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Changing the Creepy Guy Narrative
July 13, 2013 10:36 PM   Subscribe

How being a writer helped me rewrite a sexist trope...for real. Submitted for your approval: a writer (Chris Brecheen) uses his narrative skills to turn the tables on an everyday creeper.
posted by ShutterBun (166 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite

 
I do things like this all the time because it's funny and the beleaguered party likes it. I'm not even a writer!
posted by michaelh at 10:57 PM on July 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


douchecanoe!

What does that even mean?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:59 PM on July 13, 2013


I'm guessing (hoping?) it rhymes with "volcano" and not "canoe", but I can't be sure.
posted by ShutterBun at 11:04 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well played sir. Well played.
posted by Jernau at 11:06 PM on July 13, 2013


"I really like your hair," I said. "It looks soft."

This is when I started gleefully giggling loudly enough to wake my poor husband.

I love everything about this story. Thanks.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:07 PM on July 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


So on reading this I kept flipping between

a. wow, this guy is really full of himself and
b. that was a cool thing to do.

But I think actions are more important than words, generally speaking, so yeah, good going dude.
posted by emjaybee at 11:08 PM on July 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


That was pretty awesome of him to do. I'm not sure I agree with the bigger theme of "I understand the narrative because I'm a writer", because dude, lots of us have had to become trained in recognizing telltale patterns of behaviors from antagonists by necessity and not because we get to be dispassionate analysts of social ills, but it's an interesting idea that he maybe felt more empowered to try and change the narrative because he's used to making them up wholecloth.

Either way, that was a fun post.
posted by Phire at 11:22 PM on July 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


I am okay with his framing device. Every time somebody says they are good at something because they have specific experiences, I don't feel as thought they are saying I could not be good at that because I do not share those experiences.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:34 PM on July 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


His blog is about writing so he had to spin it under that angle to make it relevant to his blog topic. People get annoyed when niche blogs about professional topics start randomly dropping in unrelated personal anecdotes.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:37 PM on July 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


I was hoping he wouldn't fall into that other trope.

Did she ask to be rescued by Prince Charming Trope Recognizer?
posted by notyou at 11:39 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Did she ask to be rescued by Prince Charming Trope Recognizer?

I don't understand this sentence. She was being harassed and he stepped in to help. Do you take issue with that? If so, why?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:41 PM on July 13, 2013 [20 favorites]


He managed to stop the guy from harassing her, without hitting on her later. He went on his own way. He did a good thing, and he was smart about it too.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 11:47 PM on July 13, 2013 [28 favorites]


Both creep and rescuer assume the victim is weak and incapable of effective response.

Patriarchy's reach isn't limited to mashers and lookers.
posted by notyou at 11:48 PM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you read the comments on his site, someone else brings up the Prince Charming trope (although they don't call it that) and others point out that this incident is not an example of that trope because he didn't "get the girl" (nor did he expect or want to) in the end.

They also discuss how it's inherently safer for men to police other men's behavior. While "woman confronts harasser and harasser backs off" may be the narrative we'd prefer to see, too often that turns into "woman confronts harasser and harasser escalates to threats and/or violence."
posted by Jacqueline at 11:49 PM on July 13, 2013 [56 favorites]


One of my most karma-garnering moments was being on a late-night bus and, upon noticing a girl being dragged into an unwilling conversation with some creepster who was clearly and unwelcomely hitting on her, interrupting and pretending I knew her with the gushiest "Oh hiiiiiiiii, I haven't seen you in forever!!!! How are you? What's new? How's Peter?!?!?! It's been way, way too long! We should all get together sometime!"

I mean, it helps that I was a little drunk but still...I've been in that place before. Look, sometimes when you're female, and it's late, and you're alone, it's maybe easier and safer to just go along with an unpleasant conversation than piss off some stranger and maybe have him do some extra harm to you. Sometimes you need a Prince Charming, regardless of whether it's a dude or another lady.

(Or what Jacqueline said).
posted by superquail at 11:51 PM on July 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


In an abstract way I take issue. It isn't his job to decide what will be best for her. Even thought he didn't "get the girl" he still projected a helpless woman scenario on her.



As an aside, I had a friend try this at a bar and the girl shouted at him, they were a couple having an argument.

Afterwards the bouncer said have one of the female bartenders handle it, he said guys get drunk and fight all the time but he had never seen a man hit a female bartender in the bar.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:53 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Both creep and rescuer assume the victim is weak and incapable of effective response.

Patriarchy's reach isn't limited to mashers and lookers.


There was no such assumption. And, in fact, patriarchy means that men feel like its not their business when other men harass women. It's one of the great privileges of being a man -- the privilege to generally be able to enter a public space without fear of unrelenting sexual attention from the opposite gender. Addressing when that happens isn't supporting the patriarchy -- it is the privileged taking responsibility for their privilege.

Ignoring it is supporting the patriarchy.

If you read the story, she had attempted to handle it and was now looking to exit the bus early. That's when people should collectively step in. Failing that, at least somebody should. These charges of "white knighting" just guarantee that women are going to be expected just to handle obnoxious men on their own, which really has only worked out to the benefit of creepy men in the past.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:58 PM on July 13, 2013 [92 favorites]


If he actually gave a shit about her agency, he would have asked her if she needed his assistance.

Instead, he dropped in and solved it for her.

Maybe we should go with "Wandering Knight" or "Mystery Hero" if "Prince Charming" is going to turn into a derail about whether or not the protagonist got a date out of it. The point is, he's as guilty of reducing her to an object as the masher is, although they express it differently.
posted by notyou at 12:08 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Both creep and rescuer assume the victim is weak and incapable of effective response.

O how much braver he would have been if only he'd done nothing, thus taking a stand against the patriarchy by allowing a creep to continue harrassing a fellow human being who clearly wanted to be left alone.

Sorry, do people no longer have eyes to see, and ears to hear? Are we now incapable of judging a person's body language to read, for example, discomfort, or fear? Ever been that person on the train being harrassed by someone who clearly was getting ready to rob/assault you? It happened to me when I was a skinny teenager. I was on a train full of people who all saw what was happening and did nothing. Helping me wouldn't have reduced me to an object, it would have recognized me as a fellow human being in distress. But next time I see you about to fall off of a cliff, I'll be certain to ask you politely if you need assistance before grabbing your hand. Well, trying to grab your hand, anyway, assuming you have time to say "yes, please" before you go over.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:15 AM on July 14, 2013 [83 favorites]


He saw behavior that pissed him off and so he acted to teach the creeper a lesson about what it felt like to be harassed despite giving clear "not interested" signals. Given that nothing he did involved interacting with her in any way, I don't see how he should be expected to have asked her permission first. In fact if he had, he would not have been able to teach the lesson because the creeper would know what he was doing before he did it.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:18 AM on July 14, 2013 [19 favorites]


All I saw in this story was one person helping another person handle an asshole that the other person did not seem to be capable of handling.

Random acts of kindness?

Yeah.

Evil patriarchal trope diminishing another?

Not so much.

Read the end of the story again.

He was gratified that her thanks meant he did something good.

That's all.
posted by Samizdata at 12:18 AM on July 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


If he actually gave a shit about her agency, he would have asked her if she needed his assistance.

Yeah, I don't agree. If I see somebody being assaulted, I am going to call the police, not stop to ask the assaultee if they want me to. If I see somebody being robbed, I am going to act on it. If I see somebody being harassed, I am going to step in. When it takes place in the social sphere, it isn't an issue between two people, but is instead a social issue, and everybody present is responsible for responding.

I mean, for God's sake, if I hear somebody screaming racist epithets at somebody on the bus, I am going to tell them that it's not appreciated, and that's not somehow undermining the agency of the person who is being screamed at. It is, instead, representing a certain sort of behavior as being widely unacceptable and something that will be met with wide resistance when it happens in public.

Maybe the public harassment of women doesn't fit into this sort of categorization of social evil for you. It does for me.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:19 AM on July 14, 2013 [39 favorites]


The point is, he's as guilty of reducing her to an object as the masher is, although they express it differently.

Except that he didn't interact with her in any way; he only interacted with her harasser. I'm not seeing objectification there.
posted by elizardbits at 12:25 AM on July 14, 2013 [19 favorites]


She mouthed the words "thank you" to me as she stepped out the door of the Rockridge station.

Seems like she was pretty happy with his actions.
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:51 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


The point is, he's as guilty of reducing her to an object as the masher is, although they express it differently.

Seriously? Helping someone who evidently could use some help (and who afterwards expressed thanks), but doing so without their explicit permission, is "reducing [them] to an object"? Seriously?

"Treating someone as an object" means ignoring the fact that they are a person with their own interests, preferences, dignity, and agency. The narrator of this story appears to have been motivated by exactly these factors. Sure, he could have respected her agency more by asking permission to step in, but as Jacqueline said, that would likely have made his intervention less effective. It's surely better to teach the guy a lesson about unwanted attention, and maybe get him to think about his behaviour, than to just interrupt this one incident and let him move on to the next.
posted by logopetria at 12:58 AM on July 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


If someone is being an ass, I don't see the need to ask anyone's permission before calling him out on it.
posted by straight at 1:39 AM on July 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


I don't have any problem with what he did, but there are probably techniques that are less likely to get you killed.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:48 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


It was a funny thing to do - no doubt, but I don't think he understands any "narrative". Unless of course you think that the emotional response felt by the creeper dude is the same as the emotional response felt by women placed in similar situations.

No lesson can be learnt here.

I think for women, this (a) feels more like much more of a dangerous situation, and (b) happens far too much. These are the important reasons why men shouldn't creep in situations like this. Feeling social embarrassment because you're being hit on by someone you don't wish to be seen as being sexually compatible with may be a reason why women are creeped out when being hit on, but it's not one we should be concentrating on.

That being said - That's a minor gripe, and as annoying as the writer is, I liked the article. I say well played to this extricator of women from bad situations.
posted by zoo at 3:04 AM on July 14, 2013


"So you appear to be drowning. Could I have your permission to save you?"

"........"

"I mean, I don't want to diminish your agency by assuming that you need Redding just because your head is underwater. So just let me know if you need help."

"......"

"OK then, your lack of a response indicates to me that you are fine. Enjoy your swim, citizen!"
posted by happyroach at 3:29 AM on July 14, 2013 [26 favorites]


Asking her permission would have ruined the play; it would have tipped off the creeper. This little anecdote actually brought a tear to my eye as I recall the many many times my "agency" held little or no effect over someone larger, angrier (no matter how that is framed) and more intimidating than I could ever be. I got choked up wishing this impulse to intervene -- by a man OR woman -- were more common on my 2x a day New York City subway commute.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:09 AM on July 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, look, from a critical/analytical viewpoint one could comfortably and maybe even reasonably say he, narrator, was not respecting her agency as fully as the "Douchecanoe." But from an in the real world perspective it was a pretty stupid/risky but effective thing to do to help out someone who looked like they could use a little back up.
Kind of like that video of the guy who breaks up an argument on the subway by casually eating chips between the two people fighting.

Also, he mentions being a writer like 10 times. That part read like drinking concrete.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:13 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I think he did a good thing and in reality didn't interact with the harassee at all, other than a passing mention to their behaviour in relation to the harasser. It is very much like the guy eating chips on the subway, except the harasser might just possibly think a little bit about things in the future, probably not.

In all likelyhood If I had spoken to the harasee I would have said something like awesome series isn't in (in reference to the book she was reading) and then been on my way and there are people here who would yell me down for even daring to interact with someone who wants their own space and how dare I demand their attention etc etc etc. I would do the exact same thing to a man though and I just call it being polite. I love talking about good books and a quick one-liner like that lets people know that I am open to a bit of a chat on the bus because I'm bored, but also allows them to just grunt and nod their head and that is the end of it.
posted by koolkat at 4:23 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, he mentions being a writer like 10 times. That part read like drinking concrete.

I might as well point out that my original post description read something like "a writer uses his writing skills (as a writer!) to write a new narrative"
posted by ShutterBun at 4:59 AM on July 14, 2013


This is maybe a bit of a derail but:

The Literary Mind: the poetics of everyday mind. Turner says we all live our lives recognizing and replaying scripts and narratives. I think, as this essay proves, it's a really interesting way to look at social life as something you can change. Also a fun, albeit sometimes dangerous way to live...
posted by ipsative at 5:14 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Intervening to stop bad behavior by others is fine. What's not fine is this:

"The real antagonist is a society where she is actually discouraged from being honest about what she wants...or doesn't want."

No, the real antagonist is the creeper and the society that says that creeping is an acceptable way to behave.

He is very, very confused here in a way that reflects the very thing he's objecting to. Women are not responsible for harassment or assault. They're not responsible when a man does it and it's not their responsibility to stop men from doing it. It's the man's goddamned responsibility to not harass or assault.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:15 AM on July 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


Maybe we should go with "Wandering Knight" or "Mystery Hero" if "Prince Charming" is going to turn into a derail about whether or not the protagonist got a date out of it.

I hate TV Tropes for this.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:35 AM on July 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


"Both creep and rescuer assume the victim is incapable of effective response."

Did you miss the bit where the author said he let he try to handle things on her own first but it wasn't working?

For the record - everyone, if you ever see me being pestered by a creeper I hereby give you all blanket permission to help me and promise I will not accuse you of thinking I lack agency because I would much rather have the creeper stop more quickly please thank you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:44 AM on July 14, 2013 [42 favorites]


Isn't this kind of bystander intervention (not necessarily this specific technique, but the idea of bystander intervention to prevent unwanted sexual advances, harassment, and even assaults) something the military has taken up as part of training?

I seem to remember hearing or reading that someplace, but my google-fu is failing me at the moment.
posted by hippybear at 5:44 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


It makes for a good story, but I'm not sure I accept the relation as fact. Could just be the writing style which is so highly self-conscious.
posted by Miko at 6:11 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I really don't think this is White Knighting. She wasn't solving the problem herself this time (which isn't to suggest she never could) and the writer did not act towards her. I am not worried about a rash of men who start to hit on creepers in order to make them stop creeping. I doubt it will happen, but even if it did I think it would be a good thing.
posted by jeather at 6:39 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Yeah, look, from a critical/analytical viewpoint one could comfortably and maybe even reasonably say he, narrator, was not respecting her agency as fully as the "Douchecanoe." But from an in the real world perspective it was a pretty stupid/risky but effective thing to do to help out someone who looked like they could use a little back up.

I disagree!

I think that in practice it was effective, but from a critical or analytical viewpoint one could say that the narrator was not respecting her agency.
posted by officer_fred at 6:47 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's when I dropped the bedroom eyes and switched to a normal voice. "Oh well I could see not being interested didn't matter to you when you were hitting on her, so I just thought that's how you rolled."

(Of course later, I thought of a dozen cleverer things I could have said
That seems to be exactly the right thing to have said. Much better to have been direct than trying to be clever.

Isn't this kind of bystander intervention (not necessarily this specific technique, but the idea of bystander intervention to prevent unwanted sexual advances, harassment, and even assaults) something the military has taken up as part of training?

I don't know about the US military, but from Australia: The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
posted by Gelatin at 6:53 AM on July 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


Honestly, I don't feel like her agency was ignored. If we take his read of the situation at face value, she had tried and failed to brush the creep off several times. He's right that there is the overwhelming societal pressure to be polite, and the fear of escalation that can make just screaming at a random creep and kicking him somewhere sensitive a non-optimal strategy for navigating the world as a woman.

Yes, in an ideal world he might have asked if she wanted help, but in an ideal world she wouldn't be dealing with a creep hitting on her just for being a woman in a public space. Since we don't live in an ideal world, I'm glad that he stepped in, and I hope that it gets around that it is okay to step in. Even if she could handle the situation on her own, sometimes it's really nice to have a bit of backup, or to just not have to deal with the creep at all.

If it had been me in the woman's situation, I would have felt like I got a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.
posted by madelf at 6:54 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh my gosh, seriously, are we really going to argue that standing around and watching people get bullied is more empowering to them than stepping in?

WHAT? If a man is bullying another man, I'd be happy to step in if I feel I can safely do so. I've been present to some physical fights that I didn't have the strength or know how to intervene but I was damn glad when a guy or two bigger than the guy throwing blows took him down.

If you're in a position to help someone getting verbally fucked with and you feel up to stepping in- that's an awesome thing to do whether it's a woman or a man.

As someone who has been verbally abused, pressured, fucked with, coerced, and shoved into sexual activity or intimate conversation I just want to get away from, I'm tired of whatever movement this is that says I'm pathetic if I need help getting these shits off my back.

It's an insult to women, or anyone who has dealt with bullying and sexual harassment, to proclaim that anyone who can't just "stop" it on their on is in anyway inferior or less than because of it. The idea that assuming someone might have a hard time dealing with a bully is an insult is basically saying that people who have a hard time with bullies have something to be ashamed of. If you offer your help and the other person didn't need it, I say there's no harm. If they did need it, you really did a good thing.

A world where we assume everyone can take care of themselves and therefore shouldn't assist each other because it's insulting to help those who need a hand is a really fucked up place. Oh wait, yeah, I'm in America, that's a common theme here.
posted by xarnop at 7:06 AM on July 14, 2013 [38 favorites]


> Oh my gosh, seriously, are we really going to argue that standing around and watching people get bullied is more empowering to them than stepping in?

Maybe the idea is that, after all the narrator was a man also just like the creep, and he was only able to do a good deed because he had privilege. So even though we would definitely like men to follow his example, afterwards, it would be counterproductive for the whole Cause to reward him, even rhetorically, for doing it. "Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable," as they say -- and the narrator is still too comfortable to avoid deserving to get a little afflicted.

This is pretty advanced high-energy theoretical social justice, so if someone can check my loop integrals, I would be much obliged.
posted by officer_fred at 7:23 AM on July 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Isn't this kind of bystander intervention something the military has taken up as part of training?

I guess a little time away from a search improves my google fu. And I've answered my own question. I haven't dug deeply into the topic, but I've found documents from within the past year talking about how the Air Force and Navy both include bystander intervention in their sexual assault prevention training programs, I saw a mention (but found no article quickly) about the Army also doing so. And I found this page at MyDuty.mil, not quite sure what the focus is of that particular .mil domain, but it's a good indicator that bystander prevention is indeed "a thing" in the military these days.
posted by hippybear at 7:25 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, whatever the author's internal motives (and I might quibble a bit with his set-up when recounting the incident on his blog here), it sounds like his actions were cool: interacted with the bully/harasser, addressed the socially unacceptable behavior there in a way that made it clear that he was addressing socially unacceptable behavior, not rescueing the princess so much. And I think his parting line was perfect.
posted by eviemath at 7:25 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe the idea is that, after all the narrator was a man also just like the creep, and he was only able to do a good deed because he had privilege. So even though we would definitely like men to follow his example, afterwards, it would be counterproductive for the whole Cause to reward him, even rhetorically, for doing it.

I believe the time for such forward-thinking, personal-is-political thinking would be more appropriate after it becomes more common for people to apply the common-sense "someone being pestered by a creeper is someone in trouble and maybe I can help" trope in the first place. I'm personally not able to devote as much attention to such advanced sociopolitical mindsets, and how I personally fit into them, if my lizard-brain self is still not comfortable.

Let's all make sure we're all on a better baseline of safety before we start to analyze whether privilege or white-knighting or whatever motivates us.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:30 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I thought what madelf wrote: the writer guy noted that she had firmly given him "leave me alone" answers and appeared to be at the "flight" stage. As our conversations about this often discuss: this is the untenable position of being a woman in a public space. No matter your agency; no matter your clear body language (headphones, nose in book, lack of eye contact; MANY MEN believe that as a woman in a public space, you have no right to decline to speak to them and your only choice (as a woman in a public space who has said she'd like to read her book, not talk to you) is to flee.

She was at flight point. It happens. It's awful. How nice that another human being saw it and called it out. How lucky writer guy was the kind of person who has the appropriate social status to challenge the creeper without it devolving into shouting, gross insults or physical violence. His privilege makes it no less admirable that he--as a person--noted the situation, helped, and then left the woman alone, even if it only goes to show how he--as representative--has all the power in the power in the situation.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:31 AM on July 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


I sorta did this once. In my case, the creep was asking this woman about her neighborhood... and talking about his neighborhood... and about a hill next to his house... and he has to walk up this hill all the time... and she should walk with him sometime... she actually checked her phone to discourage him but he wouldn't relent.

So anyway, he was talking about this stupid hill for like five minutes. I turned to him and asked "Are you guys talking about hills? I'm a big fan of hills!" I'm not great at flirting, but I thought that was a pretty good response. If he just wanted to fuck someone that shared his passion for hills, I was right there!

Sadly, he was just not that into me.
posted by your hair smells like cheese! at 7:31 AM on July 14, 2013 [24 favorites]


Bystander intervention is an important aspect of anti-bullying programs in general as well as sexual harrassment and assault prevention specifically. I can't figure out how to copy a url easily on my phone, but a web search on "bystander intervention" yields many useful results. There are indeed better and worse ways of going about it, and it's a good topic to educate oneself fully on, but also a good thing to support in general principle rather than be pre-disposed to find fault with.
posted by eviemath at 7:34 AM on July 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I believe the time for such forward-thinking, personal-is-political thinking would be more appropriate after it becomes more common for people to apply the common-sense "someone being pestered by a creeper is someone in trouble and maybe I can help" trope in the first place.

Yeah, really. If society develops to a point where there are men and women stepping into social interactions between other men and women all the time just in case anyone might be feeling creeped on, and this actually is such a big deal that actual non-creepster, welcome events are being disrupted in an unwelcome way...

Perhaps THEN is the time to start this kind of behavior in the ways which has been suggested in this thread. Until then, if I see someone being creeped on and I can think of how to help them get out of it, I will probably do so without spending much time swelling on any of these other issues.

Right now, the teeter-totter of society is tilted so far in the WRONG direction... the collective weight of creepsters would require literally a mass movement of bystander interventionists to even begin to shift the balance.
posted by hippybear at 7:35 AM on July 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


She mouthed the words "thank you" to me as she stepped out the door of the Rockridge station.

Typical Hollywood ending! My imagination heads in the direction of protagonist now hitting on the woman himself.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:40 AM on July 14, 2013


*Perhaps THEN is the time to start TO QUESTION this kind of behavior*

(I literally spotted this problem with my comment AS THE EDIT WINDOW FADED OUT)
posted by hippybear at 7:41 AM on July 14, 2013


> Let's all make sure we're all on a better baseline of safety before we start to analyze whether privilege or white-knighting or whatever motivates us.

Yes, definitely. The narrator did the right thing, no doubt. The point is that for political reasons, we should even so be entitled to accuse him of doing the wrong thing, because such accusations also move the ball forward. Indeed, if someone helped out a woman getting creeped on, only to get all defensive about his motives once accused of being a white knight, that would be a big red flag! Why is doing the right thing not enough reward in itself? Why do you have to protect your precious self-image? Etc., etc.
posted by officer_fred at 7:45 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


This story so did not happen.
posted by empath at 7:59 AM on July 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


So I read the story, loved it, and came back here to enter my comment about what a wonderful thing the author did and how much I would have appreciated the same kind of assistance. And then, as I scrolled down the comments, I started seeing all the people going on about how he stepped on the woman's agency and acted like an intrusive white knight and so on. I find those responses difficult to fathom.

Sure, I'd like to think that if I was in a similar situation and some asshole starting getting pushy, I'd be all assertive and tell him to back the fuck off. But my reality is that I'm an introvert, and in that scenario I'd be panicky and looking for an escape route. If someone -- male or female -- stepped in to help the way the author did, I'd be extremely grateful.

If the woman had been adroitly managing things on her own, then there would be no reason for someone to intervene, and doing so could perhaps be considered an intrusion on her agency. But she wasn't. She was clearly in distress. And when someone is in distress, the right thing to do is help.
posted by Annie Savoy at 8:14 AM on July 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


Bystander intervention is an important aspect of anti-bullying programs in general as well as sexual harrassment and assault prevention specifically.

The problem with being a White Knight is that you aren't actually wearing armor.

I remember an incident when I was in Tokyo, a drunken couple was fighting (not verbally, fists etc) right outside a bar and an American guy walked out of the bar just in time to see the attack. He tried to intervene, and both of them stabbed him and ran. He died. They were boyfriend and girlfriend, known for angry incidents, but he didn't know that. The couple was caught, and served no time in jail, because they were drunk, and after all, it was just a filthy gaijin that got killed by his own stupidity, it's not like a real person from Japan got killed. If the American had lived, he would have been charged with assault.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:19 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


If he actually gave a shit about her agency, he would have asked her if she needed his assistance.

Did I violate the agency of a woman who was being harassed when I asked the guy harassing her if he got a lot of dates or phone numbers with his technique? I guess I did. I am a terrible person who does not understand how patriarchy *really* works.
posted by rtha at 8:20 AM on July 14, 2013 [18 favorites]


empath, that's totally possible but since this is all hypothetical to those of us commenting here, it doesn't really change the conversation much depending on what conversation you're wanting to have about the idea of bystander intervention and such.

As far as I'm concerned, people are looking to impress and get laid by doing actual good deeds are looking to earn their nooky the right way any way. No, there is no entitlement to such for doing good deeds but if I were looking for casual sex I'd be delighted to have it with someone who does awesome stuff for other people like defending people from being bullied/harrassed.

There's a larger discussion to be had about fakers and whether social pressure to do good deeds is a good thing- but I think in general it's a good thing even if it creates fakers. We've had the Nice Guy phenomenon discussions before, but really I don't think doing good deeds should result in immediate accusations of selfishness. There are enough incentives to do nothing for others in the world already. We need more incentives that put the pressure in the direction of action rather than inaction and indifference.

It IS relevant to discuss whether that pressure results in some negatives, or wether the actions are the right ones. It is possible to make things worse by trying to help, so that is always relevant to discuss. Currently I still think more encouragement to intervene is good.

Think how many people specifically DON'T intervene because they are worried about some shitstorm of an attack on their character for doing so and then being seen as a "Nice Guy" or a white knight. Think how strong the mantras of "don't get involved" "it takes two to tango" "it's none of your business" are? In order to do more good in the world we have to stop taking a "live and let live" approach to people fucking with each other. Which always means essentially siding with bullies.
posted by xarnop at 8:21 AM on July 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Here is where I mention my argument that there's an important distinction between opposing an injustice and advocating for the interests of someone (not oneself) who suffers from injustice. The first is always appropriate. The second is not always appropriate.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:25 AM on July 14, 2013


Multiple choice question time!

You see a woman being harassed. What do you do?

a) Nothing.
b) Something and then get berated online for doing it wrong. Because it was the first time you ever thought about that kind of thing and it's not really high yet in your list of values you decide it's not worth it and never do it again.
posted by Memo at 8:29 AM on July 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


HOWEVER, I don't want to discount the discussions about the harm that can happen when people are doing good deeds from weird ego trips. That can result in harm/disaster but in this story (whether real or pretend) this is an example of doing it the right way, in my opinion.

And also, I don't think bystanders who judge the situation as too risky or hazardous to intervene have anything to be ashamed of either. I just think if you judge the situation as safe enough (for your comfort zone) to intervene and want to do something, or can think of a safe strategy to intervene, it's a great thing to do so.

It's true that trying to look out for others can put you at risk. That's something military/police/firefighters deal with all the time. They have the best training and should be the first choice for dealing with potentially hazardous situations, but training bystanders to have better skills at dealing with smaller situations or knowing when to get the police involved- is an important aspect of creating a safer and more compassionate world. Bullies can be scary as shit, I've seen plenty of dangerous people lose their shit in dangerous violent ways and it's terrifying. I don't blame individuals for getting scared or avoiding dealing with them if at all possible. I just also think we should try to find ways to look our for others because it makes our world better for everyone and it creates a world where if YOU happen to be the one cornered by a scary fucker you might be more likely to have some allies at least pulling a few strings for you from a distance if not intervening directly.
posted by xarnop at 8:32 AM on July 14, 2013


This place is awesome. Endless amusement. Tragically I have to run to the doctor who'll try to demean me by restoring my health and hope that in the meantime my house doesn't catch on fire leading to a group of patriarchal fireman outright belittling my wife's fire-fighting skills. Those bastards. They probably won't even ask before putting out the fire. Oh, man. Rich vein of naive bullshit here.
posted by umberto at 8:36 AM on July 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


So do those who think that Brecheen was white knighting think the same of the women who pretend to be close friends of those being harassed?

I think that they are all doing the right thing.
posted by brujita at 8:39 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


> b) Something and then get berated online for doing it wrong. Because it was the first time you ever thought about that kind of thing and it's not really high yet in your list of values you decide it's not worth it and never do it again.

c) Something and then get berated online for doing it wrong. Because you are a halfway decent person, you accept getting berated as the price of doing the right thing.

That's actually the maximally altruistic choice.
posted by officer_fred at 8:40 AM on July 14, 2013


That's actually the maximally altruistic choice.

Of course. But if we lived in a world where everyone chose the maximally altruistic alternative the question would be moot because no harassment would happen.
posted by Memo at 8:54 AM on July 14, 2013


One of the things that stands out is the instinct to make a story out of this. Definitely, not being a bystander is cool. But why should this story seem so much cooler than somebody just saying "Hey, she doesn't want to talk to you. Why don't you give her her space." But that would be a boring, everyday story. This story is about someone cleverly teaching a lesson to someone, and the hero is the writer. The cleverness is celebrated. We are supposed to think this created an epiphany for the creepy guy, and that the author is especially smart for "getting it" and thinking up this imaginative approach.

c) Something and then get berated online for doing it wrong. Because you are a halfway decent person, you accept getting berated as the price of doing the right thing.

Or, do something and quietly go on with your life without celebrating your heroism in a self-aggrandizing essay about your clever strategems online.
posted by Miko at 8:55 AM on July 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


If he actually gave a shit about her agency, he would have asked her if she needed his assistance.

Thereby figuring her as someone who can't solve her own problems! If he really valued her agency, he would have waited for her to ask him for help.

There's no way to win this.
posted by kenko at 9:00 AM on July 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


It's the tone of his report that grosses me out. First off, you don't have to be special to be qualified to divert your local train creep/perv/drunk/child-berater/bully/crazy. Literally anybody can - and should! - step in if they see a problem. Secondly, he's going to get a bruise patting himself on the back so hard for saving that little lady.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:05 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's no way to win this.

It's the Kobayashi Maru of ridiculous Metafiltery arguments.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:09 AM on July 14, 2013 [30 favorites]


Oh Miko. Half the point of these things is you can brag about them later. It's nice to save someone, but I'd want social kudos too.

Anyway - I was reminded by this of the Metafilter Queue jumping story and it took me here. Which is cool, because (a) Metafilter was in the Guardian; (b) it mentions lavaballs and (c) it talks about Altruistic punishment.

I suppose for Altruistic Punishment to work at maximum effect, the knowledge that it happened has to travel widely enough to make up for the danger of it happening.
posted by zoo at 9:12 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just to be painfully explicit, asking someone, unprompted, "is this gentleman bothering you, ma'am?" is also an unsolicited intervention into their life, that one would only make for the purposes of getting a "yes" answer (since no one asks someone who appears to be having a pleasant conversation a question like that).
posted by kenko at 9:13 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or, do something and quietly go on with your life without celebrating your heroism in a self-aggrandizing essay about your clever strategems online.

I don't see this as celebrating-my-heroism; I see this as "I'm a blogger and thus I am always desperate for shit to write about so I will write about literally anything." If you've committed to a regular content schedule, sometimes the shit you write about will be big stuff like this; sometimes it'll be "so I found a potato chip in my lunch yesterday that looked like a bunny". You're not being self-aggrandizing, you are wiping your brow in relief because "oh whew I had something I actually could write about".

And also, I would love it if more people spoke up about "hey I did a good deed and it did some good and that was awesome" because that would make doing-good-deeds that much more sexy and cool and thus more people would be likely to do good deeds too, and that is never a bad thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:13 AM on July 14, 2013 [23 favorites]


But why should this story seem so much cooler than somebody just saying "Hey, she doesn't want to talk to you. Why don't you give her her space." But that would be a boring, everyday story.

No, that would be him having the audacity to speak for her. Which would be white-knighty and also wrong.

This guy can't win. He shouldn't step in. He should step in without hesitation. He should wait for her to ask. He should ask her. He should speak up on behalf of what he sees as a societal wrong. He should believe women are capable of speaking up on their own behalf.

And we wonder why people do nothing.
posted by headnsouth at 9:15 AM on July 14, 2013 [18 favorites]


"It's the tone of his report that grosses me out."

Yeah. In addition to my specific criticism above, I feel that the nature of what I criticized is part-and-parcel of what is off about this. He frames this by saying that the ultimate blame belongs to society for telling women not to stand up to harassers. And although she did, in fact, make her wishes known to the harasser, his story is all about how he stands up to the harasser. With that initial framing, the implication is "I did what you should have done". And he's self-congratulatory.

The culmulative effect is that this is a story about society's ills, the harasser, and him, where the harassed woman is a prop.

The complaints about him violating her agency are mistaken insofar as they question whether it's right to actively oppose harassment and assault. It's right. But the complaints are motivated by a justified sense that in this person's story, the woman basically has no agency, he sees her as a means to an end and not as herself in her own right. Which is the fundamental problem he's supposed to be combating and this is why some people have the sense that he's not as much a part of the solution as he thinks he is.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:18 AM on July 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'd really like to know what the creeper's take home message is. Not because I think he learned some all important life lesson about respecting people who want to be left alone, but because I like to be sad about things.
posted by GrumpyDan at 9:26 AM on July 14, 2013


I want to see a subversive feminist porn film where the pickup line works, the woman escapes, and the creep and the intervener start going at it!
posted by your hair smells like cheese! at 9:28 AM on July 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


She demonstrated her agency when she said she wanted to read her book.

Most likely the creeper's take on it was "it's that [homosexual slur's] fault that I didn't get pussy".
posted by brujita at 9:31 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


kenko: "Just to be painfully explicit, asking someone, unprompted, "is this gentleman bothering you, ma'am?" is also an unsolicited intervention into their life, that one would only make for the purposes of getting a "yes" answer (since no one asks someone who appears to be having a pleasant conversation a question like that)."

Agreed, in all seriousness, because in many such situations the "yes" can be what prompts the creeper to start escalating into violence and threats because she's now made a negative statement against him.
posted by capricorn at 9:38 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


your hair smells like cheese! : Well, that was weird. I spent about a minute looking at your comment wondering why I thought it was the "I like how your hair smells" line which prompted your comment before realising that your username is nearly the same as that line in the section that prompted your comment.

*mind* *blown*
posted by zoo at 9:39 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]



I guess in some people's mind I'm bad at being feminist because of being so inherently grateful to the guy who intervened to help me deal with creeper.

I consider myself a strong woman. I don't like to put up with shit. Besides just up decking the guy or fleeing there was anything I could do to get the creep to stop. I was scared but was more angry. Angry that this guy just wouldn't take a clue.

I didn't fricking care if the guy that intervened thought himself as a 'white knight' type. At the time his intentions or motivations, or his view of what was going on didn't matter. At the time all that I desired or needed was creeper being creepy to STOP. If the intervening guy went on to tell people his story of how he 'saved a defenseless woman and oh I'm so wonderful blah blah' so be it. I don't care whether he understood how systematic patriarchy works and his own privilege and how the bigger question of women's lack of agency played into the situation etc etc. Maybe if we went on to have a conversation afterwards we could have talked about that.

I didn't care and still don't care. The guy for whatever reason saw that I needed help and helped. He helped me at a time I needed it. At a time where I was feeling pretty damn alone in the world.
For the time needed to simply get the guy to stop I wasn't alone in what I was trying to deal with.

That's all that mattered.
posted by Jalliah at 9:41 AM on July 14, 2013 [21 favorites]


So on reading this I kept flipping between

a. wow, this guy is really full of himself and
(etc)


Me too, until I realised the photograph the photograph was supposed to exemplify the creeper, not the writer.
posted by glasseyes at 9:42 AM on July 14, 2013


When I was in Paris, I took similar but more direct action to protect a young American tourist from a street seller whose technique involved threats. He was tying a bracelet on her wrist while aggressively chatting her up - and we had just been warned the day before of sellers using this to hold victims and demand 10 or 20 euro for cheap bracelets (sometimes with others to back up the threat). So I stopped and asked the woman, "Do you want that bracelet?" After she said no, I warned her about his technique, and she was able to pull her hand away and disappear into the crowd.

I wasn't acting like a "Prince Charming", I was acting like a decent human being. If I had testes instead of ovaries, I would have done exactly the same thing. Men are equally capable of helping their fellow human beings, male or female, and it's pretty messed up to criticise someone for trying to help another person just because of their sex.
posted by jb at 9:44 AM on July 14, 2013 [11 favorites]


And just thinking about it, thinking about the way hierarchies work among men, thinking about how much at risk of bullying and denigration smaller men are in certain situations, thinking about the way homophobia can translate into violent aggression, I think the writer did a very brave thing. No wonder he was scared.
posted by glasseyes at 9:47 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Or, do something and quietly go on with your life without celebrating your heroism in a self-aggrandizing essay about your clever strategems online.

But if you don't brag about it on the Internet, then less imaginative people like me don't get to learn about a great technique for a particular kind of creeper.

I hope this account inspires imitators.
posted by jb at 10:05 AM on July 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


And also, I would love it if more people spoke up about "hey I did a good deed and it did some good and that was awesome" because that would make doing-good-deeds that much more sexy and cool and thus more people would be likely to do good deeds too, and that is never a bad thing.

One of the reasons I liked this piece is that I love hearing about different ways people find to intervene, to (non-violently) disrupt, to redirect, to help.
posted by rtha at 10:07 AM on July 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


What stops the guy from being a White Knight is that he didn't demand gushing thanks from the woman herself, and he didn't make assumptions about what she wanted. She obviously wanted to be left alone, and he stepped up to help that happen. If I'm struggling with getting my giant stroller through a door that won't stay open and you run up to hold it for me, you're not being a white knight, you're being HELPFUL. (Unless you do that thing where you stand on the inside of the door so I have to ooze past you with full-body contact in order to move through the door, then you're just being a schmuck. But I digress.)

Helping someone achieve a result they are clearly working towards without success is rarely a problem.
posted by KathrynT at 10:09 AM on July 14, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the 'agency/consent' folks on this thread live in California.

Just a hunch, just a hunch.
posted by solipse at 10:12 AM on July 14, 2013


Why would you think that.

/lives in California. San Francisco, in fact. And does it matter that this incident actually took place in California?
posted by rtha at 10:14 AM on July 14, 2013


Yeah, solipse, I don't get it. What do you mean?
posted by KathrynT at 10:15 AM on July 14, 2013


Interesting to read about bystander intervention training. Bystander intervention is a constant of societies that have a certain amount of collectivity going on; that is, societies in which individual alienation isn't as pervasive as it is in contemporary Western urban centres.

It's possible to interpret the writers explanation of his actions (I'm a writer who knows writing stuff and that's why I acted in a writerly way!) as trying to establish an ethos grounded in community norms (that of writers) as the basis on which he had both the courage to act and the confidence that it was the right thing to do.
posted by glasseyes at 10:22 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jalliah: "I guess in some people's mind I'm bad at being feminist because of being so inherently grateful to the guy who intervened to help me deal with creeper.

I consider myself a strong woman. I don't like to put up with shit. Besides just up decking the guy or fleeing there was anything I could do to get the creep to stop. I was scared but was more angry. Angry that this guy just wouldn't take a clue.

I didn't fricking care if the guy that intervened thought himself as a 'white knight' type. At the time his intentions or motivations, or his view of what was going on didn't matter. At the time all that I desired or needed was creeper being creepy to STOP. If the intervening guy went on to tell people his story of how he 'saved a defenseless woman and oh I'm so wonderful blah blah' so be it. I don't care whether he understood how systematic patriarchy works and his own privilege and how the bigger question of women's lack of agency played into the situation etc etc. Maybe if we went on to have a conversation afterwards we could have talked about that.

I didn't care and still don't care. The guy for whatever reason saw that I needed help and helped. He helped me at a time I needed it. At a time where I was feeling pretty damn alone in the world.
For the time needed to simply get the guy to stop I wasn't alone in what I was trying to deal with.

That's all that mattered.
"

Well, not all of us can summon a bear as a defender...
posted by Samizdata at 10:23 AM on July 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, not all of us can summon a bear as a defender...

lol :D
posted by Jalliah at 10:24 AM on July 14, 2013


My grammar's shot, sorry. Too many beers.
posted by glasseyes at 10:24 AM on July 14, 2013


But if you don't brag about it on the Internet, then less imaginative people like me don't get to learn about a great technique for a particular kind of creeper.


I guess I just don't know if it's a great technique. I know it's a great story. I suppose it could be a great technique and maybe others will try it. I just reserve my belief that this happened.
posted by Miko at 10:37 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've had the following conversation way too many times after we've both witnessed some M-->F intimidation or harassment . . .

Some friend who is a guy: "Do you think I should say something?"

Me: "Well, it's not like he's gonna listen to a woman."
posted by jfwlucy at 10:49 AM on July 14, 2013 [6 favorites]



/lives in California. San Francisco, in fact. And does it matter that this incident actually took place in California?


Consent is an important topic in Californian society. Not asking for it is apparently like some kind of faux paus. So some guy stepping in and helping someone without their consent would be seen as rude, patriarchal, etc. to folks of that culture.

Elsewhere, more of an implicit not explicit issue.
posted by solipse at 10:54 AM on July 14, 2013


Consent is an important topic in Californian society. Not asking for it is apparently like some kind of faux paus.

did you ask for california's consent before making this silly generalization
posted by speicus at 10:59 AM on July 14, 2013 [17 favorites]


That is a seriously peculiar line to take, and not one reflected in the reality of the state I live in.
posted by rtha at 10:59 AM on July 14, 2013


"Consent is an important topic in Californian society. Not asking for it is apparently like some kind of faux paus. So some guy stepping in and helping someone without their consent would be seen as rude, patriarchal, etc. to folks of that culture."

On behalf of my fellow humans, I welcome you to planet Earth. Complementary waffles are on the left, and if you'll wait in the lounge, a friendly guide will be along shortly to answer any questions you might have about local customs.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:05 AM on July 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


In the fight over intentions vs action I'd choose action nearly every time. In a perfect world I agree an altruistic act is dimished if it is self reported, but we also need stories of people doing the correct thing, even at risk to self. We need such things to show they do happen, and that we do have agency to not ignore harassment. In a real sense I don't care if he did this for a good story, or because of xyz, the end resul t is worth it.
posted by edgeways at 11:06 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Think of it like holding doors open. If you only hold doors open for women, that's sexist. If you hold the door open so that the woman has to squeeze uncomfortably close to you, or use it as an opportunity to chat someone up who is giving off leave-me-alone signals, that's creepy. If you make a big display of the fact that you're holdinh the door open, eg. holding it open so far in advance that the person you're holding the door for feels rushed (especially if you're looking expectantly at them the whole time rather than at least pretending to be distracted by something else), you're being a self-serving twit. But if you generally hold doors open for all people in a modest, non-pushy manner, you are being a very decent human being. Most people appreciate such basic kindness, and it maintains societal/communal bonds. For example, when the cashier in rural grocery store calls me "dear" and it is clear that they call everyone "dear", I feel warm and fuzzy, not creeped out. Note that this all applies regardless of your own gender; and also regardless of all of your underlying motivations.

Now, if you're my buddy, and you go talking about some particular woman that you've been a decent human being to in a sexist, objectifying way, I may call you out on that even though you accomplished your initial actions in a positive way. The later recounting is a different action than the original door-holding, or harrassment intervention, or whatever, and may be judged separately on its own merits. I think some of the discussion above has been a bit confused on this distinction.
posted by eviemath at 11:07 AM on July 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Complementary waffles are on the left

LIES.

Picking up on several comments that I won't quote, the analogy to holding doors is apt. Sometimes I return from getting coffee for both myself and others and I'm holding a cup in each hand. As I approach the door to the office building, wondering if I dare try to balance one cup on another, sometimes someone opens the door for me. Without asking if I need help! Are they depriving me of agency? No, they just have some common sense. (Could it go wrong—could it be that I didn't want help at all? Sure. But that doesn't mean that their action was out of order. Common sense is fallible, but let's not cut off our noses to spite the bathwater.)
posted by kenko at 11:17 AM on July 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


[Maybe let's leave aside the question of California and consent? It's neither here nor there as regards the linked piece.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:38 AM on July 14, 2013


[One comment deleted; metacommentary doesn't go here, and snark about how stupid people are does not make for a productive discussion.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:53 AM on July 14, 2013


kenko: "Sometimes I return from getting coffee for both myself and others and I'm holding a cup in each hand. "

Kenko is Bob Benson!

I agree with those who see this type of intervention as a welcome aspect of communal society, that helps establish a sense of safety and comfort and, in turn, the willingness to help others. In many discussions about harassment here on Metafilter, people have argued that predators rely on entrenched patriarchy and the assumption that no one will step in. So I'm confused that people are seeing this story as one of unwelcome white-knighting. Where's the sweet spot?

I get that many are put off by the fact that he told this story and it's unseemly to be self-congratulatory. I don't disagree, up to a point, but if all we ever hear are stories about "creepers gonna creep" and how they consistently get away with it, then we spiral even further into a pit of helplessness and hopelessness that anything can be done. I liked reading a story, even an imperfect one, of somebody doing something. Having more positive stories out there would help counter the dominant cultural narrative. And if he wants to make a big deal about how writers are all about narrative, well, it's a writing blog. I don't see the problem.
posted by Superplin at 11:56 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


White Knighting is bullshit- it doesn't actually happen.

I've only ever seen it discussed in online forums; and in those instances it has been almost universally used as a way to deflect criticism of creepy behavior, or as a way to validate the indifference of people who choose not to take a stand against creepy behavior when they could. It is like a corollary to the Geek Social Fallacies.

In real life, when we are confronted with situations that could require intervention, we choose to intervene or not intervene for a variety of reasons, each of which are complex, situational, and personal.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:00 PM on July 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Now, if you're my buddy, and you go talking about some particular woman that you've been a decent human being to in a sexist, objectifying way, I may call you out on that even though you accomplished your initial actions in a positive way. The later recounting is a different action than the original door-holding, or harrassment intervention, or whatever, and may be judged separately on its own merits. I think some of the discussion above has been a bit confused on this distinction."

Quoted for emphasis.

One thing that happens here from time to time is that people create false oppositions and then ascribe positions to others that they don't actually hold. There's been maybe two people in this thread that have actually questioned whether this guy should have intervened. All of the other criticism of him has been about things other than the intervention itself, and in most cases explicitly supporting the intervention.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:02 PM on July 14, 2013


You see a woman being harassed. What do you do?

See this is the problem with all the people claiming he didn't respect the woman's agency.

You see a woman being harassed. He saw a dude being an asshole.

That guy's behavior was out of line, regardless of how he was being received. Whether the woman felt threatened, felt capable of handling the situation, or actually welcomed the attention is immaterial.

If a guy is dumping garbage on the train or playing his boom box really loud, I don't need to ask the other passengers before telling him to cut it out.
posted by straight at 12:04 PM on July 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Harassers ARE assholes.
posted by brujita at 12:12 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I did find it a bit off-putting that he dedicated a whole paragraph to describing how super attractive the lady was, though I guess that seems partly about a writer practicing florid scene setting.

In any case, that was a pretty funny story, and it's probably net positive to tell more stories like that. I would love to have seen the guy's face.
posted by lucidium at 12:18 PM on July 14, 2013


Good. That's that bit sorted. Now can we talk about why it's OK to pretend that we're gay for comic lady-saving effect.
posted by zoo at 12:30 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


zoo: "Good. That's that bit sorted. Now can we talk about why it's OK to pretend that we're gay for comic lady-saving effect."

I didn't see it as, "Hey, wouldn't it be funny if I pretended to be gay while I save that hot ladyperson," but more, "This dude needs a solid dose of his own medicine."
posted by Superplin at 12:50 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


OK serious question: why wouldn't it be okay for him to pretend that he's gay?
posted by your hair smells like cheese! at 12:56 PM on July 14, 2013


Actually - mods if you can see that comment and it's being flagged - delete it. I started with a wider comment about how the language of social justice is used sometimes to hamper social justice. And then I tried to think of an example, and then, because I liked the example I thought of, I framed the example as trolling, and then I took out all references to the fact it was trolling. And then stupidly, I just said it.

So that was an overthought, beanplated, over subtle, way of me saying that even if it wasn't meant that way, the agency/consent side to this argument actually deflects attention away from the real problem of people being threatened on public transport.
posted by zoo at 1:25 PM on July 14, 2013


And your hair smells like cheese! - I don't know. Do gay people get offended if straight people pretend they're gay in this sort of situation? Probably not, but I don't actually know. Maybe one of those, depends on the situation, the people you're asking things. And also how you pretend you're gay.
posted by zoo at 1:30 PM on July 14, 2013


He didn't pretend he was gay, he pretended he was attracted to the aggressor so that he could enforce his preferred social order.

Likewise the harasser was pretending he was attracted* to the woman he was harassing so that he could enforce his preferred social order.

The difference is that the blog poster's preferred social order is the one where all people are free to to whatever they want in public as long as it doesn't overstep anyone else's freedom to do so. The harasser's preferred social order is one where men are free to do what they want, and women should present themselves as being open to flirtation at any time.

So attraction on both sides was faked.

*Actually, pretending his motive for engaging the the woman in conversation was that he was attracted to her.
posted by ambrosen at 1:35 PM on July 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Straight people using other straight people's homophobia to make a point not directly involving gay rights is kinda an uncool thing to do. It's really tempting to do so to illustrate issues of sexual harassment of women and get some key ideas across to heterosexual men, but what it's doing is implicitly validating the homophobia, as well as having some other problematic aspects. And if you read the account again, his attempt to incite homophobia and the harasser's evoked homophobia are pretty unambiguous core aspects.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:49 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


White Knighting is bullshit- it doesn't actually happen.

Wow, -- no. It does happen. I mean, you might be referring to something specific you've run across in those brain-twisting, anti-feminst internet neighborhoods, but there is a real phenomenon in which men seek to meet some need of theirs by aligning themselves with women. One of the problems with doing this is that it essentially re-asserts the primacy of men and men's experience. It's enough of a thing that crisis centers really screen for this.
posted by Miko at 2:02 PM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yep. +1 to Miko. There's people out there that'll twist anything to an advantage. If your defacto position is that men white-knight in order to get laid, then they're probably not far from concluding one way to get laid is to white-knight.

(If you're thinking right now - I remember zoo accusing some people of white-knighting. I'm so hunting that comment down, then don't. That wasn't me. No sirree - I never said anything like that ever, then slightly modified my opinion. Don't be looking that shit up.)

Anyway - this reminds me of a Woman's hour thing that was on a while ago, where a couple of women who work in crisis centers said that men who are beating their female partners will commonly report their female partners as the aggressors. Even to crisis centers., So the crisis centers have to screen all men who come to them to make sure that they're not the ones doing the attacking.

I don't even know why I'm suprised by this shit any more.

And the little cherry on the top of this story is that the crisis centers were then attacked for saying this. Because one thing we know about Social Justice Logic? It can be easily be twisted and used for evil. If you track this story down, then be prepared for a load of "What happened to believing the victims first" counter "arguments"
posted by zoo at 2:20 PM on July 14, 2013


I think that this can be BOTH a great example of the bind that patriarchy puts men and women in AND an example of great bystander intervention in street harassment.

In this bind, women are confined to the role of real or potential victim, while men can be potential saviors or threats. Like Bunny Ultramod pointed out above, men have the unique privilege of avoiding either role by doing nothing, but doing nothing does not break down the larger gender norms that put men and women in these positions to begin with. This does not make the responder a bad person (in fact, I think that it's 100x better to be the savior than the threat), but it is still evidence of patriarchal social structures and norms that do not grant women the ability to prevent their own victimization.

This was beautifully illustrated in Sarah Haskin's Target Women video about Brinks/Broadview Home Security, which seems to have been taken down, unfortunately, but the gist is that home security ads typically feature a white women being threatened by a shadowy man and then saved by the white, handsome men working at Broadview. Women are, societally speaking, not granted the ability to affect their own victimization risk, while men are granted the ability to be able to either victimize women (with impunity, often), or step in to prevent women's victimization and often be effective at doing that. If women are able to even try to stop their own victimization (and they often aren't, as women get socialized to be deferential and kind at all costs), they will not be taken seriously, or they will be said to secretly like it. Indeed, the woman in this story did everything that she was able to do short of physical violence to stop the harassment and the man STILL continued.

Another fitting example of this is the Men Can Stop Rape campaign. While being a really great new campaign in a lot of ways (features not just white/straight couples, talks about active consent), it also is still predicated on the notion that men are the ones who ultimately take the action to stop rape. Women can voice their lack of consent, sure, but that's where feminine power ends. Even the text in this campaign, "my strength is not for hurting," plays on norms where masculinity = physical strength. Endorsing this and other hypermasculine norms is associated with higher rape perpetration. Notice also that in the ads, the woman is facing the man, while the man is facing the camera. Again, I would say that this ad campaign is a big step forward from earlier campaigns that blame victims, and it is calling attention to important issues--it's definitely better than no response at all--but it also playing on the exact same norms that perpetuate rape. Just like the author of this piece, it's reflecting the norms of the society that it's situated in. But unlike the author, who isn't being tasked at preventing violence against women generally, one would expect a prevention campaign to take up the core issue as part of their prevention strategy.

Also, I would argue that this is an example of tertiary prevention (preventing harm to people already being affected by harassment), rather than primary prevention (preventing harassment generally, often at a societal level, against people who haven't been harassed yet). Just as you wouldn't expect a surgeon removing a cancerous growth to, by doing so, cure cancer in people who haven't developed it yet, I wouldn't expect this dude to somehow break down the social roles that cause rape that he's inherently imbedded in.
posted by quiet coyote at 2:23 PM on July 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, that has added a new and fucked-up dimension to my perspective on the matter. Nevertheless, I would still argue that many of the accusations of "White Knighting" that you find online serve one of the two purposes I described above.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:25 PM on July 14, 2013


A long time ago, when I was in my mid-twenties and conversations about sexual harassment hadn't yet become such a Thing, as I recall, one Saturday I ran across a busy street to a bus shelter near my house on north Beacon Hill in Seattle, a bus shelter which was already occupied by two other people I hadn't really even noticed as I was crossing. There were no pedestrians other than the three of us on the entire block, and no businesses or homes.

He was black and she was white; he was well and tastefully dressed and she was in jeans and a denim jacket; and she was backed up into a corner as he stood in front of her bent over at the waist a little bit talking and making importunate gestures. Traffic and construction noise were such that I couldn't hear the sound of their voices, much less distinct words.

My first thought was that this does not look good, but if I say anything here I'll look like (and feel like) a total racist, so I sidled toward them to try to pick up a general tenor, anyway, which made him glare at me and I glared back reflexively.

He seemed to get a little more agitated and urgent after that, but I was still feeling very reluctant to intervene, so I merely turned to stare directly at them, evoking another glare-- and saw a car fifty or sixty feet up the street with two wheels in the gutter and two on the parking strip. I stepped to the curb, got out a piece of paper and made a show of writing down its license (a total joke since I couldn't make out a single number or letter), at which he turned, ran for the car and drove off. I had the satisfaction of hearing one of his rims grind against the inner lip of the curb as he wrestled his car back onto the street.

She had hardly moved during the whole time I was there, and still did not. As I got a closer look, I guessed she might be a high school student. I moved back to the far edge of the shelter and didn't speak to her or glance in her direction.

But when the bus began to pull up and we moved to board, I said "I'm sorry you had to go through that. I wasn't sure what to do, but if he'd grabbed you I would have done my best to stop him" with a very strong sense that I was making a feeble excuse for cowardly inaction. Her response was a convulsive whole body jerk and a choking noise that may or may not have been intended as speech.

When we got on the bus, I sat as far from her as possible.
posted by jamjam at 3:00 PM on July 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


As a wise friend of mine once pointed out, sexual harrassment of women and homophobia appear to be quite deeply connected. More men are more vehemently homophobic than women, and these same men tend to act in more sexually aggressive ways in their interactions with women, so a straightforward conclusion one might draw is that these men are homophobic in part becaise they operate on a sexual predator/prey model and fear being put in the prey position. That is, whether consciously or not, their homophobia seems related to a fear of someone treating them how they treat women (for the fear of men who might hit on them part, which in our experience back in the day seemed to be the major or most often-expressed homophobic concern. Their fear of lesbian women seemed to be related to women not accepting the prey role).
posted by eviemath at 3:23 PM on July 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


(Wait, why have you favorited my comment Ivan Fyodorovic? I was (obliquely) arguing against your last comment! Though I suspect we're not too far from being in agreement.)
posted by eviemath at 4:07 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Because I agree with your friend's theory but still think it's not a good idea to leverage one bigotry to combat another, even if they are deeply connected. Also, yeah, I think we're largely in agreement. And, um, I appreciate you contributing that insight.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:10 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


As far as I'm concerned, this dude is a hero, regardless of his writing style or whatever. The description of the girl he mentioned could very well have been me, except I haven't been on BART recently, and I do get worried every time I am on it alone for this reason. I don't understand why the fuck people are bitching about "agency" or whatever here. I say this as a diehard feminist: this dude is a hero.

The thing about a woman standing up to a creeper-- note that this fellow is already refusing to take hints or respect boundaries or take no for an answer already, which are VERY BAD SIGNS about a person and indicate that you are going to have a huge problem getting him to go the fuck away-- is that we are literally risking getting beat up, and/or raped, and/or killed (and if we're very, very lucky, it's in that order), every time we say no. This guy was only worrying about getting a black eye, fat lip, or kick in the nuts from the creeper. But every time some creeper starts creeping on a woman, we have to start mentally guessing how crazy he's going to get. We are risking our own lives because we made the mistake of existing with a vagina in public alone. How well would you be able to gauge how far you could go in telling a guy to buzz off if the stakes are literally life and death every time, as far as you know? For all I know a guy like this might just very well attack her in the middle of BART in the daytime because she "disrespected him" or just didn't roll over and spread her legs when he wanted her to.

Seriously, this is what goes through every woman's brain, every time it happens. Taking her "agency" is not something to worry and whine about, and I think most or all women would just rather the dude step in if it keeps her safe. I know I hope this guy is around next time it happens to me.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:56 PM on July 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


It does happen. I mean, you might be referring to something specific you've run across in those brain-twisting, anti-feminst internet neighborhoods, but there is a real phenomenon in which men seek to meet some need of theirs by aligning themselves with women. One of the problems with doing this is that it essentially re-asserts the primacy of men and men's experience.

If others in here will allow that white-knighting does happen, can you allow that this particular story was not an example of it?

If he'd gone on to follow the woman out of the bus and stop her to say things like, "wow, are you okay? yeah, that guy was a jerk, wasn't he? Tell you what, how about I follow you around the rest of the day and keep an eye out for guys like that because you shouldn't have to put up with that, little lady," then we'd have had a case of white-knighting. But that's not what happened - he saw she needed an extra person to help her out, he did so, she got away, he let her go about her business again. That's not a case of white-knighting, that's a case of "someone temporarily needs my help with A Thing".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:04 PM on July 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Is anyone else here skeptical that this ever actually happened? Real life is not as neat as depicted here, I have a strong feeling that this guy just made the story up for internet kudos.
posted by zipadee at 5:26 PM on July 14, 2013


If others in here will allow that white-knighting does happen, can you allow that this particular story was not an example of it?

I never said it was an example of that. I'm neutral on the point, because I think the story is probably made up, and it doesn't make a lot of sense to me to argue about something that is made up.

I just wanted to speak up when someone said the white knight phenomenon is not real.
posted by Miko at 5:32 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Okay, let's try a vaguely related white knighting scenario and see what people think about it.

One evening back in the early 90s, I was riding the bus home to my stop in the Lower Haight in San Francisco. One of the problems the buses occasionally have is when people exit through the front door, and there's a jam in the door from people pushing in before people get off. But this day, I'm sitting near the front, and at one stop, I notice a couple of guys are aggressively pushing into the front door, pushing right up against the exiting crowd, WTF is that all about? Then I notice what one guy is doing: he's trying to unzip a woman's purse. It's a pickpocket gang. I just happened to have a folded up newspaper in my hand, so I leaned forward and just smacked the shit out of that guy's hand 3 or 4 times and yelled "Stop, Thief!" He realized he was busted and gave up. Suddenly both guys bolt out of the front door, leaving the poor girl and her friend standing there looking at me like I was a crazy man swatting at her purse. They ran off the bus and stood near a cafe, looking shaken. I don't think they heard me yell, they were distracted by the pickpockets.

So a friend of mine was riding with me, he said WTF was that all about? And the bus driver also asked WTF was that and he kept the bus at the stop until this was sorted out. I said I saw a guy trying to pick her pocket, he had his hand in her purse and I was swatting at him, trying to stop him. My friend verified that I indeed did yell Stop Thief and vouched for me, saying I was a regular, decent guy and not the kind of crazy troublemaker like you frequently find on the Haight Street bus.

The bus driver said he knew something was up when those two guys suddenly took off running. The driver said he was glad somebody stopped them, but the couple probably thought you were attacking them. I looked out and saw them, and they were still staring back at me through the window. The bus driver opened the front door and asked them to come back, whereupon he explained that someone was trying to pick their pocket, a stranger tried to protect you, it's all fine, but please be safe and hold that purse a little closer. Oh so that's what it was all about.

OK now look at that scenario. A young woman was traveling with a male companion, could have been a couple, and they were getting off in the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of the Lower Haight. They ran face first into an organized pair of criminals, one of them was the blocker, stopping the woman from moving and the guy from seeing what was happening, while the picker tried to get into her purse. And they are all pushed together in direct physical contact with each other. I was standing 3 feet away, I saw what happened, and took a rolled up newspaper to intervene and block the pickpocket. This could have easily gone really bad in a moment. The woman was at direct risk, both of being pickpocketed, and if someone stopped her, the thief could have had a knife or something, and used it. But I wouldn't have been in danger at all, I acted at a short distance, but out of the thief's range.

Now to this day, I am not sure I did the right thing. I was the only person who saw what was happening. Her friend couldn't have helped her, and he was standing right next to her. That made me the only person that could stop what was happening. But by intervening, I wasn't putting myself at risk, and maybe I was putting the woman at risk. But she was already at risk, being jammed up against a couple of thugs with criminal intent. But fortunately it turned out well for the woman, who was justifiably confused and shaken, but it could have been worse. But in no way would it ever be worth physical injury just to protect your personal property like your wallet. So maybe I should have let him pick her pocket and he would have done everything possible to get away stealthily with no further risk to anyone.

And that's what bothers me the most. I am a buddhist and sworn to nonviolence. When I lived in SF, I went to the temple every week, sometimes 2 or 3 times, and one of my continual questions was what a pacifist could do when confronted with violence. I came to the decision that if I was threatened with violence, I could try to escape, but I would not fight back, not even in the face of imminent deadly force. The tougher question is what to do if I was the only one who could prevent injury to another person. I could intervene, but not with violence. It would be better to place yourself in the line of danger and get killed in the act of protecting someone, rather than break your vow of nonviolence. I take this very seriously, and then here I was committing a violent act to prevent a petty crime. Sure it was a minor violent act, a literal slap on the wrist. But it was violent nonetheless. Part of me is ashamed of my violent act. Then another part of me is screaming, I should have killed that motherfucking criminal scum. And then my innermost feelings are of shame for thinking that way, and that I should have compassion for someone who lives in such horrible conditions that he must steal and injure others just to survive. And then I think how it's easy to have compassion for the nice young couple, and not the shabby street thug. And I feel awful all over again.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:04 PM on July 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Charlie - look at it this way: because you did something, the woman kept her wallet and did not get it stolen. Isn't that a good thing?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:09 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kudos to empath, zipadee, and probably others for calling bullshit on this bogus article. It's obviously fake (someone up above pointed out the Hollywood ending, the implausibilities, and how it just "seems off") and it really makes one wonder about this writer's mental state that he posts stories of his derring-do on behalf of harassed women.

The mentality might be similar to that of firemen who get caught setting buildings on fire just to provide a suitable venue for their heroics.
posted by Unified Theory at 6:59 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read the story as the writer acting in a sexually aggressive/predatory way toward the harrasser, which is not exactly the same as pretending a sexual orientation. Sexual harrassment has much more to do with power dynamics.

Why do some of you think this story can't possibly be true? That may or may not be, but I don't see any details that scream out as obviously fake to me - I mean, the dialogue might have been slightly polished from how it occured in actuality, but the overall story seems quite plausible to me.

Thirdly, I see from the internet that "white knight" seems to have replaced "knight in shining armor", but, uh, you all know that it's got some seriously racist associations, what with having been a KKK position and all, and using this term instead of knight in shining armor - albeit in a positive rather than negative context - was one of Sarah Palin's more publicized gaffes, given that it kind of telegraphed at least a tolerance of racist attitudes on her part - you all know that whole history of the expression, right?
posted by eviemath at 7:36 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


you all know that it's got some seriously racist associations, what with having been a KKK position and all, and using this term instead of knight in shining armor - albeit in a positive rather than negative context - was one of Sarah Palin's more publicized gaffes, given that it kind of telegraphed at least a tolerance of racist attitudes on her part - you all know that whole history of the expression, right?

It would probably be kind to assume that many of us don't actually know that the term is racist and would be happy to stop using it if it were explained -- that we use it because it is the term that is used more often and because we haven't ever before seen complaints about the term except from anti-feminist perspectives.
posted by jeather at 8:04 PM on July 14, 2013


I'd always understood it as being derived from fairy tales. Is that incorrect?
posted by rtha at 8:17 PM on July 14, 2013


Why do some of you think this story can't possibly be true?

I think it could possibly be true. Nothing in it is beyond the realm of possibility. I just don't think it is true.

"white knight" seems to have replaced "knight in shining armor"

No no. Two different things. In fact I kind of think you might not know the history of the expression. White Knight:
The inspiration for the White Knight campaign originated in a dream that the ad creator, Joe Sacco had one night. He saw a nightmarish world of housewives trapped in dungeons filled with dirty laundry, unable to escape the drudgery of daily routine. This dream gave him the idea for creating a savior who would steal them away from that realm of soiled clothing, a liberator who would unleash them from those tedious household chores. At first a figure of Sir Galahad was considered, but later a nameless White Knight character was chosen to reflect the cleaning potential of the detergent....In September 1968 The National Organization for Women (NOW) called its first boycott of Colgate-Palmolive products and demonstrated for five days in front of the company's New York City headquarters on Park Avenue. Anselma Dell'Olio and Barbara Love of New York NOW led the action with picket signs that read "Down the Drain With Ajax," "The White Knight Is A Dirty Old Man" and "Cold Power Versus Woman Power."
Some of the commercials in question.

In the broader sense, I think it's just too widely used a phrase to assume it's racist.
posted by Miko at 8:39 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


And then there's this little timepiece.
posted by Miko at 8:43 PM on July 14, 2013


Come on. It absolutely has to be a reference to Alice in Wonderland:
This time it was a White Knight. He drew up at Alice's side, and tumbled off his horse just as the Red Knight had done: then he got on again, and the two Knights sat and looked at each other for some time without speaking. Alice looked from one to the other in some bewilderment.

'She's my prisoner, you know!' the Red Knight said at last.

'Yes, but then I came and rescued her!' the White Knight replied.

'Well, we must fight for her, then,' said the Red Knight [...]

'It was a glorious victory, wasn't it?' said the White Knight, as he came up panting.

'I don't know,' Alice said doubtfully. 'I don't want to be anybody's prisoner. I want to be a Queen.'

'So you will, when you've crossed the next brook,' said the White Knight. 'I'll see you safe to the end of the wood -- and then I must go back, you know. That's the end of my move.'

As to whether the story is factual, things like this do happen to people - happened to me, in fact - and there's no way to tell whether this one is true or false. Maybe it did happen; maybe it's embellished; maybe he just wished it had happened. None of us were present; the only thing can matter to us is the influence that his account exerts on his audience. Even aspirational fictions serve their purpose.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:24 PM on July 14, 2013


Oh, is it time for bus harassment stories? Two similar events happened to me fairly close together in time so the memories blurred somewhat, but in one, there was like an artistic component, like he was singing a LOUD, slurred song about his genitalia and what he was going to do with mine or something? That one ended quickly because his stop was next.

In the other, which I remember more vividly, the episode started with the drunk guy complimenting me more and more loudly, and descended into something like "what, you think you're too good for me, do you, you bitch?" This was all while leaning closer and closer in to me, ending with his face in my face and the spittle flying. I was stuck between two people on either side with my back against the bus and my path blocked by this guy.

I was unable to overcome my "don't make a scene" instinct nor my "don't be mean to a limping, drunk older man" instinct at that moment. I feel like I should've been able to, since I have a bunch of big city experience, but it was so much more public than most inappropriate behavior that I couldn't access my normal "don't screw with me" mode, almost like I got stage fright. I do still think most people on that bus (myself included) thought I should've been able to handle it myself, by loudly denouncing him and physically shouldering him aside, but I just froze.

I was obviously horrified. I could not find a way out and felt trapped. I felt watched and thought at the time, though now I don't know if I still believe this, that the men nearby must enjoy watching me be taunted or someone would've stopped it sooner. In the early phase, I'd turned to the young guy next to me to try to get some commiseration and help ignoring the man, but he deliberately ignored me, picking up his phone.

Finally an older gent put his hand on the man's shoulder from behind and gently said something like "c'mon now and leave her alone. Why don't you come over here and tell us if you think the Raiders should hire Peyton Manning?" [or... some question like that]. It worked like a charm.

Seeing how little it took from that intervenor surprised me. That gentleman's tone was like "you've had your fun, now it's time to stop" and surprised and mildly offended me. I would've thought people would've disapproved more. I realize he was just trying to leave the other guy his dignity, but at the time it added to the sense that this bus (full mostly of men) was aligned against me. I was also surprised that the guy doing something so mean-spirited to me so quickly transitioned into a normal social interaction with other men.

I feel funny telling this story, like I'm being a whiner and complaining about something that every woman out there has had to put up with and learn how to deal with in one way or another.

Anyway, I don't really enjoy the idea of "showing someone how it feels" as a way of "teaching them a lesson." l did enjoy the story in the post and briefly enjoy the image of someone leering at the guys who've harassed me. But truthfully, I do think most have suffered more than their share of humiliation, at least the guys harassing me on the bus had, and that interventions that don't include tit for tat harassment are better.

But I really disagree with the "white knight" concerns that a few people raised. If someone is seeking escape but unable to get it, of COURSE an altruistic bystander should help. Failure to do so reinforces the social standard that harassment is okay.
posted by salvia at 9:53 PM on July 14, 2013 [11 favorites]


Target Women video about Brinks/Broadview Home Security, which seems to have been taken down

Found a copy here.
posted by tigrrrlily at 9:59 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Come on. It absolutely has to be a reference to Alice in Wonderland:

Well, yes and no. I do think that's part of the complex of ideas around "white knight" that creates a cultural-history trail. But in all sincerity, I think the Ajax White Knight was more influential in the development of this narrative trope in the U.S. It was pervasive pop culture at the time the women's movement 2.0 was getting off the ground. My mom explicitly cited it mockingly (I remember it well), and there are at least a few mentions of that set of commercials, in particular, in feminist essays and mags from the time. I had forgotten all about it so I just read some on Google Books.

So, yes, Alice has something to do with it, but so does the White Knight from Arthurian legend -- whoalso got all rolled up and rehashed by Carl Jung and his male and female archetypes, and on and on. It's a complex of ideas, for sure.

Still, I think the TV commercials were the most powerful impetus to the trope, though - in my short investigation, prior to them, the only readily found mentions of White Knights as rescuers are in Alice and King Arthur, and mentions of them are confined to the context of the legends .It's only after the Ajax commercials appear that women can be found writing about the White Knight as a patriarchal rescue narrative.

Sure, many of us half-remember the Alice version (though it was not in Wonderland, but the less-read Looking Glass), but I find it easier to understand that women who became feminist activists in the 60s and 70s were all riffing on the shared experience of a ubiquitous, stupid, insulting and irritating TV commercial than that they were all hearking back to childhood readings of Lewis Carroll.
posted by Miko at 10:10 PM on July 14, 2013


I feel funny telling this story, like I'm being a whiner and complaining about something that every woman out there has had to put up with and learn how to deal with in one way or another.

I feel like you need a massive non-creepy hug from a gay guy who has a lump in his throat from reading what you endured.
posted by hippybear at 10:12 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, yes, Alice has something to do with it, but so does the White Knight from Arthurian legend -- whoalso got all rolled up and rehashed by Carl Jung and his male and female archetypes, and on and on.

And Disney. And The Music Man.

I can't believe someone is seriously arguing that White Knight is racist. If it wasn't eviemath, I would think we're being trolled. This is a cultural icon that many groups have used, for good or ill, and I assure you that any hypothetical racist influence does not have the cultural impact of a Disney cartoon or a Tony Award winning Broadway show that became an Oscar winning movie.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:33 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Artist's depiction of the author.
posted by pwnguin at 12:19 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read the article and the initial comments and though "I bet someone is going to come here and spoil this..." and they did. I guess I see women being harrased in public places as being more of an issue than women being saved from harrasment in public places even if maybe they didn't want to be saved. I think the latter could be an issue, but certainly doesn't seem to be in this story.

Were there better ways to defuse the situation? Maybe, yeah, but when you're there and you need to act maybe you don't think that clearly. I also don't really get tthe idea that he's making this story up. He's probably changed it slightly, and memory is a complicated thing, but it has the ring of truth to me anyway.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:23 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hmm, ok, the use as a sexist trope has been around longer than I realized. But it does also have the racist/KKK meaning. Even though I don't know how to copy and paste urls on my phone and am too lazy to switch back and forth between browser windows and type it out by hand... ah, what the heck: [I hope this link works:-P]
posted by eviemath at 4:58 AM on July 15, 2013


I feel like there are two different conversations going on here and I confess I'm not sure I understand what the people concerned about white knighting actually want.

That we never ever talk about the value of helping others lest it cause white knighting for bad reasons to happen? That we not socially praise and provide incentives for doing good for others?

I think essentially we should go ahead and encourage good behavior and actions such as the authors (though maybe redirect to other better techniques if possible) even if made up-- and deal with white knighting as it comes up.

I don't think we should stop discussing or encouraging bystander intervention or the value of looking out for others and using our strengths to help those we see might need them in order to address potentially selfish use of fake altruism which has always been a problem anywhere there are altruistic people.

All power can corrupt. That doesn't mean using power for good is innately bad or that we should discourage people from talking about good deeds or what our cultural values around them should be.

I think those of us who know how few people are willing to say anything when we are being obviously treated badly are desperate for these conversations to happen so I'm a bit perplexed as to how stamping out all discussions of good behavior or harassment intervention is more helpful than just having the conversation, talking how it's good to intervene and the specific ways it can be done, and also mentioning that white knighting is not good? Do these two goals (encouraging bystander intervention and active community responses- AND preventing bad forms of white knighting) have to compete with each or can they both be valuable goals?
posted by xarnop at 8:47 AM on July 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's not hard data, but whenever we have a harassment thread on MetaFilter, we get dozens of anecdotes from women about being harassed, but almost never any anecdotes complaining about unsufferable White Knights.
posted by straight at 8:53 AM on July 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


Whether 'white knighting' as an act of kindness that is later used as leverage for physical intimacy actually happens or not doesn't really matter for the purposes of this discussion.

What DOES matter is its use as a shorthand derail to question the motives of men who maybe want to do the right thing by other men who are otherwise too cowardly to do so, or, would themselves expect sexual favors in return for 'helping out.'

In other words - in these stories and others like them (eg in the lavaballing thread where the conversation turned to men helping women who were being harassed) I rarely see women accusing the men who are trying to be helpful of white knighting(as straight seems to be suggesting). I'm just guessing (because I'm a dude and never been that situation) it's probably because they are better at recognizing when a guy is creeping and when he's genuinely trying to do the right thing.
posted by Tevin at 9:07 AM on July 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


One time after I denigrated religion in general after too many beers, as some young people do when they are away from home for the first time, a wise old man told me about "the Quaker Ethic," which he may have made up. He explained it as every person's responsibility to fix the wrongs they find. It was not a terrible thing to believe, and do, he said, and also religion, so maybe I should slow down and reconsider?

So of course I believe that what Trope Changer says he did is better than doing nothing at all.

I'm also in favor of picking up litter, returning stray shopping carts to the corral, chasing Peeping Toms out of back alleys, holding doors open for people (women and men) when I get there first or when they are encumbered with cups of coffee or baby strollers, diffusing fan tensions at hockey games, et cetera. I think most of us strive to be positive forces in our communities.

My objection at the top of the thread is with the idea that the Trope Changer's resolution changes the narrative much at all. The woman is an object for the masher, then for the story's hero. Neither man really allows for the possibility that she can be the heroine of her own story.

The story's framing primed me to expect a new ending to an old story. I was disappointed that the Prince Charming/White Knight trope was the best he could come up with. An actual narrative changer has to break free of those tropes. I understand that's not an easy thing.

The best I've been able to come up with (with a little help) is: ask first, help second. That places the agency where it belongs -- it's the woman's story, after all. Not the the masher's. Not the hero's. She can accept the offer and decide how best to use it, according to her goals and needs. Or she can decline it.

I shared the Trope Changer's post with my wife and asked for her thoughts ("He sure seems to think a lot of himself"). She didn't hit on the White Knight trope like I did. After I shared my objection, she told me a story about an old lady and a shopping cart at Trader Joe's.

The old woman was bent over her opened trunk, moving stuff around and the shopping cart had begun to roll away. My wife caught it before it bashed into anything and really ruined the day for a few people. In the cart were a couple of cases of bottled water and several cloth grocery sacks overstuffed with Trader Joe's goodies, and it all looked heavy and cumbersome, especially with a cart that wanted to roll away. As my wife returned the cart she asked the old woman, who didn't appear capable of lifting the stuff, if she needed any help loading it into the trunk. Oh no. Are you sure? Oh I'm fine, but thank you for catching that cart! Okay no problem bye!

My wife did the right thing by catching the cart, unasked -- nobody else could have. She did the right thing again by offering to help a frail woman lift heavy things, and she did the right thing once more by accepting the woman's "No." It was her decision, after all, not my wife's.

There are plenty of opportunities to help out, and lots of reasons to do so. I think it's important that while we're helping out, we also try to align means with ends, and make sure we're helping for as few of the wrong reasons as we can. As a general rule, "ask first, help second" does that. It might have done so on the BART train, too.
posted by notyou at 9:33 AM on July 15, 2013


Ask first and help later if needed is not a technique that's always going to be appropriate, so can we at least act like that? There is no One True Way to handle these various incidents. Go read the story I linked to in this comment. In what way should I have asked her, given that she was ten or fifteen feet ahead of me? Since there was no good way, I guess I should've just done nothing, because violating her agency would have been worse?

Not all of us want to be our own heroes all the fucking time, you know? I can think of a dozen instances from just my own life when I would have been thrilled to have someone just step in and be all "Dude, just leave her alone. She doesn't want to talk to you."
posted by rtha at 9:55 AM on July 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


My objection at the top of the thread is with the idea that the Trope Changer's resolution changes the narrative much at all. The woman is an object for the masher, then for the story's hero. Neither man really allows for the possibility that she can be the heroine of her own story.


Did you miss the part of the story -- the intro, actually, the part that set up the anecdote about the author speaking up more forcefully than the woman did -- where he specifically calls out "our culture's entirely fucked up sense of consent and rape culture [which] exist naturally as an extension of the same mindset that cause women to be afraid of being blunt and honest when they get cornered in public by someone they're not interested in"?

He's not saying the woman can't be the heroine of her own story. He's saying women and men alike buy in to the belief that a woman can't be the heroine of her own story. He's saying that belief is wrong. Entirely fucked up, in fact. But it's the world we live in. If more people (men, women, whatever) would do what this guy did, just enough so that women didn't believe they were really truly 100% alone in an unpleasant/potentially dangerous situation, then over time that belief will lose its power and more women will feel as though they can be "blunt and honest when they get cornered in public by someone they're not interested in." I get the impression that that would not be good enough for some people, because men served as catalysts.
posted by headnsouth at 10:20 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


"There is no One True Way to handle these various incidents."

Right. I don't agree that notyou's "ask first, help second" is the best approach in harassment situations, either. But I do think that the issues he raises are valid and should be taken into consideration.

I'm among those who have criticized this writer but I have repeatedly and emphatically asserted that I think that intervention is the right thing to do. There's numerous people in this thread who have various concerns about the writer and his story but there's pretty much not at all any sort of a consensus that he shouldn't have intervened. And yet this criticism of the writer has been repeatedly mischaracterized as advocating for non-intervention.

I really, really don't understand this tendency to create false oppositions. I've viewed the back-and-forth in this thread like I viewed the thread about the theater-goer who grabbed a rude person's phone and threw it across the room. The debate in that thread kept being characterized in terms of having to choose between defending the rude phone user or the guy who took the phone and threw it. Those of us who criticized that guy were wrongly imputed to be defending the rude phone person. Likewise in this thread, those of us who have concerns about agency and how this guy sees himself and how he presents his narrative and what messages this narrative subtextually expresses are wrongly imputed to be saying that it's better to ignore harassment.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I will repeat: people should intervene to stop harassment. That it's ignored and that people are passive is part of the problem.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:25 AM on July 15, 2013


Since there was no good way, I guess I should've just done nothing, because violating her agency would have been worse?

Well, no: So of course I believe that what Trope Changer says he did is better than doing nothing at all.


I read all that stuff, headnsouth. And I understand it. It's a difficult nut to crack. White Knighting doesn't crack it. Although it may have to do in a pinch.

What would real narrative changers look like?

On preview: Thanks, IF!
posted by notyou at 10:29 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Waitwaitwait. Notyou is a guy?

Well, then, notyou, speaking as a representative of the gender that actually is more likely to deal with this kind of treatment, let me say that I honestly couldn't give a flying douchecanoe whether someone perceives himself as a white knight, or just a nice guy, if he does something to get a creepy harasser off my back - and let me reassure you that I honestly would much rather want a guy to just jump in and help me rather than hanging back and asking himself whether I wanted to preserve my agency or what-the-fuck-ever.

In fact, making an assumption about how I may wish to handle something based solely on the fact that I am a woman feels, to me, kinda sorta sexist maybe, because I doubt you'd be hanging back and asking "should I let that person handle something on himself? How would my help be perceived?" if it were a guy being pestered. Maybe you'd help, maybe you wouldn't, but your decision would be driven by "do I personally feel safe getting involved" and not driven by "would that person who needs help rather preserve some sociopolitical agency in the wider patriarchal scene" or whatever.

I hereby give you permission to remove "would EC perceive me as a White Knight" from your decision-making process if you ever run into me being harrassed, because speaking as a woman, in that moment I do not care about that, I just want the creepy man to back the fuck off.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:48 AM on July 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Fuckin' A.

I honestly would much rather want a guy to just jump in and help me rather than hanging back and asking himself whether I wanted to preserve my agency or what-the-fuck-ever.

I'm not asking anybody to hang back. I'm suggesting that a better way to intervene is to ask the victim if she needs help.

In fact, making an assumption about how I may wish to handle something based solely on the fact that I am a woman feels, to me, kinda sorta sexist maybe, because I doubt you'd be hanging back and asking "should I let that person handle something on himself? How would my help be perceived?" if it were a guy being pestered.*

That's why I'd ask. As a means of checking my assumptions. You decide to handle it however you like, and know that someone has your back.

Of course, it would depend on the situation:

When my wife prevented the rolling shopping cart from smashing up parked cars, she acted first, then scaled back her response.

When I stepped in front of the LA Kings' fan who had just snapped the Vancouver Canucks' fan hard on her ass with his rally towel (really, no shit, he did that! whip-crack!), and it was clear he did it 'cause he was pissed at the loss and she was gloating about the Canucks' win, no, I didn't ask first. It gave her enough time to move off and for my wife to talk with her, and for the ushers to show up before that guy destroyed me, which he would have. Sometimes acting before asking has to do.

The FPP promises a way to break the narrative of patriarchy, but it doesn't really do so, and that's my objection. What would an actual new narrative look like?

I'm offering "ask first, help second" as the default, with adjustments related to context.

----------------
*You don't know me well enough "to doubt that I'd hang back... if it were a guy being pestered". I'd ask him first. Maybe. I can't think of many test cases.

(Although, hmm. Here's how the talking cure works, I guess: I can think of a test case. One time I let someone else fight my fight for me, because I was scared, and it certainly challenged my sense of self worth. I understand there's some patriarchy bundled up in the shame I felt (and still occasionally feel) -- at my cowardice, especially at my willingness to let someone else suffer my bruises for me. He didn't ask first. He saw I was stuck and got up and took the beating.)
posted by notyou at 12:20 PM on July 15, 2013


I'm not asking anybody to hang back. I'm suggesting that a better way to intervene is to ask the victim if she needs help.

Okay, I see where we got off track - your initial comment kind of gave the impression that you would have advocated doing nothing over interceding at all. My apologies.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:42 PM on July 15, 2013


But again, socialization into being polite at all costs--and fear of seeming weak, or incapable of expressing agency, or whatever--means the woman might not feel free to admit that she'd welcome your help. It can be pretty automatic to respond that everything's fine, also for fear of provoking the aggressor into escalating the aggression. So I don't think the case of the groceries, which involves a woman of a certain age who may wish to maintain her independence as long as she is able, is really comparable to a case of harassment in which a woman may be nervous and not making clear decisions, or expressing them freely, because she's afraid of the consequences of rocking the boat.

Also, "Everything okay here, little lady?" with a tip of the cowboy hat doesn't seem to be any vast improvement over direct intervention.
posted by Superplin at 1:48 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


What it seems to me that notyou and others are reacting negatively to - and I think with good reason - is not so much what the blogger did, as how he talked about it in his blog post later on.

What he did at the time: observed a potentially bad situation and made a decision to intervene because it did seem necessary, time-sensitive, wasn't going to be handled by others, etc. - more like the runaway shopping cart example. Addressed the harrasser in terms that were closer to "you are doing this socially unacceptable thing; I am a member of society; cut it out" and less "you've picked on the wrong person and I've decided to step in and save the day". And according to his recounting, he did not explicitly nor implicitly demand any thanks or acknowledgement from the harrassee at the time. This is all good. (Though yeah, as someone else mentioned above, one could take ethical issue with the give 'em a tadte of their own medicine approach that he used.)

How he talked about it afterwards: set it up as saving the woman, though I give him credit that he seems to be aware of the issues with that and working to become better at not doing it. Threw in a comment about the woman's appearance that was completely irrelevant - harrassment's about power. Arguably did not strike the right balance between telling a story that could inspire other intervenors versus coming across as self-aggrandizing - in an ideal world, reasonable bystander intervention (the kind that de-escalates a situation, for example) would be normal human behavior, not cookie-earning, though of course we are not in that ideal world. So there's some issues with his recounting of the story.

As I mentioned above, I think it is helpful to keep the distinction between his actions at the time and his later blog post explanations separate. Had I been the woman in the train car in his tale, for example, I don't think his actions would have made me feel objectified or like he wasn't taking my agency into consideration, being, as they were, focused on creating an interaction between himself and the obnoxious harrasser. If I were his friend and he told me the tale the way he did in the blog post, I would likely pat him on the back, maybe even give him a cookie, and either leave it at that if he looked sheepish about getting an actual physical cookie, or tell him that he did a good thing and certainly seemed to be making some progress in getting toward truly treating women as equals. In other words, yeah, the blog post was over the top, but he sounds like a guy who's trying.
posted by eviemath at 3:37 PM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've never been rescued from a genuine harrassment situation by a guy who then expected something of me. (Which is how White Knighting tends to be defined in these conversations.) I have, however, had plenty of creepers come up to me when all was otherwise well in my world and try to cast themselves in the hero role to better facilitate their creeping.

Like the Sunday evening when I was waiting for a bus back from my mother's house and a guy in a car pulled over to tell me that it wasn't safe for me to be out alone at night, there were unsavoury characters around and I should let him drive me home. He wouldn't take no for an answer, completely ignoring that the only unsavoury character around was the total stranger trying to force me into his car!
posted by the latin mouse at 4:07 PM on July 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


I kind of feel like we're reinventing the wheel here. How to be an ally (based on a google search of the same phrase, which turns up a ton of other great resources as well).

Here's an interesting excerpt:
• You don't need to wait until someone invites you to become an ally--you can simply take the initiative. You may need to go slowly and learn as you go, but don't assume you are not wanted just because no one asked.
There is some interesting guidance about what not to do as well. For instance, if nobody has yet linked this description of white knighting, its examples (such as a white man talking over a woman or person of color to better stand up for them than they are in the exact process of doing) better match what I imagine when I hear that phrase than the FPP article does.
posted by salvia at 4:41 PM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow, I seriously never knew that Sarah Haskins video existed. (Man, I miss Sarah Haskins.) I guess Brinks/Broadman/whatever probably wanted to sue, eh?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:56 PM on July 15, 2013


So I've had my better moments.

Once, I saw a car pulling over as it started to catch on fire. I pulled over too, hung out with the driver waiting for police while their car burned, and then drove the person to their job.

Once, I stepped out of my apartment building just in time to see someone grab a laptop bag from someone else and start running between my building and the next. I gave chase, got them to drop the bag, they ran off, and I returned the bag to its owner.

More than once, I went out in the evening to clean snow off of people's windshields during a snowstorm, then went back home.

In one of the three scenarios, I never met the people I helped. In one, the person I helped was a man. In one, the person I helped was a woman. In all cases, I did these things either out of reflex (the bag thing, I'm not brave enough to do that if I'd thought about it first!) or because doing nice things for people is nice.

You'd think that wouldn't be something to find fault with. Of all those things, I told almost no one, and was content. More than content; I really didn't think about them much or at all.

Nevertheless, I casually told one friend about one of these, and he asked me why I'd done it. I answered that, well, why wouldn't I? It was the nice thing to do. He then took the position that I wasn't being selfless or nice or thoughtful or anything positive; that by doing this thing I'd felt good about myself, therefore I had done this thing to feel good about myself, therefore it was a selfish act and I shouldn't feel good about it. Oddly enough, this response was provoked by the story about the person in the car that caught on fire (which was a man, by the way.)

The point being: you can't please everybody. To be more on-topic, for every woman you hold a door for, someone will say "how polite" and someone will say "how rude", and for every woman you don't hold a door for, someone will say "how nice that he respected her agency" and someone will say "how rude." For every woman being harassed that you try to help, someone will say "nice job" and someone will say "you should have asked first" and for every woman being harassed that you ignore, someone will say "thanks for not assuming she can't take care of herself" and someone will say "you're as bad as the person who was harassing her." And, it turns out, for every stranger you drive to work because their car caught on fire, someone will say "nice job" and someone will say "you're selfish and lying to yourself."

So best to use your moral compass to guide your behavior, change the compass as you talk to people and learn more about how to be helpful without making things worse, keep on being nice to the nice, ignore the haters, and wait around for someone to figure out a pat phrase like "white knighting" for someone who goes and cleans off car windshields in the dark alone during a snowstorm.
posted by davejay at 10:20 PM on July 16, 2013


douchecanoe!

What does that even mean?


It means he's a writer who enjoys the sound of words, and some words genuinely have a positive flavor even if they describe a negative attribute. Like douchecanoe. It's a great word.
posted by davejay at 10:23 PM on July 16, 2013


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