This post is about gaining greater self-awareness. Not the sort of kinky self-awareness that you might infer from the title, you awful denizens of the Internet. No, this is actually about feminism and male privilege. If you’ve ever called yourself a Nice Guy or used the phrase “she should be flattered” then, honestly, me and you aren’t going to make the best of friends. You should stop reading now, I don’t want you to enjoy my story.
Abrupt change of subject: when I was a teenager I did parkour. If you’re not familiar, it’s basically jumping and running around made extreme. If you’ve seen Casino Royale, Daniel Craig’s first Bond movie, then you’ve seen Sebastian Foucan. He’s the bomber bond chases up and down and all around and he was one of the founders of the discipline. He’s not the Frenchman from the title of this post, he’s a different Frenchman. Here’s a video of me and him, I’m the wafer-thin teenager with the red t-shirt from about 5:30 in.
That’s my claim to fame is out of the way. One Wednesday afternoon I was off to a place name Byker, which is a rough-ish area of Newcastle famous for a 90s TV series that brought the world TV presenters Ant & Dec. It was a half-decent place to practice my parkouring skills (which were epic, see above), plus I knew a fellow traceur (that’s what we parkourists are called) that lived nearby. It’s serviced by a Metro station, so I got a Metro to said Metro station. Then I got off the Metro at the station, because that’s how that all works. I then left the Metro station via a ramp (rather than the lift or stairs), because unnecessary descriptive detail.
That’s when he approached, the Frenchman from the title you’ve all been waiting for. He was in his early thirties or so, with a bit of stubble. I’ll be honest, he didn’t tell me he was French, but he had the accent for it. He could’ve been from elsewhere.
He approached me with a “hi,” which is English for salut, as I understand it. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to meet a friend,” I said.
“Would you like a drink?” he asked. I didn’t want a drink, as it happened. I told him as much.
“Come on, come back to mine [I hope you're reading this in an accent, by the way], have a drink. Listen to some music, get sleepy, feel nice,” he creeped. “Said” feels like too lacking of a verb.
“No, I’m going to meet my friend,” I said. I was seventeen and so somewhat naive about humanity. “One cup” was but an American cooking measurement to me at that point. But I knew exactly what he was after, and the French penis that getting sleepy and feeling nice would entail. Nevertheless, I was a ninja, highly practiced in the art of running away (see video), so I put my skills to use and crossed the road. Frenchman gone.
Skipping forward half an hour and my parkour friend hadn’t turned up. I found myself back in the vicinity of the Metro station. “Do you know any good coffee shops,” asked the approaching Mr Frenchman, who had spotted me and was now following me down the street. Whilst me of now would opt for “fuck off, you lunatic,” me of then was, “no, sorry” as I made my way towards the busy shopping street nearby. I was a bit frightened, honestly.
Monsieur Pervert was, he explained, new to the area and looking to make friends. By hanging around public transport and approaching teenagers with offers of alcohol at his flat. Isn’t that how the best friendships are made?
I eventually gave him the slip (in a very not-a-euphemism way) and left the area. I never saw him again, which is good. Also, I’ve never had unsolicited sexual attention from an older man again at any other point in the decade since. This brings me back to the first paragraph of this post. You see, I turned this weird and frightening experience into an amusing anecdote. I can, because by virture of my birth-gender and subsequent facial hair, I’ve only experienced this once, ’twas but an anomoly. But that, the fact that being accosted in the street by a strange older man became a lighthearted tale about my teenage years, is a shocking indictment of the guy privilege I, until recently, didn’t realise I had.
I’m a skeptic, hence the web address in your URL bar up there. Not sure about the number bit, I guess I just like numbers, so I thought I’d call myself one? Then i can be an imaginary number (surprise maths pun, boom!). I’m a skeptic that reads blogs, listens to podcasts, occassionally attends a meeting. Then a few years ago an awesome blogger and podcaster named Rebecca Watson was approached at 4am in an elevator by a dude she didn’t know. He asked if she’d like to come back to his room, for coffee. “Come back for coffee?” is about as “wanna fuck?” as a question gets.
She made a passing mention in a video of how this was creepy, and in the process unleashed a torrent of hatred and abuse from horrible, horrible men across the Internet. It turns out that skepticism is rife with misogynistic asshats. The experience I outlined above with the Frenchman is something women have the risk of having to deal with every time they attend a skeptical conference. Hell, they have to put up with worse. And if they speak up about it, they get threats of death and rape. Even the less violent creeps out there refuse to accept that propositioning someone out of nowhere is a really shitty thing to do.
That set me off on a path of learning of misogyny, privilege, rape culture et al that makes me staunchly a feminist. It’s amongst the biggest self-improvement I’ve undergone in recent years, for which I thank Rebecca and the numerous other feminists who put up with so much shit to raise awareness. If I was at risk of having to put up with creepy guys approaching me every day, French or otherwise, the result wouldn’t be a light-hearted anecdote.
My privilege is enough to make direct unwanted sexual attention less of an issue. That’s why we need feminism.