On Pet Tigers And Sexual Assault
The recent reports of sexual transgressions by high-profile men have elicited all sorts of reactions. I’d like to address one response in particular that I’ve seen from men. Their comments go something like this:
Men aren’t mind-readers. Women need to be more assertive about saying “no.”
If she wasn’t okay with the man’s advances, why didn’t she say anything then? Or just walk away?
Why did she go along with it, only to report it years later?
Being a man myself, I get why guys react this way. Every time a new scandal surfaces, every self-respecting non-sociopath male thinks to himself, “Wait, have I ever done something like that?”
It’s terrifying to wonder if your own sexual interest was ever seen as too aggressive, if it’s going to come back to haunt you years later. I myself have had a brush with this very situation.
It’s scary. It absolutely is.
Well, as real a fear as this might be, I realize now that it misses one key detail — a detail that changes the entire way men should be responding to this …
The Awesomest Pet?
As a kid, I wanted a pet tiger. I’m pretty sure Calvin and Hobbes shouldered the blame for my insane wishlist. Like Calvin, I would often fantasize about having my own tiger to maul and devour anyone who dared cross me.
But then, as my optimistic imagination started to wither away with age, I realized how terrible an idea this actually would have been.
Let’s be realistic, being the “owner” (note the quotation marks) of a pet tiger can only be an exercise in terror. Cats have a primal hunting instinct. It’s not easy to predict when that instinct is going to kick in.
Now, when the cat is 15 pounds, said instinct kicking in isn’t going to hurt me too much.
But when the cat weighs 800 pounds? Then it doesn’t matter how well-trained he is. He’s still a very large, very powerful, very wild animal. If you make the slightest wrong move, your pet may decide to pounce on you. And when he does, you will be in rough shape.
Worse, you may not even have any idea what might constitute a wrong move. If you have any sense of self-preservation whatsoever, life with your pet tiger will thus be reduced to a constant tiptoe over figurative eggshells.
So no, thank you. No pet tiger for me …
A Sense of Self-Preservation
I came across this blog post a few weeks ago, specifically about Louie CK, but more generally about the self-defense mechanisms women use when dealing with men. One passage from the post really stood out for me:
We know we’re going to get blamed and shamed and punished [for speaking up about sexual harassment or assault].
We know that the things we did while getting fucked make no fucking sense to you. Why didn’t you leave? Why didn’t you fight? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you take a picture or call the cops or scratch or bite?
And you’re right. They don’t make any fucking sense. Unless you’re accustomed to being prey. And you’re probably not.
It reminded me, ironically, of a bit from Louie CK himself, wherein he describes how men are statistically the number one threat to women (skip to 1:19 if it doesn’t load at that spot):
This is the key piece men are missing when they say that women need to be more assertive:
Um, guys. We’re the tiger.
In our interactions with women, we are the unpredictable animal that may act cuddly one moment, and maul the very next. On average, we are physically stronger, behaviorally more aggressive, and far more likely to harm a woman than a woman is to harm us.
This is just one of the reasons women smile at the men harassing them, why they don’t snap back at an overly aggressive date, why they don’t just walk away.
So many men say something to the effect of, “If you weren’t interested, why didn’t you just XXX???”
Invariably, XXX doesn’t consider the fear factor. I have to admit, it was never on my own radar before. If you’re a tiger, it’s trivially obvious to offer a solution that involves slapping the shit out of a fellow tiger, whether literally or figuratively.
But when you’re the puny human dealing with the aggressive, unpredictable tiger? The solution isn’t so simple.
So men, we absolutely need to give women the pass on this one. Sure, we may wish women would be more firm when they’re not interested. Sure, we self-professed domesticated-tiger types may have a fear of harassing or assaulting a woman without realizing it.
Well, women have the fear of actual physical injury. That trumps our fear on every level. It absolutely is on us to learn to pick up the subtle cues a woman gives us — the cues that say, “I’m not interested, so please don’t hurt me.”
It’s also absolutely on us not to judge or shame a woman we perceive not to have been clear enough with her cues.
But before you relegate yourself to life as a tiger, there’s still more to this …
A few days ago, a friend of mine shared this blog post, where she recounted being assaulted by her now-ex-boyfriend. We chatted at length, and she shared a male acquaintance’s explanation for her ex-boyfriend’s behavior:
If you corner an angry dog, you can’t be surprised if he bites you.
According to the acquaintance, her ex-boyfriend had become so agitated that he wasn’t capable of calming down with her still there. So when she refused to leave, and then even stopped him from calling the police … well, she left him with no other options.
That’s when I realized the shortfall in the tiger metaphor.
Guys, dial it back. We’re not actually animals.
We are in fact fully capable of rational thought and high-level reasoning. The ex-boyfriend could have done any of a number of things to calm himself down and deescalate the confrontation. That’s all she wanted from him, anyway. So when he resorted to violence, it wasn’t because he’s an animal. It’s because he royally fucked up, plain and simple.
Look, I get that it isn’t always easy to calm down. I worked with often-belligerent at-risk teens for almost a decade. I get what it’s like when a ball of living breathing irrationality is all up in your face, and you’re thinking how simple it would be to just take them out.
I assure you, though, even if the other person is the one to get violent first, there are always better ways to handle the situation than to hit back. We can deescalate, because that’s what we’re capable of as human beings.
Here’s another way to look at it: When you were a kid, did you ever play — or have a sibling force you to play — “I’m not touching you”? Because that’s exactly how real life works. It doesn’t how much someone is annoying you. It doesn’t matter how much they’re getting in your personal space. If you’re the one who breaches the physical barrier first, you’re the one at fault. It’s that simple.
So this is what it comes down to, guys:
- Remember that we are the tiger. Even if we are in fact a teddy bear, we have to be understanding when a woman sees us as a threat. To us, it’s an annoyance. To her, it’s potentially life or death.
- Physical assault is never a reasonable or justifiable option. Control your fucking animalistic urges, gentlemen.
I realize there are a myriad of other reasons a woman might not report sexual harassment or assault, and they don’t always have to do with fear of physical harm. This is a blog post, however, not a dissertation, so I chose to focus on a single reason — the one that most men seem to be unaware of.
It may seem like an argument of semantics when I distinguish between being an animal and “royally fucking up,” but there is a key difference:
When you blame it on your animal instincts, you are suggesting it’s something inside you that you can’t change.
When you admit to fucking up, that means that it’s not innate, and you therefore have the ability to grow and change.
Given its focus, this post serves at best as an obtuse defense of the women who’ve spoken out recently. To offer a more direct defense, I’d like to point out that false allegations represent only a sliver of sexual assault reports. And as The Washington Post themselves demonstrated, the media doesn’t take these types of allegations lightly. They don’t just report any woman who comes out and says she was harassed or assaulted.
Yes, the media does screw up once in a while, but those cases are extremely rare. As such, we can rest assured that reputable publications do in fact perform their due diligence.