Archive for the ‘harassment’ Category

For most of the last week, I’ve been having a troll problem. I’m not going to provide a link, because one encounter with trolls is very much like another. Usually, it starts with a hijacked thread, and involves a lot of generalizations and name-calling based on comments taken out of context, conspiracy theories, and a kind of naive cynicism that insists that I could never have done anything except for the worst of reasons.. This encounter was no different, and, like the others I’ve had, leaves me uncertain how I should respond.

I have no trouble with someone who disagrees with me. I enjoy the benefits of a liberal education, in which differences of opinion are seen as a chance to deepen and expand the discussion. Nor am I young enough to expect everyone to like me – in fact, in most cases, I’m relieved when a troll dislikes me, because I usually don’t think much of them, either.

But as a former teacher of rhetoric and composition, I am by nature incapable of ignoring a fallacious argument – especially if it is directed at me. Let someone judge me by a single sentence from a single work, or misquote or take a sentence out of context, and I’m immediately tempted to leap in with a correction. As I have said many times, if you’re going to disagree with what I’ve said, please make it something I actually said and not something that you imagine that I have said. Whether out of carelessness, vindictiveness, or inability, very few trolls seem capable of reading or reporting with any accuracy or precision, so enticing me to reply is often ridiculously easy.

Not only that, I am all too aware of how others might interpret my silence. Will they go away thinking that the troll’s inaccuracies are true? Will they think that my silence is an admission of guilt, that I am ashamed to reply? Worse, will I think myself cowardly? With such questions buzzing in my mind, I can easily find myself wrestling with trolls before I realize what I am doing.

At the same time, I am well-aware that answering is only going to waste my time. By definition, trolls lack an open-mind, and no eloquence of mine will coax an apology out of them, ever. Anything I say will be taken in the worst possible way, if not dismissed outright, and I will convince them of nothing. If I manage to counter one barrage, another will simply start up from a different direction, often using my replies as additional ammunition against me. Under these circumstances, almost anything else will be a better use of my time.

Usually, I compromise, and confine myself to two replies. That way, I reason, I can satisfy my urge to reply and correct any misrepresentations for any audience without taking up too much of time. This time, unfortunately, I was distracted enough to make several other replies before stepping back, mainly because it has been a couple of years since I dealt with a troll, but I’ll remember next time.

This morning, after the thread’s owner had shut it down, the troll started up again from their own account. I’ve resisted the temptation to see what they are saying, but from experience I can predict it. They’ll revise the encounter to make me seem the unreasonable one, and their friends will chime in with words of support that will make them feel heroic for opposing my Satanic self.

But I’ll let them do so unopposed. I’m annoyed that I let myself be dragged in, and I won’t make the same mistake again any time soon. I never know whether attribute such encounters to hypocrisy, or incompetence, but what is clear to me is that, whatever this last week, it wasn’t a meeting of two minds. Att best, it was only a meeting of one and a half.

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On Friday, I was harassed in the local mall. By any standards, it was a trivial incident, but I believe that the encounter gave me, if not insight to what women endure regularly from men, then at least something from which I could emotionally extrapolate how they must feel.

I was walking through the local mall at the end of a long day. I had just come from the gym, and I was unwashed and limping from a minor injury. I was tired, and had just discovered my bank card was missing, and that I needed to add canceling it to my list of errands to do. I wanted nothing so much as to drag myself home and collapse in a hot bath, but I knew that I had at least another hour’s worth of errands. All in all, I was feeling about as attractive as the sweaty towel in my gym bag.

As I neared a kiosk selling spa products, I saw one man holding a tray of hand lotion samples break into a little dance. By the time I reached the kiosk, he had moved to its other side, and a woman in black blocked my path, holding out a tray.

I tried to step around her, and she moved to block me again. Ordinarily, I would have just kept walking, but, as I said, I was tired. Taking the path of least resistance, I reached out for a sample, and rubbed it on my hand.

“Do you have a special woman in your life?” she asked.

Since I’m a widower, that is a bit of a tender point with me. “No,” I said shortly.

“No sister? No friends? No mother? No aunt?”

I replied “no” to each question, becoming increasingly annoyed at a stranger asking me personal questions.

“Let me show you something,” she said. Not thinking, but relieved that the questions had stopped, I let myself to be steered over to the kiosk.

Without asking, the woman grabbed my hand and started demonstrating a nail buffer on my right thumb. She was standing close to me, and her breasts kept rubbing against my arm as she worked. When I took a step away, she followed, talking continually about how attractive regular the products she was selling would make me.

“Younger women just love men who use them,” she told, stroking my hand.

I was more embarrassed than enticed, and I more or less tuned her out. So far as I was thinking at all, I was hoping that the demo would be over soon and I could move on without being polite.

“You’re not listening to me,” she said. “You’re looking at my breasts.” I wasn’t, but she plucked at her top, an action that not only drew my eyes, but exposed more cleavage rather than less.

Abruptly, I pulled myself together and decided that, single as I was, I wasn’t so desperate as to prolong this encounter. “Sorry, I have to go now.”

“No you don’t,” she said with a knowing smile, trying to grab my hand again.

“Yes I do.”

We repeated the same sentences several times apiece. Then I realized that I didn’t even owe her even politeness, and simply turned and left, shaking my head.

The next day, I was in the mall again. I seriously considered taking a roundabout route so I wouldn’t have to pass the kiosk. But I told myself I wasn’t going to inconvenience myself to avoid embarrassment, and made myself walk by.

“Oh, you’ve come back,” she said, smiling. “I knew you would.”

This time, I was rested enough to know that the last thing I wanted was to stop and listen to her.

I held up a hand without slowing. “No, I haven’t.”

I felt better for walking on. But I admit that I was glad that she was helping another customer when I walked by twenty minutes later.

If you’re a man, especially a young one, you might wonder why I didn’t play along, enjoying the contact and the innuendo as long as they lasted. But such things were far from my mind. All through the encounter, I kept thinking that I might be desperate for female contact, but I would never be that desperate. Besides, as irresistible as I might sometimes imagine myself to be, I knew the whole thing was about selling products. I was disgusted with her tactics, and not much pleased with myself for going along with them, however briefly.

In fact, as I retell the story, I find my lip curling in distaste, and I have had to stop several times to calm myself before I could go on. What, I keep wondering, did she see in me that she would imagine that I would be open to these sales tactics? Did she think that, as an older man, I would buy for the pleasure of having a younger woman come on to me? Or was I supposed to buy because I was embarrassed?

I’m not going to be scarred for life by what happened. I am not even going to report the woman, although I’m sure that I’m not the only one she has used such tactics on. But the experience does leave me with a more immediate understanding of a situation that I ordinarily understand only intellectually, or with an imaginative effort.

All the reactions I felt are similar to those I’ve heard hundreds of times from women recounting petty harassment. My annoyance at being imposed upon, going along with what was happening out of a misguided sense of politeness, the sense of being impersonally manipulated by sexuality, the wondering whether I was somehow to blame, the temptation to avoid the place where it happened – despite my gender, I was reacting much the same as many women do in a similar situation.

So, if anyone thinks that I should have enjoyed it, let me assure you that what happened wasn’t flattering and wasn’t a compliment. It was intrusive and annoying, and an over-obvious attempt to manipulate me that is still making me uneasy several days later.

Admittedly, it was only one encounter. For many women, such encounters are a daily occurrence. Quite justifiably, some women may wonder why I imagine my experience worth recording, or how I imagine that I can extrapolate from my experience to theirs.

All I can say is that, if their reactions are anything like mine, I wonder how they endure such incidents – and why. And you can be sure I am going to be monitoring my behavior very carefully from now on, to make sure that I don’t – even accidentally – leave a woman feeling the way that I am feeling now.

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