This post is unrelated to my current project, I just wanted to share my thoughts on a current issue that has been bugging me.
#wijoverdrijvenniet (translation: We are not exaggerating) is a current controversy where women are sharing their experiences with harassment here in Belgium. Most of them are touching. Some of them are straight up horrifying. This has gathered quite some traction and now we have reached a second stage where people are writing articles in response to these stories. The responses by men were both predictable and saddening. In fact, they were so predictable that this article accurately describes every single one of them, despite it being written four years prior.
What bugs me the most about men writing articles like this one is that they are complaining that because women fear all men, somehow the noble actions they do could get misinterpreted. Plenty of people have already pointed out how messed up it is to respond with “oh, so you need to think twice before going out alone at night because you might get harassed? Well that sucks for you but you need to stop overreacting because I might end up encountering you and I do not want you to be scared of me or misinterpret me”.
What I would like to add is my personal experience. Because I, like pretty much every man on the planet, consider myself a decent person and I respect women. I would not dream of touching one inappropriately and I would hate to be mistaken for “that kind of guy” that women always complain about.
A couple of years ago I started taking Salsa and Bachata classes. Bachata is a dance originating from the Dominican Republic. It is a very popular dance on Salsa parties and it is danced pretty close to each other. It is supposed to look sexy and seductive. I was not very comfortable with that.
In my first class I was dancing with a gorgeous woman who was an experienced dancer. I on the other hand, had no idea what I was doing. She was telling me to stand even closer to her. I thought she was wrong so I pointed to our instructor and wanted to explain something. Unfortunately I failed to realize just how close she was standing to me. I had been looking at my instructor after all. My pointing hand touched her boobs. Plural. First one, then the other. It was not even a light touch, we are talking full on contact. I was mortified. What would she think of me? I started apologizing. She cut off my apology, calmly explained that it happens and proceeded to explain where I should be standing.
I have been dancing Bachata for years now. I think I have danced with over a hundred women. I have to admit: it does happen. You accidentally touch boobs or other intimate areas while dancing. I got my hand stuck in a girl’s cleavage while we were dancing Salsa. I even headbutted someone in the boob once. Yet not once has a woman complained about it or even looked slightly uncomfortable. They clearly realized it was unintentional and moved past it without any fuss. I used to be more uncomfortable about it than they were.
So to the people that are complaining about being misinterpreted: I am afraid you fail to realize that women are pretty good judges about male intent. They are good judges out of necessity (sometimes their life literally depends on it) and because they have plenty of experience. You learn to gauge intent when navigating the world as a woman. As a guy you only interact with women when you choose to do so. They do not have that luxury.
So to the men: I get it. I know what it is like to be afraid that your good intentions will be misinterpreted. That you will come across as “one of those guys”. But my experience clearly contradicts any reasons to fear this happening. Women have always politely let me know to leave them alone when they did not want to interacted with me. I have always gotten a reasonable benefit of doubt when my behavior could have been interpreted as shady. So before telling women that their fears are silly and irrational, you might want to think about whether your concerns aren’t.
#gijoverdrijftwel (translation: you are exaggerating)
(oh, and to the people who say that women do not mind being touched by me because I look amazingly hot: I fucking wish)