I’ve written before about the educational gap that exists between clueless-yet-prospective male feminists and established female feminists, which is why the now viral video posted by Hollaback (in which a woman, while walking New York’s streets for 10 hours, is verbally harassed by male bystanders over 100 times) is so revelatory.
I cannot speak to the universality of the subject’s experience, but there is no escaping the nakedness of the abuse via context. Seeing is believing, and the nauseating, concussive nature of the abuse bordered on suffocative.
In his now infamous interview on CNN, self-proclaimed ‘cat-calling expert’ Steve Santagati trotted out all the tired justifications of boorish male behaviour. While he was (quite rightly) castigated on air and in the public domain, Santagati’s bizarre protestations are illuminating of the adolescent mindset numerous men remain mired in.
‘Mansplaining’ is oft-quoted shorthand for the inability of men to relate to issues uniquely experienced by women, one that is regularly linked to presumptions of male privilege. This diagnosis does not entirely excavate the psychosocial root of the issue. Mansplaining is borne from a pan-gendered perspective — an individual’s sense of invincibility. The belief that “that wouldn’t happen to me.”
Men often deal with women through a prism that is entirely governed by sexual politics.
When the allegations against Jian Ghomeshi surfaced, the expected backlash rose against several of the women who continue to remain anonymous (with good reason): “Why didn’t they go to the police?” “Why didn’t they file a complaint?” It is extremely presumptuous for an outsider to place themselves in a victim’s shoes, particularly survivors of sexual or physical violence.
Feelings of shame, guilt, and fear of reprisal are commonly documented in victims, but are poorly understood because those who are unaffected simply cannot fathom how victims could not stand up for themselves.
This is particularly prevalent in men. The cult of masculinity is defined by physical and sexual prowess — “I can beat you up and get all the girls.” Men outside this mold are belittled as effeminate and fragile, ‘lesser’ traits that are not cohesive in the temple of maledom. This is manifested in the square-jawed, monosyllabic action hero — the paragon of masculinity — who always gets the girl.
Thus, men often deal with women through a prism that is entirely governed by sexual politics. From an early age, men are conditioned to view women as physical objects to be appraised; this mindset tends to persist into adulthood, permeating every social relationship we build from that point.
A woman is not a person, she’s a W-O-M-A-N: an inanimate object that satisfies sexual desires and elevates one within the social order. The male identity is enormously anchored to such relationships, inasmuch that women now become property: baubles to be owned, ogled, and paraded. When women rebut sexual advances from men, they undercut their fundamental connection to masculinity, embarrassing them and precipitating careless, aimless anger.
So when Santagati says (and I’m paraphrasing) “admit it, you wouldn’t mind if the dude catcalling was hot,” he’s not so much missing the point as arguing something else entirely — acknowledging someone looks good makes that person feel good. But the context of such admonitions is key. Coping with relentless come-ons that run the gamut from mild to provocative to sexually gratuitous is a form of abuse alien to prototypically hetero men.
The male belief that “if some dude on the street harassed men, I’d kick his ass,” is a toxic and totally unrealistic fantasy. Santagati re-iterates this fantasy when he says “Well, if [women] don’t like it, [they should] do something about it.” Forget the threat of physical harm and “stand up for yourself!”
Though, standing up for yourself is not that easy.