Sunday, December 27, 2009

Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching women without being maced


[image is from here]

Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced

2009 October 8
by Sweet Machine

Phaedra Starling is the pen name of a romance novelist and licensed private investigator living in small New York City apartment with two large dogs.  She practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu and makes world-class apricot muffins.

Gentlemen. Thank you for reading.

Let me start out by assuring you that I understand you are a good sort of person. You are kind to children and animals. You respect the elderly. You donate to charity. You tell jokes without laughing at your own punchlines. You respect women. You like women. In fact, you would really like to have a mutually respectful and loving sexual relationship with a woman. Unfortunately, you don’t yet know that woman—she isn’t working with you, nor have you been introduced through mutual friends or drawn to the same activities. So you must look further afield to encounter her.

So far, so good. Miss LonelyHearts, your humble instructor, approves. Human connection, love, romance: there is nothing wrong with these yearnings.

Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.

“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”

Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is. When I go on a date, I always leave the man’s full name and contact information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops can find my body if I go missing. My best friend will call or e-mail me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before noon-ish, or she begins to worry. If she doesn’t hear from me by three or so, she’ll call the police. My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?

So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?

Do you think I’m overreacting? One in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. I bet you don’t think you know any rapists, but consider the sheer number of rapes that must occur. These rapes are not all committed by Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, or other members of the Brotherhood of Scary Hair and Homemade Religion. While you may assume that none of the men you know are rapists, I can assure you that at least one is. Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes (a horrifying number, isn’t it?) then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty. That means four in my graduating class in high school. One among my coworkers. One in the subway car at rush hour. Eleven who work out at my gym. How do I know that you, the nice guy who wants nothing more than companionship and True Love, are not this rapist?

I don’t.

When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

Fortunately, you’re a good guy. We’ve already established that. Now that you’re aware that there’s a problem, you are going to go out of your way to fix it, and to make the women with whom you interact feel as safe as possible.

To begin with, you must accept that I set my own risk tolerance. When you approach me, I will begin to evaluate the possibility you will do me harm. That possibility is never 0%. For some women, particularly women who have been victims of violent assaults, any level of risk is unacceptable. Those women do not want to be approached, no matter how nice you are or how much you’d like to date them. Okay? That’s their right. Don’t get pissy about it. Women are under no obligation to hear the sales pitch before deciding they are not in the market to buy.

The second important point: you must be aware of what signals you are sending by your appearance and the environment. We are going to be paying close attention to your appearance and behavior and matching those signs to our idea of a threat.

This means that some men should never approach strange women in public. Specifically, if you have truly unusual standards of personal cleanliness, if you are the prophet of your own religion, or if you have tattoos of gang symbols or Technicolor cockroaches all over your face and neck, you are just never going to get a good response approaching a woman cold. That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of solitude, but I suggest you start with internet dating, where you can put your unusual traits out there and find a woman who will appreciate them.

Are you wearing a tee-shirt making a rape joke? NOT A GOOD CHOICE—not in general, and definitely not when approaching a strange woman.

Pay attention to the environment. Look around. Are you in a dark alley? Then probably you ought not approach a woman and try to strike up a conversation. The same applies if you are alone with a woman in most public places. If the public place is a closed area (a subway car, an elevator, a bus), even a crowded one, you may not realize that the woman’s ability to flee in case of threat is limited. Ask yourself, “If I were dangerous, would this woman be safe in this space with me?” If the answer is no, then it isn’t appropriate to approach her.

On the other hand, if you are both at church accompanied by your mothers, who are lifelong best friends, the woman is as close as it comes to safe. That is to say, still not 100% safe. But the odds are pretty good.

The third point: Women are communicating all the time. Learn to understand and respect women’s communication to you.

You want to say Hi to the cute girl on the subway. How will she react? Fortunately, I can tell you with some certainty, because she’s already sending messages to you. Looking out the window, reading a book, working on a computer, arms folded across chest, body away from you = do not disturb. So, y’know, don’t disturb her. Really. Even to say that you like her hair, shoes, or book. A compliment is not always a reason for women to smile and say thank you. You are a threat, remember? You are Schrödinger’s Rapist. Don’t assume that whatever you have to say will win her over with charm or flattery. Believe what she’s signaling, and back off.

If you speak, and she responds in a monosyllabic way without looking at you, she’s saying, “I don’t want to be rude, but please leave me alone.” You don’t know why. It could be “Please leave me alone because I am trying to memorize Beowulf.” It could be “Please leave me alone because you are a scary, scary man with breath like a water buffalo.” It could be “Please leave me alone because I am planning my assassination of a major geopolitical figure and I will have to kill you if you are able to recognize me and blow my cover.”

On the other hand, if she is turned towards you, making eye contact, and she responds in a friendly and talkative manner when you speak to her, you are getting a green light. You can continue the conversation until you start getting signals to back off.

The fourth point: If you fail to respect what women say, you label yourself a problem.


There’s a man with whom I went out on a single date—afternoon coffee, for one hour by the clock—on July 25th. In the two days after the date, he sent me about fifteen e-mails, scolding me for non-responsiveness. I e-mailed him back, saying, “Look, this is a disproportionate response to a single date. You are making me uncomfortable. Do not contact me again.” It is now October 7th. Does he still e-mail?

Yeah. He does. About every two weeks.

This man scores higher on the threat level scale than Man with the Cockroach Tattoos. (Who, after all, is guilty of nothing more than terrifying bad taste.) You see, Mr. E-mail has made it clear that he ignores what I say when he wants something from me. Now, I don’t know if he is an actual rapist, and I sincerely hope he’s not. But he is certainly Schrödinger’s Rapist, and this particular Schrödinger’s Rapist has a probability ratio greater than one in sixty. Because a man who ignores a woman’s NO in a non-sexual setting is more likely to ignore NO in a sexual setting, as well.

So if you speak to a woman who is otherwise occupied, you’re sending a subtle message. It is that your desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone. If you pursue a conversation when she’s tried to cut it off, you send a message. It is that your desire to speak trumps her right to be left alone. And each of those messages indicates that you believe your desires are a legitimate reason to override her rights.

For women, who are watching you very closely to determine how much of a threat you are, this is an important piece of data.

The fifth and last point: Don’t rape. Nor should you commit these similar but less severe offenses: don’t assault. Don’t grope. Don’t constrain. Don’t brandish. Don’t expose yourself. Don’t threaten with physical violence. Don’t threaten with sexual violence.

Shouldn’t this go without saying? Of course it should. Sadly, that’s not the world I live in. You may be beginning to realize that it’s not the world you live in, either.

Miss LonelyHearts wishes you happiness and success in your search for romantic companionship.

6 comments:

Rotifer said...

This is really good advice. However it brings to mind one of my dilemma's that ive been thinking about latley. I'm not in the possition that the "good guy" is in, due to being asexual and suffering from social phobia. My dilemma is this.

1) Believing that men and women are equal and the same, means that
I should treat men and women the same with no regard to thier sex.
2) However I don't
3) I find social interactions with men easier to deal with. This is in part due to the fact that when around women I am worried of being to friendly for fear of being schrodingers rapist and because I'm worried about the possibility of somone developing feelings for me I can never return.
4) Thus when getting to know women its a much slower process and it will take years before I'm comfortable in being close to them, however I bond with men significantly more quickly.
5) I Don't know if I'm right in my current actions and respecting womens rights and fears or being sexist in my discrimination.

sorry for wasting your time

Julian Real said...

Hi Rotifer,

Welcome, as one asexual man to another!

Sincerely asked questions and expressions of confusion are not "a waste of time" for me to read, just so you know. :)

I'll offer what I can here in response to what you wrote.

1. Women and men are equal in spirit, being, humanity, and in every other respect. AND men subordinate women, we live in a male dominated society, men's violence against women is endemic, systemic, habituated, and normal, while women's violence against men is, well, anecdotal at best.

2. I don't know anyone who treats women and men the same. I think a possibly clarifying bit of writing that addresses this is Catharine A. MacKinnon, in two chapters from two books, each one related to the other. Her work is deeply theoretical, and if hardcore theory isn't your thing, she's probably not the perfect fit for what would absorb well into your system. But I think she's worth reading and that it's worth taking the time to digest what she's saying. And I'm open to discussing what I'm about to recommend, so you're not just out there wondering if you're hearing her correctly. I may not be hearing her correctly either, but I've read a lot of her work, and greatly appreciate her intellectual brilliance and incisive way of describing social-political reality.

--chapters 2, 5, and 7 in Feminism Unmodified, and

--chapters 7, 8, and 12 in Toward A Feminist Theory of the State

Both available from the library system.

I don't see why you should feel obligated to get close to women then. Why not just bond with men, and leave women alone? I'd say if you're not sure whether your behavior is respectful of women, better to leave women be. Is there a reason you have to bond with women? Or get to know women well?

I look forward to your reply.

Rotifer said...

Just a quick word on my other comments firsts so I only leave one reply. I get that you were being humerous now, its just not my style of humour, not sure what you meant about liberalism though, I'm english and theres less connotation to the word here.

On murder we will have to agree to disagree, you argue that living in society is murder but I still feel that A) theres a distingsion between that andvocating personal murder and B) that leaving society to avoid this isn't the right thing to do, you should try and make it better from the inside even one step at a time.

They were really side issues I really wanted to discuss this.
I agree that men and women are the same and will try to find time to look at the resources mentioned, however I have some other stuff I want to read first.

On the point that "I don't know anyone who treats women and men the same" I'd like to be that person, and I think that by doing that and encoraging others to do the same is a good way to change society for the better. As one of the main reasons genders are treated differently is sexuality, as asexuals we have a natural advantage in that regard.

It should be easy if you know someone, talk and act based on that previous knowlege of them alone. If you don't know them leave them alone or introduce yourself. I try to do this however my aforementioned worries about coming across wrong to women do change my behaviour when in social situations. In a work environment I'd be hard pushed to tell you what gender my associates are!!! Its a case of is the best way to respect women is to forget that they are or to try and change your behaviour accordingly.

"I don't see why you should feel obligated to get close to women then. Is there a reason you have to bond with women? Or get to know women well? "

Because I'd be ignoring 50% of the wonderfull people of this earth Because without dialogue how can we as feminist men understand what we can to do help or change.

Also because I feel that my fear of social situations is a character defect that I would like to work on. I could just spend time on the internet and baking and reading but I feel that eventually the lonliness will start to effect me, and its best to deal with these kind of issues when young.


I think i confused myself slightly at the end, I was meaning to adress the question more but ended up more on my lack of ability to talk to or spend time with people which is only a side issue of it being more prevalent with women.



Sorry this is more stuff I should get a psyciatrist to talk to, than leave on a profemminist blog!

Julian Real said...

Welcome back, Rotifer. My response to you is in three parts...

Part 1:

Just a quick word on my other comments firsts so I only leave one reply.

I appreciate that! :)

I get that you were being humerous now, its just not my style of humour, not sure what you meant about liberalism though, I'm english and theres less connotation to the word here.

Ah, thanks for clueing me in. Let's see. What I'm referring to is the desire to have the world be one way, and to act as if it is that way when it really is not. Or to speak about the world abstractly rather than concretely. Or to forget sociological reality when it's convenient and one wants to believe one isn't "of a group" or part of a class of people. Individualism, liberatianism are elements of what I'm trying to describe.

As someone once put it, civil liberties without civil rights means that the status quo remains oppressive, because the people who most benefit from civil liberties are those with the most power. So the oppressed are screwed in a society that values the former over the latter. I'm fine with valuing both, but I think when society has no sociallly oppressive hierachies, based on gender (man over woman), or race (white over non-white), or sexuality (straight and straight-appearing over queer or queer-appearing), then we can get busy on those civil liberties.

What I'm describing, or am trying to, is a more collectivist ethical approach to achieving freedom for all from systematised harm, domination, and destruction.

Julian Real said...

Part 2:

On murder we will have to agree to disagree, you argue that living in society is murder but I still feel that A) theres a distingsion between that andvocating personal murder

I'd say that's truer for you and me than it is for those who are dying because we believe we aren't killing anyone. The dead are just as dead, whether they are killed en masse, individually, interpersonally or by proxy.

I'm not advocating murder either. I'm advocating radical self-defense. There is a difference, to me. A meaningful one. But yes, we can disagree.

and B) that leaving society to avoid this isn't the right thing to do, you should try and make it better from the inside even one step at a time.

In my view and experience of enduring harm, having the perpetrators removed would make life far better for the victims and those not yet victimised, from the inside out.

They were really side issues I really wanted to discuss this.
I agree that men and women are the same and will try to find time to look at the resources mentioned, however I have some other stuff I want to read first.


I welcome you to prioritise your concerns and to share them here. And they don't have to be fully formed or sharply articulated.

On the point that "I don't know anyone who treats women and men the same" I'd like to be that person, and I think that by doing that and encoraging others to do the same is a good way to change society for the better.

I support your effort to a degree. But, for example, when I'm walking on a not so busy street, and there's a woman up ahead fifty paces, I cross the street and move beyond her from that other side, because rape is a reality women face from strangers; men do not (unless as an exception to the rule). I wouldn't go out of my way to do this if a big man was in front of me. So I don't want to become someone who will walk up behind a woman at night because I want to treat her just like I'd treat that man. You see what I mean? And I'm not saying she wants me to cross the street. I don't know her or what she wants. But most women I speak with appreciate it that I do that, whereas most men "don't get it".

As one of the main reasons genders are treated differently is sexuality, as asexuals we have a natural advantage in that regard.

I'd love for us to put together a book on asexual social life, and how being asexual shifts all kinds of dynamics with other asexuals and with those who are not. For support around this, btw, check out this site:
http://www.asexuality.org/home/

And for support around your struggles with gender and behavior, please also utilise this resource, which should be helpful:
(tell them Julian Real sent ya!)
http://www.xyonline.net/

I think you'll find lots of support at both those places. Or I hope you do, anyway. :)

Julian Real said...

Part 3:

It should be easy if you know someone, talk and act based on that previous knowlege of them alone. If you don't know them leave them alone or introduce yourself. I try to do this however my aforementioned worries about coming across wrong to women do change my behaviour when in social situations.

I hear you. I think there are people at both those community websites who will relate and offer good suggestions. (Personally, I relate far better with women than with men, and feel more "myself" with women than with men also, generally speaking, of course.)

In a work environment I'd be hard pushed to tell you what gender my associates are!!!

Now if that isn't the most intriguing statement I've heard this year, I don't know what is!!!! lol

Do tell, if you want to: where do you work?? And, if you don't want that public, just write me a post that says "please don't post this publicly". And I'll keep it to myself. (The only place I can think of would be a transgender bar or club.)

Its a case of is the best way to respect women is to forget that they are or to try and change your behaviour accordingly.

On you why you wouldn' want to just ignore all women, you say:

Because I'd be ignoring 50% of the wonderfull people of this earth Because without dialogue how can we as feminist men understand what we can to do help or change.

With regard to the first sentence there:
Yes, true that.

With regard to the second statement:
Yes. I agree. As long as we're doing our homework with regard to not putting women in the position of teaching us how to live by feminist values.

Also because I feel that my fear of social situations is a character defect that I would like to work on.

Yes, I forgot about that social phobia piece. I was thinking you had good connections with males your age and had a social life. Sorry about that!

I could just spend time on the internet and baking and reading but I feel that eventually the lonliness will start to effect me, and its best to deal with these kind of issues when young.

What do you like baking and reading? And, I totally agree with you: MUCH better to deal with this stuff while younger than when older, and good for you for knowing that!!!

Can you tell me how old you are? And if you live in an urban environment in England?

I think i confused myself slightly at the end, I was meaning to adress the question more but ended up more on my lack of ability to talk to or spend time with people which is only a side issue of it being more prevalent with women.

No worries, Rotifer. You can write me some more. And if you want me to write to you personally, I'll do that. Just send me your email address as a comment, and I won't post it. Be sure to send that email address separately, as a separate "comment" from anything you do want me to post here publicly. Ok?

Sorry this is more stuff I should get a psyciatrist to talk to, than leave on a profemminist blog!

It's fine with me if you post here. So, again, no worries. And again, send me your email address if you'd like to correspond off-blog.

I am wishing you well and hope you find the support you need. I'm here!