This was originally a response.
Wyatt Edward Gates wrote this piece which I and probably every other woman in the world really appreciate:
How should men interact with women in public at night?
In brief: stay far away, keep your mouth shut, and don't stare.
Here’s my favorite part of Wyatt’s piece:
“Well hold on just a sec, Wyatt,” a man might say, “I am a shining paragon of moral decency and would never harm a lady, so why should I, a man so pure of heart, avoid women?”
Well, in that case, you still should stay as far from women at night as possible. The fact is it doesn’t matter what your intentions are. To a woman at night you’re just a strange man, so you’re going to be threatening to women around you no matter what. If you want to treat them with respect and not frighten or upset them, you’ll keep your distance.
No surprise, some men did not like what Wyatt had to say. They want to feel free to talk to the women folk, even in darkness. Maybe especially in darkness? Not sure.
Anyway, here’s what Dave said:
This is, by far, the most idiotic article I’ve read on this site. It treats women like they are senseless paranoids. I urge anyone who reads it to ignore it and do the complete reverse. Conversationally engage with women at any time the desire occurs. The article’s author, it would seem, is trying to make women more afraid by separating from them.
I’d bypassed the other comments, but this one bothered me. So I started typing a response. And I kept typing. And I realized I have a lot to say on this subject, not just to Dave but to every man in the world, particularly those who make it a habit to “conversationally engage with women at any time the desire occurs.”
First, let me answer the question that will inevitably come from the men who want us to hold their hands and lead them on this strange, wild, scary new path called respecting women’s space and bodies. That question is this: “When CAN I conversationally engage with a woman/women, then?”
Here are my tips. Women, please feel free to expand in the comments.
- When a woman is looking directly at you, making eye contact, and smiling, this is generally a social cue that she is open to engage in conversation with you.
Huh, turns out there’s only one tip. The inverse of this tip:
- When a woman is not looking directly at you, not making eye contact, and/or not smiling at you, this is generally a social cue that she is NOT interested in conversational engagement.
Also, to clarify, this whole topic is about initiating conversations with women you don’t know. It’s not about women you do know in real life. It’s not about what to do when women initiate conversations. It’s not about how to have small talk at a party with a woman you just met. It’s not about how to tell if she’s romantically interested in you.
It’s about this simple question:
When you are near a woman (or women) you do not know, should you conversationally engage with them at any time the desire occurs?
The answer, according to Dave (whom, I think, is not a woman), is Yes. Yes, you should! Anytime!
The answer, according to me (and I am a woman), is mostly No. But since that simple word — No — seems so difficult for men to hear and understand, I will elaborate.
Do not conversationally engage with me when I am out at night, walking to my car, stopping by the store for a few things on my way home, or at the gas station, or leaving a restaurant or any of the other hundred activities I might be engaged in, at night, in which I am simultaneously calculating my chances of being raped before I make it to safety.
Do not conversationally engage with me when I involved in my own activity, maybe at dusk, maybe jogging, pounding out steps and also thinking about how many minutes I can run before I need to turn around so I can make it home before dark, because dark seems to give violent men more courage.
Do not conversationally engage with my daughter, who at 12 years old is tall, developed, and looks much older. She gets plenty of conversational engagement already. She gets “visual engagement” from men of all sorts, too: young men who might assume she is in their age group, and men who are nowhere close. I don’t want to educate her on the ways to disengage, conversationally or otherwise, but I have to. Yesterday we practiced our “Ice Queen Glare” together, as we walked down the sidewalk, after two men drove by, hanging out of the windows, leering at my daughter and her best friend. That was in daylight. “No, it won’t work if you smile,” I had to tell her. “Narrow your eyes a bit.”
Do you hear that, Dave?
Are you listening? Are you conversationally engaging with me now? Do you understand?
I told my 12-year-old daughter to quit smiling so much so that she could move more safely in our world. No, wait, it’s not our world. It’s a man’s world, that’s right. You guys have been in charge for a long, long time, so if you want to be angry that the world you built makes women viscerally uncomfortable, start a Men’s Support Group and start changing your shit, together. You fucked this up, not me.
Women aren’t avoiding interactions with strange men from senseless paranoia.
They’re avoiding them due to consistent patterns of male behavior.
Men hate to be bored, don’t they! Haha, so funny. How bored they get. Isn’t it.
I’m never bored. I always have mental calculations to do. So many of them! And when I’m done with those, I like to close my eyes and relish a moment of silence in which no one is asking a question and then interrupting my answer, or mansplaining to me why my opinion is wrong, or telling me to smile, or asking how I manage to have a successful career while also being a mother.
Children also hate boredom. My children think their boredom is my problem. They’re wrong. It isn’t. I’m not their entertainment.
Many men think their boredom imposes a conversational obligation on the people around them. They’re also wrong.
However, since I — feminine villain that I am — have stolen from you the eternal delight that comes, apparently, from striking up random conversations with women you don’t know, here are some alternative activities.
Instead of using your energy to conversationally engage with women you don’t know who have shown no interest in engaging with you, how about using your energy to engage your imagination, in these ways:
- Imagine that whenever you go to the park to walk the circular track, you keep a running tally of how many people are with you, and if they are “safe.” Women are safe. Couples are safe. Men alone are not safe.
- Imagine that when you are walking the track, you calculate your best exit strategy, just in case. Just in case one more person leaves and you find yourself at the track with only one other person: a man. He’s probably fine, he’s probably harmless, he’s probably a good guy. But you don’t know, so, just in case, you better have a plan. Is it better to stand still and scream or run as fast as you can? Does it make more sense to run for your car or to run for the restaurant two blocks away?
- Imagine how your heart starts pounding, involuntarily, when you realize everyone else has left and it’s just you and that man, who’s been jogging slower and slower, who’s jogging so slowly now, in fact, that you’re about to catch up with him, about to be beside him, and what should you do? Do you drop your walking pace slower and slower? Or speed up and try to pass him? But then he’ll be behind you and you can’t keep an eye on his movement. Damn it. Maybe you should cut your walk short and go home.
- Imagine the fear that grips your throat, that makes it hard to breathe, when you walk out of the shopping center and realize the parking garage is empty except for two cars, parked close to yours. Imagine the helplessness you feel as you assess: are you safe? Is there someone waiting in one of those cars, watching you? It’s too dark to tell.
- Imagine the calculations you make every day, every time you are in a situation in which a) you are alone and b) a strange man is or could be nearby. Do you think we enjoy these calculations? Do you think we want to use our brain power this way? I’d rather memorize poetry, dude. I’d rather contemplate the beauty of the cosmos, how my kids are doing in school, what I want for dinner. But I also don’t fucking want to be raped, so I make these calculations.
- Imagine explaining to your spouse the rules you have to keep yourself safe in almost any circumstance: The keys in your hand. The mace in your purse. The distance from any building’s entrance to your car. The steps you count out when a man is walking behind you, how many you take before you cross to the other side of the street. The time limits, usually based on darkness and how soon it will come. Imagine your spouse being shocked by the idea of ‘safety rules,’ a bizarre concept, something never considered or needed. Imagine your girlfriends; they’re not shocked. “Oh yeah,” they say. “Sure. I have those rules. I don’t ever….” And they list their rules. Because none of us wants to be harassed or assaulted or raped or kidnapped or murdered, but some men seem to think those are acceptable activities. So we make these rules, to try to avoid those men, who don’t tell us what they’re thinking. They don’t advertise their intentions. They just try to engage with us, you know, conversationally. They know their intentions. We don’t. We try not to be rude while we wonder. After a while we quit worrying about being rude, because it takes so much energy to “engage” with every male who wants to engage, while also keeping our bodies safe and unassaulted. So, so sorry I’m not smiling more, I’m trying to conduct a quick risk assessment while traveling via public transportation.
- Imagine how frustrated you feel when you hear about another assault, another threat, harassment, rape. Imagine the sadness. Imagine the helplessness, because you know. You know she had rules, too. You know the rules don’t matter. They don’t keep you safe, because rapists don’t care about the rules. Men who choose violence will knock your rules down, and then knock you down.
- Imagine holding your cell phone to your ear, pretending to have a conversation with your boyfriend, husband, brother (also imaginary), Dad, anyone in order to discourage that random guy near you from conversationally engaging. Imagine that your solitude is seen as an invitation by those of the opposite sex. Imagine that your headphones, your book, your refusal to hold eye contact, your brisk pace, your unsmiling gaze, your purposeful energy, all of it adding up to a clear indicator, a message — I am not here to talk to you — is disregarded by these men, who want to conversationally engage.
- Imagine your energy seeping out of you, being drained out, slowly spilling out in these ways, day after day. Imagine how tired you get. Imagine how much work it is. Imagine how you have so little energy left, how it’s not enough energy to give a fuck about being polite when some random guy conversationally engages you because… he’s bored? You’re there? And why didn’t he conversationally engage the guy across from him, or the elderly man seated next to him, or that couple with the two kids? None of them are wearing headphones. You are. You’re the only person in speaking distance who’s wearing headphones and reading a book. Or at least you were, before you were conversationally engaged. You’re also the only person in speaking distance who is a woman, alone. Imagine how often you sigh internally, seeing this, being part of this scenario, wanting to tell him, this random guy, wanting to shout it in his face but knowing in your bones that he’ll be defensive, angry, accusatory. Knowing he’ll spin it: “Wow, really?” he’ll say. His voice will be wounded. “You think any guy who talks to you is hitting on you? Kind of arrogant. I’m just bored. I just wanted to chat with someone. You seemed interesting. Excuse me for being friendly. God. I’m one of the good guys, okay?” Okay, dudebro. You bet. Thanks for clearing that up. I can totally relax now that I know your intrusion upon my solitude, my space, my silence was out of sheer boredom, not anything else. That makes it completely forgivable. Fun, even! I totes love being a diversionary form of entertainment for bored guys, anytime, anywhere.
- Imagine going out in public with your daughter. Imagine watching the men: the old men, the middle-aged men, the younger men, the teenage just-becoming-men. Imagine watching those men watching your daughter. Watching their eyes roll downward, scraping slowly across your daughter’s body, down her torso, down her legs, back up again. Imagine how much you want to hide her away from them, from their entitlement, from their thievery, from their engagement. Imagine how much you want to scream in their faces. That’s the kind of conversational engagement I could really go for, come to think of it.
An aside: I got curious about what people think are the “worst/most idiotic” articles on Medium. It’s interesting that many of the responses using this type of phraseology are directed toward articles a) supporting feminism, b) calling out rape culture, c) calling out racism, or d) criticizing ultra-right wing conservatism. Also cryptocurrency. People have a lot of angst about blockchain, I guess.