How to handle the anger?
February 15, 2015 7:02 AM   Subscribe

I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with men, from being harassed on the street or in public places, friendship, and dating situations. It makes me incredibly angry. I’ve stopped dating as a result, but that hasn’t stopped the harassment, and it certainly hasn’t gotten rid of the feelings of anger. If you’re a woman who has been in similar situations, how did you handle the anger?

Generally when I’m not interested in a guy, he think this means he’s entitled to force me to do whatever he wants. This has included all types of sexual assault and harassment. I’ve fallen asleep in a friend’s room at his house, to wake up to his roommate assaulting me. I have men follow me around on the street and grab me, and continue following me and grabbing me even after I’ve wrestled my arm away and screamed “FUCK OFF!!” or “LET GO OF ME!!” I’ve had complete strangers grab my breasts, and I’ve been sexually harassed by TWO landlords.

Weirdly, many of these men think that we’re going to be friends. How are we going to start being friends after the first time we hung out (as friends), you groped me and tried to get me drunk so that you could rape me? How are we going to be friends when the second time we met, you tried to kiss me/kissed me against my will? One guy was incredulous that I wouldn’t be friends with him, because he had apologized, and what more did I want?

Dating and relationship situations haven’t really been any better, and none of these men seem to have anything in common with each other- different races, nationalities, cultures, personalities, geographic locations, so I can’t even point to a common characteristic.

I know that on the green everyone jumps to the conclusion that it’s the fault of the person if a thing keeps happening over and over again. I’m unwilling to entertain the possibility that this is my fault. I think part of it might be because I’m small, have large breasts, and “look young”. I’m in my thirties, but people are routinely shocked when they find out and tell me they thought I was 16 ( and it baffles me that people think that’s an acceptable thing to say). I’m not at all soft-spoken, immature, or timid. My voice isn’t high-pitched or childish, (in fact, some of these assholes have laughed in my face and tell me I “shouldn’t talk like that because I’m a girl”), and I don’t end sentences with question marks or look particularly accommodating.

TL;DR: Years of bad experiences with men have made me incredibly bitter. I can’t imagine getting intimate with a man ever again- the idea fills me with revulsion. I’ve stopped dating as a result, but that doesn’t stop the harassment. I know that men are hurt by patriarchy too and not all men are the same, and that there are radically feminist men, but the lesson I’ve taken away is just not give men the benefit of the doubt, ever.

I am constantly screaming “FUCK OFF!” and “LET GO OF ME!” when I leave the house. It’s exhausting. It’s ruining my voice. It makes me SO FUCKING ANGRY. I know that if I were a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier, this would never happen (because I never see this happening to other larger women even if they are younger than I am), but there’s nothing I can do about that. Is this anyone else’s experience? I know women are harassed all the time all over the world, but this seems excessive. How do you deal with this if this is your daily reality? How have you learned to manage the anger? Have you been able to do anything to decrease the amount of harassment?

I do have a therapist, but am looking for thoughts from other people in this situation.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Have you been able to do anything to decrease the amount of harassment?
This is 100% NOT a backdoor into saying any of this is your fault, but there was a study posted on the Blue a while back that suggested that some people do have a "prey"-like body language that predators can reliably pick out from a crowd, and that makes them extra-vulnerable to becoming a target for bad people. You place a lot of emphasis on your small size and physical vulnerability, so could you possibly take steps to feel stronger and more confident in your body-- something like krav maga or an equivalent small-body-friendly martial art?

Even if it didn't change your body language in some way that'd deter potential predators, knowing that you have physical options for self-defense and escape might help you feel less frightened, which would presumably translate into fewer of the preemptive feelings of anger/frustration that you're asking about.
posted by Bardolph at 7:15 AM on February 15, 2015 [12 favorites]

I've found that the level of street harassment and aggressive male dipshittery directed at me has varied greatly based on my environment. Some cities, and some neighborhoods within cities, and some social groups, were much more full of jerks than other environments--and some had the same amount of jerks, but the social norms pushed them away from open, loud, and physically aggressive harassment.

If you find this is the case, you might want to consider changing your environment to one that's less openly hostile.
posted by Hypatia at 7:27 AM on February 15, 2015 [23 favorites]

If you feel unsafe, I would recommend mastering a martial art. My sister is petite as well and she's a second degree black-belt in Tai Kwon Do. Trust and believe no one is messing with her.

The other thing to do is to master a "don't fuck with me" aura. I've lived in cities for my adult life and I just strut around like I own the place. I look people straight in the eye. I nod at dudes on the street, respecting them, and vice versa. I don't shrink into my coat, staring at the pavement, trying not to see or be seen. There's something really empowering in feeling confident enough to hold up my head.

There's been a certain amount of nonsense from the street. Guys hanging on the stoop calling out offers. I usually acknowledge and keep on walking. "Today is not your lucky day dude. Try it on your mama next time." And I keep on trucking. But you have to feel pretty safe to say it, and sometimes I let my mouth write checks my ass can't cash. I've been lucky that nothing bad has come from it.

I am going to ask what kind of 'friend' would let a roommate molest another friend. I'm going to say that your radar is off on who you can count among your friends. We learn who can be trusted and who not to trust through experience. That's not to say that if someone is untrustworthy that we're at fault. It's more of, "How is it that I've lived on the earth for X years, and I've had these experiences and I'm still selecting for creeps?"

Your anger is justified, but you can't shot-gun this shit. Not everyone is everything. For whatever reasons you've had a lot of boundary ignoring/pushing assholes in your life. In the cases of the creepy landlords, were there signs early on that they were creepers? I find that my hackles go up immediately, and that if I've ever had trouble with people that it's because I ignored my instincts.

So in addition to feeling physically stronger and more powerful in the space you occupy on this earth, it's important to get your Creepdar working correctly too.

My mother taught me how to be suspicious of men. The right kind of suspicious. She told me, "never leave your drink alone, always keep it with you." "Always have money to get a cab if you need it." "Don't get too drunk ever." Because the reality of the world is, there are people/men who take advantage of women solely due to the physical disparity.

I will also say that we do a shitty job of teaching men their place in this world. I heard an appalling story on NPR about how college-aged males think it's perfectly okay to get women drunk and then to rape them. They believe that lack of denial is consent. I mean....REALLY? Your parents did a SHITTY job raising you, if you believe that. But it's endemic on college campuses. So, knowing that, do you go to a frat party and actually DRINK the damn Purple Jesus punch? WHY?

It absolutely sucks that women have to deal with this bullshit. I will also say that there are great men out there. Men who respect women, who like women and who accept that women have their own agency in this world. So don't write off everyone with a penis just yet.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:30 AM on February 15, 2015 [19 favorites]

It's not you, it's the men. There isn't anything about your personal characteristics that is causing this to happen, it all sounds like what I have experienced and what other women I know have experienced, whether bigger or smaller, whatever breast size, whether they look young for their age or old for their age.
You may not be seeing it happen to other women but believe me, it is.

How do I handle it? I don't know - it really grinds me down too. Even walking off prodromal labor I got this shit from the local college boys. I guess on a personal life level I try to have a lot of trustworthy male friends and no problem cutting those men out of my life if they tolerate predatory behavior. And for that matter women who tolerate predatory behavior.
But that's no guarantee, its just a way to avoid complete bitterness for me personally.
posted by sputzie at 7:32 AM on February 15, 2015 [8 favorites]

I think having a space to express/ release anger is important.
For me dance classes help. Painting. Something expressive or physical. Both, if possible.
If you have old chipped dishes, smashing them while screaming, can be cathartic.

The other thing that helps me is to do something political on the issue. Is there a way you can volunteer, or a fundraising walk for a local rape critics centre you can help organise? Solidarity can focus righteous anger into som thing with purpose, something that is no longer getting in your way.
posted by chapps at 7:34 AM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

There's a fascinating/grim youtube vid of a woman walking the streets of NY and getting harassed like 100 times in a few hrs.. (the film camera picks up all the usually unheard extra shit).. someone else tried this dressed in a hijab. It's interesting viewing.
posted by tanktop at 7:37 AM on February 15, 2015

I know that if I were a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier, this would never happen (because I never see this happening to other larger women even if they are younger than I am)

you might consider that what you see or don't see isn't a reliable barometer for what is happening or not happening - i'm a very tall, broad shouldered type of woman - probably 100lbs heavier than you - and i've had many of the same experiences you talk about. i never found a reliable way for it to stop (except getting married - amazing to me how instantly acquaintance harassment stopped at that point). i dealt with the anger by getting more friends who are women (strongly feminist, never tear down other women, type of women friends). i also find that misandry jokes are super useful, at least for me. you are right that this isn't acceptable, you are right that this isn't your fault. keep exerting your boundaries as strongly as you feel necessary. don't force yourself to give someone a chance if your whole body is screaming no. i know that suggests therapy too often, but in this case i think it could really be useful, just to have someone to process and unpack the anger with.
posted by nadawi at 7:38 AM on February 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
I am going to ask what kind of 'friend' would let a roommate molest another friend. I'm going to say that your radar is off on who you can count among your friends.

My friend wasn't there. I was just in his room. He didn't know about what happened until I told him later (he was shocked and horrified). I don't hold him responsible.
posted by taz (staff) at 7:41 AM on February 15, 2015

I heard some years ago that anger is actually a secondary emotion, and that the most effective way to deal with anger is figure out what the primary emotion is and address it. In your case the primary emotions are likely fear and frustration. I agree with Bardolph that taking up some sort of martial art (Krav Maga is supposed to be the best for self-defense) would probably help you feel less afraid and more in control.

Hypatia is also correct that some neighbourhoods can be much worse in this regard than others, and that you might consider moving. Upscale neighbourhoods tend to have less street harassment.

Do also be careful about whom you choose to have in your life, and this goes for friends and ongoing business relationships like landlords as well as boyfriends. I've shut down many a potential relationship because it was clear to me that the guy was bad news. People who are abusive/have a narcissistic lack of respect for other people's boundaries give themselves away really quickly. It helps to know what the early warning signs are so that you can get out of the situation before something bad happens. Someone who, for instance, is overbearing in conversation, who constantly interrupts you or is dismissive of what you say, or who takes it upon himself to critique and ridicule you, or who pushes to get his way in even a minor matter when you've said no is someone who does not deserve to be in your life.

I wish I had better options to offer you. This should not be your problem to solve. You should not have to deal with this, and you are correct that while street harassment is a widespread problem (I am female and have been harassed on the street thousands of times), you are on the receiving end of worse than "normal" harassment.
posted by orange swan at 7:45 AM on February 15, 2015 [14 favorites]

My bad experiences with men differ in type from yours, but I definitely have issues in that area and a ton of anger to go with them. I think I've gone through more crap with a couple of men at work in this past year than I ever have my entire life, and I'm midcareer.

Krav maga is a great suggestion, but I don't think it's going to mitigate the effects of your past on its own.

Therapy and Zen practice have been very helpful for me, as well as having at least one very supportive and understanding friend.

Observing the behavior of men who aren't blind to the fact of women being fellow human beings, and being able to behave in a supportive manner toward them, has also been quite helpful.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 7:55 AM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Something that might, at least partially, help explain the landlord harassment: Are you a low-income person trying to live in an expensive and/or high-demand city? Because, having been a working poor person with pets (double whammy) living in San Francisco (both expensive and high-demand!) - affordable or "terrific bargain" living situations in expensive, high-demand cities often come with a heaping helping of sketch. In my case, my landlord wasn't a creeper, just batshit, but I had friends who did get harassing creeper landlords or leaseholder roommates. I think every single one of my female friends (and a good few males) had landlord horror stories.

It's almost certainly not you, it's probably the city you live in, as far as landlords are concerned. You may want to consider living in a different neighborhood if you live in an expensive or tight housing market. Or increase your income, which is often easier said than done!

On preview, Ruthless Bunny has a great point - what kind of people are your friends? Could you be operating from a "scarcity mentality" in your friendships - that you are hard to love, or too weird to make friends easily, or another "beggars can't be choosers!" mindset instilled in you by family or by bad experiences with bullying or friendlessness in school? This wouldn't be your fault either, just unfortunate conditioning.

If you feel like a beggars-can't-be-choosers mindset is operating with regards to friends (or housing, for that matter); therapy, and medication if needed to treat underlying depression or anxiety, would be a great help. Therapy and medication (Wellbutrin) have turned my life around and made it so much easier for me to set healthy boundaries and hold out for having only good people in my life.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:08 AM on February 15, 2015 [9 favorites]

I guess I don't have answers, only questions:

Where do you live? Would moving somewhere else possibly help? On a global scale: what country do you live in? Some cultures are seem to encourage male asshole behavior. I have heard that (for instance) Alaska is a surprisingly unpleasant place to live if one is a woman. On a smaller scale: do you live in / frequent an economically-disadvantaged area?

You say you're seeing a therapist. Have they been unable to provide any insight into your situation?
posted by doctor tough love at 8:10 AM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can't do anything about your anger, because anger is a totally normal and expected response to what you've been through. You're angry because what's happening to you is awful and angering.

I sound similar to you in appearance (petite, curvy, 30's, assertive but often mistaken for much younger), and here's how I get through the day:

I assume all men have the potential to be dangerous to me. That means I'm polite but distant with the single middle-aged man who lives on the floor of my apartment building. I don't sit next to men or boys on public transportation - in fact, I will consciously situate myself near other women or girls if in a public space I'm unsure about. Unless I'm traveling and staying in a hotel (where I will be extremely careful to keep my room locked tight), I only sleep in my own home or in a household where everyone is a family member to me or is a close female friend. If a male stranger approaches me on the street, for any reason, I shake my head, frown, and keep walking.

I'm not sure how my approach fits into your experience or any broader narrative, but basically I treat all strange men as guilty until proven innocent. It's just not worth my time to engage with them on any level. If a guy did make an unwelcome pass, I can't imagine sticking around long enough to have a discussion where he'd apologize and I'd explain my feelings - I'd just be out of there and in an Uber home (so that if the driver is a creep I know my location is being tracked and I can leave negative feedback).
posted by Yellow Silver Maple at 8:11 AM on February 15, 2015 [24 favorites]

I'm sorry you had to ask the question, and I think that there are probably different, despicable, reasons for not-so different despicable behavior. I'll just mention a couple of things that occur to me that *might* be helpful in some instances.

Because you mention "different races, nationalities, cultures, personalities, geographic locations," I'll just bring up one consideration in case it's relevant: if you are traveling or moving often for work or whatever reason, it might be helpful to be especially aware that predators will be especially attracted to those they feel have no significant local support systems (something more directly personal than an employer or a school association, for example).

If this is the case, you might make up a local connection (if you don't mind lying; I'm okay with it in situations that might compromise my safety!). For example:

[Some Guy]: so what brings you to [Place]?

[You]: Oh, a fortunate combination of work and visiting family.

[Some Guy]: Ah, so you have family here? That must be nice.

[You]: Yes it is! My uncle/brother and his family is here, so I'm feeling right at home.

etc. You can have a "John Smith" sort of name ready for your family member, if they keep prying, and if they ask what he does, just say, "I'm not even exactly sure, honestly; he works for the government in some capacity. blah blah."

As for landlords, I'd say try to shoot for places that are handled by management companies, as opposed to owners who may assume some weird "rights" or "connections" with somebody living in a place they own. If that's not really feasible because of locale, do your best to avoid anyplace where the landlord/landlady lives on the actual property or anywhere nearby (upstairs, downstairs, next door, down the street, etc.).

Good luck OP; I hope you get some good ideas here!
posted by taz at 8:52 AM on February 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

I am a woman who was sexually assaulted. I was also a victim of domestic abuse, and have been the object of street harassment. After these experiences, I spent the first three to four following years working out a LOT of rage. I was angry, especially at individuals who believe they are entitled to another person's body. I was angry at the patriarchy. I was angry at how both men and women are roped into active participation within the patriarchy.

The way I dealt with my anger (initially) was to become a workout freak. I'm still a workout freak, but my motivations are a bit different now. After my sexual assault, I started running more. I amped up my cardio with HIIT (High Impact Interval Training) and got faster, "so I can outrun any attacker!" I started lifting weights and eating tons of lean protein, "so I can shock an attacker with how unusually strong I am!" I'm not mocking myself, these were just things I'd say out loud to explain why I was training so hard. I tried boxing for a while. I would constantly fantasize about kicking ass. It made me feel in control, despite a past that I could not change.

I was way more aggressive and outspoken back then; but I maintain unwavering confidence in my own speed, strength, and agility. To this day, exercise is what gives me great physical health, mental health, anxiety and stress reduction, self worth, self esteem, discipline, confidence and attitude.

Exercise gave me a safe and healthy conduit to channel my anger. My feelings remain unchanged about society's shortcomings re: sexism and sexual assault. However, I have been able to make peace with my past. I'm happier, and I feel free.

It's not my business to say whether or not this will work for you. But, if you do not currently have an exercise routine, or if you haven't changed up/intensified your exercise routine in a while, it may be worth trying. Something I'd still like to do is learn a martial art. Regular cardio and weight training (as well as yoga, for the balance/agility) are necessary, but skilled self-defense tactics would be a huge bonus.

I do agree with Sheydem-tants that Krav Maga/martial arts alone (or exercise alone) won't undo your past, but I really, really cannot stress enough the beauty of feeling strong; of feeling like you can defend yourself. It liberated me. I also agree with Sheydem-tants on the importance of meditation/Zen and therapy.

If you're more comfortable with a female instructor, call around and see if any local gyms have female Krav Maga instructors (or female instructors of other/similar self-defense systems). And/or bring a female friend or two. It's imperative that you feel safe.
posted by nightrecordings at 9:04 AM on February 15, 2015 [12 favorites]

Again, this isn't meant to blame you, but to suggest some kind of scope for action. While it's true that women of all shapes and sizes experience harassment and that it doesn't necessarily depend on physical characteristics, I think certain factors can make it worse. I know - just for myself - that during the period when I was overweight, dressed to hide myself, and wore short hair and glasses, I got much less sexualized attention from male strangers than when fit, dressed in a stereotypically feminine way, and wearing long hair. (That's not to say all harassment stopped, it's just that some of it took a different form, e.g. groups of young idiots in cars shouted different kinds of things.)

Research suggests men do especially like e.g. long hair, and blonde hair, for example. I don't know whether cutting it and dying it, or wearing loose clothing that conceals your figure might make a difference (it may well not). I don't think this is in any way what anyone should be doing to minimize harassment, but if you are just absolutely sick to the teeth of relentless attacks, and if it could make any kind of small practical difference, it might be worth trying.

Martial arts, for sure.

Also I think your anger is just straight up anger in response to having your boundaries repeatedly and unjustly crossed. Your right to freedom and bodily autonomy is constantly breached and that is angering.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:12 AM on February 15, 2015

One: Make sure your therapist isn't coming at this from the perspective that you are somehow inviting this or encouraging this or "the common factor is you"-ing this. Many therapists don't have a strong grounding in social justice and therefore can assume all problems are individual rather than recognizing societal biases. (You yourself seem to have a handle on this; I just want to make sure you're in a therapy situation that's helpful.)

Two: Anger is the absolute appropriate response to this sort of behavior. Anger can be a secondary emotion, but it's also a completely valid primary emotion and one that's often inappropriately discouraged among women. In The Courage To Heal (which is about childhood sexual abuse; if that applies, I recommend the book), the authors call anger "the backbone of healing," because anger is the emotion that lets us know when our boundaries are being violated and gives us the energy to enforce them (as much as we can); anger is also a necessary component of healing past hurt, because we can't heal until we understand the full extent of the violations.

Three: People sometimes express appropriate anger in ways that let out a lot of heat and light but don't help make those fundamental changes necessary for growth or change. The Dance of Anger gets into this somewhat, though it's more about existing relationships than dealing with strangers, but it may be helpful to you anyway.

For myself, much of the harassment stopped when I got older, but that's probably less true for women who look young, and when I moved places that required a car rather than daily public transit or walking. If there are ways in which you think moving to a different apartment or neighborhood would help, doing so might be one of those productive uses of your anger.

I'm sorry you're having to deal with this. It's not fair, it's not your fault, and you don't deserve it.
posted by jaguar at 9:26 AM on February 15, 2015 [8 favorites]

This may not be the case, but looking at your post you also seem to be working with the idea that you "should" like men. Or that you "should" give them the benefit of the doubt.

See, women are very much socialized to love men--in many senses. Even in this post where you talk about the horrible things you've had to put up with from men, you also tell us that you understand men are hurt by patriarchy and not all men are like this.*

You point out that men feel entitled to your interest and affection--that's a problem that you have to deal with on a social level. But it also seems to me that you're struggling internally with the idea that you *should* love them, respect them, care about their problems--individually or as a species.

What if you gave yourself permission, for a while, to not love men as a group? To not care about their problems? You may have male friends and relatives that you do wish to love--great, if that's healthy for you--you can talk to your therapist about how that works. You're not dating now, so no issues with loving or caring about dates for the time being. You will probably interact with men who *aren't* actively harassing you--you owe those men basic social courtesy but you really don't have to give a sh*t about them. And men who are behaving badly to you, as you know, you don't owe your love or care to them.

I think men as a social group--whether they behave well or not--are not being harmed by one woman being indifferent to them in her own private world. I'm not saying "replace your anger with indifference", I'm saying, maybe let go of the idea you "should" have positive feelings towards men.

Now it may be that you do wish for intimacy with men, and you do wish to date them, now or in the future, or you want to love all people, and that can be another step with your therapist.

*Or maybe you just wanted to not deal with the "not all men!" "men suffer too!" answers which, I think, is valid.
posted by Hypatia at 9:50 AM on February 15, 2015 [29 favorites]

Weirdly, many of these men think that we’re going to be friends. How are we going to start being friends after the first time we hung out (as friends), you groped me and tried to get me drunk so that you could rape me? How are we going to be friends when the second time we met, you tried to kiss me/kissed me against my will? One guy was incredulous that I wouldn’t be friends with him, because he had apologized, and what more did I want?

This stuff is absolutely maddening. We spend so much time on how the targets of sexual harassment respond, or should respond. Mainly, I suspect, because the targets are more apt to discuss it, and they repay attention because they are trying to get help. Meanwhile, what is wrong with people who act this way? Why do they seem to have these bizarre beliefs? Is it unexamined privilege, or what? And when people are flat-out abusers, is it a different level of the same messed up thought process, or something else? It is very hard to get answers to these questions because abusers do not spill their secrets. We focus on the abused, in the same way that we look for our keys under the street lamp.

So anyway, I have spent a lot of time wondering at the strange beliefs abusers seem to have. But I have finally decided that trying to spend any time at all thinking about what they can be thinking only makes things worse for me. People talk about letting people who harm you take up residence in your head, rent-free. This is what I am doing when I give a lot of thought to what is going on with these people. I really need to evict them and get on with life.
posted by BibiRose at 10:00 AM on February 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

Yeah, seconding and thirding any suggestions for you to take a self-defense course. It's really more to help you feel and be more physically confident. It will change your demeanor in a way that people (read: men) will see and be like, "Okay, I cannot mess with this person."

It's weird but generally true: men are responding to primal, unconscious cues about physical prowess all the time. Stupid biology. If you give off a vibe of 'do not fuck with me', they won't (provided they are not total assholes, of course).

It's not, necessarily, that men see women and think, "Oh a woman to harrass!" -- it's that the primal part of their brain sees weakness, and that's what they respond to. And because the male brain is not great at allowing the hemispheres to communicate, men do stupid, horrible shit literally without thinking about WHAT they're doing.

A lot of it is just accepting -- sorry guys! -- the actual biological limitations of men. Society has far outpaced evolution: men are still wired to kick the crap out of a dinosaur, and society has no use for that. So, alas, women have to find workarounds. It's not fair, but that's just how it is.

Also, a punch to the throat is a GREAT deterrent.
posted by gsh at 10:03 AM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Something that may also help is look into working with Hollaback, a non-profit group that works to end street harassment. Some of the teenage girls I work with volunteer there and find it very empowering.
posted by kinetic at 10:08 AM on February 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

I used to be a creep target too, and I know that it was something about my physical presentation that attracted predator types. I had a slight build (I've successfully corrected this now), I tend to look at the ground and avoid unnecessary interactions, things like that. And I'd get advice of varying degrees of well meaningness to change my demeanor to stop the predation, but I decided that I wasn't going to. I don't WANT to have to learn how to walk and talk and interact in ways that are completely the opposite of what I'm comfortable with. That's ridiculous. I'd rather address harassment and manipulation as they come up rather than trying to preempt it by totally changing everything about myself. Fuck that. That would be horrible. I'll let it be a surprise that I'm not a pushover.

As for the trusting men part, the best thing I've ever done was when I realized that it just wasn't an option for me to wait for men to approach me. As a creep magnet, the men who engaged with me were almost always creeps. I just decided I didn't need to have anything to do with men who approached me based on their instant attraction, so if some guy came up to me and tried to initiate a conversation, or someone I'd never really spoken to expressed a personal interest, that was a fairly hard pass. And at the same time, I started to approach and initiate with men I was interested in. You know, actual interesting men who were smart and respectful and wouldn't have approached me on their own initiative.

You do risk rejection, and not everyone is what they seem, of course, but as soon as I started just taking the initiative and talking to the men that I wanted to know, asking them out for coffee, initiating conversations, even straight up hitting on them (this is how I got with my partner), things really turned around for me. It didn't stop other men from harassing me, but it pushed that to the background. Those creeps weren't the only men I knew. I also had male friends and men I dated who were trustworthy, intelligent, respectful, decent human beings to varying degrees, but all in the right general area of the spectrum. They're out there. We creep magnets just have to make some extra effort to invite the non-creeps into our lives.

It helps me a lot that my dad was a good feminist who loved and respected women, and I have a couple of brothers who are too, so I've always known that men were capable of being good people, even when I was mostly encountering the ones who aren't.

Remember the men like that in your life, like the friend with the assaulting roommate maybe, or family members. They're out there too, and there are others like them. Get to know some of those guys better when you get a chance.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:28 AM on February 15, 2015 [14 favorites]

The idea that changing how you look or present yourself will somehow end the harassment is a variation on the Just World Fallacy. Bad things happen to strong people, to smart people, to people who give off a "don't fuck with me vibe." They do. Please don't let anyone tell you they don't, unless they fully admit that it's more about luck than "vibes."
posted by jaguar at 10:52 AM on February 15, 2015 [13 favorites]

I know that on the green everyone jumps to the conclusion that it’s the fault of the person if a thing keeps happening over and over again. I’m unwilling to entertain the possibility that this is my fault.

This is 100% totally not your fault at all. Yet "I am constantly screaming “FUCK OFF!” and “LET GO OF ME!” when I leave the house" to the point where its ruining your voice isn't exactly the norm (again stressing you deserve none of this), as far as I can tell. If this is occurring not only in street harassment but also in dating situations that's really odd.

With the caveat that you 100% don't deserve any of this crap, it's worth thinking about what it is about you that attracting so many creeps. Have you asked any of them why they think you're fair game? Do you have friends you can could ask why this keep happening? Because how you carry yourself matters it would probably help if you could get an outside opinion from someone who knows you.

Best of luck.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:58 AM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

You asked how to handle the feelings of rage towards men. Read the Toast. I don't agree with Mallory and her crew about everything, or maybe even most things, but the misandry humor is HILARIOUS and freeing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:10 AM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Might it help to get some mace or some nuclear-hot capsaicin spray? It wouldn't be an overreaction to mace people (especially strangers) who just grab you against your will; although obviously that by itself wouldn't make everything better, and it wouldn't be appropriate in every unpleasant encounter, perhaps it could help to recapture some control over situations like these.
posted by clockzero at 11:11 AM on February 15, 2015

A difficulty here, which is common to other discussions about people experiencing poor treatment, is the tension between recognizing the systematic nature of the problem, and finding room for action. If one finds that there is room for action, it might be interpreted that suggesting taking it is equivalent to assigning blame or responsibility. I don't think that needs to be the case. It's no woman's fault that she experiences harassment. If there is a way of at least mitigating it that is acceptable to her, it might be a potential tool to use. (And I agree, the idea of managing self-presentation is repugnant in lots of ways; it's not my first choice, either. And of course it doesn't prevent every violation of boundaries. I can only say that my experience was that for the time I didn't fit into the stereotypical template of what a desirable reproductive-aged woman "should" look like, I experienced significantly less of the day-to-day, grinding, sexualized objectification you hate, OP.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:23 AM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

If you would be open to MeMailing me, I'd love to talk to you. I've been sexually assaulted, raped, and harassed since I was in 3rd grade because I hit puberty early. Your anger, your fear, your frustration, and your sadness are 100% normal and justified. I am sorry this has gone on so long for you.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:29 AM on February 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

I gained 30lbs and the touching harassment fell way off (cat calls and workplace sexual harassment, not so much).

I disagree with Brandon Blatcher; if you live in a city it's quite common to be groped at least once daily by nasty sad men. Most women don't yell, true, but I have to give you props for that. I wish I had the fortitude to make a scene any time someone touched me inappropriately in public.

No suggestions about the anger, will check in later for any new posts, thanks for asking this as I'm sure many women feel similarly enraged on a daily basis.
posted by shownomercy at 11:34 AM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

For me, part of my weariness is that I'm in my late 30s and I've been dealing with this since my teens. I'm worn the fuck out. So some days, as much as it pisses me off, the only thing I can do to cope is to minimize the attention via what I wear. Leggings if I'm wearing a dress or a skirt. Nothing form fitting. As much as I resent the loss of freedom, I do what I can to take care of myself when I don't have the energy to deal with the catcalls.

I also think there is catharsis in talking about it in contexts/spaces where you don't have to worry about defending your point of view on your experiences.

If you need to not be around men or restrict your exposure to them, I think that is a legit feeling. Self care, yo. The sincerely #notallmen should understand it's not about them.

Fuck the world we live in that restricts our autonomy and forces such shitty choices on us.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:39 AM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yes, the problem is that you trust men. I have learned this is unwise and getting assaulted by men can be drastically reduced (though not eliminated) by
-never ever believe a man is being platonic,
-never going anywhere alone with a man,
-don't use public transportation,
-never go out in the city without lady friends,
-don't work in a place where there are a lot of male employees,
-never have male friends unless you're willing to stay in VERY public places i.e. where people are within feet of you,
never talk to men or go near them unless you are willing to deal with the fact that may touch you or try to break you down into hanging out with them under the guise of being "friends".

To me, the nicest men can turn out the worst, so be suspicious of nice men who want to hear about your feelings or care about you etc.

As to the rage that so many men are this fucking horrible that the entire gender has to be considered dangerous (and then even more whine about how they are being profiled unfairly and the world is prejudiced against them and it's all so unfair). Ugh.

Lady friends.

Make some lady friends.

Other problems you may have are that you are nice, you smile, you care about people's feelings and don't want to hurt others by rejecting them, calling them on their bullshit.

Basically you have great qualities that predators want to feed on.

So let me speak more honestly, there is not a fucking thing wrong with you, and kind hearted people should not be food for beasts. The problem is that you're surrounded by shitty people, and you might have to learn to battle them because they will chew up anything good and spit it out.

Also if that sounds like too many rules you can also just live your life and know that good people will know that it's STILL not your fault. At all. In any way.

The fact that you are good and a kind person and tender and gentle and easy to prey on-- does not in any way give these fucking shitfucks the right to hurt you nor a pass to the society that gives them a pass because "prey shouldn't go around being vulnerable if it doesn't want to be prey amirite?"
posted by xarnop at 1:03 PM on February 15, 2015 [11 favorites]

Oh, I forgot to finish the sentence about what to do about the rage. It sucks. It helps talking to some nice lady friends about it, if you're into the idea of a counselor or therapy that can be nice, get involved with feminism, vent, problem solve solutions as to why so many men are this awful and work with other who are trying to cultivate pro-active solutions such as educating men, encouraging societies to hold men accountable, teaching peer groups and communities to stop seeing the victims of these behaviors as the ones at fault for it and thus harboring such shitbags in their midst and claiming the vulnerable who get hurt by they are just at fault for being vulnerable.

You can channel it in to positive things because it tells you a truth.

You don't have to suppress it at all, but you do want to process and channel it so that it actually address the problem and people who are causing the harm and not just rage that bursts out at anyone in harmful ways.

Your rage is telling you that you should fight some shitbags and in truth, your self defense is worth you fighting them and injuring or even ending their lives if can save the vulnerable from being continually preyed on. The problem is that predatory men are also often willing to fight dirtier than women and to go for the kill where women more often whether through socialization or whatever else- have more of a conscience. So--- angering a man by fighting back? Often even if you know it's ok to take a life in self defense, a lot of us (men and women included) just really don't want to do that, because we care even about our enemies even if we're pissed off at or scared of them. You need to be a damn good fighter and with the ability to handle the idea of escalation and the fact your opponent may use deadly force when you're not willing to. This means being low key, de-escelating by pandering to their wants, or letting them have what they want are perfectly acceptable choices when dealing with a predator if you feel like it will save your life the best.

Anyone who judges you for how you deal with the shitscum that is preying on good people here on earth can go fuck themselves. If you try being friends with a man and it turns out he hurts you, it's still not your fault. This is really, truly, not your fault.
posted by xarnop at 1:17 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I hate that this is happening to you. it's such bullshit. When I was younger and moved from a suburb where I drove everywhere to downtown where I walked and took public transit everywhere, the difference in how I (petite, large-chested, blonde, looked young) was treated was huge, and appalling. I dyed my hair black and immediately got less harassment. I cultivated a more angry-woman look after that (big black jacket, boots), and it helped a lot. The fact that a mere hair-colour change made a difference really illustrated that it was them, not me, that was the problem. I know that you totally know this already, but I just wanted to make a suggestion about a way to hopefully decrease the amount of attention you get from these jerks without implying at all that this is your fault. As for how to deal with the anger - I guess what I did was wear it like a big coat. My anger was imbedded in the big jacket I wore, in the shiny spikes and chainmail I attached to it, symbolic and literal armor that I could put on to go outside, and then take off when I arrived at a safe space where I was with friends.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:00 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

I must live on another planet because although I have certainly been occasionally sexually harassed and assaulted by people I personally know, I have rarely experienced street harassment, or seen much obvious harassment of other women (although memory may fail me on that point).

Even though I took the bus downtown for years and was sometimes hit on, I was never once groped by a stranger, nor can I recall seeing such a thing. It may be the cultural/religious background of our city; I don't know.

I do live in a fairly nice part of town, and don't normally go out clubbing at night. (I admit that I have never seen a bar fight either, and I know they happen all the time.)

The woman in the aforementioned video had to walk a gauntlet; no wonder she was stressed out.

What is my point? I guess it's that one idea is to move to a place where there aren't a lot of guys just hanging out on the street like they were in that video. There are plenty of places/cities/neighborhoods like that. But how you know a place is not like that, I'm not sure.

Maybe that's another MF question.
posted by serena15221 at 3:45 PM on February 15, 2015

There is one easy thing that does wonders to deflect the male gaze: glasses. Easier than adjusting what you wear. In my experience they make me invisible to strange men.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:48 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have nothing to offer on the practical front, so I'm mostly commenting to offer my empathy and to add that I'm glad you're unwilling to entertain the idea that the rotten behavior of the men around you is somehow your fault, because it so so so so isn't. Unpleasant as it is, imo your anger is not only warranted but also healthy.

I do maybe have something to offer on the "how do I handle all that anger" part though. Or at least I can tell you what helped me. In addition to all the other perfectly good reasons women have to be angry all the time, I was also raped as a kid and not protected appropriately by the adults around me, and as a result I have such an awful towering level of anger at humanity in general that there have been times in my life that it has really interfered with my health and happiness. And the things that have helped me the most are:

1) aerobic exercise. It doesn't do anything about the actual problems that triggered the anger in the first place, but it's an incredibly good mood stabilizer, and once the anger has done it's job of getting you out of the immediate situation that triggered it, there's no reason not to even it out some so it's more tolerable. Anger is physiologically driven- it's a mental/emotional interpretation of things happening in your body- and it's possible to burn a surprising amount of the stuff happening in your body off with exercise.

2) make peace with it. In my own case, I kind of personified my huge tower of anger as a distinct entity, explored my relationship with that entity until I could appreciate it for what it is and what it does for me, and then sort of... er... negotiated a truce with it. Gah- it sounds so new-agey and stupid. But I really found this to be the single most helpful thing I've ever done so that I could be "a happy person" even when I'm feeling angry in a particular moment.

3) um............ if you're not already doing this, I'd suggest making liberal use of a vibrator. Orgasm does the body good, and it's also nice to be able to unhook the concept of "sex" from the concept of "a bunch of people I hate right now".
posted by shiawase at 6:25 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

I actually think your size may have something to do with this. My very petite roommate in college looked like she was 13. She dealt with A LOT more crap than either myself or any of our friends. I also worked with a very short, thin woman who looked much younger than she was and she had some hair raising stories of this same type of mistreatment. You'D think though that that would mean that most smallish teen girls would be getting the same type of unwanted attention all the time. Maybe they do and rarely report it. Anyway, my roommate dealt with this by being really loud and always calling guys out for their bad behavior. She once chased a guy who had cat called her down the street, barking at him like a dog. I wish I had more helpful advice. I'm so sorry you have to go through that. Maybe part of the answer is to approach (for friendships) only the men who don't approach you. I'm just thinking that most of the really nice guys I know are very shy. I don't know, wish I could help more.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:31 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just to second what fingersandtoes says, I started wearing my glasses 24-7 about a year into starting my professional career, and it cut down on inappropriate comments about 90%. (me: also petite and young looking, and probably to be honest I look like an easy target/victim).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:37 PM on February 15, 2015

Being 5'2 I've encountered things like this as well. They do this because you look small and like you're not a threat to them. It usually worked when I would lash out at them like a banshee- digging my nails into their eyeballs or grabbing their nuts REALLY hard. I may very well have permanently blinded a couple of men in my life-time. In my experience once they know you're not going to be as easy a target as they thought they back off big time, because these guys are really cowards at heart that don't have the balls to attack anyone that they think is even remotely an equal match to themselves. So what often worked for me when I felt a guy approaching me in a way that made me feel like he was going to be trouble is to expand my body language. If my hands are in my pockets (hands get cold so they often are in pockets) I take them out and expand them a bit from the side of my body widen my stance and widen mychest. Sometimes putting one or both of my hands in a loose fist. Almost always this is enough. Just from this they get the subconscious message- "This girl will fucking hit me." and they retreat. They do this even if they are twice your size because they truly are cowards that will usually only approach someone that they think will not try to give them a boo boo somewhere.

Tall girls don't have to deal with this most of the time no matter how hot they are. I know because I've watched them and I grew up with my younger sister who is a foot taller than me and is so gorgeous that Jay Leno literally commented on her looks when we went to see his show as part of a live audience. I am considered the ugly duckling of the family (which I'm ok with). Yet she never had to deal with 1/3rd of the cat calls and harrassments that I had to put up with.
posted by rancher at 7:11 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

This only works for psychological or verbal harassment, and if you feel as if you are in physical danger you should take other precautions. But personally — I have acquired a certain fondness for mansplaining and coercion. You see, I scrutinize shitty interactions for tips and patterns. Anything bad that happens is now fodder for study. Whenever some dudebro makes a gross pass at me, I remember his approach and break it down to find a transferrable nugget for future use. The next dudebro then gets the fruits of my labors... in a twisty takedown lifted from the very mouths of his brethren!

If I'm feeling kind, I aim to confuse or educate. If I'm feeling tetchy... well. This method turned me from a wallflower to an assertive motherfucker in about six months. Now I have no problem calling out idiots or asking for exactly what I want, when I want it, how I want it. You see, as your manfriends will soon teach you, "Why?" or "Why me?" are the wrong questions. Wake up and dress yourself in a profound sense of entitlement.

It will feel awkward and unnatural, you'll flub the first few attempts. That's ok, whatevs. You're already getting fucked over. No harm no foul.

Be a responsible sadist. Only charge when provoked!
posted by fritillary at 7:58 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

it helps no one at all to keep insisting tall women don't deal with this because it's just not true. i've never been able to reliably figure out what results in some of us taking a bigger burden than others on these issues. making yourself anxious about it being your size or gait or whatever won't end this.
posted by nadawi at 9:42 AM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

Seconding the body language. Stand straight up and tall when you walk. Plus, find a way to stop caring, as these type of people can sense it and move in. This does not mean you are morally responsible, but it will reduce the disliked behavior.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:12 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I actually think your size may have something to do with this.

Well, anecdata and all that, but I'm tall and I walk like I own the place and I don't mind punching people, not that I've had to very often, and although I got anonymously groped now and then, I didn't get harassed the way my smaller friends did, especially the busty ones. (And they walked confidently and weren't shy about expressing their rights to not be harassed.) The main difference seemed to be size.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:35 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

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