(Some) Men

An Instagrammer I follow – and who for some reason follows me – shared this with us, her 10,000 or so followers, yesterday in her “stories”:

[From Instagram Stories. January 13, 2020.]

Some guy (apparently) messaged her that illiterate nonsense – in English, no less. She shared that with us in order I suppose to “laugh” at it: “Beautiful declaration,” she notes in French, “I am tempted to say yes lol.” That sender can’t possibly have expected her to take that message seriously, yet he sent it anyway for only reasons he knows.

She uses Instagram for fun the way most of us do. It is full of her holiday pics, fashion shots, life, family, Paris pics (where she lives), etc. She is an executive with two young children – so it is hard to imagine she will “run off” with him… as she “LOLs.”

But that thoroughly inappropriate message from that man is actually not funny. It is, we all know, what women endure all too regularly on social media. Seeing that above from her reminded me of this tweet I had seen the day before:

I suppose this post is something of a sequel to my previous one from Sunday – on women readers. However, this one is far more serious. That tweeter, a Meg Elison, notes in her article (highlights mine):

…The internet is a safer place for some people than it is for others. It’s just like the real world, because it is the real world.

There is a famous classroom exercise where men are asked: what steps did you take today to avoid being sexually assaulted? Typically there is no response given, because this is not a thing that most men routinely consider. When the question is put to the women in the room, the response is detailed and practical: we travel in groups, we stay aware of our surroundings, and we flat-out avoid the places and situations where we know we will be too vulnerable to enjoy whatever it was we set out to do. We do what we want, but we carry our keys poked out between our fingers, like claws…

…But I don’t think [men] share those thoughts with one another, because this isn’t getting any easier. Rape culture is running the world, and the internet persists as our dark mirror. Reporting assault or attempted assault in the real world brings no result at all most of the time, only suggestions that you take better precautions. Two years ago, a stranger on a train put his penis in my bare hand. The cops told me (I am not kidding) to stop wearing skirts. This year, I reported a Twitter account that said he would rape me, if I wasn’t too fat to prevent it. Twitter assured me this did not violate their codes of conduct.

I have no idea what to say about that other than condemning it. She says she writes a great deal about fantasy and sci-fi. Some men clearly don’t like that either:

Writing about Marvel earned me a long, detailed, violent rape fantasy that took place on my daily public transit commute written out in all caps and sent to me through my website.

Writing about Star Wars got a guy on Twitter to describe the sound and smell of fat rendering off my body as I burned alive.

Writing about DC Comics brought me a delightful barrage of absolutely rote fake geek girl accusations so boring and predictable I could cry.

Again, I am speechless. I think most other men would be as well. Surely it can’t be assumed that normal – and, yes, I write there the word “normal” in this case – men approve of such behavior?

As to the overall issue, on here goes my political scientist/ historian’s academic’s former cap once more: “Rape culture” – whatever that is actually defined as – is not running the world because “it” isn’t a “present tense” issue. The world’s public spaces, especially urban ones, have ALWAYS been dangerous, and especially so for women. Yet there seems some strange belief out there that there was a time and a place where a woman could walk streets alone at night carefree and that freedom has somehow vanished recently and it must be Trump’s fault, or Democrats, or something. If so, I would like to know where that time and place was, because insofar as I know complete security for women walking alone existed nowhere in any large town or city historically that I know of.

Men have never experienced complete security in public spaces either. For thousands of years – up until only about the last century – men routinely walked around (including while accompanying their wife and daughter(s)) armed. Cities in particular were bad enough during daylight; but they became truly dangerous and terrifying places at night. Often they had border walls in part for customs and other duties, yes; but locking the city gates at night also provided security from roaming gangs infiltrating from rural areas – that were usually much poorer places – outside of the city.

U. S. diplomat Thomas Jefferson’s whale oil sale negotiation with King Louis XVI’s monarchical France in 1786 was rooted in the Paris “city fathers” wanting to buy the U.S. fishermen’s whale-caught byproduct for street lamps for more public night SAFETY. (Whale lives not then being considered all that important to most humans.) London and Paris were “ahead” of the game. Until the 19th century and the wider advent of streetlighting in Europe and in America, in especially our cities and large towns people tended to stay indoors if at all possible after the sun set.

[Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Photo by me, 2019.]

We love to read Jane Austen’s romantic novels. Do we also notice how in her tales of the English gentry of her early 1800s that in towns especially women usually walked in groups at least? Only rarely is a Bennet sister walking alone anywhere – and if she is usually it is only in the countryside.

Young women in particular did not generally venture out alone after dark. Knowing how dangerous it could be not only did most of them fear doing so, but even if they did want to go out fathers and husbands usually would not allow them out unescorted because they were thought to be – and not without reason – particularly vulnerable to robbers, rapists, and even the occasional kidnapper (seeking ransom money), and of course perhaps to a robber rapist and kidnapper combined. (We tend not to fear “for ransom” kidnapping today because in Europe and in America it is now so rare.) A thug would feel he had hit the crime jackpot if he stumbled across a woman (especially a well-dressed and therefore presumably well-off one) alone in a street at night.

In 1800, Great Britain still had numerous capital crimes on the books, including rape. True, not many were prosecuted officially. But those who were caught and tried and convicted were often hanged – and if the possibility of being hanged for rape was not a deterrent, it is tough to know what else might be. (This is NOT meant to be seen as arguing in favor of it, merely noting a fact: there is no capital punishment in Britain today for any crime, including rape.)

[Country lane (two way traffic), Wiltshire, England. Photo by me, 2015.]

Police today are not always much help? Police themselves usually admit they could be better. Yet the streets are far safer now because of even those imperfect police.

Policing itself as we understand it did not even exist anywhere before the 1830s. London was the first city in the world with a professional force replacing “watchmen” (and they were men) who walked streets carrying clubs and other weapons, and whose job was to try to “deter” would be troublemakers and thugs and, if necessary, arrest them. On Britain prior to professional policing, a Wikipedia piece notes:

At the cry of ‘murder!’ or ‘stop thief!’ everyone was entitled and obliged to join the pursuit. Once the criminal had been apprehended, the parish constables and night watchmen, who were the only public figures provided by the state and who were typically part-time and local, would make the arrest.

Those who owned or were fortunate enough to be transported by horses and carriages usually traveled heavily armed because roads were often lawless places. Coach drivers carried muskets, pistols, knives, and swords. Male passengers often did too.

[Asalto al coche (Robbery of the coach), by Francisco de Goya, painted between 1786-1787. Wikipedia. Public Domain.]

So, yes, people curtailed their doings in public… in order to STAY ALIVE. A man’s role was first and foremost to protect his wife and children, including especially more vulnerable daughters. A father knew that while a son might be beaten by a robber, a daughter might come home (assuming she even did) not just robbed, but perhaps also raped and – before anyone even knew what birth control was – now maybe even pregnant.

Wasn’t that distinction between sons and daughters “the patriarchy” at work? Wasn’t it blatantly “sexist?” Uh, yes… and prepare yourself for this lightning bolt from the blue: history (prior especially to 1900) is patriarchal and sexist.

Our sci-fi fantasy literature/film superheroine world of “today” is indeed fantasy causing us to forget that without a weapon most women are no match for most men physically. Fortunately in today’s better-policed public areas that is less of an issue than ever before. However, before police, back in, say, 1750, most women could not handle a sword, and even a pistol was an awkward weapon that might well have been taken away by an attacker even if she had had time to pull it out and load it, so the chances of her defending herself were slim.

[A Chesham, England 1790 dinner table scene from Conventions: The Garden At Paris, Copyright, 2017. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

There were actually serious reasons our great-great-great-grandmothers did not go out ambling alone through a city even in daylight, much less after dark; and it is was NOT because they were not “strong women.” We are not immune or separate from history; we are merely the latest inhabitants of this world. For centuries prior to our “present,” it was not about trolls on the internet, it was about personal survival.

It may still even in 2020 be about getting home alive. So what is the solution to men who behave like thugs? I don’t see one now any more than there was one a century ago or ten centuries ago. All that can be done is what has always been tried: always improving law enforcement methods and thus causing male predators roaming around perhaps to think twice about going after that “easy” female “prey” they see walking alone on the street or sitting by herself in the train carriage.

Unfortunately, yes, a woman alone carrying keys in a hand is not necessarily a bad idea. It is simply the way it is because it has ALWAYS been that way. If it is any consolation, it has to be this: while idiots on the internet are… idiots on the internet… actual physical public spaces in towns and cities (at least in Europe and in America) now tend to be far safer for everyone than they were 200, or even 100, years ago.

[Dorset street scene, not far from where we once lived, about an hour and a half from London. Photo by me, 2007.]

We are also kidding ourselves about how we are so much more enlightened than our “narrow-minded and sexist” ancestors. In reality, we inhabit a technologically-induced illusion. For if all of that technology that is mostly a product of the last two centuries – electricity, instant communications, birth control, flight, medicine, high-tech weaponry, and so much more – disappeared overnight, we would be back to “39 year old” life expectancies and all of the struggles for daily existence in that dark and machineless history that had often beset and perhaps overwhelmed our ancestors, and find ourselves returning to the social and gender norms and hierarchy seen in the likes of Jane Austen’s novels quicker than we could all say “Oh, Mr. Darcy.”