If you were wondering why women feel unsafe around you, here’s why:

So, a few days ago, I wrote this.

That letter is a semi-autobiographical composite based on a guy who not only stalked me and made me feel uncomfortable and unsafe, but did the same to several other women, including friends of mine. Some of those things he did to me; some of those things he did to other women; some of those things he told us about during group gatherings, seemingly under the impression that we would empathise with him in his struggle against all the terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad women of the world.

When I wrote that letter, it wasn’t really aimed at the Nice Guy in question (I honestly haven’t seen or heard from him in months, and thank [insert deity/deities/lack of deity here] for that). It was written for every woman who, like me, has known a guy like that or been “befriended” by a guy like that or feared for her life because of a guy like that.

Because yeah, that’s a thing. Women fear for their lives because of guys like that.

That guy? When I very politely told him that I needed him to message me less, the backlash started immediately. He trashed me on social media. He would show up to events he knew I’d be at and find reasons to sit across from me, saying nothing the entire time. He told people what a bitch I’d been to him. He started making ultimatums – he would stop being friends with people if they so much as mentioned me in his presence. He knew where I lived, where I worked, where my family members lived and worked. He had mentioned violent impulses (both internally and externally aimed) several times during our brief “friendship”. He had made life difficult and uncomfortable for friends of mine in the past (which I did not know when I first met him), and now he was doing it to me. And while I like to think that I’m a fairly strong, independent kind of girl who can fend for herself, and while this guy seemed pretty quiet and shy and like he was more bark than bite, I was still pretty fucking scared.

The thing is, women don’t know which guy’s going to get violent when we tell them no.

Will it be the guy who approaches us in a club and insists on buying us a drink even though we repeatedly say we don’t want one? (Friend’s 20th birthday a few years ago – he eventually went and started buying drinks for someone else instead, and my friends and I watched the girl he was talking to like a hawk all night to make sure he didn’t have a chance to get her alone.)

Will it be the guy who calls us a bitch because he was “just trying to make conversation” while we were reading a book with our earphones in? (Outside a shopping centre in broad daylight while I was waiting for a friend to pick me up. He screamed in my face for twenty minutes while I kept telling him he needed to leave. Passers-by did absolutely nothing but look at me in annoyance, as though I was responsible for this public disturbance that was getting in the way of their grocery shopping.)

Will it be the guy who tries talking to us on the bus when we just want to get home after a long day at work, his voice raising in volume every time we steadfastly ignore his leering “compliments”? (Guy who used to catch the bus route that took me past my house. I would wait until the bus had driven off before walking home just so he couldn’t watch me go to my front gate, and I would always make sure to lock it behind me just in case.)

Will it be the guy who offers us lifts everywhere and goes shopping with us and buys us gifts and worms his way into our circle of trust so that eventually we start letting him into our private spaces, where nobody will see if he attacks us?

It could be any of them. It could be all of them. For some woman, somewhere, it has been one or more or all of them. (For some man, somewhere, it has also been one or more or all of them. Predators thrive on societies that will not believe the claims of their prey.)

None of this is news to you, I’m sure – or, if you have even the slightest hint of cultural awareness, it shouldn’t be.

But it was apparently news to this guy:

 

This is an image a commenter made calling me a

not creepy at all, dude. not. creepy. at all.

 

What starts with “r” and ends with “ape culture” and is incredibly well-illustrated by this image? I’ll let you supply the answer.

This is why women feel unsafe around you, Nice Guys – because when we stand up to you, when we point out that your behaviour is predatory and your advances are unwanted and that we want to be treated like actual human beings, your immediate response is to tear us down, belittle us and invalidate us. We feel unsafe around you because you are possessed of so much entitlement that when we don’t repay your (unwanted!) favours with romance and sex, you label us whores and liars and sociopaths. And you are backed up, not just by the friends who don’t want to make things “awkward” by barring you from social gatherings, but by the entire fucking patriarchy, right down to random internet strangers who don’t even know us but will construct elaborate “proofs” that your predatory behaviour is our fault because we should have known what we were getting into when we accepted what looked like an offer of friendship.

You want to know why we don’t want that drink? Want to know why we don’t want a bar of your “normal social interaction” (ha) or your “polite conversation” or your compliments that you swear are innocent?

Because any one of you could be the guy I wrote that letter about. Because any one of you could be the guy backing him up by calling me a sociopath and a liar. Because any one of you could be the one we shouldn’t have trusted, and because when you hurt us, any one of you could be the ones insisting it was our fault all along.

You want to know why women feel unsafe around you? It’s because you’re fucking unsafe, asshole.

A letter to that Nice Guy I ignored that one time

A comic depicting the difference between what a Nice Guy thinks is happening between him and a girl and what is actually happening.

a shift in perspective can help.

 

Dear Nice Guy,

I’d say you probably don’t remember me, but I know you do. I know you remember me the way you remember every single girl you’ve ever latched onto like a leech who also happens to recommend books and carry shopping bags. I know you remember me because this is a small town and people talk and you wouldn’t believe some of the things people tell me you say about me, except that I guess you would because I know for sure that you said them.

I know you’ve waxed poetic at length to anyone who will listen (and a fair few people who won’t) about how I don’t know what I’m missing. And you know what? I guess you’re right. I don’t know what I’m missing. Maybe if, somewhere between the endless offers of a lift home and the free coffees I didn’t want and the little intimate gifts “just because”, I’d read your mind and deduced using my psychic powers that you were in love with me, things might have turned out differently. (Like maybe I’d have filed a restraining order. Maybe I’d have stopped seeing the favours you did me as the acts of a friend and started seeing them as the acts of a predator. Maybe I’d have never allowed myself to be alone in a room with you. But I digress.) For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right and I don’t know what I let slip by when I decided to go after that [confident] jerk [with a sense of self-worth and a whole host of interesting hobbies] instead of letting you woo me like a princess in the tackier class of fairy tale.

Then what?

You want me to know you’d have treated me like a princess, but I’m not a princess. You want me to know you’d have worshipped me like a goddess, but I’m not a goddess. You want me to know you’d have waited on me hand and foot, but I’m a functioning human being with agency and independence and I don’t need anyone to wait on me. You want me to know you’d have given me everything I could ever have possibly wanted, but you’re wrong there, because one of the things I wanted – one of the things I still want – is not you.

That’s the thing, see? You could drive me to the edges of the Earth as a “favour”, you could come shopping with me and take me out to dinner and watch movies and let me cry to you over the phone, but you couldn’t make me want you as anything other than a friend and you still can’t. You’ll never be able to. Oh, sure, if you’d asked me out when we first met, before we settled into the routine of girl-and-secret-admirer, maybe I’d have thought about it. Maybe I’d have let you take me out to lunch at a little bistro somewhere and we could have talked like real people and not like Pygmalion attempting to breathe life into his Galatea, and maybe we’d have found out that we had things in common and it would have led to a few more dates and maybe a relationship. Or maybe I would have turned you down and you’d have felt sad about it for a while but you would have moved on and we could have been friends – real friends – and you wouldn’t be obsessively combing through my Facebook photos at midnight and I wouldn’t be writing you this letter.

But you couldn’t make me love you just because you wanted me to, and you still can’t.

You say I’ll regret it. You say that ten, twenty, fifty years from now, you’ll be the one that got away. You say that when I’ve been rejected by a string of [confident, interesting, engaging] jerks and I no longer have my youthful beauty and I’m too old to have kids, I’ll wish I’d settled for you. And maybe you’re right. Maybe one day I’ll be fifty years old and single and childless – but even then, I still wouldn’t regret not being with you. I wouldn’t regret not signing up for a lifetime of being treated like a marble statue on a pedestal created by an obsessed boy-child with an ideal of perfect womanhood to which I could never truly measure up. I wouldn’t regret avoiding that slavish devotion, that expectation of reciprocity of a passion I didn’t and don’t and will never feel. No, I’m sorry – even if you end up being right and I find myself alone and unloved and unlovable, I will never regret that.

Since we’re making predictions, though – and oh, how you love to do that when you talk about me (did you really think I wouldn’t hear of it? did you really think they’d never tell?) – let me make a few of my own.

I predict that I’ll have an enjoyable, interesting relationship with my jerk (who has introduced me to sports and taught me how to shoot a gun and helped me rediscover my love of philosophy and supported my dreams of being a writer and held my hand while I cried without expecting anything in return). I predict that if things don’t work out, I’ll find someone else, and maybe he’ll introduce me to painting or sculpture or belly dancing or yoga or basketball because he’ll have interests other than pleasing me and he’ll want to share them with the woman he loves. I predict that some day, if I choose to, I’ll marry one of those jerks you hate so much and we’ll probably have a few kids and we’ll fight sometimes because nobody’s perfect, not even people in love, but we’ll make up because nobody stays angry forever, especially people in love. And maybe we’ll divorce in five years or maybe we’ll grow old together and see the birth of our great-grandchildren, but the one thing we won’t do is live out some fantasy of a man “winning” a woman with niceness and a woman showing her gratitude with sex.

That’s what you never understood about relationships, Nice Guy. You can’t win people, not with all the put-on niceness in the world. You can’t mould yourself into what you think a woman wants and hope she’ll fill all the gaps in you. You have to be your own person (do you even know who that is any more?) and cultivate your own interests and live your own life and hope that one day, you’ll find someone who thinks your life is pretty neat and wants to share it with you, someone with a life of her own that’s so neat you want to share it with her.

That’s a relationship, Nice Guy. Not unwanted gifts and free rides home and pining over someone and hoping that if you hang around her long enough, she’ll feel the way you want her to feel. A relationship is two people sharing their lives – their messy, imperfect, fantastic, exciting, terrifying, amazing lives – because it’s what both of them want to do, not because one of them wants the other to want it.

This guy I’m seeing, this jerk? He’s pretty sweet. We’re talking about getting married, maybe having kids some day. He read Hamlet for me because I mentioned I liked Shakespeare and I went to a football game with him and had the time of my life. We fight sometimes and we laugh a lot of the time and we never expect anything of each other that the other wouldn’t be willing to give. I think maybe we’re going to go the distance. But even if we don’t, it still will have been worth it, because he’s helped me grow as a person and I’ve helped him grow as a person and neither of us is Galatea and neither of us would want to be Pygmalion because what kind of relationship can there be between a man and his idol?

I hope you figure that out one day. I’d hate for all your prophecies about other women to come true for you.

Get over me. You never had me to begin with. You never will.

Sincerely,

A girl who goes for jerks.

The patriarchy’s greatest victory

I’m a pretty girl. People tell me this makes me lucky. They say it will make me more successful in life. People will respond more positively to my presence and what I have to say just because they enjoy the appearance of the person saying it. People who judge others based solely on their looks will be more likely to favour me over other women. This is supposed to be a blessing. I am supposed to consider this a privilege.

That is, at least, until society’s idea of “pretty” changes and I find this “privilege” suddenly revoked.

The patriarchy’s greatest victory has been convincing us we’re not as oppressed by it as we think. By granting us false, conditional privileges based on attributes it values, a patriarchal society has a built-in method of keeping women in line. As long as we focus on the privileges we’ve supposedly been granted – by being conventionally attractive, by being able to “run with the boys”, by being, in short, pleasing to men in various ways – we won’t think to look around us and wonder why our so-called privileges seem contingent on what people other than us find valuable.

Being pretty only confers privilege because men say it does. By striving for conventional attractiveness, women are seen to be making themselves more pleasing to men, which gains them a modicum of acceptance. (Whether or not pleasing men is their actual intention is ignored, as it is assumed that women have no higher ultimate purpose.) In some cultures, women who fulfil some arbitrary standard of “virtue” (dressing modestly, allowing men to decide how and when they express their sexuality, etc.) are granted conditional privilege contingent on their continued obeisance to male-defined societal standards. Should a woman decide to act in a way that men do not consider pleasing – say, by dressing how she likes or having sex with whomever she wants – this privilege is revoked.

The illusion of “pretty privilege” (or “virtuous privilege” or “modest privilege” or any other kind of conditional privilege based on pleasing men) is an excellent way of turning women against each other, encouraging them to tear each other down so that men don’t have to. Women who are seen as going out of their way to please men are turned on by their fellows, and women who are seen as not doing enough to please men are judged by those who are. By holding these conditional privileges over our heads and forcing us to effectively fight each other in order to attain them, patriarchal society is able to keep us from uniting and calling them on their bullshit.

Because, you know, that’s what it is. The idea that I’m only worth something to society because I’m pretty isn’t flattering – it’s degrading, demeaning and dehumanising. Would my intelligence, my personality, my passion mean nothing if it wasn’t packaged in a way that men find pleasing? Would women willing to compromise their comfort and principles in order to “fit in” with men be so lauded if they decided that for once, they’d like to set their own boundaries? (If you don’t know the answer to this, go to a pop culture convention some time and see how women who dare to stand up for their rights are treated by the men who’d conditionally given them their approval.) As long as our privileges are contingent on measuring up to patriarchal standards, they aren’t real privileges at all – merely crumbs thrown our way to keep us from demanding a full meal.

The idea that some of us are “better girls” is a comforting but toxic lie. By leading us to believe that we can have a share of male privilege by conforming to a set of standards, the patriarchy is not only devaluing those of us who meet said standards, but those of us who don’t. What of women who aren’t conventionally attractive and have no desire to be? What of women who don’t feel the need to put on a show of virtue in order to appear more wholesome and thus more pleasing to men? What of women who don’t want to change their personalities in order to fit in with their male companions at the expense of their own personal boundaries and comfort? What of women who don’t do the things men want them to do in the way men want them to do it? As long as we are judged by the patriarchy’s standards, we are all equally dehumanised, equally objectified, equally stripped of our agency.

Privilege that is contingent on male approval isn’t privilege. Privilege that is contingent on meeting arbitrary external standards isn’t privilege. Privilege that requires us to compromise ourselves in order to attain impossible ideals isn’t privilege. Privilege that pits us against each other in battles to see which women can be most pleasing to men and therefore objectified in the most “positive” ways possible isn’t privilege. Privilege that asks us to stay quiet when our boundaries are breached – when we’re harassed on the street, when we’re forced to laugh along with sexist jokes, when we’re made to exercise our sexualities only for male pleasure – isn’t privilege. This is oppression dressed in nicer clothes, packaged to make it just appealing enough to us that we can believe that we’re somehow being given our due when all we’re really being given is a pat on the back for pleasing the people who make the rules.

This is the “privilege” that leads to the belief that women should be flattered by street harassment, that they should be honoured by male attention in all its forms, even the most violent. It is the “privilege” that allows cisgender women to feel superior to their trans* sisters because it is men, not women, who decide what a “real woman” is. It is the “privilege” that leads to the death of women who can’t or won’t toe the line, and society’s implicit acceptance of this as a punishment for not trying hard enough to follow the rules.

It isn’t privilege at all. It’s enslavement.

Do not judge yourself by the patriarchy’s standards. Even if you are not found wanting (and you will be, no matter how close to perfect you are), you will spend your life being weighed and measured against someone else’s yardstick. Your worth will always be externally granted, never internal and intrinsic. This is not privilege. This is a way of making sure you never question the privilege of others.

The patriarchy’s greatest victory has been convincing us all that if we can’t beat them, we should just give in and join them.