the_prodigal: Lurking in the dark (Default)
[personal profile] the_prodigal
Imagine a salesman who comes aboard a train. Among the other passengers is a soldier in uniform. The salesman knows a tiny bit about the distant war the soldier has likely fought in – just what he happened to pick up from the news – and he thinks he read somewhere that approximately 15-20 % of the troops involved in that conflict have been diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).

The salesman sits down opposite the soldier, who is minding his own business (reading a book/looking out the window/listening to music on his headphones). It is unclear from the soldier’s body language if he has actively noticed the salesman, but it occurs to the salesman that he might have a chance to make a sale! He doesn’t need to make a sale, but he cannot rule out the possibility that it could be fun. On the other hand, there is a much greater likelihood that this soldier much prefers to be left alone – or actually needs to be, in order to have peace of mind.

Is the salesman entitled to the soldier’s attention?

Does the salesman have a right to a ‘chance’ with the soldier?

The salesman believes he has the legal and moral right to at least try to pitch his product to the seemingly uninterested soldier. After all, he (the salesman) cannot be 100 % sure that the other guy would not welcome it.

Does he need to be 100 % sure that the soldier does not want to be disturbed for that to deter him from trying to strike up a conversation with him?

Or do the probabilities suggest that the salesman ought to leave the soldier in peace?

Is it just basic human decency to allow the high probability of someone else’s trauma to trump your own negligible – perhaps entirely illusory – chance of a bit of fun?

The salesman argues that the soldier’s PTSD – if he has it – is not his (the salesman’s) responsibility. He feels it is unfair that his chances – however slim – of getting an extraordinary sale in these circumstances should suffer just because there is a real possibility that the soldier will experience anxiety at the approach of a stranger. The soldier’s anxieties are irrational! The salesman has never personally detonated bombs in anyone’s vicinity! He has never laid out landmines or shot anyone with a sniper rifle! He does not know what has happened to this soldier in the war, nor what may have befallen the soldier’s comrades – and why should that be any of the salesman’s concern? Why should he have to pussyfoot around this soldier, and respect his apparent preference for privacy? If the salesman does that, the tiny chance of a really cool and remarkable sale that he has fantasised into existence will be lost! How is that fair?

Do you think this salesman has a point? I don’t.

I think the high probability that the soldier has PTSD and the total certainty that at the very least, he has been through a harrowing time in the war earns him the right to be left alone on trains when he shows no signs of wanting to engage with a salesman. I think his right to peace and privacy trumps the concern that the salesman might miss out on some imagined opportunity to peddle his goods and the off chance that it might be a special treat for him to get a sale on a train.

“But Freedom of Speech!” screeches the salesman.

Freedom of speech is the assurance that if you speak out against the government or some other group that is more powerful than you, no one will come to arrest you for it. It is not some inalienable right to say anything to anyone at any time. It is not the right to try to peddle your goods to someone who is not interested and would rather be left alone. It is certainly not the right to disregard the likely traumas of other people just because you did not personally cause them.

Now replace the salesman with a man of any profession and the soldier with a woman – any woman. The man finds her attractive/thinks it could be fun to flirt with her/is bored and would like her to entertain him. He observes her apparent disinterest in him, but cannot be 100 % sure that whatever it is he wants from her is impossible to gain. And as long as he is not 100 % sure that his incursion on her privacy is unwelcome, inconvenient, uncomfortable, embarrassing or directly fear-provoking to her, his tiny chance for amusement trumps everything else, right?

He thinks he is entitled to the fullest possible assortment of the smorgasbord that is womankind. Nothing must limit his access to every conceivable benefit from interacting with her - not even the significant risk that his trivial gain comes at her great expense. There is a considerable likelihood that she is a rape survivor and an absolute certainty - given our social climate - that she has several/countless times in her life been subjected to harassment or other unwanted sexual attention from men, strangers or not. But these traumas or harrowing experiences of hers do not discharge her of her fundamental duty to be at his service and stroke his precious man-ego at any time. She has no claim to her own time and space. He is owed a chance with her, no?


And that, gentle reader, is the gist of some of the  so-called 'arguments' made by male commenters in the discussion thread of this post. And these are the men who say they don't hate women. With friends like these who needs sadistic misogynists?
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