An Evening of Event: No More Fistbumping with Thoughtless Young Men

Sorry about the late post. I didn’t get back to my room until 2am this morning and I was a little too tired to blog – it has been a week! I’m staying with wonderful friends between conferences (as one does, dahhhlings) and we went out to dinner and drinks near where they lived. When we were in the bar, sitting around and catching up, we got into conversation with a younger couple and spent the next while chatting to them.

Now, let me restate that. We were actively engaged in conversation by another couple and they doggedly kept us in conversation for a while.

Does that change the context? Rather than just talking to people in a bar, when you’re ensconced in the comfy seats, does that seem different?

After some discussion, my friend and I are pretty much convinced that the couple were probably more along the con axis than the friendly axis. Their over-attentiveness, some of the actions, and, more importantly, the rapid transition from complete attentiveness to “exeunt and farewell”, which took about 2 seconds. Why did they say goodbye? I suspect because they worked out that no money was forthcoming. Having come from three solid days of “Create! Innovate! Change the world!”, I’m in a very interesting place, mentally. So when the guy started talking about how he’d always wanted to be a Royal Marine Commando, as part of a patter, we then spent the next two hours talking about why he wasn’t doing it, how he could prepare to go back and so on. If you’ve wanted to be a commando since you were 16, then sitting in a bar in Australia at 24 is a very funny way to be pursuing it, isn’t it?

Hang on, maybe that’s why they left so quickly! 🙂

Anyway, to the meat of the story, while I was up at the bar, a group of guys walked over to where our group was sitting and basically tried to chat both the women up. I walked back from the bar with the drinks and sat down. They noticed me and one of them said “Oh, sorry for talking to your women.” and held out his hand to fist bump.

What? It’s 2012 and you’re talking about “my women”? Now, lest you think this is just a figure of speech, it was completely clear to me that he was backing off because he was recognising my territorial claim.

I held my hand down and, in a relaxed way, met his gaze and said “They’re not my women. They’re their women.” Very reasonably and no aggression. His reaction was amazing – the embarrassment on his face was immediate. I wasn’t trying to embarrass him, seriously, but at the same time I wasn’t going to buy into some exchange of property rubbish. He and his friends disappeared very shortly thereafter (well, immediately and very apologetically) and, I hope, might think twice before saying something that silly again. Perhaps it was a figure of speech but the way that he and his friends were acting… it was the same old nonsense dressed up with good haircuts and nice clothes, but the same old nonsense that starts cheerily and then starts to go nasty quickly if things don’t go as the initiator wants.

I was reflecting on this when I woke up this morning and I’m happy that I did the right thing, in the right way. However, it’s that constant reminder of how much… rubbish people have to put up with and how far we still have to go in order to get a basic sense of equality going.

I worry about a society where we are happy to tell women not to dress in a certain way, rather than having the much clearer message of “respect other people and leave them alone when they want to be left alone.” Where the moment a women gets attacked, there is always the followup questioning regarding what she was doing in a certain place at that time. There’s a lot of judging going on of the victims, rather than the very simple recognition that it is the actions of the perpetrators that should be judged. Can you walk around without crapping yourself? You have enough physical self-control to not attack someone else.

Basically, if someone wants to walk down the street naked, in the middle of the night, then until our society is safe enough to do that (ignoring your feelings on public nudity for a moment) we still have to educate. We still have to say “This person is not mine, they’re theirs.” We have to teach people that perceiving something as an invitation is a perception, not an actual invitation. We still have to look at someone and say “Really? Is that what you think is reasonable?” And, maybe, slowly, people learn and in 30-40 years time we can go and deal with some of the giant problems that we’re having difficulty with because we’re making up artificial divisions between people and undermining trust by acting stupidly and without basic consideration.

I read recently about an assault charge where a man put his genitals on the face of a young man who had passed out in a fast food restaurant, a photo was taken and ended up on the Internet. People stood around and watched as this happened. A young man is defenceless, obviously after not making the best decisions, and a crowd allow someone to humiliate him and assault him in that way.

No. This is wrong. Someone who has passed out because they drank too much has been silly, because they’ll feel bad tomorrow and they’re risking medical issues, but the vulnerable are not legitimate targets for the cruel and the thoughtless. You don’t get to be judge and jury on this one, no matter how stupid you think someone has been. You don’t get to punish someone for silliness that isn’t a crime, no matter how amusing you find it. The weak and the vulnerable need the support of the strong and privileged – not their exploitation.

I’ve come out of the last three days with an enormous amount of energy and I’m ready for a big challenge – the first stage in this is never letting something like this (helping other people or protecting other people) slip by again. If it means asking people if they’re ok, and risking getting involved, then I’ll have to swallow my trepidation and just do it. If it means getting dirty, or maybe having someone throw up on me, I can wash my clothes and have a shower. If it means running late for something that isn’t life threateningly urgent because I’ve stopped to help someone, then I will be late. I haven’t always been very good at this and I’ve always had really good reasons… or at least that’s what I thought.

Last night reminded me that it doesn’t have to be violent or unpleasant, but it does require you to keep your eye on things and not get sucked into the implicit privilege of the colour of my skin, my educational background or my gender. No more fist bumps for stupidity and, with any luck, no more convenient business to allow me to turn a blind eye.

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