On Saturday, I had a chat with a pal about his use of the term “too girly” as an explanation for why he didn’t enjoy a particular TV show. He seemed exasperated that I wouldn’t just give him a break and let it roll off my back, as I know him well enough to know he’s not some raging misogynist. Which is true.
On Sunday, I walked past The College Street Bar, where their sandwich board caught my attention. It read something along the lines of: Scooters are for men who want to ride motorcycles but like to feel the wind on their vaginas.*
Yesterday, I bundled up and went for a lunchtime stroll. I was enjoying the sunshine and chuckling at the Patton Oswald standup I was listening to when a man I had just passed suddenly reversed direction and appeared at my side.
Startled, I popped my earbuds out and hoped he was looking for directions, or even just asking for spare change.
“So you’re very attractive,” he started.
“Uh huh,” I said curtly, quickening my pace and casting a longing glance at the sun-drenched bench I’d been heading for.
“You probably get that a lot,” he continued.
Undeterred he informed me, “So I’ve been approaching women in Toronto to try and figure something out – what’s your name?”
“No. You don’t need to know my name. Sorry, what is it you want?” I asked, now well on my way to qualifying for Olympic speed walking.
He told me his name was “Sorcery” then launched into an almost-amusing tirade about how he used to have a girlfriend named Storm who was too lazy to make it work with him and how for years he’s been able to “get” tons of women in Toronto.
“Not just one women, many women,” he clarified.
“Got it. You collect women.”
“Yeah, like a harem,” he said. “You won’t believe me, but it’s true.”
At this point I tuned him out as I was strategically planning my escape from this MRA PUA reddit thread come to life. I walked onto the U of T campus and set my sights a building where I knew there was a staffed front desk near the doors in case I needed assistance.
….and I haven’t changed, so it must be that women in Toronto have changed. What do you think?”
“About why you can’t get dates?”
Just shrug and say you have to go, whispered self-preservation.
But for some reason in that moment, my annoyance, or maybe just plain old exhaustion was stronger than my fear. I was tired from having to ask well-intentioned loved ones not to use “girly” as a criticism and from having to read gross sexist sandwich boards and from a man who thinks it’s his right to “grab women by the pussy” being elected POTUS and from the time when I was 20 and a man in a bar tried to exercise that same right on me.
So I shrugged and said “I don’t know. Maybe too many women have read the Game and are aware of the tactics that guys who consider themselves “pick-up-artists” try to use to manipulate vulnerable women into dating them. Because you come across as one of those guys.”
I didn’t even get into the fact that maybe women don’t like being “collected” like goddamn pogs** before he pronounced my theory “Bullshit!” Asserted that he wasn’t like “those guys” told me he was “the best guy in Toronto” and demanded I give him a real reason.
“You asked my opinion, I gave it to you. Now I’m going to go my way, and you need to go yours,” I said, as he got louder, shout-whining at me to give him a different answer. “I don’t owe you an explanation! I said, (and then, forgotten words drilled into my head by my parents as a little girl in case of attempted kidnapping) I DON’T KNOW YOU!” raising my own voice and looking around for people who might help me get away as I beelined for the doors of the building.
He thankfully didn’t follow me in but continued to shout at me through the doors as I ducked out of sight. “BUT WHY?! WHY ARE YOU BEING LIKE THIS?!”
A young woman and a young man approached and asked if I was ok. The man said “I thought you were maybe just a couple having an argument until I heard you say ‘I don’t know you’.” (nice work, mom and dad!)
The guy stayed with me and checked outside to see if Sorcery was still lurking around. When I explained I wasn’t actually even going to the library, I had just come in to try and get away from this dude and keep him from following me back to work, he said the kindest thing: “I don’t actually like this library anyway.” He said he’d actually rather go to one closer to my office and offered to walk with me.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that, as I had just been debating calling work and asking a large male colleague to come meet me (but feeling guilty at the thought of asking someone to make that track). So while I did have a fleeting thought of “what if this guy is ANOTHER creep taking advantage of the situation,” I very gratefully accepted his offer and the chocolate he gave me while we walked and chatted and I tried to stop shaking.
Back at my office I called the U of T campus police to let them know this guy might be lurking around campus.
Which brings us to today, December 6th, Canada’s National day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women and the anniversary of the date in 1989 when a man claiming he was “fighting feminism” separated women engineering students from men and murdered 14 of them at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique.
While I might have had some trouble on Saturday articulating why I get hung up on the occasional use of a word like “girly” to describe something negative from a friend I know does not hate women, today the reason feels clearer.
It starts with words, with “jokes” that make women out to be less than men. Less valuable, less deserving of respect. And that turns into too many men, who don’t understand that “it’s just a joke,” thinking they are more than women, that they deserve respect and attention and power and sex and whatever else they might crave from women. And they are baffled and angry and dangerous when they do not get what they think they deserve.
That’s why it matters.
*they weren’t even clever enough to rhyme scooters with cooters. I mean, come on!
**I’m old, what do people collect now?
A film about a man with a porn addiction could so easily skew towards cheap, raunchy laughs and be filled with gratuitous sex scenes, all wrapped up with a cliché “happy ending.”
Fortunately for me and my high hopes at the TIFF premiere of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s new feature Tuesday night, Don Jon managed to avoid all these lurking potential pitfalls to deliver a sincerely thoughtful and cleverly funny little piece of movie magic.
Without getting into major spoiler territory (because y’all are going to want to go see this movie), I can tell you that the movie is about a guy with a bit of a pornography addiction, who is so emotionally strangled, that he prefers getting off to porn alone than having sex with a woman because he can’t just lose himself in another person the way he can in porn.
The way he objectifies women and his lack of ability to really empathize and connect with other people on more than a surface level spills over or is reflected in the rest of his life.
He jokes with his friends but doesn’t share or connect on a real level. His family have dinners together but all seem totally disconnected, his father escapes into the ever-on big screen tv, his mom is cooking/drinking, and his sister is perpetually texting. He cares about a short list of things, and lives his life in a very regimented rut, with plenty of time spent in solitude, even when he’s surrounded by other people.
And dude has some severe road rage.
When he meets and falls for Scarlett Johansson’s character Barbara, he says she’s the most beautiful “thing” he’s ever seen.
I often think about the effect that the worldwide pervasive objectification of women has on women, it was interesting to see a thoughtful look at the effects it can have on men.
He’s an extreme example, I suppose, with his near-constant consumption of pornography, and the carefully compartmentalized way he lives his life. But at the same time, a lot of his personality, attitudes and issues seem all too familiar.
I loved Johansson’s character, Barbara too. Flawed as she is, she is a rather strong character who has found a way to use whatever means available to her to get what she wants. While she’s manipulative as hell, she’s far from a villain, she’s just trapped in her own fairly narrow view of the way the world works and the way her life should look. And, as Johansson pointed out, the woman’s certainly got conviction.
What I find really exciting about this film is that it’s mainstream and entertaining (laugh-out-loud hilarious, actually) and far-from-preachy enough that it might catch moviegoers out for the usual romcom (even Don Jon might be coaxed into seeing Don Jon – for the right piece of ass) and get them thinking about some of these issues.
Maybe it will make them consider what they might be missing out on if they fall into the trap of keeping closed-off to real, meaningful and honest connections with both men and women, and what a difference that could make to a life.
What a ripple effect that could have.