Men Rarely Learn What Women Can’t Forget
As the nation finds itself being forced, however uncomfortably, to confront the problems of sexual assault, harassment and the abuse of male power, story after story of predation and misconduct is finally being told.
To hear the stories is discomfiting enough. What makes them worse is how utterly normal and common they are, and how unsurprised most women are upon hearing yet another of them recounted.
But beyond the most horrific abuses — about which most all can readily join in condemnation — are any number of seemingly less serious offenses, which nonetheless pose serious questions about presumptions of male entitlement to women’s attention and bodies. And even more so, the mere privilege men enjoy: a privilege of rarely if ever having to think about what it means to confront a culture of entitled manhood from the positionality of women; what it means to live with a fear of what could happen today, even if it might not, simply because of that culture and its effects on the men who imbibe it.
As a longtime social justice activist and antiracism educator who has spent years writing about and discussing the ways privilege operates, both generally and in my own life, I figured I understood these things pretty well.
But sometimes even when you know a lot, you haven’t really come to feel the thing about which you know so much; and that distinction between knowing at the intellectual level and feeling at the affective level can make all the difference.
It was two years ago when it happened: a more or less trivial encounter, but one that in the wake of recent discussions around women’s experiences with male sexual predation, I’ve been thinking about a lot. So too, I’ve come to appreciate its true significance.
After a series of speeches in Los Angeles, I was spending the night at a hotel near LAX, in advance of a flight early the next morning. After having some dinner while checking e-mail in the restaurant, I ordered a second glass of wine to take to my room, paid my tab and headed for the elevators.
When the doors opened I hopped on, along with the only other person who had been…