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#YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen

The hashtag #yesallwomen got me thinking over the last few days. If I sound late to this party, I’m not. I’ve been aware of it for a while, and now that I’ve returned to it, my brain has chewed over the idea and the implications, and to be honest, I don’t like what I’ve resolved.

I can’t do justice to the hashtag #YesAllWomen, so I ask you to read on your own. The discussion that this hashtag begins is a very worthwhile one. I use the word discussion here because that hashtag, by itself, means nothing if it generates no conversation. By itself, as a declaration, it would be grandstanding, which gives us all a rush of adrenaline while we’re thinking about it, but then goes away. I also use the term ‘discussion’ because I use the hashtag as a beginning to my musings, not an end, nor as a means to an end.

I take the hashtage #YesAllWomen at its face value. No caveats.

That much, I want to talk about men. You might think that odd, or self-centered, as I’m a man hopping onto this hashtag, yet here I am. You see, #YesAllWomen means that all women share a common experience, and #YesAllWomen means that #YesAllMen live in a world where our relationships are shaped by the experiences of #YesAllWomen. If #YesAllWomen, then #YesAllMen. The last that I knew, all men are born of women (this may change in the coming decades), grew up around them, befriended them, transgressed against them, and encountered their cultures all through our lives. Every interaction by every man with every woman happens in the context of #YesAllWomen.

#NotAllMen have a very firm point that not all men interact badly with women, yet the point remains that we exist in a system driven not by the “good guys” but by the “bad guys.” If I do my math right, a minority of men behaving badly drives the entire system, as they have no trouble acting badly to everyone around them, which means that their constant bad behavior ends up touching every woman around them and quite a few strangers. There don’t need to be many “bad men” to create the situation of #YesAllWomen.

The thing about “bad men” is that they don’t wear black hats identifying them. How can you tell them in a crowd? The thing about “bad men” is that they aren’t always bad in every situations, and “good men” aren’t always good. The horrid truth is that we live in a non-binary world where men exist on a continuum, where women exist on a continuum, where we range in shades of gray that change depending on our moods, our fortunes, and our frustrations. How can we tell who is who? We can’t. We are all the very things we claim to not be.

In a world without fixed signs over our heads, doubt reigns supreme.

A little self-confessing time. I’m a nice guy. I’m not sure that you can get much nicer than me, and I confess, I have harassed. Often such harassment was unintentional as I was a clueless git, but sometimes, I knew that there would be no repercussions to what I said. If such can be said of me, then surely more can be said of the rest of us. #YesAllWomen exists as a statement of fact, not as a battle cry and not as an accusatory finger pointed at us men. We don’t need them because we are all guilty to some extent or another. If we all only harassed a few women in our lives, for bad reasons or for bad days, that calculates to 2 women x 50% of the population, or 100% of the female population.

On the other side, women aren’t saints. #YesAllWomen doesn’t argue that they’re saints, but somehow saintly behavior keeps making its way into the conversation. This is why I want to get rid of the notion of “good” and “bad” people, because we are all flawed. Some women usually act terrific, some act bitchy, some act prudish, and some really need to fuck somebody right now, because that’s how real people are. There’s no fair here. There’s no neutral arbiter. All we have is all of us on one side and all of us on another, and we all all want love, and we all want to fuck, and almost nobody wants a horrible time. I’m not talking about perfect people here, I’m talking to the hot mess that is humanity.

I have no room in this conversation about “ought to be’s” or “shouldn’t’s.” “Ought” and “should” imply privilege, the extension of some neutral force. There is no such thing. In most cases, you can substitute “women should have” (a language form which implies some set of neutral rules everyone should follow) with “it is in women’s interest to have.”

The origin of #YesAllWomen belongs to biology. Men don’t have to carry babies while women do. Biology gives us inherently different interests. Biology gives us inherently different equipment. Biology gives us inherently different brain chemistries. Until someone knows how to change that setup, we’re stuck with the current game. Ideally we would work out a system to handle this, but I’m not talking about ideals, I’m talking about the hot mess that is humanity.

In our system, the norm is for a man to approach the woman. This is an inherently transgressive act. The male is entering a different location, social sphere, power structure, and emotional space. Odds are, his approach will yield no sex for any particular encounter. Given this fact, a man must approach multiple women multiple time, desensitising him to these sorts of transgressions. While a woman will already know whether a man is welcome to approach, a man is never sure of this. And even if the man is sure that the woman welcomes the approach, he doesn’t know if any additional part doesn’t welcome the approach. Thus, a man learns to approach without sure approval, becoming increasingly desensitized to the approach. Meanwhile, women are not monoliths of approachability, always acting according to neutral rules. Their approachability varies as the moods of any human varies. Even if a man is behaving perfectly, approaching at the wrong time is still approaching at the wrong time.

That’s sobering. Biology, not culture, drives this conflict.

How, then, do we resolve this fundamental conflict of interests? I want to begin by acknowledging that most women adore men, and most men adore women, and we all want to fling our clothes off and go at it like bunnies in our preferred sexual modes. For most of us, we find partners and fuck away. These fundamental conflicts of interest do not turn most of us into idiots or lunatics. There’s no hypocrisy going on here. Both genders have many interest which conflict with themselves, let alone the interest of others.

In a world where nobody gets to be right by fiat, how do we even resolve this? How do we even begin making a world without harassment?

You now know why I talked about “ought” earlier. If women “ought” to have something, then in the negotiation over a resolution, “oughts” have to be on the table. “Oughts” and “shoulds” begin life as non-negotiable. These words dictate outcomes. These words pre-empt the interests of the conflicting party. These words are an attempt to win before the negotiations begin. Likewise, “how are men supposed to …” also pre-empts discussion. Such a tactic says, “We can’t go there because giving on this point hands us a total loss, so we can’t accept that.” A structured phrase aids us in removing the rhetorical maneuvering and forces the the parties involved to actually lay out what’s important.

By stating interests, the needs of both parties becomes clear. Interests aren’t up for negotiation. Interests become the context in which negotiations happen. By understanding interests, I can understand the reasonable motivations of others.

Only by knowing the reasonable interests in others can we write rules to address those interests. We can easily write rules that look good, but once on the books, they’ll do nothing to address the actual problem. In many ways, bad rules are worse than no rules. A good rule tells us something about the problem being solved, making the problem easier to see and easier to resolve.

I’ll take a stab at these interests.

It’s in a woman’s interest to have men available when she wants them.
It’s in a woman’s interest to be safe.
It’s in a woman’s interest to feel safe.
It’s in a woman’s interest to feel welcome.

As for men:

It’s in a man’s interest to have a place where women can be found.
It’s in a man’s interest to have a woman be safe.
It’s in a man’s interest to have a woman feel safe.
It’s in a man’s interest to have a woman feel welcome.

As you can see, men and women have a huge overlap of interests. while violating these interests is part and parcel of rudeness, but not necessarily harassment. For example, I could show up with a gun and be very polite, but a woman may not feel safe. So there must be an additional component to harassment beyond violating the common interest.

Harassment has one more additional component. Harassment is about power. Harassment isn’t merely transgressive, it is purposeful. Harassment is a gambit by one person to feel powerful at the expense of another person. Gender doesn’t matter. Harassment establishes a power dynamic, then the harasser exploits that power dynamic.

So when you hear a man saying, “What about my freedom of speech?” or other such objection, what the man’s doing defending is his own advantageous power dynamic. Notice that all the men who aren’t harassing don’t have any trouble holding their tongues or their hands, and they don’t seem any less men. They don’t even feel oppressed. All the feelings of oppression and reverse-discrimination comes from the men who use harassment to get what little social clout they have.

Meanwhile, the harasser want free reign to do what he wants, but what he wants is directly against his own interest. Their freedom to say anything to women ultimately acts to drive women away and make male to female interaction harder for everyone. We say not to this because his freedom isn’t free and is paid for by everyone else in society. Any minority has no inherent right to create misery for half the population.