What we enable

There’s a high profile man locally who makes a habit of putting hands on women and does not hear when women tell him they don’t like or want it. He tends to be a toucher of arms and shoulders, so a lot of people feel it’s no big deal. He doesn’t do it to men. I’ve talked to plenty of women who find it an uncomfortable invasion. I’ve also had a fair few people tell me (mostly, but not exclusively men) that this guy is ok because they think he means well and is harmless. I want to talk about the consequences of this.

Everyone should have the right to say no to being touched. Some of us are in pain and can be hurt by apparently innocent gestures. Some of us are dealing with the aftermath of trauma and can be triggered by unexpected or unwanted contact. Some of us just don’t want to be touched. The right of women to say no to contact – any contact – and have that heard and respected is fundamental to consent culture. When people decide that small infringements are ok, that a bit of ignoring consent is no big deal, it makes other infringements that bit easier.

If a woman tells you she doesn’t like a man persistently touching her, and you tell her why she shouldn’t mind, it has consequences. It makes it that bit harder to flag up worse encroachments. If you know that a person with enough power and status will be totally excused when he makes you uncomfortable, what support can you expect if he takes it further? What response is likely if you need to flag up serious abuse, bullying, harassment, groping and so forth from the same man, or another man? If there’s a culture of letting people off the hook, it’s harder to deal with bigger things.

As it happens, my local invader of space goes in for a lot of sexist behaviour, and mostly gets away with it. The touching is one facet of this, not the only issue.

In balance to this, I’ve had conversations with men who, when I’ve talked about this, have recognised that it isn’t ok and have had heard me out. I’ve talked to men who have questioned their own assumptions and beliefs, and reconsidered their own behaviour. Men who have been willing to be uncomfortable and realise that what they thought was fine, maybe wasn’t.

If you’re a man in a position of power, and you touch women socially, are you confident they feel able to tell you if they don’t like it? Have you ever asked them? Would you respect their wishes if they said no to it? Or would you, as a number of men have done to me, tell them why your social touching is ok and they should accept it?

‘It’s just…’

Except if it makes a person feel sad, anxious, insecure, afraid, imposed on, compromised etc, it isn’t a small thing. Just because the touch is no big deal for the person doing it, doesn’t mean it must also be no big deal for the person experiencing it. If we assume that a man’s experience of touching a woman is what defines the encounter (no big deal) we make no space for the fact that women are often having radically different experiences in the situation.

 

(This has been a rather gender binary blog, in part because this is a problem that most often occurs in the most hetronormative situations.)

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “What we enable

  • Ellen Efenricea

    I think it’s worth questioning the idea of someone who ‘means well’. Literally I think that means you intend to do something positive for the recipient of your attention.
    It sounds like this guy does something to people rather than for people (specifically women).
    Sometimes people do mean well and it doesn’t work- it should be fine to say so. If for example I make someone a cup of tea and put the wrong amount of sugar in – it’s totally ok for them to say so and not drink the tea!
    Personally I’m a bit ambivalent about being touched on the arm or shoulder. I’m ok with it from someone who seems otherwise genuinely warm but when it comes from someone who only ever does it to women and is otherwise quite sexist then it’s not ok because the prevailing attitude makes it feel creepy.

  • cassandralathamjones

    I agree with this. I have never been a ‘touchy feely’ person as I feel that people should have their space respected and also if you have experienced abuse yourself you ought to be more aware of respecting others. Its not always about sexual advances either some people touch others for reasons of having power and control over them. Even if you are going through a crowd and you touch someone to move past them, you are trying to control their bodies. The places people are touched also says a lot, arms and shoulders are not always places people feel uncomfortable, but in the chest area and from the waist to the knees in my opinion is sexual no matter who does it! It is inconsiderate to think that no one minds it happening if they do not object, thats just an excuse to continue.

  • Laetitia

    (I do apologise Nimue, the above comment was actually made by me not Cassandra, I have been having trouble with my computer logging into both sites since I have been updating the All Hallows site on Cassandra’s account. Could you delete that one please as I have copied and pasted my comment here, thank you. 🙂 x)
    I agree with this. I have never been a ‘touchy feely’ person as I feel that people should have their space respected and also if you have experienced abuse yourself you ought to be more aware of respecting others. Its not always about sexual advances either some people touch others for reasons of having power and control over them. Even if you are going through a crowd and you touch someone to move past them, you are trying to control their bodies. The places people are touched also says a lot, arms and shoulders are not always places people feel uncomfortable, but in the chest area and from the waist to the knees in my opinion is sexual no matter who does it! It is inconsiderate to think that no one minds it happening if they do not object, thats just an excuse to continue.

  • Elen Sentier

    I think I’d better not come to Stroud! I’d almost certainly deck him :-). A thought, why don’t people/women react in this way, deck or knee someone who does that? People who do that are too arrogant and perhaps even narcissistic to learn any other way than a large wet shark in the face.

    By the way, I’ve had women do this to me too, not gay women but motherly, knows-best, types – they tend to get similar treatment if the first loudly shouted “get off me!” has no effect.

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