Thursday, June 7, 2012

Men Behaving Badly: A Call to Action

A few assorted things have gone wrong enough this week (goofed up some assignments for work, boyfriend apparently has some serious sleep apnea so now I worry about him DYING IN HIS SLEEP HALF THE WORLD AWAY FROM ME, dinner plans canceled) that I'm going to put on my Piss And Moan hat. However, I'm going to try to productively channel my frustration and take it above and beyond My Life Is So Hard into Have Some Constructive Criticism. Also, with the Piss And Moan hat come the Feminist goggles, so if that's not your thing, well, fair warning.

I like to think of my Feminist goggles as sexy cateye glasses.

The Incident

Last Saturday was kind of a whole parade of Men (And An Ajumma) Behaving Badly. You should bear in mind that because of said parade, this particular incident struck a rawer nerve than it might have otherwise. (In other words: psychologists would say I was "prepped" for FEMINIST HULK RAGE mode.) However, those other incidents are boring and personal, while this one has implications for way more people. Hence my sharing it (and my reaction) here.

It was a nice night out, so my friend Yousef1 and I decided to take some air and enjoy a street performance by two high school guys with a guitar and bongos in Uijeongbu's attractive new downtown pedestrian mall. A small crowd had gathered, including two very American military looking guys who were working their way through an assortment of Cass and soju bottles (and who had already struck me as douchecanoes for entirely unrelated reasons2). After a while, they decided to try and get a couple of Korean girls to drink with them (and, in my cynical and somewhat misandrist viewpoint that particular night, to later sleep with them, but in the interest of fairness neither of them mentioned or indicated anything sexual, as far as I could hear).

When I say "Korean girls," I don't mean "Korean women in their 20s." I mean, "girls who are definitely still in high school." Yousef was convinced they were still middle schoolers. So yes, I mean actual, literal, pubescent girls. Girls with whom it would be sketchy and inappropriate for men in their twenties (if not older, though I am a poor judge of age) to be socializing with, especially with alcohol present.

Naturally the girls declined, and after some more back-and-forthing as best could be had considering neither party had a fluent common language, they got up and left. Not surprising, since it was around or after midnight. The men who had been pestering them immediately turned resentful. "Well, fuck you, then. Bitches."

Interlude: An Outside Resource

Now, take a break and have this article: Five Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women. It's not really directly relevant, but I think it does a lot to explain (to me at least) the venom and resentment in the end of that above exchange, in the deployment of  the words "fuck" and "bitches." I mean really, all you need to read is the first point alone and you don't need any more explanation than that.

Call To Action

So what am I getting at? Aside from "SHIT LIKE THIS PISSES ME OFF," I mean. Good question! Here are my theses:

1. I'd like to live in a world—in any country—where a woman's refusal to join a man for drinks and/or sexytimes would be met with nothing more the same silent chagrin I feel every time I try to speak passable Korean or introduce myself to a new co-worker. No resentment, no misdirected rage ("How dare she not want to hang out with me!"), no name-calling: just feeling that small sting of rejection or awkwardness and then moving on.

In some ways I already do live in that world because (drunk) men typically don't invite me for drinks and/or sexytimes because the women I drink with are invariably prettier than me, more outgoing than me, or both. But I'd like everyone to have that experience, regardless of personality or sex appeal.

2. I'd like to live in a Korea without people perpetuating the awful stereotypes about foreign men and their douchey, lecherous behavior. I get to dodge this one a bit by being a foreign woman (thereby making it harder for me to be a lecherous douche), but it still bugs me. It bugs me because it still kind of follows me around, and it bugs me more because I know plenty of foreign guys who don't play into those awful stereotypes—let's be real, most of you don't, even if I don't know you—and who knows what kind of crap they get nonetheless.

So, my call to action is this: if you're a guy, and you see a guy being a lecherous douche, tell him to knock it off. This goes doubly-so if you're a foreigner and so is the lecherous douche.


"But Katherine!" you cry. "Isn't that asking the menfolk to stand up for the weak, useless women? Or the white savior to stand up for the Eroticized Other? What kind of feminist are you? And telling people to go stick their noses in other people's business? Really?"  But hear me out.

First of all, I don't advocate White Knighting. Especially if it's for the sake of getting into someone else's pants. I'm definitely not endorsing the "Say honey, is this guy bothering you?" trope.3 Rather, my intent is that if we as a society or a people or a community or whatever word start etiquette-policing against scumbaggery, it'll become less viable an option.

Likewise I am not calling for an end to drunken bar-flirting or hookup culture. Whatever consenting grown-ups want to do with each other, awesome. But the above scenario was not two consenting adults, it was two belligerent and drunk adults on one side and two sober, clearly not interested  and clearly uncomfortable teenagers on the other.

Nor do I think women are inherently incapable of diffusing these situations on their own. We can be clever enough, gracious enough, classy enough, whatever enough, to be sure. Sometimes, though, other factors outside of sex and gender (in this case, there was a clear language barrier) make it hard to summon those traits. Other times, it's nice to know there's some kind of vocal and active support from the vast majority of men who aren't gross scumbags.

In a nutshell: my focus isn't on "saving the (non-white) woman," here. My focus is on, "Men receiving censure from fellow men." It's on: "Someone telling someone they're behaving poorly." I mean, how else do we learn how to function in society? A lot of things we intuit, sure, based on what seem to be inherent a priori rules: causing other things pain is bad, helping them is good, and so forth. But other things we need to be told; what's more, what one person can intuit another person needs an explicit explanation for.

And the truth is, sometimes it takes someone "of your kind" to meaningfully communicate that explanation. (Hence why Tim Wise, a white guy, is such an effective speaker against racism.) I'd like to think that if the guys in question here had enough straight, cisgendered men tell them, "Hey, I think you're being really creepy, why don't you lay off because she's clearly not interested and it's making you/the rest of us look really bad." every time they tried to drunkenly pick up disinterested women4, they'd get the idea. They'd stop. Maybe. 5

Of course we don't live in a perfect world and if anyone took this call to action as seriously as I think it should be taken, they'd no doubt end up in at least a few fights and other unfortunate scenarios. That's why I realize it's a pipe dream. But hey, a girl can dream, right?

1. Yousef is never a Man Behaving Badly. In case you were wondering.

2. "Freebird!"

3.  In fact, confronting these kinds of douchebags with the intent to show off to the lady how much of a Nice Guy you are is even worse than the initial scumbaggery, in my book.

4. I know I am making an assumption here about these guys'  consistent behavior over time, but I don't think it's so much of a stretch.

5. I realize that this is a method that deals only with surface level behaviors and not underlying thought patterns (ie treating the symptoms instead of the disease) but that's a discussion for another day.


  1. As negative a stereotype as English teachers have in SK, it's nothing compared to what Koreans think of US soldiers.

    I dunno. I've met some really nice ones and, well, let's just say some of them are 18 years old and in a foreign country where they can drink legally for the first time. Doesn't excuse their behavior but jeez, you know how this story is going to end.

    1. The observed pattern seems to be that officers are cool and upstanding individuals, and enlistees are...well...on average, less so. Of course, making this observation then opens me up to a "WHY DON'T YOU SUPPORT OUR TROOPS THEY'RE MAKING SACRIFICES FOR YOU" retort but whatever.