What Guys Need To Understand About Street Harassers

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From the Stop Telling Women To Smile project by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

My fiancé and I were in a cab on the way home from the bar, in the right lane of a one-way street. Our cab was stopped in traffic, and we were going nowhere.

To our right was a group of women waiting to cross the street, dressed up for a night out.

A black SUV pulled up to our left, and a man with a big beard leaned out the back window to catcall the women, sandwiching our cab between him and them.

Joe, who enjoys friendly mocking drunk idiots, decided to take the opportunity. “Are you talking to me?” he said to the bearded man. I tried to shrink in my seat.

Not understanding the joke, the man said to Joe, “I was talking to those attractive women.” (Insert a million eye rolls here.) Determined to get the man to notice the joke, Joe said, “You don’t think we’re attractive?”

I adjusted the collar of my coat around my jawline and looked away. Joe didn’t know. He hadn’t dealt with these guys his whole life. I would have told him not to bother, but now it was too late—now he’d brought me into this man’s life.

The man turned his attention from the women and peered into our cab. “You’re fine; I don’t go for men.” He looked at me (I assume, although I was trying my hardest to become invisible and therefore wasn’t looking at him). “Maybe her. Is that your wife or girlfriend?” He didn’t give Joe a chance to answer before he said, “She may be too old.”

Joe laughed and repeated what the bearded man said, as though maybe there was a sound barrier that had kept me from hearing it. This man, who is leaning out of his car window to harass women on the street, has now been invited to harass me. Did I ask for his opinion? No. I don’t want to know, nor do I care, if this asshole thinks I’m attractive or “too old” (which, for the record, I’m 28 so let’s just straighten that one out right there. And even if I was older—screw you, dude.)

Our cab driver rolled down his window and said something to the man in Arabic. The man in the SUV said something back in Arabic, and his car drove away.

Our cab began moving again, and the cab driver explained to us that he had basically said “shame on you” to the bearded man. The driver told us that the man was growing his beard to try and look like a good guy, but then acting shamefully. I can’t speak to that culture, to the symbolism of beards in that culture and what does and does not produce shame and to whom. But that is how the story ended and I think it’s worth noting, not because speaking Arabic made the bearded man any more of a threat, but because my cab driver stood up for me and for those women and Joe didn’t.

Although he did take the harasser’s attention away from those other women, Joe ended up accidentally diverting it to me. I was mad at him after this happened. Boiling mad. When you ask a street harasser if he thinks your fiancé is attractive, I imagine we got off easy with “she may be too old.” No body parts mentioned. No sexual acts described. What would Joe have done then?

But after thinking about it from his perspective, I’ve stopped being mad. As a man, Joe sometimes experiences the world very differently than me. So rather than expecting him to magically know what it’s like to grow up as a woman, I’m cutting him some slack and trying to help him understand my point of view, so he can be better armed for next time.

If the bearded man had seemed threatening to him, I feel confident that Joe wouldn’t have said anything to him. But they were on equal footing for height, weight, and the fact that he was also in the back of a car. But for me? A stranger in a dark SUV who is bigger than me and calling out desperately to women he doesn’t know? That person is threatening to me. Joe hadn’t thought about that, because he’s never had to. It’s not second nature to Joe to ignore a street harasser simply for the fact that you don’t know what they’re capable of, but it’s second nature to me.

I haven’t known Joe his whole life, but I imagine he’s been taught a few ways to protect himself as a guy: fight back. Use humor. Walk away instead of letting yourself get angry. Tell an adult.

I have been taught different ways to protect myself: walk home with a friend. Keep your eyes on your drink. Keep your keys between your fingers in case they attack you. Buy mace in case they attack you. Don’t let them follow you home. Don’t get too drunk. Don’t wear a ponytail because they can grab it and pull you into an alley. Don’t stay out too late. Wear clothes that cover yourself (but not too much, prude.) Here is another article about a girl who was attacked. Here is how likely it is that you’ll be raped. Here is a list of things you can say to someone to stop them from raping you. Here is your rape whistle.

When these are the lessons people teach you, you learn very quickly that when someone calls out to you on the street, you don’t call back. I wish I had never been taught to protect myself because we had already taught everyone not to harass and attack people. But that’s not how the world is.

By himself, Joe has never had to worry about the strangers he chooses to interact with. But when I’m around, he does. I’m not saying he has to protect me in a superhero-movie-poster way. But he needs to consider both of us before he talks to aggressive strangers, and he needs to understand what “aggressive” means to me.

Since Joe’s experience with street harassers is so much different from mine, I needed a way to help him walk in my shoes. How do you explain exactly why a street harasser makes you feel unsafe, when technically they haven’t touched you and are “complimenting” you (not Joe’s words, just a general excuse harassers use)? Finally, I ended up with this:

Someone who you don’t know, who is stronger than you and who might have a gun, calls out to you in public to say they’d like to have sex with you. Do you feel safe?

Joe would never call out to a girl on the street, or even consider it. But his experiences haven’t taught him how to react to street harassers in the way that my experiences have. I’m so used to trying to ignore and avoid harassers, I don’t give it a second thought. Joe doesn’t give a second thought to the harassers in the first place. Hopefully now he does.

If you’d like to help stop street harassment, check out Hollaback! They aren’t paying me to say that, I just think it’s awesome.

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On Feminism And Proposals

So now that you have the nitty-gritty of how the proposal went down (short version: I asked, he said yes), I wrote a little something for RoleReboot about the fact that lots of people have been calling me a badass lately. Click the image below to read more!

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How To Propose To Your Boyfriend

A few weeks ago, in his favorite place in the world, I proposed to my boyfriend and he said yes.

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For a long time, I wanted to be the one who was proposed to. The proposee. I wanted to have that big, surprise romantic moment and the butterflies in the stomach. Have I been taken in by the media? Absolutely. But I still wanted it. The way I see it, the proposal might be the last time you get those romantic butterflies. Sure, once you’re married there can be a million other great romantic moments. But there are no more nervous will-they-won’t-they moments after the proposal, and I didn’t want to lose my last one.

But with all my waiting for that moment, I started to feel like I had lost control of my life. I’m a planner, and if there was a wedding in my future, it was hard for me to plan the other big events I wanted: buying a house, flying to Europe, bringing my sister’s family out to visit us. I hated feeling like there was this giant life-changing event in my future, and I had no control over when it would happen. It’s my life! I should get a say in how it goes!

Then one day it hit me: I could still have a romantic moment. I could have the butterflies, it’s just that I’d be the one to put them there.

So in the middle of October, we flew from San Francisco to Joe’s home state of Michigan to experience fall (something we don’t really get in SF) and to see Joe’s family and friends. Our first full day there, we went to Franklin Cider Mill to eat fresh, warm cider donuts, drink cider, and feed the ducks while sitting next to a brook. This is where I asked him to be my husband.

I told a lot of people about my plan. Mostly because I was excited and because it seemed like too big of a deal to keep it a secret, but also because I didn’t want to spend my first few days of engagement calling everyone to explain myself. And trust me, it takes a lot of explanations. Not because it’s an intricate plan, but because people have questions. So if you are thinking of proposing to your boyfriend, here are a few questions I can pretty much guarantee you will field beforehand.

1. Have you guys talked about marriage?

I still haven’t figured out why people ask me this one, but they do without fail. My guess is that the subcontext is, “If you’d talked about wanting to be married, shouldn’t he have proposed by now? Maybe he hasn’t asked because he doesn’t know you want to.” Or maybe it’s, “If you’re being forced to ask, it must be because he doesn’t want to be married—maybe you should talk about it.” Or maybe there’s a much more innocent reason everyone asks me this question…I just haven’t figured out what it is.

Yes, of course we’ve talked about marriage—we’ve been dating for four and a half years. Our conversations changed from “if” to “when” a long time ago. In fact, we had a multi-day discussion about the merits of adopting this year, so yes, we have also discussed marriage.

2. Did you get a ring?

I did get a ring. I wanted the proposal to feel official, not like a suggestion. I wanted there to be a big moment of reveal. Some people laughed when I said I got a ring, I assume because they could only picture a women’s engagement ring. But I got him a simple, silver men’s ring.

Fun fact: there is no such thing as a “men’s engagement ring,” at least not on the internet. Only men’s wedding rings. (2015 edit! This is no longer true! Check out Buzzfeed’s “21 Badass Engagement Rings for Men” for starters. And a quick Google search for “mangagement ring” actually turns up some interesting things. I find this extremely awesome.) That’s okay, I’m pretty sure they look exactly the same. So I found a jewelry maker that I love, Turtle Love Co., and a ring I liked. I didn’t know his ring size, and Google is no help on figuring this one out. For one thing, I only found ideas for finding women’s ring sizes (“Ask her friends—maybe she’s already told them.” I can see it now: “Hey, Johnny, what’s Joe’s ring size?”). I emailed Turtle Love and asked about ring sizes. Since Joe is a light sleeper (no sneaking strings around his finger while he sleeps) and he doesn’t wear other rings for comparison, I was at a loss. Turtle Love answered my question right away, saying to choose a ring that could be resized, and try ordering a ring in an average size, which for men is size 9 or 10. Joe is a big enough guy, so I opted for a 10, figuring it would be better to be too big than too small.

I decided to make wearing the ring optional. I wasn’t giving him a choice in being proposed to, but I wanted him to have the choice to wear the ring throughout the engagement. The wedding ring is another story, but the engagement ring is really more about the symbol of my commitment and my seriousness in the proposal. Turns out, Joe loves the ring and the symbolism of wearing it, and as soon as it comes back from being resized, he plans to wear it.

I also got a special ring box, which I found on Etsy by searching for ring boxes with added words like “rustic” and “wood”. If you try to wade through all the ring boxes, you will find a lot of kitch and frills, as well as a lot of boxes that I would have loved for myself but which were just too girly for Joe. But the rustic and wooden boxes showed me lots of great unisex styles.

3. Did you get down on one knee?

No, I stayed sitting. For some reason, getting down on one knee felt wrong. I’m not sure if it’s the role reversal that I’m not comfortable with, or the fact that getting on one knee feels a little too close to begging for my comfort, but I knew I didn’t want to do it. Besides, the place we were sitting was rocky and next to a brook, and I’m clumsy. You can imagine that outcome.

I think people get so caught up in the way a proposal and wedding are “supposed” to go that they forget almost all of it is optional. You don’t have to get down on one knee in order for the proposal to be official. Technically, you don’t even need a proposal at all.

4. What if he proposes before you do?

I decided in January to propose in October. That left a long time for Joe to make a move, and in that time I got this question from people a lot. At first I was glad I was giving him so much time, and my answer to this question was “Then great! And if he doesn’t? Screw it, I’m proposing to him.” Once it got closer to my October deadline and I got more and more excited about what I was going to do, my answer changed to, “I hope he doesn’t, I have a whole thing planned!”

5. What if he proposes at the same time?

As the day got closer, people stopped asking if Joe would propose before me, and considered that he might propose at the same time. Especially once I described the romantic setting where it would take place.

I have to be honest with you: I wouldn’t have minded if he’d proposed, too. Sure, I was proud of my feminist choice to propose. But if he proposed, too, there’d be no question that I’m strong-arming him into something he’s not ready for. I imagined the scenarios where Joe would propose at the same time: that he’d propose and my response would be to pull out my own ring, or vice versa.

It didn’t happen that way. But after some happy tears and a pretty serious public make-out session, Joe did tell me that he had been looking at rings and thinking about what he would say when he proposed, so I still got to hear that speech. When I tell people this, I can see the relief on their faces. It gives a little of the traditional proposal back, and it ensures them that I haven’t forced Joe into something.

I’m not upset that this comforts people, because it comforts me, too. Stepping outside something that is so gendered is hard, and it’s scary. And having this safe place to lurk back to feels comforting. Analyze that how you will, but I’ve decided to be okay with it.

6. Do/Did you have a speech all planned out?

 Yep. And you don’t get to hear it. I told lots of people about the proposal (and now I’ve laid it all out here), but the little things I said? Well, some things get to stay private between Joe and me.

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For more info and ideas about women proposing to men, I highly recommend A Practical Wedding. Start with this one, and go forth!

6 Well-Meaning Things People Say To New Parents That Already Annoy Me

A note: I’m not pregnant, nor am I about to be. As a 28-year-old woman about to talk about babies, I know I have to make that caveat before your imagination starts to run wild.

I hear that pregnant people get a lot of unsolicited advice. A LOT. And from what I see on Facebook and hear in real conversations, I know it to be true of pregnant people as well as new parents. I’m sure these advice-givers are trying to be helpful, but honestly it already annoys me (God help me if I ever have baby hormones coursing through my veins because the phrase “I will cut you” is likely to surface). So instead of letting this rage quietly stew, I thought I’d share a few things that irk me when it comes to sage advice for the newbies.

Exercising Baby

1. Appreciate this time!

When my sister had her first child, it seemed like every picture she posted to Facebook came with at least one comment to appreciate her baby. I understand why people say this: the time goes fast and yet sometimes you just wish your baby could do things on its own. Then later, you long for those adorable, squishy newborn days. I get that. But guys, let’s just assume that new parents already know that time only goes in one direction and that human beings get older with time. Let’s assume they are appreciating their own children, because that’s what good parents do. Or at least, let’s assume that someone’s already reminded them to appreciate their baby today, so you don’t have to.

2. Wait until they’re a teenager!

Teenagers are the worst, amiright?! You know, I hated when people made fun of teenagers when I was one, and I still hate it. Teenagers are not all universally terrible. Yes, they have lots of issues to work through. Yes, the parent/child relationship goes through strain and will likely be different from the other side. But can you please not be such a Debbie Downer and let me pretend I am going to have a Lorelai/Rory relationship with my child? Maybe instead of just saying, “wait until they’re a teenager,” give me suggestions of ways to improve my relationship with my teen. What do you wish you had done? Talked to them about sex? Family dinners? Asked different kinds of questions? What can we do better except brace for impact? (Which is something new parents are already doing, by the way, so you don’t need to remind them. Just smile and nod when they talk about temper tantrums.)

3. You’ll never sleep again!

Won’t I? Golly. Thanks for letting me know; otherwise I never would have heard this one. Can I be honest with you guys and say that lack of sleep is seriously #2 on my reasons to not have a child (#1 is money)? I get real cranky without much sleep, and a future of sleeplessness freaks me out. Of course everyone also says it’s worth it, and I hear your hormones help you out here–good for many moms, but dads and adoptive parents don’t get to enjoy that one. But it’s #2! That’s how scary people have made this issue sound! Lack of sleep should not be a valid reason to not create/adopt a human life. So please, for my sake as a potential future parent, please stop talking about sleep and how little or how much you so happened to get. Instead of terrifying others with hyperbole about your zombie state, give tips and tricks on what helped you (remembering that people are different and just because it helped you doesn’t mean it would help me).

4. He/she’s already such a little heartbreaker!

Let’s not sexualize children, please. They have, like, 9 years to actually NOT be little heartbreakers. Let’s give that to them. Besides, calling babies heartbreakers is usually really heteronormative, which makes me uncomfortable. Also see: referring to a baby’s boyfriend or girlfriend. Especially see: referring to a baby’s adult boyfriend or girlfriend. Don’t be weird.

5. Your social life is over!

Basically, see #3. Again, instead of hyperbole and projecting your personal regrets, give suggestions on how to keep a good social life going. Or better yet, offer to babysit.

6. My daughter won’t meet men until she’s forty because I have a shotgun!

This one is less about advice to new parents and more about parenting in general, but I think it fits into this list. I understand you’re being cute about protecting the little ball of adorableness that is your daughter. But here’s my issue: I am a daughter, so I ask that you spend less time joking about my protection and more time teaching boys how to not be terrible. That way I can meet boys without needing a mercenary to protect me. I actually just read an article at The Good Men Project about this last week from a dad who put it well by saying, “Because consensual sex isn’t something that men take from you; it’s something you give…And anyone who implies otherwise is a man who probably thinks very poorly of women underneath the surface.” Besides, this joke is TIRED. A man wrote a book about it, they made a TV show about the book, the main actor died, the main actress has been on a new show for 7 years, and you’re STILL making the same joke.

To be clear, this post is not my cry for further advice on parenthood. I’ll ask that advice from those I trust when (or if) I actually need it. I’m a little worried about posting about parenthood because I know it can drum up a lot of big emotions for people. But I did it anyway, so there you go. Now, this list only scratches the surface of well-meaning-but-kinda-annoying things people say to pregnant women or new parents. If you know any others, feel free to talk it out in the comments. (And if you’re looking for non-terrifying new parent discussions, start here.)

On Gender Roles For Kids

My first published piece is on Role/Reboot!
I’ve been thinking a LOT about my childhood, in which I had spiked hair and a tail (oh yes, a tail. In my defense, it was 1991 and 3/5 of the New Kids on the Block had them). I think I’ve finally figured out what it was all about. (Click the screengrab below for the full post.)

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3 Ways I’ve Othered Women

Women are 50% of the world. Half. And yet so often, they are othered, which means that women are treated as outsiders, as the deviation from the norm (the norm being men in this case). This sounds like a terrible thing, and one we’d all like to believe we don’t do. But othering women is so prevalent, so omnipresent, sometimes I don’t even notice it’s happening. In fact, sometimes I’m the one who does it. Here are three ways I’ve only recently realized women are othered that I am just as guilty of doing.

1. Animals are never girls.

From The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle

There was a story recently on This American Life about a duck and a girl duck.

Did you catch that? A duck and a girl duck. You know, like a human and a girl human. I am totally guilty of thinking this subconsciously, too: animals are male until proven female. When faced with an animal which has no visible signs (at least to my untrained eye) of its sex—like, say, a mouse—I refer to it as male.

“The mouse went that way! Get him!”

This goes for real animals as well as stories about animals, like the one with the duck. The problem with calling them “the duck and the girl duck” is that it sounds like 90% of the ducks of the world are male, and 10% are female, which isn’t true (I think. Technically I didn’t look this fact up). Especially in stories about animals, the main character is usually (dare I say nearly always?) a male unless the plot has a reason for it to be a female.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: male

The Ant and the Grasshopper: male, male

The Poky Little Puppy: male

Yertle The Turtle: male

The only exception I can think of is Stellaluna, a female bat. Does anyone know of any others?

Why are men the norm, and women the proven? Is it just because we need more lady authors and illustrators (like the one who wrote Stellaluna)? This is probably true, and maybe this has already happened and newer children’s stories feature more female animals. But I think it runs deeper than that. I think it’s because we all still think of male as standard, me included. But women are 50%, and it’s wrong for us to do that. I don’t know how to stop it, but I bet recognizing this fact is the first step.

I think I may look further into this. I see a trip to the library, a pie chart, and an interview with my sister (a 1st grade teacher) in my future.

2. Unisex = Men’s fit.

A “unisex” (aka men’s) size chart

Working in the tech industry, I’m often given unisex-sized shirts. Which is awesome. Free t-shirts are awesome, and it gives me some pain to complain about them. But let’s break down what “unisex” means:

Despite the definition of unisex meaning “designed to be suitable for both men and women”, shirts in a unisex cut are actually fitted the same as men’s, just with a larger size range, going all the way down to XXS. So then what differentiates women’s fit? With women’s fit, the shirt will likely be longer, with shorter sleeves, a wider neck line, and fit for someone with curves.

But women are 50% of the population. And only recently I’ve realized that it makes just as much sense to make unisex shirts fitted for women instead, and then describe men’s cut as a special shirt with longer sleeves, smaller neckline, and fit for someone without curves.

“But we can’t force men to wear women’s shirts! They’d look ridiculous!” Really, that’s another post for another time. (Or a conversation that’s already been had?) But what’s the difference between making 50% of the population cross-dress with shirts where their boobs and hips don’t fit the clothes, instead of making the other 50% cross-dress, wearing a shirt with a little extra fabric in the chest and hip area?

If we can’t (read: won’t) change the gender that gets to fit into unisex clothes, at the very least can we recognize that we consider men’s shirts as the standard, and women’s shirts as a special fit? Let’s stop pretending women are being graced with a compromise by offering unisex sizes. Women don’t wear a special type of shirt, we wear 50% of the shirts (consumerism arguments aside).

3. Women are always cold.

Are women colder? Or are men warmer?

I have always accepted and reiterated the common mantra that “women are always cold.” (Learn the quick science why here.) But women are 50% of the population. So maybe I’m not always cold, but men are always warm. Why do men get to be the “standard” internal temperature to which I am compared against? In fact, when you google “men are always warmer,” most of the results that pop up still flip the conversation back at you: “Why Do Women Often Feel Colder Than Men?” says the first result.

Whether I’m cold or men are warm, the argument that comes after, which I have also always accepted, is that we have to keep the temperature lower because: “You can always put on more clothing, but you can’t take it off.” Yes and HOW FUN it is for me to bring an extra scarf (literally–I bring two scarves) to drape on myself on the frigid bus, to wear a blanket on my lap looking like Whistler’s Mother, to wear the same jacket around work every day because, guess what? Cold weather clothing is expensive and I don’t own that many jackets.

Joe is always surprised to touch my nose and realize how cold it is. Yes, when I am cold, every piece of me is cold. Including my nose. I suppose you can always put on a ski mask, but you can’t take one off.

I would like to suggest that we turn up the heat to a comfortable 72 degrees and instead of forcing me to wear a hoodie in the summer, men can come to work in the winter with a pair of shorts to change into. That’s not professional? Neither is wearing gloves to meetings, but that’s what you suggest I do by saying I can always add more clothes.

Let me put it another way: if “you can always add more clothes” was a valid argument for keeping the temperature lower, you wouldn’t constantly hear women complain about being cold, because they would add more clothes as suggested and be done with it. And yet rational, intelligent women sit with their arms wrapped around themselves, their teeth chattering.

I understand that turning the temperature way up would make some men (and women) sweat profusely, which is also not the best solution (yikes). But why can’t we turn up the temperature just a LITTLE bit and we can ALL wear layers? Or you can buy a little desk fan and meet me in the middle.

Women are 50%. Fifty. How many times have I said it now, eight? I’m repeating myself because I think it’s such an easy thing to forget. Women have every right to the things they want as men do. Don’t forget it, and don’t be afraid to flip an argument on its head to see its inherent bias.

A note about this post: you’re going to hear some feminist-y things on Dear Me, discussions I’d like to have with both men and women. After all, as Jackson Katz says, “gender issues” is a topic for all of us. But this blog won’t center on feminism, per se, mostly because there are other blogs doing a great job of it already. If you’re looking for said blogs, I’d check out Feministing, Jezebel, Role Reboot, and Rosie Says to start. I’ll be throwing in a few things from time to time, and hopefully you’ll follow along with me and contribute smart, kind thoughts to the conversation. You don’t have to agree with me, but I do ask that your comments stay civil.