Schroedinger's Rapist

I want to share with you all a guest post at Shapely Prose by writer Phaedra Starling that I found not long ago which has put a lot of my thoughts about public interactions with men into words. It's not a short post, but I really recommend reading the whole thing, especially if you happen to possess a penis.

The post discusses how, when one approaches a woman in public, it's really important to be aware that she does not know whether or not you're a rapist. An excerpt:
Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes (a horrifying number, isn’t it?) then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty. That means four in my graduating class in high school. One among my coworkers. One in the subway car at rush hour. Eleven who work out at my gym. How do I know that you, the nice guy who wants nothing more than companionship and True Love, are not this rapist?

I don’t.

When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

Fortunately, you’re a good guy. We’ve already established that. Now that you’re aware that there’s a problem, you are going to go out of your way to fix it, and to make the women with whom you interact feel as safe as possible.
Now, there have been some negative reactions to her tone. I think, given the subject matter, that it's called-for, although perhaps her condescension is unhelpful. If you can disregard the talking down just for a minute, though, and if you hear all the dismal statistics and despair at the state of affairs, if you wonder how you can successfully approach a woman without being a creeper, or if you're just really awesome, read the rest of the article. It's worth it.


Aviva DV said...

This is really great. Will you cross-post this to FWF when you get a chance? I was going to link it myself, but then I realized that was probably silly if you don't mind x-posting this.

Unknown said...

hehe, this is precisely the article we were discussing when the xkcd post came up.

I actually appreciated the way this was written quite a bit. It is direct and unambiguous, and as someone who sincerely wants to know how to avoid being a creep, it was not condescending at all. It lays a very simple ground rule: do not approach unless invited. It's clearly more complex than that, but I think that's the safest starting point.

I think the only downer here for me isn't in the content but in the implications. Either I am completely unable to determine when I've been invited, or I'm rarely if ever invited. At the very least, I'm forced to deal with the latter as a possibility.

It's kind of a tough notion to accept, as it is strongly associated with desirability (or lack thereof). But as you said before, I'm not defenseless. It's certainly a better place to have to deal with my desirability than to have to deal with my safety.

Dorothy Rimson said...

Hey really this post has made me think very serious.

Myca said...

There was a really good discussion of this over at Metafilter, including a comment by a woman who went incident-by-incident through her life, illustrating harassment after harassment and threat after threat.

It was really very good.

And depressing.


On living, loving, learning, and fucking with the materials I've got at hand.

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