Men Ask Me to Explain Things to Them

I was really surprised by how many of the emails I received in response to "To Men I Love, About Men Who Scare Me" were from actual men.

Men have reached out to express their sympathy and to offer their apologies. They've sent emails to talk about their wives or their daughters, and how they're afraid for them. They've also asked me a ton of questions, ranging in attitude from blithely oblivious to vaguely accusatory. And while reading this stuff has no doubt been illuminating, I sort of feel like I've been gazing across the gender gap for the past two weeks- smiling, waving and shaking my head.

For every email I got from a man that broke or bolstered my heart, there was another one that really just irritated me. I forwarded a few of the more ham-fisted inquiries to a friend with the subject line, "Can you believe dudes still expect us to account for this victim-shamey crap?" I was going to just go right on being annoyed and ignoring them, until I came across an email from a guy named Nick:

"Too many pieces [online] read like the author is intentionally trying to be combative both toward people with opposite opinions, as well as allies of their own causes. This is just creating more divisiveness, more confusion, more defensiveness, and more hostility... I love that you're trying to connect; this is the kind of action that will bring about understanding and change amongst those who are open to learning about others."

So with that spirit in mind, I'd like to try and connect some of the dots if I can. I guess feel that if the guys who wrote these questions cared enough to ask, then to yell at or ignore them is to miss a really good chance to bring them on board. I don't at all believe that it is the responsibility of women to spoon-feed feminism to the men in their lives. But I do think this is an opportunity to draw a line between oblivious, unintentional sexism, and the more sinister, dangerous culture it informs, for people who don't think the two are related. So here goes.

First FAQ- What kind of bar/neighborhood was this?

"I'm really curious where this was... It must have been a scummy bar to hire a guy like that in the first place."

"I'm so sorry this happened to you. I wonder why you went into a place like that when your (sic) by yourself though."

"Bars with bouncers are generally rowdy, next time you want to be alone you should try a more upscale place."

All good suggestions, sure. Except that even though they're framed as questions or helpful tips, these are actually just excuses... sorry.

If we can point to a reason that bar, or that neighborhood was a shitty place to be, it helps us justify that a shitty thing happened there. We use this mentality to distance and protect ourselves from scary things in life, and I absolutely do it too. There was a particularly gruesome story in the news a few years ago in which a woman was murdered in her elevator by a man she'd never met. It happened only a few blocks from my office in New York, and my first reaction upon reading it was to look for the caveat; the reason this guy picked her. I figured she must have done something to provoke such a grisly attack (spoiler alert: she didn't). Really I was just afraid, and I was looking for a reason why this couldn't happen to me. We do this to protect ourselves, to assuage our fears. Maybe you want to know where the bar was so you don't have to worry about your sister or your girlfriend going there. Or maybe you just don't like the idea of a world where this stuff happens indiscriminately, because you're a normal person who is capable of empathy. It's understandable. But it's not helping.

So to answer the question: the bar is in a perfectly fine neighborhood. It's close to where I live, and it's not a dive or a meat market. But while we're on the subject of "classy places", can I just stop real quick and tell you how many times men in nice suits have made me uncomfortable in expensive restaurants? (I can't actually, because I lost count some time in 2011). Harassment isn't about trendy vs. sketchy neighborhoods, or $2 shots vs. $12 cocktails. It's about some men being simply unable to grasp the concept that they aren't entitled to the time, attention or bodies of women, just by virtue of their very existence. Whether that guy is a meathead bouncer or a hedge fund manager, the problem is not the decor of the bar he's in.

These questions are probably one of the more innocuous forms of victim blaming, but make no mistake, that's still what they are. "You should go to a classier bar if you want to be alone" is only really a stone's throw from "well look at what she was wearing". So if you ever find yourself looking for the real reason a woman was intimidated or attacked by a man, you can just refer back here: it was because he decided to intimidate or attack her.

A lot of guys have also asked why I didn't call out the bar online to pressure them into addressing the situation. I did actually contact the owner of the bar, and we had a good talk. But if getting the bouncer fired and the bar publicly shamed would've meant that we all got to feel like the problem was solved and gone on with our days, I'd have done a disservice to basically everything except my own self-righteousness. This one incident is over, but the problem is far, far from solved. And somehow I just doubt that any significant change has ever come from pointing an Internet mob to a Yelp page. If naming the bar would only serve to focus everyone's attention and anger at one person and one establishment, I'm not going to provide that distraction. Just assume it's any/every bar you've been to lately.

This piece originally appeared on Medium