Sunday, 13 October 2019

Leaving women alone should not be a big deal

This blog post should be filed squarely under "I cannot believe this even needs to be said" but here we go... Yesterday, Mallory Hagan, a former candidate for Congress and Miss America 2013, tweeted the following truth which should be self-evident:

Dear every man in America, I’m sitting at the bar by myself because I want to. Please be self-aware enough to know when we are simply not interested in carrying on conversation. Sincerely, 
All women

Sadly, it should come as no surprise that this tweet triggered men far and wide and soon Mallory had to deal with an online pile-on from overgrown, entitled toddlers throwing testosterone tantrums (with apologies to the perfectly adorable and polite toddlers I know). And there were, depressingly, a few women joining in - generally the "but I love being chatted up!" brigade.

Let's go through some of the asinine responses to break down why they're tweeting utter horseshit, shall we? *rolls up sleeves, has bottle of brain bleach at the ready*

Of course Stefan Molyneux piped up. Any opportunity to be a misogynistic dick, eh Stef? He tweeted:

"Drinking alone in public with a hostile and entitled attitude. RUUUUUUN!!!!!"

I see you, Stef. I fucking see you. You think that if you say something rude about a woman and then imply that this makes her unattractive to men everywhere then she'll realise the error of her ways and go out of her way to make sure next time a man talks to her, she'll fawn all over him whether she wants to or not. You big hero, Stef! Look at you speaking up for the men who feel entitled to conversation from every woman they meet, claiming that you're actually helping them rather than telling women what to do. Because that's not at all creepy...

And now for a tweet from a guy who, without irony, claims to know why all women do the things they do:

"No woman goes alone to a bar/club if she is not looking for attention. She goes with her girlfriends."

Sorry, but you clearly don't know any women who travel regularly for work (or indeed women who have gone out on the pull with a few girlfriends - and that's perfectly fine too). I am a woman who travels for work. Sometimes I want to have a quiet drink after a long day working. Inevitably, I've been talking to people all day, I'm possibly jetlagged and the last thing I feel like is a conversation with a stranger. But I might want a glass of wine and some time alone. I might use the time to lazily scroll through the news on my phone, check emails, write up my notes or I might just want to have a drink and watch the passing parade. Whatever the case, it's nobody's business but mine.

If someone tries to talk to me under these circumstances, I quickly and politely let that person know I'm not interested in a conversation - as I'm sure Mallory does too, judging by her patient replies to the idiotic tweets. Usually I am then left in peace. Sometimes I feel the need to flash my wedding ring and let it be known that I am married - but I shouldn't have to do that, just as a single woman shouldn't feel obliged to invent a husband or boyfriend to be left alone. But if someone is persistent and you're alone, especially if you're far from home, that is the kind of thing that women often feel they have to do to feel safe without causing offence. 

We are conditioned to not cause offence, to always be polite and demure, even if we're receiving unwanted attention and don't feel safe. That is how fucked up things still are for women. 

Then there's the tweet from the guy who assumes that a woman who wants to be left alone will suddenly change her mind when an Adonis appears at the bar:

"Translation: “Unattractive Beta males should know their place and not approach me. If you are attractive it’s your duty to approach me.”

This guy would be stunned to know that there are women who don't want to be approached at a bar by anyone, regardless of where they might fall on the scale of attractiveness, conventional or otherwise. Of course, it could be that a good-looking man might enter the bar, the lone woman may spot him and it could be one of those love-or-at-least-lust-at-first-sight moments and if she decides to have a conversation with him, that's her right just as it is to ignore him - except that LIFE IS NOT A GODDAMN MOVIE! There are myriad reasons why a woman might be drinking alone in a bar and for many of us, it wouldn't matter who walked through the door, we'd still like to have a drink in blissful solitude. 

And there were plenty of tweets mansplaining bars to Mallory, such as this genius:

"People go to bars to SOCIALIZE. It's that kind of place."

The use of capital letters always makes a point more valid, right? And sure, the majority of people in any given bar probably are there to socialise. But that doesn't mean that people who want to have a drink by themselves should stay away. If a solo individual wants to buy a drink, whoever owns the bar is hardly likely to stop them give they're in the business of making money through selling drinks. Anyone who tweeted this sort of tripe while claiming to be a free market capitalist is, with all due respect, an idiot. 

And here we go with one Dr Saad. He's a professor of evolutionary biology, according to his Twitter bio. But here he proves that having a PhD does not exempt a man from being a dick:

"If you are sitting at a bar, it is perfectly reasonable for people to think that you are open to social interactions. It takes a lot of courage for most men to approach women. If they do so politely, act kindly rather than as a smug schmuck to half of humanity. Dr. Saad- A man"

No, Prof, it's not "perfectly reasonable for people to think you are open to social interactions". You have no idea why that woman is alone in the bar. Maybe she has just received some bad news and wants to process it over a drink. Maybe she is there to get away from a pesky man in another bar. And sure, you won't know unless you approach her - but if you approach her with the assumption that she is "open to social interactions", you're already being an entitled twat.

And, yes, I get it - it takes courage to approach a woman, just as some women need to summon up courage to approach a man - or just as any of us have to summon up courage to have any number of difficult conversations in this life. But even if it took every ounce of courage you possess to talk to a woman in a bar, she still does not owe you her time or a conversation. You do not get to assume that she really wants a man to insert himself into the situation or into any other part of her life or anatomy.

At no point did Mallory suggest that women shouldn't "act kindly" if someone approaches them politely so to go straight to accusing her of being a "smug schmuck to half of humanity" is a rather un-nuanced escalation for someone who claims to be an academic.

This tweet is just the academic version of the common man-whine of "How are men and women meant to get together if men can't talk to women anymore?". Sit down. Nobody is saying men can't talk to women. We are simply saying we don't owe you anything if you talk to us and if we make it clear we're not interested, back off. Men and women are still getting together, and if they are doing so in a more mutually respectful manner these days, that's a good thing. 

And then there is the patronising oversimplification from a man:

"Try this simple hack: “Nice to meet you, I’m not interested in talking right now.” Works every time"

No, it doesn't work every time. If a polite response worked every time, it wouldn't be a problem for women. How the hell would a man know if it works every time anyway? He is only speaking from his own experience. If he can accept that a woman is not interested, good for him but he can't assume that every man who is politely turned away will take no for an answer. 

There were plenty of responses to Mallory's tweet along the lines of  a sarcastic "the struggle is real", as if she is detracting from what a bunch of men on the internet have decided to deem as genuine oppression against women. The struggle is real. We know the struggle is real because conversations where women have told someone they're not interested have ended up in their rape or murder. That's why it's a struggle and that's why we have the right to be angry about this issue along with the thousands of other reasons from around the world for why feminism should still exist.

And here are a few terrible responses from women, such as this one:

"Well Mallory, there are many of us women out here who adore men. In fact, take me as an example: I quite prefer conversation with a man over a self-absorbed puppet propaganda female."

Thank you for perpetuating the myth of the man-hating feminist. It is possible to "adore men" and expect these adorable creatures to show us respect if we want to be left alone. You are perfectly entitled to talk to men instead of women. Literally nobody is stopping you from doing this.  

And just as there are patronising men, there are women who are not above patronising other women:

"Dear men, Not all women are like this. If you speak to me, I’m perfectly capable of being polite. I’m often blessed by the stories/people I meet when I don’t close myself off. A brief conversation never hurt anyone. And listening is a valuable skill to develop. Sincerely, me."

Oh yawn. Any civilised adult is "perfectly capable of being polite". The problem is that a polite refusal is not always respected. Good for you that you've been "blessed" by the strangers that you've met because you don't close yourself off. But nobody should be expected to be permanently open to chatting to strangers, no matter how fascinating they may be. As for the patronising guff about listening being a valuable skill to develop, it is precisely because I've spent all day listening to people that I might want a drink by myself when I'm off duty.   

"Dear Men, when I was single, I was mature enough to carry on a conversation with men, and when their attention was unwanted or inappropriate, to let them know that I wasn’t interested. PS, you all responded as mature humans as well."

And this is the terrible female equivalent of the man of the "simple hack". Just as he has never seen an example of a bad situation as a result of a woman rejecting a man politely, this lucky woman is here to tell us that when she politely rejected men, 100% of the time they "all responded as mature humans". That's great but extrapolating from the example of one is stupid. 

If you refuse to recognise that not every polite refusal ends in a civilised manner, you are denying the real experiences of real women than happen all over the world every day. When these interactions go sour, at best, it might result in an awkward conversation - but, hey, nobody ever died of embarrassment, right? Or it could escalate to an angry conversation. Or it could end in unwanted touching, which could be an insistent hand on the arm, hand or thigh or it could be rape or murder.   

Because men who feel entitled to a conversation from a woman can easily be the men who feel entitled to our bodies.

I stand with Mallory.

Photography by Frederic Poirot/Flickr

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