Sunday, January 2, 2011

On 'Schrodinger's Rapist' and the Culture of Fear.

This is not going to be a fun-filled post, so if you're looking for something fun and fluffy today, well, there's some nice menu's that will direct you to some of my other posts.

I was talking to a friend of mine about the video I posted in my New Year's post about 'How to Be Alone'.  I'm sure many of you have seen this one, it was pretty popular this year.  Anyway, we were discussing the difficulties of being a male by yourself in public versus being female by yourself in public.. namely the difficulty of being perceived as the 'creepy would-be rapist' versus the difficulty of having to be on the lookout for the 'creepy would-be rapist'.

So it struck me funny that I would come across this article on Schrodinger's Rapist (aka'd as 'A Guy's Guide to Approaching Women without getting maced') via April's year end round-up at Ethecofem.  Well, I kind of found it through the year-end round up via April's critique of the original article, which I'll get to.  Anyway, it struck me funny, because it nicely explained my argument of the risk women run being in public alone.

Although I also recommend reading the article in full, I'll give you the gist of it.  Big Bang Theory fans will know this from season one, but anyway, the concept is based after the Schrodinger's Cat experiment.  Long story short, scientist puts cat in a box with a vial of poison that will break open at any given time.  While in the box, the cat can be considered both alive and dead, since we don't know which it is.  However once the box is open, it can only be one or the other.  Starling's article applies this to the perception of a stranger in a public place (or a party or anywhere really) as a way to explain to guys who, for the most part are probably well-intentioned and only interested in striking up conversation.  However, the article points out, we as women out alone in public do not know what your intentions are, and until they become clear, you can be considered Schrodingers Rapist - that is to say, you both are a potential non-rapist and a potential rapist. 

I'll point out here that the fallacy in this metaphor is that in Schrodingers original experiment, once the box is opened the cat is obviously alive or dead.  However, in this application, taking into consideration that most rape and assault is committed by someone close to the victim, our metaphorical box is only opened once the person in question has been exposed as a rapist.  As long as they haven't raped or assaulted anyone they're still metaphorically 'in the box'  which is pretty fucking depressing, for men and women alike.  No really, it is. 

Now, I don't believe that Starling's article was meant to imply that this is how all women think when they are out in public.  At least, I sure hope not, because I know I don't... well, all the time.   I think it's offered as more of an explanation as to why some women may not be comfortable or impressed with what may be a guy's totally innocent compliment or attempt at conversation.  And although you may be a nice guy with good intentions, we don't know that.   Simple as that.  As Starling states, some people's risk threshold are higher than others.. Me, I'm one of those girls with a low risk factor.  This is probably due to the fact that *knock wood* I haven't found myself violated after being in a high-risk situation.  Some women have experienced assault, and as such, they have a no-risk threshold. 

Now, one may counter this with 'Well, I don't know if a girl's had a traumatic past...' and I'd be inclined to agree, that no, it's not up to you to know if someone has had past trauma.  But it is up to you to read cues (as mentioned in Starling's article) and know when to back-off.  Because I agree, when you ignore the 'please leave me alone' cues and continue to press for attention, you cross that line from well-intentioned friendly dude to pain-in-the-ass-douchebag to potential threat.

The downside of this article, as April argues, is that it does tend to paint this picture that all men are potential rapists, when that is simply not the case.  Let's take into consideration the rather dire stat given that 1 in 60 men will have committed sexual assault in some form in their lifetime.  Pretty fucking depressing, isn't it?  If you have trouble wrapping your head around that statistic, keep in mind that this isn't limited to the stranger-in-a-dark-alley trope... this includes date rape, coercion, having sex with someone who has limited capacity to consent (so drugs, alchohol.. even 'Hey, my girlfriend is sleeping.. now's a good time') .. basically, any sexual activity without explicit consent.

Here's the good news:  That mean's that for every potential threat, there's roughly 59 well intentioned friendly dudes' out there.  Hooray for the good guys!! 

Here's more bad news:  Sometimes it's pretty fucking hard to tell the difference, until it's too late.  And if someone has been a victim of assault before, sure as shit, they're going to have their guard up in certain situations. 

Myself, as a girl who has walked home alone late at night many a time, walked through the brush with my headphones on, occasionally forgotten to lock my door at night, flirted with guys at bars, met people I had only talked to online and *gasp* even consumed alcohol in the presence of (only) the opposite sex, all without incident, well admittedly, my risk threshold is pretty high. But every so often my spidey sense gets a tingling and I know I've stepped into a potentially volatile situation.

I once chatted online for a period of time with a guy I had met on a dating site.  One day we were talking about meeting, and I mentioned that I would like to meet for coffee because I wasn't comfortable meeting someone for the first time in my own home.  Like, shit man, I have kids to think about.   This guy got his panties in a bunch which both pissed me off, and freaked me out.  It worried me, because it seemed like such a little thing to get so agitated over, and it pissed me off because it was like "Sorry man, your hurt feelings DO NOT trump my personal safety."  I made the decision then and there not to meet with the guy and it took a few more conversations consisting of how unfair I was being and how unreasonable and how I had led him on etc before I said enough I just stopped answering the phone.   Because in my mind, at that point, he became a threat to me, the threat having been communicated through a sheer lack of regard for my personal boundaries.

And this is where I think Starling is coming from... If you ignore the 'Please leave me alone' cues, you become 'that guy'.  The guy who thinks that his desire to interact trumps a stranger's desire to be left alone.  I will however, agree with April that its unrealistic to say never approach a woman unless she's for sure open to being approached.  Some of us would like to be approached.  I know I would, once in a while.  But if you approach a girl, and she's giving off the 'please go away' vibe, then take the hint.. or you become 'that guy'.  Because let's face it.. it's 'those guys' that fuck up dating and trying to meet people or trying at all to negotiate any type of friendly/professional/romantic relationship with the opposite sex.  They fuck it up for women, who have to be on their guard and they fuck it up for other men, because now women see well intentioned friendly dudes as potential threats.  Way to go, That Guy.


  1. What really got me about her post was that she was talking to the very guys who are the least likely to be awkward, not scary. And the guys who are scary aren't likely to give a shit if they're scaring women, so we don't want them getting any tips and tricks on how to make us feel more comfortable.

    I don't want to be that jerk who just sits by and criticizes everything, especially when it has some strong point or is useful as, at minimum, a dialog-starter. I do think her post was good in a lot of ways, but was a bit too condescending for my taste.

    At the risk of sounding like an MRA-apologist, I just hate to promote the idea that men as a general class of humans are scary. But at the same time, I have also had many experiences that have freaked me out, similar to the one you shared about the guy you met online.

    I think it's absolutely reasonable to assess your risks, and I would have made the same decision in your situation. I don't see that as doing what Starling is suggesting we women all do whenever we're in public, though.

    ...Speaking of which, I was at the convenience store near my house the other day, where I was picking up a pack of cigarettes for my sister. She sends me in there for her all the time when this one guy is working, because he used to hit on her all the time and make her feel really uncomfortable. He caught on, because he knew I didn't smoke those cigarettes, and she did, and that we live together. I had told him before that he was a bit excessive with his "flirting," making her uncomfortable, and he said he felt bad. I felt good about that for a minute, until he just had to follow it up with, "You know, if a girl was always hitting on me, I'd be happy, you know?"

    Ugh. I tried politely explaining that women tend to get it all the time, from both well- and ill-intentioned men, no matter where they are or what they are wearing, and he cut me off to say it wasn't really true.

    I mean, there is a lot that men just don't understand, and seemingly never will understand about the daily bullshit that women put up with. And the inverse it true, of course, but when it comes to being flirted with, hit on, harassed, etc., it's definitely true that women have a very different experience than men in public. And it's something worth reminding men of.

  2. "What really got me about her post was that she was talking to the very guys who are the least likely to be awkward, not scary. "

    Oops! I meant "more likely to be awkward, rather than scary."

  3. Fair point April, and I agree that there is a fair bit of condescension, and I totally agree that it's not helpful to paint all guys as scary..

    But the sad fact is that there are women who do go around with this mindset, and it's nothing the poor awkward guy has done... it's 'those guys'. And sometimes I think the best way to combat this and prove that as a friendly well-meaning dude you have good intentions is to back off when you have been effectively brushed off, because that illustrates the 'Hey I'm not trying to get all up in your junk' better than standing there, insisting that 'hey I'm not trying to get all up in your junk'.

  4. I was raised to be weary of every guy out there. Even unseen guys. Check the car's back seat and lock the doors.

    Make sure no one is following you if you are walking home.

    Keep your head up and aware and looking around when you are walking; look confident and aware (not the shared-shitless-way you actually feel).

    Make good choices, avoid isolating situations.

    Trust your gut.

    I was still sexually assaulted at 15 and raped at 21. I did all those things and shit still happened.

    I do not consider myself "uberoppressed", but you can bet your ass that I will never take risks and will always be weary after what happened to me. More than before.

    And the sad stats vary, but I have heard as high as 2 in 3 women will have been sexually assaulted at some stage of their life in Canada. And StatsCanada says only 6%-8% of those women will report the crime to police.

    It's heartbreaking.

    And I think boys (and girls!) around the world need to be made aware of what you mentioned: "coercion, having sex with someone who has limited capacity to consent (so drugs, alchohol.. even 'Hey, my girlfriend is sleeping.. now's a good time') .. basically, any sexual activity without explicit consent" is sexual assault/rape if someone is not able to agree to sexual activity with a clear head.

    I read both articles and acknowledge that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, as I am mine.

    Not all women walk out the door weary of every man they meet. Kudos to normalcy! I feel like her article did speak to the most weary of women, for men to be aware.

    Is it the majority? I don't know, I can only speak for me.

    I may be a considered an odd-ball "chicken" with issues for feeling this way, but I have very damn good reasons, thankyouverymuch.

  5. Shit Steph, that sucks :-(

    I dunno.. what I was getting at myself, and what I think Starling might have been getting at, was that the decent friendly dudes shouldn't be getting pissed off at women in public who may rebuke their advances out of fear of assault - but the should be pissed off at 'those guys' - the ones who don't know or care for the idea of personal boundaries or who think that their privilege gives them free reign over any available female.

    One of the commenters in Starling's post nailed it when she pointed out that no one in the comments thread seemed shocked by the rather generous 1 in 6 stat, or if they were shocked, it was because they thought it should be higher. This should be a big indicator that guys, we're not making this shit up.

  6. I don't find the original post condescending in the least. Face it, guys are dumb. We need to be hit in the head, and hard, to be able to begin to understand how women may be feeling.

    I was born and raised in a small town in Maine. I would greet anybody I met on the sidewalk no matter the time or place. It was customary, and might have been strange if I didn't. Most everybody knew everyone anyways.

    When I moved to New York after college, I kept up the same practice. It was habit after all. One late night while walking home, I said hello to a woman walking towards me. She immediately turned and darted across the street. I was offended at what I perceived as her rudeness. I just said hello.

    The next day I related the story to a female friend, and she laughed and called me a dunce. She explained the situation to me from a women perspective. I am more aware now, but in my youth, I was clueless.

    And, Yandie, I am mad at those guys who ruin it for the rest of us. The obnoxious shits who are always catcalling and yelling hey baby drive me nuts. Hopefully a few will read your post.


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