My use of Facebook has meant that the majority of the blog-posts and online articles I read generally feed into whatever it is I already believe (apart from Reason.com, that’s just for me to hate-read). Being someone who aspires to being a feminist I tend to read a lot of literature put out by those attempting to combat and end street harassment, which lead to me watching the video showing a woman walking alone in NYC, whilst receiving unsolicited comments, judgement and intimidating behavior. I watched this video after getting back from work at 8.30am, went to sleep for three hours. In the time between me falling asleep and waking up, the amount of threats and defensive messages directed at this video had got large enough that websites have been commenting on them. It’s not as though reactions in this vein are new, however the rapidity in turnaround of this particular piece of media activism broke whatever part of myself was trying to understand the societal and educational factors that contribute to seemingly ordinary men harassing strangers on the street. So I really want to know; What the hell do you think you’re doing?
I’m not coming at this from never having been an entitled asshole. When I was fourteen accidentally bruised the ribs of a girl I was into by grabbing her shoulders by surprise to ‘jokingly’ scare her resulting in her having shortness of breath for a few hours. There are at least two women walking around today who I attempted to stay in contact with, well after it was made very clear that they were not interested in me. These things were terrible and assholish but from what I can gather by talking to other people not uncommon, particularly in teenage boys who were brought up in a society that taught and then re-enforced the idea of women and girls as prizes for persistence as opposed to people to interact with. I would like to think I’ve grown up and become a better human being. Thinking back on it I’m pretty sure that in my mind at least there was plausible deniability about any harm I was doing. I was taught very extensively, both that women had all the power in romantic relationships and that as a teenage boy I was simultaneously unimportant and biologically hard-wired to act in a sexually aggressive way; ergo nothing I did too pursue women could intimidate or harm them, and if it did; boys will be boys, amiright? I also grew up in the early to mid 2000s when the wide feedback loop that has become the internet didn’t exist, so there were very few instances were women felt comfortable enough to respond to me being an entitled dick with anything other than silence in the hopes I would get bored and leave them alone.
“See it’s funny and harmless, something something pre-determined biology something something”
If you’re an adult man living in 2014, you have neither of these piss-poor excuses to fall back on, particularly if you are under 40, particularly if you have ever used social media. Even if you lack the ability to read basic social cues in real-time and somehow think that placid non-committal slightly upturned lips followed by quicker walking is somehow an indication of sexual interest; How is it that you continue to think that after reading or listening to any woman say anything about street harassment? I will admit that I’ve haven’t sought out pro-catcalling women that hard but the fact that MRAs haven’t put them front and centre of everything they do makes me assume that they don’t exist. assuming that it’s a kind of one-sided argument, women pretty consistently explain again and again that they would rather not have the idea of being attacked introduced into their daily routine. So far so simple; so Why do dudes keep insisting this is all in good fun?
Take a moment to read the comment board on the lady in NYC video. this last bit is addressed to the dudes who decided to take time out of their day to discredit the video as just showing normal interactions between people;
How do you function? Forget that you that your interactions with female identified people is apparently so slim that street harassment has never been anything any woman has ever felt comfortable enough talking to you about; how do you manage to have abstract thoughts considering it is apparently beyond your imagination that the idea of strangers capable of physically overpowering you, taking a sudden, explicitly invasive interest in your body might be scary? On top of this, we live in a society were violence against women is incredibly commonplace, it is actually happening. The fear women have when cat-called isn’t an ineffable one, they are worried about a very specific thing happening when you cat-call. The baffling thing is that most people you know probably don’t think of you as a bad person, which is insane because you apparently can’t summon up the rudimentary empathy to trust that when someone tells you that a certain behavior upsets and intimidates them, they mean it. What is in this for you? Why is it so important too you that the harassment of women on the street continue to be socially acceptable? Whatever it is please just fucking drop it. Every time I read someone dismiss a Woman’s testimony out of hand because she’s some crazy man hating feminazi, I get embarrassed for having a penis, because every time you do I can hear the screaming, entitled boy crying about people letting you know that your actions might have negative effects of those around you. If you think of yourself as a good person please do your fellow human being the courtesy of believing them when they tell you their experiences. Obviously if you’ve just made it through the last thousand words and think I’m just some whipped white knight (by the way, it’s super interesting that you genuinely can’t get your heads around the concept of solidarity), you could just move to Mount Athos – cos bitches be crazy yo!
I just spent my third Columbus day since coming to America bathing cats and surfing the internet. As cleaning a cat is simultaneously upsetting and boring I spent a lot of time reading articles and Facebook posts on why the federal holiday is an embarrassing aberration in this day and age. This wasn’t something confined to the internet; most of my friends (as previously mentioned; a series of Anarchist and Queers, the majority of whom consider the Democratic party right wing) rolled their eyes and sighed at the vulgarity of a parade through south Philadelphia to honor a man who unleashed a wave of masochistic violence, diseases and genocide to firstly Hispaniola, and then the western hemisphere generally, bemoaning that this was not what America stands for.
I really want to believe that. I want to write a long tract about how it is inconceivable in this day and age to celebrate such a man and his works. That Columbus day is a strange aberration to American life, that it’s weird that the United States, a country that occupies none of the territory Columbus walked on, whose primary language is not only not what Columbus spoke, but the language of his state’s enemy, as well as being primarily made up of what he would have thought of as heretics, celebrates him discovering the Caribbean at the beginning of the fall. I could also question the use of Columbus day as a sober, Autumnal Italian St Patrick’s day, considering the full amount of stuff Italian Americans have contributed to the life and culture of the United States without orchestrating a genocide.
I would write that, but it’s not true. Christopher Columbus is probably the quintessential historical figure of the Americas, the U.S. in particular. The history of English speaking people on the North American continent is a strange mix of horrific genocide, slavery, theft, democracy and liberty that can’t be separated as much as we try. The idea of a republic in the 18th century cannot be divorced from the idea of slavery any more than the pioneers’ long trail to Oregon and California can be viewed without Christian white supremacy as its central drive. Equally you can’t view Christopher Columbus without separating the fact that without him the civilizations presently occupying the Americas wouldn’t exist without him, and that they exist because extreme violence was brought upon the civilizations that used to exist there.
It’s not nearly as easy to outright condemn Columbus as it should be; don’t get me wrong, Columbus was a terrible human being and it’s a shame there probably isn’t a hell for him to have been languishing in for five hundred years. But why is Columbus the one we decide to single out every year? The $20 bill depicts a man who committed Genocide, Half of American coins have slave owners on them, the great emancipator engaged in summery executions of indigenous peoples whilst preparing to put the emancipation proclamation into effect. The thing that is wrong with Columbus is something that’s wrong with White Americans generally, and yet it’s strange to think that the extermination of indigenous Americans is seen as a separate, peripheral aspect of White American political figures, like a set of wooden teeth or a stove pipe hat, the systemic murder of millions of people is brushed aside as barely notable to all but a few history enthusiasts, to the point that the first result from Googling the term “Native American Genocide” assumes you’re unaware it happened.
Europeans are not exempt from this doublethink regarding our history, however we do have the advantage of having been able to leave the places and pretend the whole ugly systematic genocide and exploitation of people of colour never happened. The closest British equivalent to Columbus day, Commonwealth day, used to be called ‘Empire Day’ until it was changed (much like the institution it celebrates) to pretend that Britain’s colonial project was primarily a bilateral community for everyone’s benefit. It’s not celebrated with any kind of parade i know of. European Atrocities outside our continent are largely ignored and not taught instead of being miss taught. for instance, I went to school with a guy from Zimbabwe when I was 17; he was the first person to tell me about the Rhodesian Bush War. I was equally ignorant of the Mau Mau uprising before I learned about it in collage. What we don’t do is try and defend something whose only justification is that White people are fundamentally better than everyone else who need to die to make room; we awkwardly ignore it or we talk about these things as though we are utterly detached from it. After listening to British people talk about the British Empire, it’s easy to come away with the idea that there was some personnel overhaul around about 1935 where vicious money-grubbing imperialists were replaced by Nazi killers and N.H.S. builders.
Europeans can mentally get away with the act of being vague about our murderous past because our self identity isn’t based on it having happened. If there had never been British, French, or Spanish Empires, Britain, France and Spain would still exist. There is definitely space were Spain is, we can argue about were Portugal and France begin, but Spain has definitely always been somewhere in between and filled with Spaniards. America on the other hand was the piece of British territory between the Atlantic and the Appalachian Mountains before it was the Eastern Third of North America before it was the space between the 49th Parallel and the Rio Grande before that included Alaska, Hawaii, Porto Rico, Guam, The Virgin Islands and Parts of Samoa, with Panama, The Philippines and Canada flirted with as possible parts of America, all of these places have original inhabitants that were pushed out or murdered so white people could move in and set up shop. My point is that America is not quite a country in the traditional seance, the idea behind it is… well, an Idea. It’s one of two countries in the history of the world whose sole reason for creation is putting an ideology into practice, and the last one to still exist.
The greatness of America isn’t in what it has done or is doing as a lot of that is pretty terrible and problematic: the positive attribute of America is in it’s potential. Whatever mistake the slave owners in Philadelphia made by not specifying who “We the people” included means that a leading power in the western world has shifted the norms of that society from that of human bondage and legal segregation to one with a bi-racial dude in charge all whilst failing spectacularly to live up to this country’s founding ideals. Columbus Day not only needs to be thrown out, we need to discuss why it was ever a holiday in the first place. Unless we do that we are denying that American history is that of people aspiring one thing and acting in a fundamentally different way. We need to hash out the evil of men like Columbus and Jefferson and Lincoln because unthinkingly celebrating the deaths of outsiders to your benefit is what other countries that never claimed to have moral superiority woven into their DNA. Columbus Day cheapens what it is to be American and pretends that our forebears didn’t betray the fundamentals of what being American is supposed to be and holds current Americans back from being the contentious global citizens we aspire to be.