Using their privilege

I’ve written a couple of entries about men using their privilege to help women out in situations that may be uncomfortable (or worse) for women.

A week or so ago, I had two such experiences where men in my life asked about how to best use that privilege and did use it.

First, over lunch, a good friend asked what his best course of action is when he sees a woman being harassed or on the receiving end of any unwanted attention. Should he engage with the woman who is the target of the behaviour or the man who is demonstrating the behaviour?

Now, I encourage anyone reading this to share their thoughts, but my answer was to engage with the woman.

Ask her if she’s okay. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Ask if she has a friend joining her soon. Something.

I understand, of course, that some (many?) men may be hesitant to engage with either the woman or the man. I also understand that men who would engage to put a stop to the harassment are probably also acutely aware that the woman may not trust that his own intentions are good. I think, though, that if I was being harassed and another man just called out, “hey, are you okay over there?” I would be appreciative of his intervention. I mean, I’ve been in more than one situation where I was being harassed or feeling threatened and I just wished that the men who were nearby would say something. Anything.

Later on in the evening, I went to a gathering of friends to celebrate the holidays.

A man with whom I’ve interacted a few times showed up about two hours into the evening. He was loud and obviously intoxicated. He asked if he could buy me a drink and was clearly put out when I said, “that’s nice of you, but I’m on my last drink for the night,” and then continued to decline his repeated offers. During a few outbursts (for lack of a better word), he said he wanted to fight me (I’m a boxer), and he kept raising my name in loud conversation with the group. While I was certain I was not in any actual danger (he didn’t want to literally fight me), I was uncomfortable enough that there came a point when I leaned across the table and said to a friend, “please don’t let me walk to my car by myself.”

Shortly thereafter, a friend steered the man upstairs for a conversation and ensured he would get home safe. I was able to enjoy the rest of my evening along with my friends (some of whom were also extraordinarily uncomfortable, but for different reasons).

Had my friend not done this, I would have been forced to ask someone else to leave the party early (or at least temporarily) to walk with me to my car, so that I felt safe, or I would have had to stay at the party longer to wait for someone else to leave (and then still ask them to walk me to my car).

I will go back to this as many times as necessary: Men using their privilege to put a stop to other men’s bad behaviour is an important and necessary thing. And I’m appreciative for the men I know who have done and would do this.