Cindy and I were walking along a street in Central London, her a few steps ahead of me. She passed into the view of two lads in their twenties who were standing on the steps of a house. I was still obscured by the wall of a neighboring building,
“Hey gorgeous, give us a smile,” yelled one of the boys wearing a suit and tie. He then turned to his male companion to calibrate the effectiveness of his heterosexual confirmatory signaling.
As he turned back to look at the object of his insecurity, he was surprised to find another male approaching, one who was clearly with Cindy: that was me. There I was, six-foot-three tall with muscles, a shaved head, and a giant beard, looking ultra-masculine, unintentionally obscuring the subtle blend of masculine and feminine within me.
“Oh, uh, sorry mate. Um, um, well done,” he obsequiated, as if I had managed to tame (or even tricked) this wild and scary beast into walking down the street with me. It was as if I was a conqueror who had overcome the protestations of a meeker race and colonized her against her will, bringing her railroads and writing instruments in exchange for her spices.
In Woking, UK: “I don’t even care that you’re Chinese,” he said to Cindy as she sat on a bench, waiting five minutes for me to return. The comment was strange not only because she’s Vietnamese-American, but mostly because nobody gives a shit what this creep cares about. I guess the implication was that he would have sex with her even though she’s “Chinese.” However, it’s nothing to do with Cindy what he does or doesn’t want to do with his penis.
Cindy has learned to not speak back to these people because what is initially claimed to be “boys being boys” will quickly devolve into what it really is: narcissists being narcissists. You see, women are not actually human beings in the eyes of these pricks. Women are just objects that they can use to stave off the concern about being seen as gay or at least not man enough, not masculine enough, in some other way. By inflicting their deepest, darkest psychological insecurities on those they think won’t fight back, they seem to get their needs temporarily relieved at the expense of others. It’s truly another form of bullying.
In my fantasy world, I wish she had been able to respond, confidently, “I don’t even care that your self-esteem is so low that you have to ‘neg’ strangers in order to feel better about yourself.”
In 2006, on a bus in San Francisco, Cindy felt something hard and hot pressing and rubbing against her thigh. She noticed that, on the packed bus, a man seemed to be pressing his groin against her. Feeling disturbed and disgusted, she squeezed past the other people to get to the other end of the bus. A few moments later, he appeared again, only to continue rubbing his genitals against her.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” I asked, after she told me the story.
“I know from experience that nobody would do anything,” she told me.
Recently, on a different bus route in San Francisco, another woman shared a photo on social media of another man practicing this frotteuristic behavior. Police are searching for him. Perhaps the availability of camera phones and social media is helping; perhaps times are changing.
I learned about frotteurism as a paraphilia (an abnormal and problematic desire) while studying for my doctoral degree in psychology. It’s not abnormal for a man to want to rub himself against a woman, but it is abnormal, and harmful, when that woman is a non-consenting stranger.
Clearly this kind of behavior is a bit different from the cocky lad who jeers at strangers in the street, signaling his “masculine confidence” to the other cock-wielding compadres in his cadre. However, I think it’s just another symptom of the sickness from which our society suffers: the denigration of the feminine and particularly as embodied with tits and ass.
I’m not the kind of feminist who thinks that women should compete with men by acting like the worst embodiment of toxic masculinity. I don’t think that the subjugation of the feminine in a male, female, or any other genital configuration is healthy or adaptive for any individual or our society as a whole.
Masculinity without femininity, or at least masculinity that denies femininity, is more than just toxic; it is weak, disempowered, corrupt, and ineffective.
Cindy told me about traveling on the London tube and being followed by a man, from station to station, train to train; being stalked. She also told me about a man who stalked her for many blocks, late at night, in San Francisco as she walked from her office to her car. This problem is pervasive and intercontinental.
Her inner-dialog says, “I wonder if I’m imagining this and being paranoid. But this is self-gaslighting and is harmful and will lead to me and other women getting more hurt than we already are.”
In broad daylight, if a woman tells a man who is harassing her “nicely” by simply asking her to “smile, you look prettier when you smile,” his “kindness” will quickly turn to ire: “You’re an ugly bitch anyway.”
In the darkness and when there are fewer witnesses, or when there is a persistent intent to harass through stalking, or other surreptitious behavior, it’s not unreasonable to presume that confrontation could lead to rape or murder. And it often does.
It seems like a rage in these young boys, even the ones in old men’s bodies. They seem to despise the feminine as embodied by women. Just all masculine, all alone, the inner-feminine locked away in some dark corner; “You keep quiet, you fucking helpless bitch.” The negation of people’s inner feminine leads to the impulse to dominate and subjugate the feminine in others.
Cindy recently went to the store on her own. On the way there, two people with penises (presumably) leered at her as she passed. To avoid the unwanted invasion of her space, she considered coming back another way, but chose, either through self-gaslighting or from a desire to have the freedom to walk where she likes, to return by the most convenient route.
Just after passing them again, they started to jeer at her, one of them more than the other (as usual). He was saying things that suggested that he had a right to comment on her body, on her life, on her existence, as if she was there for him, as it was okay for this strange prick to dominate her to impress his friend. This is in her own home, in her own community, in a place where she pays rent, all from some strangers lurking in our private street. This kind of behavior is not justified anywhere, and especially not in the USA.
As she walked home, she was terrified to look back, worried they were following her, scared that they would follow her home and try to rape her, to externalize their internalized self-hatred on her feminine form.
Women can’t even look back, can’t even attempt to protect themselves, because that is seen as goading or threatening to the fragile masculinity that is propped on a foundation of suppressed femininity, that is jacked up on pickup-truck suspension coils to look down, precariously and homo-erotically, upon our shared humanity.
When she got home, for a while she pretended like nothing had happened, feeling ashamed—feeling their unconscious shame—to tell me what she had just been through: a walk to the store that turned into another nightmare for the women of our nation, of our planet. Finally she told me, sheepishly, as if I would not believe her.
I went out to find them, to confront them, to ask them, “When you behave like that, what do you think the effect is upon the women and girls that we are empowered to protect?” Unfortunately, by then they had gone.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like for these people to experience being sexually harassed.
An unwashed homeless guy directs, “Hey hunk, you should squint your eyes because it makes you look more manly. Squint your eyes for me.”
A man dressed as a women commands, “Show us your balls,” followed, after non-compliance, by, “I think you’re just a sissy anyway.”
A old lady, tired of this bullshit, proclaims, “I don’t even care that you’re less than five-ten.”
Or how would they take to being stalked regularly by menacing strangers?
Can you imagine, and I know that many women reading this can, what it’s like to be sexually harassed and threatened, day and in and day out, year after year? Imagine never getting a break, never feeling safe. No wonder research has shown that women’s bodies, over an extended period of time, contain as much (or more) cortisol and dopamine depletion as someone in wartime service.
Of course, this kind of golden-rule thinking only applies if you see women as humans. That requires us men to identify the vulnerability in ourselves, to recognize our own humanity. We need to stop pretending that we’re invulnerable machines jacked up on knobby 22-inch rims, propped up on gazillions of shares of stock market ephemeralities. We need to acknowledge and return to the terrifying comfort of knowing that we (not just those with penises but also those with vaginas) are, ultimately, soft-bodied animals that plopped from the wombs of women.