Saturday, March 06, 2010

Misogynist Me

I was accused of being a misogynist today. OK, the nice lady didn't use the word 'misogynist', but her intention was pretty clear.

I woke early enough and feeling refreshed enough to think a workout at the gym was a good idea. I dressed, hopped in the car and headed out. The workout felt good. I've been sick the last two weeks and it felt great to be physical and strong. Near the end of my workout as I was making cool-down laps around the track I noticed a lady giving me looks. I could not exactly define the 'looks' – they could have been 'look at that cute guy looks' or 'he's got a booger on his face looks' or even 'he might be tasty with a light white wine sauce looks' – but looks they were.

I did not have to wonder long.

The nice lady, the one who was perhaps contemplating if I would be better braised or poached, walked right up to me, put her face very far into my personal space and announced with a little tremble in her voice: "It's guys like you that make this world a bad place."

I like to think of myself as hard to surprise. However, this did just that. I was taken aback (I think a first for me). I stammered out an "Excuse me?" and tried to back away from the little jolts of crazy now clearly detectable.

The nice lady, seeing that her point was being lost on stupid me, poked me in the chest and said, "Your shirt. It’s not funny."

I do have some funny shirts. I have one that reads: See a penny pick it up and all day long you'll have a penny. However, I was not wearing this shirt. I was wearing a workout shirt. You know, the wicking, breathable, don't-die-of-heatstroke kind. I looked down both at her accusatory finger and my shirt. Ah. I was wearing my Skirt Chaser shirt.

"It's a race," I said, still trying to back away from the crazy now achieving a rolling boil.

"I don’t care what it is," she said, still refusing to lower her finger-of-doom. "It's not funny."

I tried to explain to her that it's a 5K put on by SkirtSport, a company that makes sportswear for women. A company founded by Nicole DeBoom for cryin' out loud! And moreover the race had been a fundraiser for breast cancer research.

It didn’t matter.

I was merely a thing to be placed into a preexisting category.

This encounter left me…thoughtful. On the one hand there is enough irony in accusing me of being hateful towards women that it was almost funny. Almost. If I have a failing in that area it is that I'm perhaps too much of a philogynist. One the other hand, prejudice is not pretty no matter who wears it. Or why. And that was a prime and plump example of prejudice.

And that's kind of the point. The nice lady doesn't know me. She doesn't know anything about me. Yet she can judge me. I think that is a lot of what makes this world a bad place.

A prejudice is merely a prejudgment. And we all have them. They are both positive and negative. They are, in large part, our basis for likes and dislikes. But they can exist in a vacuum – which is what can make them so ugly and so dangerous. To judge something, anything, without ascertaining the facts of a situation, is one of the greatest failings of human nature. That we can hold onto an attitude that is resistant to reason creates much of the antagonism in this world.

I'm not angry at the nice lady; I feel sorry for her. I'm certain there must be a reason she holds that kind of hostility in her and lashes out. In her mind it might even be a good reason. However, it has nothing to do with me. And I am upset at an attitude that makes people dismissive of an individual's worth.

I don't think you should ever judge based on the lowest common denominator. And I will not judge the next nice lady I encounter at the gym based on my experience today.

If I know you, or someday meet you, know that I will do my very best to see you for who you are and how you act and not what I think you might be.


Damon said...

Oh, the irony. Good on you for not simply replying: "no, it's the other way around".

Kim Dietrich Elam at k notes creative stationery and photography said...

Excellent essay, Paukku!

andrew robertson said...

i feel your pain, pb. i was once accused of being a racist (against hispanics)... in court, on public record by an opposing attorney, no less. my wife, anamargarita otero-robertson, found this really funny. too bad it was in the attorney's closing statement, or i could have said something really classy in rebuttal, like "pinche pendeja gringa, no sabes nada de lo que estas hablando, mas te vale no juzgar a quienes no conozcas y mucho menos chingar con ellos." ..but perhaps that was best left unsaid.

nice essay. you captured the 'wtf' that goes through a person's head in such moments quite well.

Kristen Martinez said...

Very good thinking and I need to translate all that Spanish in the comment section...heheheh.

Renee said...

I'm coming here via someone else's blog/twitter, so I realize that you don't have a context for my reaction. So I will give it first, which will make make the comment long. I hope you will be patient with it.

Some people have had the fortune of not experiencing being around some nasty people, especially men (particularly the skirt chasers). I am not one of those people. I moved around internationally many times growing up, and spent early high school in a very patriarchal country (in the tourist area no less). Needless to say, I learned very quickly that as a female, men could do some very sexist things (all the way up to rape), and chances are I would still be held responsible. It is much more subtle here in the US, but the attitude still remains. There are studies, and I have enough stories and examples to last a while.

As you can imagine, I'm not very trusting, and more prone to consider why the woman had the reaction she did and why she was not satisfied with your answer. Step into her shoes for a moment. She's probably has been hassled by guys before, may have been humiliated in junior high and high school by male classmates (maybe even in college), followed around a store by a guy, and doesn't feel safe doing a lot of things at night alone. She's seen lots of sexist shirts before, and she's tired and working out and yet again, here's another shirt that reminds her that many men don't respect her because she is female. She points it out to the person who is wearing it, and he doesn't acknowledge that it could be seen as hurtful, instead saying how it's all about helping women. She doesn't care about the intentions of the guy - she's met lots of guys with "good intentions" who are ultimately clueless about what messages they are making. It's not good enough.

The way you described her struck me as a little belittling, and the fact that you did not acknowledge to her that the shirt could be seen as very sexist makes me wonder how much your actions showed respect for her as a person. As a white male, by definition, you are privileged. There are things you will never have to worry about for yourself because of that. And as good as your intentions are, your actions from her standpoint could easily be seen as sexist. It's not an easy pill to swallow.

There's a lot more to it than that, but this is already a long comment, so I'll leave it at that.

Tali said...

I think this is a perfect example of why you can't judge a book by it's cover. People who don't know you have no idea how absolutely ridiculous that snap judgement was. You're the kindest most caring man I know. You have always put your wife and daughter first.

I guess maybe I am to blame for asking you to do the SkirtChaser with me. However we had a lot of fun, raised money for an awesome cause, and maybe just maybe a few people learned not to take everything so seriously.

Choose your battles people. Picking a fight with someone you don't know based on a shirt that you don't understand is naive and sad.

Paukku said...

Rene, you make a lot of assumptions. I find it interesting that you say that "[T]he way you described her struck me as a little belittling." I actually took pains NOT to describe her. She could be short or tall, thin or fat, black or white, pretty or ugly. That was not the point. If you mean how I describe her as a 'nice lady', I prefer to err on the side of charity. If you mean the way I described her actions as 'crazy', it is crazy to become confrontational with a complete stranger in that manner.

Kaisa Eveliina said...

You give a background on yourself, Rene, but it loses any relevance when you take those experiences and arbitrarily apply them to someone you do not know. That was exactly the point of this blog: that people have a tendency to 'group judge' and not view reality based on an individual person or situation. Yes, past experiences color the way we view the world, but a true mark of strong character is not letting ourselves be reactive and narrow minded because of our experiences. Pulling out the platitude of stepping "...into her shoes for a moment" was pointless. Is it only ONE person's responsibility to do that? It works both ways. Why should it be the responsibility of one person to try to imagine every possible bad or negative thing that has ever happened to anyone in the entire world and try not offend when you clearly think it is ok for someone else to be judgmental, confrontational and rude? Is that double standard based on sex, race, socioeconomic status?

Living with an open mind requires us to step outside of ourselves. Try it sometime.

doni said...

Wow Renee, you really assumed more than I could have ever imagined. That is why we are even having this conversation is because of assumptions.

I have lived all over the world as well. People are people and some places treat women different than others. I have been sexually harassed/assalted in the work place, in other environments but I still give people the benefit of the doubt. Why carry a chip on your shoulder and assume the worst of men?

FWIW, PB is one of the kindest men I know. When I heard the story I laughed because it couldn't be further from the truth.

Renee said...

Well at least one person spelled my name right.

After double checking with some people that I trust, I'll admit my reaction wasn't the best.

As to why I don't assume the best in people? Because I've had to deal with enough nasty people, and have had to hear stories from too many friends on top of all the obsessive warnings I got in early high school. I've learned the hard way over and over that most people usually can only handle what is normal and comfortable to them and that finding out what their box is and learning how to work with it and how willing they are to go past it ultimately makes my life much less miserable.

Paukku is probably a very nice person. I was wondering what may have caused such a reaction. My bad.