My male privilege, let me show you it
I had an interesting experience at work last week. Well, I have lots of interesting experiences at work, but this one seemed exceptionally bloggable. (That is too a word, Firefox spell-check.)
I won’t go into too much unnecessary detail, because the details aren’t really the point. I went to a computer training session across campus. I got there a little late and came in as everyone else was going through the preliminary steps. I sat down and asked the instructor, who was standing behind me helping someone else, what I needed to do to get started. He was a middle-aged guy, maybe in his 40s or 50s. I’m not very good at pinpointing people’s ages, but I think that’s a good estimate. Anyway, as he came over to look at my computer, he put his hand on my shoulder. HARD. It’s more accurate to say that he grabbed my shoulder, or clenched it perhaps. This was both unexpected and unwanted. Ew don’t touch me, but also holy shit, I was not prepared for that violent sensation. Remember…sensory issues.
It was pretty early in the morning and I was still pretty flustered from rushing over there, and my brain kinda went haywire. Inside I was screaming “WHAT THE FUCK LET GO OF ME OUCH LET GO.” My voice couldn’t form actual words, though, and I ended up going “whoa whoa WHOA” while trying to wrestle my shoulder out of his grasp. Now, I suppose most people would take that as a sign that maybe they should fucking let go, but not this guy. He grabbed harder. I’m thankful for my coworker sitting beside me, because she somehow distracted him and said “hey, wow, you really freaked her out there,” and he finally let go but insisted on hovering over my computer for a little while longer. We’re all lucky that it played out like that, because my brain was starting to kick into fight mode, and it was kind of like something shorted out in my brain and I was ready to jump, hit, duck and cover, anything to stop the grabbing and the touching. Not exactly an appropriate response in a work environment, not that any of this was appropriate to begin with, but still.
Anyway, it didn’t end there. A few minutes later, after this guy had finally moved on, he came back to my computer and knelt down next to me. He pressed his hand onto my wrist and said, as if it were a joke, “Now don’t freak out again! I was only tapping you on the shoulder, nothing to freak out about.”
Seriously? No, asshole, I can tell the difference between tapping and grabbing, and goddammit, I get to decide where my boundaries are. I get to decide how I react to inappropriate touching. I have the right to control who touches my body and how and when. You don’t get to decide that for me, and you don’t get to decide what hurts me and what doesn’t. You don’t get to decide which of my feelings are valid. I have the right to protect myself from creepy grabby dudes who think they have the right to touch my body just because it’s there in front of them.
It’s just one incident and not a particularly big deal by some standards, but it seems to me to be indicative of male privilege. I mean, you know, you’re just a woman, so obviously you’re just overreacting because women are just so fragile, and come on, can’t a guy touch a little? Grab a little? Oh, you’re so silly to feel threatened by that. Silly woman. It isn’t like being grabbed by a large strange man who refuses to let go can ever be indicative of serious danger, right? Or bring back very visceral and unpleasant memories? Now, let me help you with this computery thing; I’m sure it’s a little confusing for a woman.
I would bet a lot of money that this guy has no recollection of anything weird happening during that training session. All in a day’s groping.
For the record, and maybe this makes this even more frightening, I don’t think what’s-his-face is actually a bad guy. Clueless and grabby and inappropriate and all sorts of other things, but I think he’s mostly an average dude, certainly not any sort of predator or menace. The rest of the training session went pretty well, and when we left I thanked him for the instruction and went out to my car like a reasonable professional person. But it’s stuff like that that makes it very, very hard to trust people, men in particular. Society gives them power, and there’s no good way of telling who’s going to use that power against you, if even on a pretty moderate level like this was.