Women/Men: Have we made fear a feminine issue?

My husband and I had a very long conversation yesterday about the differences in the sexes and how they communicate. At least, that’s how it started off. He said that he tends to take what people say at face value without attempting to analyze it further, and that he feels that many men are the same. He also felt though that women will listen to something someone has said and then internalize it and analyze it, correlate it with other information, and then make insights that are not available to him.

We discussed these communication differences for a while, touched on how in his opinion women tend to have longer memories of conversations and grudges, and how men handle the same stuff by saying, “Mate, don’t be an asshole. Ready for the next round?” and drop it.

I thought about this for a while and what I came up with, rightly or wrongly, is that women engage in these behaviors as a means of protection. We tend to feel more vulnerable in many situations, and as such we gather information, which we then sometimes share in the form of gossip (his word, not mine, but seems accurate), and as such we either gain confirmation about the character and motives of people around us, or disabuse ourselves of inappropriate notions. We use this information to build a database of people who can or cannot be trusted with our safety; the woman who undermines us, the man who presses boundaries, the guy you can’t be alone with safely.

As an example, we talked about men who set off a woman’s Creepometer ™. In my opinion, it is better to have a high rate of false positives than false negatives on the Creepometer as it produces a more cautious behavior. He felt that this high rate of false positives might inadvertantly affect men who were actually decent guys who were socially inept.  Absolutely – that’s a false positive for you there.  What was interesting though is the discussion that followed this, about the number of women who have experienced something that could be considered a sexual assault.

Most of the studies indicate that one in four women have experienced a rape scenario. Unfortunately, these same studies indicate that these issues go unreported and that men who have committed acts that could be legally classified as rape seem to feel about half the time that their actions were not rape. 

Now, what I’m interested in is how many women have experienced more minor sexual assaults.  I made a fairly strong statement that if I selected twenty random women off the street and asked them how many of them had been sexually assaulted, not that many would put their hands up.  If, however, I asked, “How many of you have had your breasts, bottoms, or genitals grabbed or rubbed upon against your will?” that at least nineteen out of the twenty would indicate this had happened to them.

My husband was aghast. Probably any of my male readers right now are aghast. Probably any of my female readers are saying, “Well, duh.”

I myself have experienced this many times. I have had a male aquaintance knock me off of a chair, throw me to the floor, spread my legs, and throw himself on top of me. I have had a colleague turn around in his chair with his cock in his fist and say that it’s time I give him the attention he deserved. I’ve had my tits grabbed more times than I can count. I’ve had my ass slapped and grabbed.  Once in a bar I was working my way through a crowd when a hand forced itself under my skirt, between my thighs and someone, presumably a man, attempted to insert his finger into my vagina. I’ve had men engage in frotterism in crowded areas. Once when sleeping in a radio station where I worked (behind the security doors, in the same building as security) I woke to find a fellow DJ trying to raise my top, “For a little look, it’s harmless.”

No, it’s not harmless.

Women, when you walk to your cars at night, do you remain alert at all times? Do you listen for footsteps? Do you plan your route to stick to well lit areas? Do you walk with your car keys jutting out between your knuckles? Do you try to look under your car as you approach it? Do you check the back seat before you get in?

These are all the things we’ve been told, over and over, that we must do if we want to remain safe, or at least mostly blameless if we’re assaulted.  Men, do you do these things? Men, do you know that your daughters, your wives, your mothers are told to do these things?

Women, have you been the recipient of unwanted physical contact? Did you feel guilty that you did not take enough precautions to prevent it? Did you feel guilty because maybe your Creepometer went off a little, but you wanted to like the guy or wanted to feel special? 

Men, does it worry you that women have an entire sub-culture of fear and signals and behaviors that you might be unaware of? Tonight, ask a woman you know if they do any of the things I mentioned above. If they take public transport, ask them if they carry a book or newspaper specifically so they can erect a physical barrier between themselves and men to signal they are unavailable for interaction.  Ask them if they walk differently at night.  If you’re feeling very brave, ask them if anyone has ever grabbed them sexually.  Ask them if they feel guilty that they were grabbed.

My husband, to his credit, was very disturbed by this conversation. He said he could not imagine finding a sleeping woman and lifting her shirt, or grabbing her in a bar. Needless to say I’m delighted by that. 

What I found interesting was that towards the end of the conversation, I mentioned that someone had set off my Creepometer about two years ago. As a result, I stopped talking to the person entirely. Then about two years later, two separate people, one male, one female, said that this person was actually a really good guy and that I should take the time to cultivate a friendship. As a result I have done so, and I’m delighted that he was a false positive.  However, as my husband guessed when I related this, when the male said that this fellow was a good guy, I immediately discounted his opinion as invalid. Perhaps not my finest moment. When the female corroborated the male’s opinion, I accepted it immediately. Unfair? Yeah, probably. He was correct after all – I could have listened to his opinion. But again on the supposed basis that women operate and communicate differently in an effort to remain as safe as possible, the choice to throw out his data seemed like the valid one.

Women, I would be very interested in your opinions on this. Am I just overly paranoid? Do you follow any of these thought processes? Have you experienced these sorts of assaults?

Men, I am also interested in your opinions, but I will ask that you think very carefully before you post, as I understand that these thought processes are not your experience and as such may seem invalid to you. I would be especially interested if any men ask women they know their thoughts on these subjects and what the results are.

There’s a chance I’m overly cautious, that other women don’t do all these things or think this way. However, I suspect I have far more company than one half of the population suspects.


About HeatherErin

40-ish, mother, wife, student, knitter, caffeine addicted, swimmer, and very, very cranky.
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10 Responses to Women/Men: Have we made fear a feminine issue?

  1. john says:

    Very interesting and frightening post. It is hard to imagine that we are supposed to be a civilised race with respect for others, physically, mentally and spiritrually.

  2. john says:

    This week´s word is Sacred, please join in and let me know that you are so that I can post your details on Friday.



  3. Sally says:

    Wow. Fascinating and brilliantly written and (although self-selecting respondents probably aren’t the best corroboration) fits closely with my experience. Groping on the Tube, boob-grabbing, arse-slapping – not to mention the verbal abuse that most women learn to deal with. I think the other points you raise are really interesting. Thanks for a brilliant post, Heather!

  4. Carmen says:

    1. You are definitely not over cautious in my mind.
    2. I’ve had many of the same experiences you have described and quite frankly don’t know a single female (those who I know well enough to have any sort of discussion of these matters) who have not experienced unwanted contact, lewd/crude gestures and comments, etc.
    3. I was physically abused in a relationship to the point of needing a battered woman shelter’s temporary help and can tell you that what I saw and experienced there is just the tip of the iceberg of common behavior in this country.
    4. My husband is an amazing man who also is open to having these sorts of discussions with me, and has been considered I think all too often part of the possible “creep” meter because he’s quiet and does not make eye contact with women in an effort to be non-threatening. I know he gets frustrated being lumped into the “false positive” crowd, and we’ve even gone so far as to actually have discussions about his feelings about some women assuming that every encounter between themselves and a man means he’s after some sort of sexual gratification. It’s pretty interesting to try and recognize the other side, but it won’t change my absolute belief that vigilance is necessary.
    5. I am well aware that by many countries standards, our societal gender relations are far more “safe” for women than in other places, but I will continue to have hope that someday the assumed ownership (even for a second or even in a man’s mind only) of a woman’s body will be a thing of the past.

    Thank you for writing so bravely!

  5. Judy says:

    No, you are not paranoid, darlin’. I am just as “overly” cautious. For over thirty years my doors have been locked when I am at home since a neighbor warned me of a neighborhood youth who had been released from incarceration for raping a woman in her own kitchen at knife point. I am careful where I walk at night; I am aware; I carry my keys projecting from my knuckles; and I always check the back seat.

    I have been inappropriately accosted in office situations. Barely escaped date rape several times, though not on two other non-date rape occasions.

    Many cultures still view women as chattel. It isn’t that long ago that women in our own culture fought long and hard for the simple ability to take out a loan in our own names. It does not surprise me that many men take physical assault of women as fair game if not their right.

    I don’t feel too sorry for the false positives on the Creepometer…especially when it means my safety. Also don’t feel at all sorry for trusting a woman over a man (many of whom have their own agendas.)

    My two cents.

  6. Andrea says:

    Oh, I’ve had my ass grabbed while walking down the street. I’ve also had men drive up and offer me money for sex while waiting for the bus to work. Naturally, I get called a stuck-up bitch when I refuse and tell them to piss off. There have been the guys that just refuse to go away and continue to pester for a phone number or a kiss or whatever after being told I am not interested. It’s constant and it eventually got to the point that I just didn’t want to leave my house unless I had to. How awful is that?

    As for valuing another woman’s opinion over a man’s – absolutely. How many rapists have guy friends that say, ‘Oh, but he’s a good guy!’. Sure they are – to their guy friends. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean much, does it?

    • HeatherErin HeatherErin says:

      Oh yes, I’ve always liked walking down the street and having some knuckle-dragging mouth breather roll down the window to yell, “How much?”

      Sorry, didn’t realize I became a purchasable commodity because I was walking to the store for milk.

  7. Ashley says:

    It’s so frustrating. There are so many creeps out there that just view women as property. Things to be attained and then treated however. Have these people no conscience? How ego-centric must you be that you think you can do whatever you want and get away with it? These creeps, they have no fear. They have never been sexualized, seen only for their body parts. They have no idea what its like to feel hunted like a damn animal. Interestingly enough, when you add homosexuals to the mix things start to change. These creeps, sooo fear the thought of homosexual men. Why? ‘Cause the thought of someone lusting after you and trying to penetrate you is surprisingly a scary and yucky feeling.
    Sadly enough, it’s just not random creepos that can make you feel uncomfortable. My last boyfriend forced himself on me for his birthday because he ‘deserved it’. No. After spending the 3.99 on a box of condoms, it was like he had to get his money’s worth, despite my objections of not wanting to sleep with him. Afterwards, he then cried and cried like a baby. Ugh. The men in your life can turn into creeps really fast and sometime without warning.

    • HeatherErin HeatherErin says:

      I am sorry you had that experience, but not surprised. I’ve had men tell me I “owed them” something because I smiled at them. Or because they gave me a compliment. What, you give me a compliment and I’m supposed to give you oral sex? No, that’s not the way it works.

      Your argument about homosexuals is actually an argument I make about why the Bible supposedly says homosexual behavior is unacceptable. Only half jokingly, I suggested that the writers said, “Hey, let’s throw in some stuff about not letting guys treat us like we treat women? I mean, since we’re supposedly speaking the word of God, it seems like a good time to put that out there, right?” But yes, I love how men freak out when they’re suddenly in the same situation that women live their lives in daily.

  8. Sarah says:

    I can hand on heart say I have never had a false positive. My first split second thought has always been spot on. Too many times I have doubted my first impression and oh boy this has caused problems down the line when said impression turns out to be correct. This is usually due to others going “oh I don’t see why you have an issue with them they are great” but yep down the line it is usually “yeah Sarah you were right”.

    Having worked in a bar I got loads of guys thinking I was “on the menu”. Having a few feet of bar between us probably saved me from a few gropes, that and male bar staff who would happily go collect glasses to avoid me being felt up by the creeps. Got “goosed” a couple of times by the guys but turned the tables on one of them and it soon stopped.

    One night in a club as I was crossing the dance floor back from the ladies room I got penned in by a group of guys, one of whom decided to grab me and start kneading flesh like I was a piece of pizza dough. I gave him the grab squeeze and twist routine to the family jewels, he let go and looked like he was about to pass out and his friends backed right off. It was like the parting of the Red Sea.

    Whilst out with a group of friends and their friends, one of the guys who I had been chatting to about my ex and how I still loved him, decides this is some kind of crazy come on. Friends of mine have one of their crazy couple fights and we head off down the street to try and find them. Cue jerk grabbing me and telling me he wants to take me home “right now and f*** you”. Maybe he saw me lending him my cigarette lighter earlier as some freaked out mating ritual I don’t know. He then proceeded to try and grab various parts of me, maybe he thought it would get me “hot”. Yeah hot as in red mist and think he was lucky not to get a black eye. Worst part of it, female friend said later “yeah well my mom said you were flirting with him so you must have been”. WTF.

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