When Daphne Maia Loo posted on Facebook on Mar 19 about feeling spooked by an encounter with a friendly male neighbour at 7am and how the fear she felt made her realise what it means to be a woman, her commenters were clearly divided.
Women agreed with her assessment that in the darkish dawn hours, it’s natural to feel afraid and wary – even if, as Daphne clarified, the neighbour is “someone we see frequently, as he works nearby, someone who is always friendly in greeting us”.
The menfolk, on the other hand, largely thought Loo was being paranoid and attention-seeking. Disappointingly, many also made personal attacks about her looks, such as: “Did she look at herself in the mirror?” and “If pretty then scared, not pretty scared what?”
Only one guy attempted to engage in a polite discussion with her, sharing that even as a man, if he were to find himself alone in dark, secluded places, he’d feel afraid, too, and that he disagreed with her implied generalisation that all men are to be feared.
Here at The Pride, we’re evenly split on the gender ratio. So, needless to say, this was the topic that heated up last week’s editorial meeting as well.
With that in mind, two of our writers – one male and one female, of course – got down to debating the more pertinent assumptions and reactions raised by Loo’s post.
Loo: “I’m a woman, and I was all alone, and he is a man who was all alone too. This is what it means to be a woman.”
Cheryl Leong (CL): “When I read that, my first reaction was: ‘Huh?’ I understood Daphne’s fear reflex (my heart would be in my mouth, too, if someone startled me like that), but I wouldn’t have linked it to gender inequality. However, when I read the comments to her post, it made me think about her statement in a new light.
Growing up, I remember hearing cryptic warnings from my parents, grandparents, the occasional relative, teachers, even some friends, that I needed to be extra careful when going anywhere because “women have more to lose”. It all sounded so vague – lose… what? And when? And how?
Eventually, of course, I figured out what they meant, in the context of assault and outrage of modesty. When considered that way, I have to acknowledge that Daphne has a point. And I’m pretty sure it’s not something you men will truly understand.
Noah Tan (NT): I agree. Personally, I’ve never felt threatened by a woman’s behaviour, and I’m not as aware of men behaving suspiciously around me. I suppose that’s because the possibility of me getting hurt or raped doesn’t cross my mind immediately, if at all, and I dare say it’s the same for most men as well.
CL: Well, lucky you. You’re a friend, as well as one of the most gentlemanly guys I know. But I have to say, what you’ve pointed out is precisely why you and your brotherhood can’t appreciate the real, everyday fear of male intimidation women have to deal with.
At some point in their lives, most women would have encountered it to some extent: Being hit on aggressively, pressed up against, groped in public, and verbally or physically abused.
Years ago, when I was walking home after a late night out, a cab pulled up alongside me to ask for directions to a nearby supper spot. I moved closer to the driver’s side to hear him better, but at the moment, he suddenly grabbed my arm and asked if I wanted to join him.
I panicked and pulled my arm away, but he held fast. All this time, the cab was still in motion, and I was terrified that I’d be dragged into the vehicle. It was only when I delivered a kick to the door with my heels, that he cursed, let go of my arm and drove off. I stood frozen for a time, trying not to cry, until I recovered enough to continue walking.
To this day, I remember the fear I felt. Have you ever had reason to be afraid like that, or even of walking home alone from the train station or bus stop?
NT: I’m sorry to hear about your experience, and I can only imagine how traumatic it must have felt. Statistics do show that the majority of perpetrators of rape are going to be men, while women are generally the victims. Maybe because physiologically, it’s easier for men to commit rape. Maybe it’s also a case of toxic masculinity, where women are regarded as the weaker sex, so perverted men think they are entitled to molest or rape women.
However, it’s not right to think all men are potential rapists just because of the bad apples out there. Gender, just like race, religion, or nationality, has no bearing on whether a person will commit a crime. So, there was no need for Daphene to bring gender into the equation.
Sure, complain about the individual’s behaviour, but why play the gender card? It implied that she was only afraid because her neighbour tenant was a man, when I’m sure she would have felt just as uncomfortable if a woman did the same thing. It also implied that women should view all men as potential predators and themselves as potential victims of crime – a perspective which is unfair to both sexes.
Loo: “Men could be more careful not to make us feel uncomfortable.”
NT: In response to one commenter, Daphne wrote that “if only men understood [how a woman feels] they would be more careful not to make us feel uncomfortable”.
As an example of that, she referenced how “some men…cross the road to walk on opposite side just to ensure the women around feel safer, especially on quiet roads”. But, if I’m just walking on the road, minding my own business, should women fear me just because I’m a man?
As men, are we supposed to tread on eggshells around women lest we make them feel uncomfortable for simply being in their presence? If I’m behaving normally, I’m not going to go out of my way to do things like “walk in a different direction”, because I think that’s an overreaction.
CL: I’m actually with you on this. You don’t need to go out of your way to make us feel at ease. I wouldn’t want you – or any other guy, friend and otherwise – to feel uncomfortable just because they’re alone in my presence. Or worse, to beg forgiveness and cry innocent if you so much as accidentally brush against my arm.
But just so we’re clear – there are certain behaviours we can both agree is suspicious, that men could do well to be mindful of, yes?
NT: Yes, but that boils down to an individual’s behaviour, not gender. Both men and women can behave badly, or harbour ill intent. Even as a man, alarm bells would ring if someone – man or woman – were to invade my personal space for no apparent reason.
But of course, I’m not saying that men shouldn’t watch their behaviour around women at all. We must be mindful of the boundaries that once crossed, enters the domain of sexual harassment. It’s when men cross that line, and make excuses for doing so, that lead women to believe men cannot be trusted and are predatory. Simply put, just don’t act like a creep!
CL: But even if we haven’t been frightened by a creep or been sexually harassed before, we know what fear feels like. I live in a quiet neighbourhood, with mostly elderly residents. I’ve seen notices put up at the lift landing warning people to be careful of lift robberies; once, I even saw a fresh pool of blood by the lift doors. That really freaked me out.
From then on, whenever I go home late at night, I’d avoid taking the lift with strangers. And sometimes, I find myself doing the silly key-between-the-knuckles thing as a precaution. Yes, I feel paranoid when I get off at my floor with no incident, but I also feel safer. And I always text the friends I just left to let them know I’m home, and vice versa.
NT: It’s wise to protect yourself if you find yourself in situations or places which call for it. For example, if you find yourself in a place that has a high crime rate late at night, you probably should be wary of your surroundings, regardless of whether you’re a man or woman.
Commenter: “Don’t talk like you so pretty, until men in the whole world wanna * you”
CL: This one took the cake with its crudity, but there were many other similar comments. I’m angry to see such disrespectful things said about women, but more importantly, I’m scared to learn that there are men out there – not counting the obvious trolls – who think like that.
Why? I just don’t understand. Even if her post might have offended some men, it doesn’t justify the misogyny.
Do men think that if they attack us where it hurts most – by shaming us about our looks – we’ll shrink away? Am I supposed to thank you for not raping me because I’m ugly?
NT: This sort of superficiality is toxic and shameful, plain and simple, and those who made such comments should be ashamed of themselves. These personal attacks not only trivialise rape, but also reinforces the stereotype that men are shallow beings who objectify women in their minds. Such comments, ironically, simply serve to prove Daphne’s point that women should be afraid of men.
Because while I don’t agree with Daphne’s post in this instance, I do recognise that men should be empathetic and understanding towards women when they speak about issues like sexual harassment and gender discrimination. These are problems that men in general tend to take lightly, when we really should be banding together with women to tackle them.
CL: I appreciate your openness in listening to me, but that may not be enough to prompt any change – not unless you’re prepared to go beyond talk. I don’t want to sound like a crazy feminist, but we need your help to put an end to such toxic masculinity, too.
For starters, if your friends jokingly make disparaging remarks about women, would you call them out on it? If you saw a jittery woman looking over her shoulders, like Daphne probably did, would you check in with her, or step in if she were really in danger?
NT: Yes, I think it’s necessary for men to be more aware of what they’re saying about women, even during casual conversation or what some might term “locker room talk”. It might seem like harmless banter, but it can cause us to perpetuate the belief that women are inferior, rather than accord them the respect they deserve.
I’ve tactfully admonished my friends in the past when I felt they crossed the line with their comments about women, and I think it’s something all of us need to do in order to inculcate a culture of respect. Interestingly, some of my friends who made such comments were women themselves!
Also, I do think it’s only right that we should help, or at least offer to help, anyone who needs it, regardless of their gender, race or religion. So yes, I would check in with someone if they looked jittery or uncomfortable and see if I could assist them in any way. I only hope my offer of help isn’t misconstrued as something more sinister!
CL: Thank you. Women and men do view certain things differently – there’s no pretending otherwise – and that’s something we both need to be respectful of. So, what can we do to understand you better, too?
NT: Talk to us openly, like how we’re doing now. It gives us a better understanding of how women feel, and we get a chance to share our perspective as well. Ultimately, in an ideal world, men and women should not have to fear each other. It doesn’t have to be a battle of the sexes. It’s good versus bad, and we should be united in ensuring that the right side wins.
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