly
We’re angry at men for not understanding something that they simply cannot comprehend because they don’t experience it and we don’t talk about it.
After reading those old posts of mine I talked to Prez and started listing just a handful—a tiny handful—of some of the incidents I’ve been subject to from as early as nine years old, and it struck me how few of those incidents I’ve ever shared, with anyone.
In fact, the incident at nine years old happened at school. I was in the classroom during lunch for some reason I can’t recall (probably reading). A kid named Norman walked in with two of the class goons. (Yes, there are goons in fourth grade). The three boys walked to where I sat and Norman said, “Strip!” You can imagine the shock on my young face. He said it again, “Strip!” and the boys moved closer to me. I ran. I ran to the safety of my friends playing outside. I did not tell my friends what had happened—I could barely process it myself.
I did not tell my friends. I did not tell my teacher. I did not tell my parents. I did not tell anyone, not for more than thirty years. The way I saw it, these were things that some boys/men did sometimes and I was lucky, and, after all, nothing bad happened. But some days I wonder whatever happened to Norman and if there are girls and women out there who weren’t as fast on their feet as I was, and I feel deeply ashamed for not speaking up.
What this unpleasant stroll down memory lane has taught me is that the time for silence is over. Even if it seems we women are being overly nit-picky, we need to point these things out. Until everyone understands the landscape in which women must function, the term “male ally” will remain empty words.
When you start to discuss the subject, it is surprising to find out how little many men know about the world women inhabit. I had an uncomfortable conversation with Prez a while back about some comments he had made during a science fiction convention I was attending. He was not part of the convention but we connected briefly at the hotel bar. He was tipsy and he was imitating some guy he’d seen on YouTube, some show he found hilarious. This behaviour was waaaaaay out of character for Prez. I know he meant no harm and wasn’t trying to be a creeper but the female friends of mine he had just met for the first time might not have been so understanding.
During the uncomfortable conversation, I explained about the problems with harassment at cons,why many cons now have strict policies, and how his behaviour, no matter how innocent it seemed to him, could offend or threaten women. He was genuinely confused, embarrassed and apologetic. Then he asked me, “Well, if these cons are so bad for harassment why do you even go?”
My answer to that question was too lengthy to write out here but it can be summarized as, “If I didn’t go to any place I thought there might be a risk of harassment or sexual assault, I would never leave the house.”
That shocked him. It shocked me to admit it. But it is the truth.
This is not to give the impression that I believe danger lurks behind every corner and that every trip out my front door involves legions of creepy men waiting to pounce. It is an acknowledgment that I have run into problems in places I would have never expected.
While out for a solo run on a well-used trail: “Oh look, a guy masturbating under that tree. Guess I’ll take a different route today.” Sadly not my first (and probably not my last), experience with public wanking.
Men, most of you are awesome. High fives and gold stars! But even you, awesome men, sometimes step unknowingly into creeper territory. Not because that’s who you are but because the female across from you has a different history than you do. What is playful to you can be threatening to her…and she probably won’t tell you that. What can you, awesome guy, do to avoid being “that guy”? Well, here are some suggestions.
- Stop looking at her breasts. No, I don’t care what she’s wearing. Eyes up. Practice at home with a pin-up poster if you must.
- Consider how well you know the woman. Once a good friendship has been established you can let your hair down a bit and if you’ve paid attention you probably know what kind of person you’re dealing with and her comfort levels. There are jokes and language I will happily share with my close male friends that would completely creep me out coming from a man I barely know.
- Respect boundaries! If she says she doesn’t want to __________, don’t force the issue. She has her reasons. Pressuring and forcing is creepy.
- Don’t assume that because you have a wife or girlfriend you are non-threatening. Some of the biggest creepers I’ve encountered have been “happily” married.
- Consider the power dynamic. My time on The Meat Bus is a perfect example. A big part of my job description included being friendly and making guests feel welcome, and those men exploited my employee status. Don’t confuse professional courtesy with permission to be a creeper.
- Watch your body language. Pay particular attention to “trapping”—positioning yourself so that the woman you are speaking with feels there is no easy way out if she wants to create distance or leave.
- I don’t really have to explain why catcalling is bad, do I?!
- Accept that even a woman you think you know well may not be comfortable being alone with you. It’s not an insult to you, it’s simply what she needs to feel safe.
- Eyes up!
- Listen. Some of us are starting to talk about these things that bother and threaten us. When a woman trusts you enough to share that with you, don’t brush off her concerns as unimportant.
That final tip is your best bet. Listen. Women are so used to their concerns being joked about, belittled, or met with hostility that when we do talk about them that’s a pretty big deal. And if you’re ever worried that maybe you have crossed the line, it’s okay to ask, nicely, “Hey, that thing I said, did it bother you? Because I’m worried that maybe it bothered you.”
For my part, I’m making a conscious effort to speak up, to stop using workarounds when I can, and to make the people I love aware of the world in which I live. I hope you will join me.