Navigating male entitlement, or: how I learned to stop caring and block dudebros

There’s this funny idea people have about free speech.

See, here’s how it actually works. You can say whatever you like, so long as what you say doesn’t harm anyone. If you can find a platform for yourself, even more power to you. Start a blog, make a Twitter account (make ten Twitter accounts!), post on Reddit, find your happy place and go for it. Free speech, whilst not constitutionally protected the world over, is a basic human right.

Here’s what’s not a human right: an assurance that anyone will listen.

Yeah. This is where it gets funny.

I get cat-called a lot. I mean, I get cat-called a lot. And before you rush to say something snarky about my outfit choices or the height of my heels (I see you in the wings, slut-shamers – you’re not as subtle as you think), I’ve been cat-called in my daggiest jeans and my oldest t-shirt and my rattiest sneakers and no makeup. I’ve been cat-called by old men and young men and men with their young sons in the passenger seat next to them. And the one thing all those men have had in common is the idea that they have the right to make me listen to their opinions. It’s not enough for them to have the opinions; it’s not enough for them to voice those opinions to their friends (or, I suppose, their young children – seriously, dude who did that, I will never stop judging you); they have to voice them to me. They have to make sure I hear them. They think they have the right to make me listen.

And the thing is – and like I said, here’s where it gets a bit funny – the thing is, they don’t have that right at all.

One afternoon, a guy tried talking to me for the entirety of my bus journey home. I had earphones in and I was doing a sudoku puzzle on my phone and I very, very purposefully ignored him – I even had my back turned. He tried talking to me anyway. “Hey, love,” he whined from a seat behind me after I refused to make eye contact and took a seat far in front, “hey – I’m talking to you.” He kept it up as I got off the bus, too. I loudly thanked the driver and waited until the bus had departed before walking to my gate, lest the guy figure out which house was mine by watching through the window.

Recently, I was sitting near a bus stop waiting for an evening bus into town, earphones in, when a man came up to me. I didn’t notice that he was trying to talk to me, so he walked right up and started waving his hands in my face. Thinking something had fallen from my purse, I took an earphone out, looked up and asked what was wrong.

He wanted to tell me I “looked cute”. I gave him my best “not in your wettest, wildest dreams” stare and responded with a, “move along, dude,” in the kind of voice one uses for pronouncements such as oh, look, the new puppy isn’t house-trained yet. I mean, seriously? He waved his hands centimetres away from my face for that? I own a mirror, and even if I didn’t, I don’t think strangers on the street would be my go-to resource for fashion critiques.

He broke into an expletive-laden tirade about what an uptight bitch I was. I put my earphones back in, turned the volume up and waited until he was gone.

(I was lucky – it was a crowded area and he was pretty small. I doubt I’d have been brave enough to reject unwanted advances so brazenly otherwise. Even surrounded by people, it took a fair amount of chutzpah to pretend I was unruffled by the spittle flying from my harasser’s lips as he screamed epithets at me. Guess those public speaking classes paid off.)

I recently noted that the threats directed at Suey Park, creator of the #CancelColbert hashtag, were born of the idea that violence against women, particularly women of colour, is an appropriate “punishment” for non-conformity. It’s the oddest thing – people don’t seem to like it when we express our right to free speech. As though to prove my point, I was inundated with replies verging from the nonsensical (“you’re racist against white people!”) to the sickening (“I hope you die, you ugly bitch!”) to the simply tiresome (“but why are you trying to oppress our freedoms?”). I merely made an observation – that white “progressives”, when forced to choose between allyship and protecting their own, will invariably protect their own. When I refused to engage in “debate” on whether or not racism against white people exists (it doesn’t), I was met with more vitriol still. I was silencing people (by…letting them talk without responding to them?); I was a white-hater (because…I pointed out that if white people don’t want to be seen as racist, they should probably stop doing racist things?); I was unwilling to “defend my arguments” (you might just as well ask me to “defend” my belief in the existence of gravity).

At first, I amused myself by inventing colourful ways of telling the trolls to fuck themselves (my favourite is still “go fellate yourself with a chainsaw”), but after a while, responding to the barrage of internet word-vomit grew tiring. I blocked any new troll accounts, made an announcement that I would not be engaging further, and went to bed.

That was when the real hate began.

I won’t sicken you with the details. Suffice it to say that waking up to threats of murder and sexual abuse was something of an object lesson in my original point. Exercise free speech to criticise white progressives and watch the mask of liberalism crack and shatter. Freedom, it would seem, is a one-way street.

With privilege comes an overweening sense of entitlement – entitlement to our spaces, entitlement to our stories, to our culture, to our voices, to our resources, to our time. When I tell men I’m not interested in talking to them, they treat it like a personal affront. How dare I, a woman, refuse to pander to them? How dare I refuse to warp my universe until they are at its centre? How dare I – and this is what really underlies it all – say no?

But you see – and I said, didn’t I, that it’s funny how this works – you see, while they might have the right to speak, I have the right not to listen and a mandate handed to me by the good citizens of the Republic of Myself to take advantage of that right whenever I like.

I’m not obliged to listen to your cat-calls. I’m not obliged to make uncomfortable small talk with you at bus stops. Online, I’m not obliged to indulge your desire for a “debate” when you interrupt me mid-story to derail the conversation and re-centre it around your own experiences. I’m not obliged to pander. I’m not obliged to serve you in any way at all. “Republic of Myself” is a bit of a misnomer. My space is not a democracy. I make the rules and enforce them as I wish. And what I’ve decided after years of politely acquiescing to men in positions of authority, after years of submitting to men who knew what was best for me even when they didn’t, after years of being told that men have the right to my personhood is that…well, no, they really, really don’t.

Make your troll accounts; inundate me with abuse and threats; scream until you lose your voice. I will tell you to fuck off in a delightfully colourful fashion and then I will block you or walk away or slam the door in your face because you are not entitled to any more of me than I am willing to give. Not my time, not my energy, not my resources, not my voice, not my personhood, not my anything. Scream into the void, though I think you’ll find the echoes cold comfort and poor company. I’m not obliged to let you scream at me.

Enjoy your freedom of speech. I’m putting my earphones back in.

30 thoughts on “Navigating male entitlement, or: how I learned to stop caring and block dudebros

  1. I won’t comment on your bus experiences, as I have experienced the same thing (ugh male harassment) and it seems to be a different concept from your experiences on Twitter.

    The issue you experience on Twitter isn’t necessarily a male phenomena, just that if you were to make some pretty outlandish claims people like to challenge and engage you on that. If you were to say that racism against white people not only doesn’t exist, but isn’t possible (a statement that, by the very definition of the word racism, is itself racist), people may wish to challenge you on it. Normally I’d say intellectually challenge you but sometimes the comments coming in are without any sort of thought.

    When you put your opinion out to the public (read: project it), you are likely to get responses. Putting out a polarized opinion invites debate, it asks people to explain your views either as a means to educate them, or educate you. To believe that people wanting to engage you is harassment, trolling, or male entitlement (something that is a widespread assumption on social networking these days – people *DO* hold opinions counter to yours) is kind of silly. To then block everyone who might challenge you on your beliefs or call you out on something is completely counter productive to societal progress and holds the movement you are trying to promote back.

    If your entire purpose of writing blogs and sending out tweets into the public sphere is to receive acceptance and responses from people who also believe what you believe? It’s masturbatory and doesn’t need to be published to be appreciated by like minded individuals.

    • I usually don’t publish comments that I think are ridiculous, but the borderline victim-blaming in this one is just so goddamn precious.

      I also may be a little high on sugar and caffeine. It’s been that kinda night.

      • Pretty freaking unbelievable. And also a textbook case of “the comments on a feminist article justify the need for feminism.”

      • Hi Jay,

        I just wanted to respond because I found you claiming I was ridiculous kind of funny, if not ironic.

        I know it is easy to claim I am “victim blaming” and just dismiss my opinion in kind, but this speaks to the point I made in my original post – I hold an opinion that is different from yours. I was exposed to your opinion which you must be aware is politically charged, and utilized the avenues to engage you in a discussion on the matter.

        A conversation takes two people to hold, otherwise you are talking to yourself (or at a wall). The internet, the world wide connection of people of various backgrounds and histories, is itself just a conversation. I don’t know the technical merits but I believe that this entire thing is possible because out computers talk to each other.

        When you publish a piece on your blog that you allow anyone to access, you are doing so with the express intent of sharing that opinion with whomever sees it. You are not selective about choosing who sees it because you did not restrict access to who can review your material, or send it directly to choice people. You also tweeted it using hashtags in an effort to spread the exposure, deliberately advertising it to extended parties.

        You have submitted it for public consumption with the express intent people will see it.

        You then allow a comment section on your blog. When you have a politically charged piece, yes, you will have people want to share their opinions on why they either agree with what you say or why you are wrong. You have literally facilitated that means of having a discussion.

        But to dismiss the comments you receive as ridiculous, trolling, male abuse, etc… What purpose does it serve? What do you gain by shutting down those who seek to engage with you? If you only seek to reinforce your own opinion about the world why don’t you email your articles to your friends you KNOW will agree with you, so they can send a reply saying “That was very insightful!” and “YOU ARE SO RIGHT! You go girl!”

        If you are so against having a conversation why do you submit your argument into a conversation, then withdraw immediately once someone replies? What purpose does this serve?

        If someone were to say “Oh I don’t think gay people should be allowed to marry” and that person then reflected every attempt to engage them with “FUCK YOU GUYS I DON’T HAVE TO EXPLAIN MYSELF STOP HARASSING ME” then, yes, you would view this person as bigoted, hypocritical, and/or ridiculous.

        It’s not victim blaming if you are baiting hooks then getting upset every time you catch a fish. It’s choosing to play a victim, deliberately, if you write an entire blog piece and or send out controversial messages in social media and get upset every time someone tries to engage you in discussion on your view points.

        And you kind of prove that point when you make the implication a well worded, thoughtful reply to your blog piece is basically trolling.

        • Sorry, but did you just compare writing to “baiting” people into attacking me? Because you seem to have missed the bit in the article about how the people with whom I chose not to engage were making death threats and sexually abusive comments. But no, there’s no victim-blaming going on here.

          As for the fallacy that publishing something means one expects debate or opposition: it’s funny that people don’t say this to experts in other fields, but that experts in, say, the field of racism, are treated as though their years of lived experience and sometimes extensive study of socioanthropology are worthless in the face of the uneducated opinions of their doubters. To paraphrase Dara O’Briain, this is like asking an astrophysicist about his area of expertise and then, for the sake of “balance”, giving equal air time to someone who believes based on uninformed speculation that the sky is a carpet painted by God.

          Women of colour are experts in the field of racism. We are not sharing opinions; we are stating facts. Again, one might just as soon ask us to mount a spirited defence of our “belief” in gravity. And now, having indulged your desire for a “debate” about facts, I’m putting my earphones back in.

      • I understand your points but it does seem to trivialize the experiences of white people who have experienced racism in isolated incidents.
        For example, when I was in middle school I was the only white boy on the school basketball team. One day in practice the best player on the team threw the ball at me when the coaches were distracted and told me to “get the fuck out, white boy.” I try to remember that moment when I have conversations about race, because I recognize that what for me was an isolated incident is the type of experience that structures the social reality of ethnic minorities regularly. And it was a hurtful, marginalizing experience. It does seem that within a white supremacist culture there is a possibility of racism against the white race, though we agree on the substance that on an institutional level the racism that we should fight against is obviously not directed against white people.
        Similarly during my first job, when I was sixteen years old, there was a girl who would grab my ass when I was the only boy working. The other workers thought it was funny, but I found it really uncomfortable. I recognize that this is something that girls and women deal with constantly, particularly since they have the added worry of physical vulnerability.
        The point I’m making I suppose is that as a white male who comes from a profoundly poor background, sometimes it’s difficult for me to recognize that I am in fact a privileged person because of my race and gender. I don’t deny that that is the case, and I don’t claim to be a victim, but growing up things weren’t rainbows and wonder bread sandwiches.

        • This may seem like a semantic distinction to you, but what you experienced, whilst certainly am example of bigotry, lacked the wide-scale institutional backing that differentiates racism from racial prejudice. The distinction is important because the key to ending racism doesn’t necessarily lie in fighting prejudice, but rather in fighting the structures that legitimise it and give it power.

        • And of course, you can be oppressed along other axes (class, in your case) without experiencing racism. I really can’t recommend Kimberlé Crenshaw’s “Mapping the Margins” enough if you want to understand more about intersectionality.

      • Jay, the discussion seems to be sliding away from the entire point – projecting your opinion outwards for consumption will, obviously, generate response. Your article outlined you chose not to engage after stating a controversial viewpoint – that white people don’t experience racism (and, as a Jewish woman, I take an unimaginable level of offense to that) – then disengage. If you made it clear your reason was to simply disengage after giving your opinion, then mocked how people were upset you wouldn’t back up your controversial beliefs. Had your disengagement been based solely on abuse and harassment, the comment section discussion wouldn’t have even started.

        If this was the thought you were attempting to convey you might want to look at improving your writing form, to more accurately communicate your thoughts. Not an insult, just… Edit. Take some time to reflect on pieces.

        But, yeah, the entire discussion quickly slipped into racism, attacking women of color, prejudice, etc etc etc. It always seems to with Social Justice advocates, and maybe that is because everything is irreversibly tied together and naturally connects to one another, or if it is just a more defensible position to retreat to. I don’t know, what I do know is that you proved me wrong by one simple fact – you wrote an actual reply. That is all you really needed to do and it put me in my place.

    • Oh dear; I thought the main purpose of a blog was to record one’s thoughts and opinions and post puppy pix and videos both terrible or funny because, well, fun. If other people want to comment on a blogger’s post, they can do so according to the blog’s security requirements (registration, providing email address, etc.). Beyond that, any other commenting rules/guidelines imposed by the blogger are the blogger’s choice.
      If jaythenerdkid *chooses* not to respond to comments which she considers offensive, deliberately bait-packed, or for any other reason at all, *that is her right*. This blog is *her* space, and she can run it however she wants, including choosing not to indulge trolls no matter their disguise.
      A certain percentage of bloggers do encourage non-flammable comments and/or civilized debate on some topics, others don’t. Please note: *Civilized Debate.* Name-calling, threats, verbal sniping and/or giving orders without any authority to do so are not part of civilized debate. They are utterly tactless, no matter how closely they adhere to spelling and grammar rules (in any language). Tact is apparently a dying art.
      There is no law in the US which specifically prohibits silence. People who insist otherwise are narcissistic blowhards (consciously or not) with additional issues. Perhaps they seek power on the Web, having been mostly deprived of it IRL. Bloggers are not therapists. They do not owe a virtual soapbox to every commenter who shows up.
      They also don’t have to answer their door or their phone; attempt to contact does not imply or require response.
      [insert smart-assery here]

  2. The above comment is exactly right! You want your voice heard, but if anyone responds and you don’t agree or don’t like what they are saying you simply block them? I understand doing this with abusive comments that are directed at you, but no for all that don’t past the test of whether or not it lines up with your views. That is the equivalent to sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “la la la I’m righhhht.”
    The topics you write about are bound to stir debate and i think you know that and actually want that, the usually stifled viewpoints you want to be heard can become part of the larger conversation, but if what you want is just to talk AT people, then that is no better than anyone just talking AT you. Even your response to Gloria’s comment is just awful. She wasn’t attacking you and call her viewpoint “ridiculous” and “precious?” Judging by your blog and Twitter feed you would be outraged if someone did that to you. I believe”patronizing” would be your word choice. So why do that to someone else.
    You have a lot of really good ideas and are smart and progressive with your views, hopefully with age will come the wisdom to realize that when you try to engage the world, some people will engage you back and if they aren’t being jerks then the least you can do is show them the courtesy of not treating them the way you did Gloria.

  3. Jay,
    While I agree with your overall point that you are under no obligation listen to and /or interact with any one else’s opinion for any reason (including this one); I think you’re a little off on your ideas behind freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is not about the relationship between two individuals but between and individual and a government. Governments are not allowed to limit speech except under certain circumstances. There are different strengths to these limits depending on country and history but none of these limits apply to two or more individuals arguing a political point. Anyone that tries to argue that you should listen to me because of free speech is like the guy who disbelieves gravity because it’s only a theory. It’s best to give them a wide berth and hope they don’t do too much damage.

    • Actually, you’re exactly right, which is what the “Republic of Myself” comments were meant to signify. Freedom of speech refers to the right to speak out against governments. People who want to use it as a get-out-of-abuse-free card will soon find that the government of jaythenerdkid, as it were, is a dictatorship. XD

  4. Wow! Remind me to never get you angry at me. I enjoy your Blog even if I don’t always agree with what you write. Freedom of speech has nothing to do with a conversation attempted at a bus stop, and to get angry because someone won’t listen is plain juvenile. Keep up with your writing and never let anyone tell you, you do not have the right to be what you want to be.

  5. My only intention was to have a discussion with you about political differences. I wasn’t even looking for a debate, but was curious about this concept of “intersectional feminism” because I know nothing about it, but after learning about it on your twitter I looked it up and it reminded me of a paper I wrote on socialism and feminism.
    I repudiate any death threats / rape threats / general nastiness that you or Suey Park have received. And I sympathize with you about the deluge of viciousness you undoubtedly received last night.

  6. Pingback: Navigating male entitlement, or: how I learned to stop caring and block dudebros | In Libri Quod Vinum Illic Est Verum

  7. Brilliant and oh so true. The whole world isn’t OKCupid, social medial isn’t high school debate club, and no one has the absolute right to demand that you listen to a single word they say. The fact that so many commenting here seem to believe that you speaking in public means you have to listen to them? Sure sign that our culture is sick with a level of entitlement from privileged people that needs to be deflated as a top priority.

  8. The funny thing about “free speech” (oh how people fail to understand the term) is that they can say what they like, and I can say what I like, which includes a request to have them prevented from saying such things.
    We saw this with Suey and #CancelColbert. Claims she was trying to silence people, denying their rights. When in fact she was merely asserting the very same rights they are trying to protect.
    I’ve often said that “freedom” is a paradox. You can say and do whatever you like, anywhere you like, even in the most repressive of regimes. The only difference is the consequence of your actions. The flip side to this is that what we say, what we think is controlled by external influences. Our ability to think, our ability to choose what we say is in some way determined by those around us. So our “freedom” is in question anyway.
    But as has been said many times, the idiots we face daily seem to think they have a right to say what they like without consequence or rebuttal.
    THEN we have the ones who think they have a right to debate. That they should be able to argue something theoretically. Totally disregarding that it is a real lived experience for others. Or that, when we refuse to engage, we are somehow being part of the problem. Not realising that part of the idea of free speech is also free silence.

  9. In solidarity with JaytheNerdKid: I’ve never understood the argument that posting something inherently obligates the author to listen to someone who disagrees. There are truths that I hold self-evident, and am not interested in discussing. I’m done, I’ve heard it all before and more than once. I am not their parent, I don’t have to raise and educate them. It almost worth starting a blog to say nothing except “I don’t have to listen to you.” I know my mother said it was my place to “be nice” but she was wrong. These comments that say you have to listen to everyone, even the ones that think you shouldn’t be allowed to speak yourself without contradiction, are just priceless.

  10. Pingback: The joy of linkspam (8 April 2014) | Geek Feminism Blog

  11. So do the people who feel entitled to use your blog for debate also harass their favorite fiction authors and news reporters to write and think as they do? Has it ever occurred to them that they can start their own blog? I mean. You mentioned that option in this very post, yet… ?

  12. It’s funny, isn’t it, how many people react to someone telling them that they can’t hurl abuse at them, by acting as if that person is refusing to listen to any criticism at all.
    Wait, not funny…that other thing.

  13. I appreciate you writing about this. My reality has come to the point where I literally cannot be anywhere in public without being bothered by a creep. It happens every day as I commute to work on public transportation. It ranges from being vulgarly catcalled to just some obnoxious guy insisting that he “just wants to talk to me!” even though I state clearly that I am not interested. What angers me the most is that my complaints about this situation are often negated. People who have never experienced this (i.e. guys) tell me it doesn’t seem like a big deal and that I should just make sure I dress modestly. (Newsflash: I already do.) Other people ask what is the problem with “being nice to strangers.” This whole “we should just be polite to strangers” is used to silence women on this whole issue. First of all, the only strangers who feel the need to converse with strange women seem to be older men. Also, everyone has a right to keep to themselves and not engage in interactions against their will. These people don’t take a straightforward “no” for an answer.

  14. Pingback: How I learnt to stop worrying and love the block. | The Wyrd

talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s