Joanna Schroeder advocates both individual responsibility and an understanding of the realities of the society we live in.
Winter in West Michigan can be dreadful. Snow falls almost continuously due to “Lake Effect”, and as you can imagine, it’s really flippin’ cold. It was one of those days: grey, bitter cold, and dumping snow. My father and I were driving on a rural road. A rusty pickup truck squealed to the side of the road in front of us, and out jumped a young woman holding a baby in a snowsuit. There were no houses in sight and a storm was coming in. The pickup squealed off, its tires spinning and spitting snow into the air in front of us.
My father and I looked at each other. I was about fourteen. He turned to me and said, “We’re going to ask that lady if she needs a ride (there were no cell phones at this time, of course), but I want you to ask her so she’s not scared.” I understood.
We pulled up, I asked her, and she replied, “Aww no, honey, thanks. He’ll be back.” She smiled at me, but her face was puffy and streaked with tears. We drove away, but we looped back around to be sure she was fine, and of course she was climbing back into that truck just a few minutes later. My father pulled the car over after the truck was gone and explained to me why he had me ask the lady if she wanted help. He said he would’ve offered help regardless, but she’d be more likely to take it from a man with a female in the car. He also said that I shouldn’t get in a car with a man I didn’t know. I already knew that, of course.
Last week, after holiday shopping on the crazy-busy Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, I went for lunch alone at Tender Greens. This restaurant is set up cafeteria-style, where the majority of the seating is at a bunch of long tables. While in line, a nice guy said something to me like, “Isn’t this restaurant cool?” and we chatted a bit about how awesome it is that restaurants focusing on local goods are sprouting up.
I took my tray and sat down, and after he paid, he sat down by me at one of these long tables. Not directly across, but diagonal. We ate quietly for a bit, but eventually got into a really interesting conversation about the music his record label makes and how he chooses to run his label in a socially-responsible manner. I talked to him about the GMP and solicited him to submit an article about an album that a tough-guy singer is about to release that focuses around the pain of having been bullied when he was younger. We shared emails on our phones and were off on our separate ways.
So why did I tell you these two relatively uneventful stories? Because I’m trying to pull together both sides of this debate about the Presumption of Male Guilt (a special section of GMP I recently co-led), and say that Hugo Schwyzer is right… and so is Lisa Hickey.
In a recent Twitter debate between a bunch of people, including Tom Matlack, Hugo Schwyzer, and two well-respected feminists, Jennifer Pozner and Amanda Marcotte, Hugo asked Tom “your daughter has a choice: she can accept a ride from a strange woman or strange man. Do you care? What advice do you give?” to which Tom replied, “I would not tell her to base it on gender. Don’t get in cars with strangers period…” I think this is foolish, stubborn advice based in a theoretical argument rather than reality. There are times in which we need help, we all need help, and though Lisa is so right when she says, “The best way to overcome fear is to gain competence” in her piece, When Women Fear Men, that is not always an option.
I flashed back to what my father taught me both with his words and his actions that day on the side of that country road in a snow storm. Sometimes we have to ask for help, Tom, and sometimes there are only strangers around. There may be a violent-looking woman and a very kind-looking man to choose from, and in that case your daughter should defy gender stereotypes. She should follow her instincts. But in general, your daughter should play the numbers and know that if she is going to be raped or murdered, it is most likely going to be by a man and make a choice based upon that.
My father, without naming it, understood that in Rape Culture, he was presumed guilty despite being completely well-intended. He was willing to shoulder that burden and wasn’t angry about not being innately trusted.
I think what is misunderstood about Hugo’s message in In Rape Culture, All Men Are Guilty Until Proven Innocent, is that in recognizing the reality of a world in which women are (in general) physically weaker and the police and courts systems are (in general) dominated by men, you do not have to feel guilty. You do not need to feel bad about yourself because of what other men have done. There is a difference between Feminists trying to make you feel bad about being a man (which is dead wrong) and us asking you to recognize the way most women feel, and asking you to respect that.
Hugo, it seems to me, is calling men forth to demand more from one another. Sure, you shouldn’t have to do this, but this is the way society changes. As a feminist, I ask women to stop doing the things that damage society and ourselves. Yes, we are complicit too. It isn’t about self-hate, it’s about taking responsibility. The woman in that pickup was probably in an abusive relationship (whether it was him abusing her, or them abusing one another) and she needed to take responsibility for being there and needed to change her life, especially for her baby. That’s her job. Resources are available, and it’s our job, as a society, to offer those resources. We all have responsibility here, and feeling guilty (on a micro level) is merely going to cripple our ability to make change (on a macro level).
To Lisa’s point, in her rebuttal Rapists, I have Known, “Presuming guilt in males is not good for males and it is not good for females”, being suspicious of men does harm all of us in a day-to-day way. When I was in line at Tender Greens, I could’ve assumed this guy, Jacob, was a perv or a creep or only out to sleep with me. But on a micro level, on a personal level, I had a strong feeling he wasn’t. I trust my feelings. Even if he had a sliver of intention to hook up with me, all I had to do was say “no” (I’m married). We were in a restaurant in a bustling city and I am an intelligent and resourceful woman.
I assumed the best about Jacob, and I was rewarded by meeting a nice person who regarded me as a human being and a professional. Maybe someday he’ll become a contributor to The Good Men Project and he will show us yet another way in which men are good. Am I defying what Hugo says about Rape Culture in doing what Lisa says we should do (not pre-judge men, become competent myself)? Am I denying Rape Culture by trusting a man, any man? No, Rape Culture is real and Good Men are real.
I don’t intend to speak for this relative stranger, Jacob, in saying that he took responsibility for Rape Culture in his short interaction with me last week. But in my mind, he did. He spoke to me as an equal, he did not step into my personal space, he did not mention anything about my physical appearance, he didn’t touch me or follow me, or ask for my number (I volunteered my email after talking about contributing to GMP someday). I don’t think he treated me like I was a man—I think he treated me like I am a human. And, if I may speak for women for just a moment, that is what we want.
I think this is something most of you guys do every day. As Hugo maintains, “Good guys hold themselves and other men accountable, in public and in private.” Good guys act how Jacob acted, and they hold other men accountable to act the same. Those simple behaviors are the start of a revolution.