Men can stop being patronizing

I came across the My Strength Is Not For Hurting and Where Do You Stand? anti-rape campaigns fairly recently. They remind me of the Don’t Be That Guy ads from Edmonton that I saw a couple years ago. For the most part, I like them. They focus on men stopping rape, often by not raping, rather than on what women can do to avoid being raped. This is obviously a good thing, because those tips for women are generally useless and do nothing other than control women’s behaviour, and because the only way rapes will ever stop happening is if the people committing them stop committing them. So I appreciate ad campaigns that actively address this, and that include more than the popular, but actually rare, scary, stranger-rape image.

One of the Don’t Be That Guy ads shows a woman drinking with a group of people, giving the camera a flirty smile, above the text “Just because she’s drinking, doesn’t mean she wants sex.”* This ad speaks directly to those who fault women for getting drunk and flirting with men, only to have those men then force or coerce them into having sex. Similarly, the My Strength Is Not For Hurting ads say things like, “So when she changed her mind, I stopped,” or “So when I wasn’t sure how she felt, I asked,” which is especially awesome because it promotes not raping, and also communicating openly and honestly, something that does not seem like a priority in conversations about sexual relationships outside of feminist communities.

Men Can Stop Rape, who created the My Strength Is Not For Hurting ads, also created the Where Do You Stand campaign. These posters focus less on consent and on men listening when women tell them to stop. From the Men Can Stop Rape blog,

[W]hen it comes to primary prevention bystander intervention (BI) is where it’s at right now, and the BI component of “My Strength Is Not for Hurting” has always been miniscule compared to the focus on consent.… The one BI poster* with four men that says, “My strength is not for hurting, so when men disrespect women, we say that’s not right,” has always been by far the most popular of all 19 posters, so there has always been a strong interest in promoting bystander intervention to men.

The Where Do You Stand ads have text like, “When Nicole couldn’t lose that drunk guy I called her cell to give her an out,” or, “When Jason wouldn’t leave Mary alone, I said: She’s not into you anymore. Let it go.” These messages also serve an important purpose in reminding people that turning someone down is not always easy and that sometimes, when someone won’t leave you alone, you might want some help getting rid of them. At the same time, I worry that these ads might have a negative side effect in promoting paternalistic and chivalrous behaviour. I don’t have a problem with men stepping in to help women in situations like these; it’s annoying, but the kind of person who puts a woman in this position is frequently the kind of person who only stops when men tell them to, and women should not be stuck in dangerous situations just to prove that they don’t need men to save them. What I do have a problem with is men (or any people) who assume that women (or any people) need their assistance without first checking to see if this is the case. I’ve both seen and experienced men giving women unwanted attention while claiming to save these women from other men. Maybe they really thought they were being helpful. Maybe they assumed that any attention from a man is unwanted attention, because no woman actually likes being hit on. Maybe they wanted to hit on these women, but couldn’t, because someone else already was, and this was the only way they could think of to get these women alone. In any case, they were given no indication that the women they were saving were uncomfortable or needed any help, and as a result they actually became the guys that made women feel uncomfortable.

The only ad from the Where Do You Stand? campaign that I don’t have any problem with says, “When Kate seemed to drunk to leave with Chris I checked in with her.” Again, this ad promotes open communication, and, unlike the others, it places the power strictly in the woman’s hands. This particular man is not a shiny white knight who will save his helpless ladyfriend; he just wants to check in with her to make sure she’s okay. Presumably, if she says she’s fine, he will then leave her alone. Checking in with someone is not the same as taking control over their actions.

Like I said, I don’t have any problem with men helping women deal with guys who are giving them problems. I think we all have a responsibility to look out for each other. I do, however, have a problem with ads that imply that men should assume this responsibility without first asking the woman in question if this is what she needs or wants.

*I don’t actually like “Just because x doesn’t mean y” sentences. I started googling them as I was writing this to see if they were grammatical, but that took too much time and really isn’t the point of this piece, so I decided to drop it. I will likely continue my research after I hit “publish”.

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