Saturday, February 21, 2009

What would you do?

In a post over at Gender Critics a user by the name Bj0rnborg mentioned the following scenario:

A man in the tram is silently crying. No one knows why.
The close by women can't decide if they should contact him and somehow comfort him (female genderroll: taking care of everyones emotional wellbeing).

The other men in the bus are looking away. Why? Sure, it's a display of weakness, and a reminder of every man's own inner fight. But the most important reason? Out of respect. Out of respect of whatever trouble that particular man had, for another man to engage into that situation would only increase that mans shame/self contempt/self awareness. So we respectfully keep away, just as we keep our own emotional baggage to ourselves so not to burden any other man. Every man has more than enough of his own.


Now the main point of Fred's post was to shed light on how people, namely men, react to seeing other men with problems and whether or not they would offer assistance. Well me being me I went on a bit of a tangent and brought up the issue of how my level of familiarity with the man in question would affect my offering of assistance. I had said that if was not that familiar with the crying man in question I would not offer assistance. In response to that Fred asked me two questions in return:

How would you approach offering a guy help that you did know? Is that different from how you would approach offering help to woman you know?


Despite their being only two questions I think this requires three answers.

1. A man that I do not know: Simply put I would not offer to help a man that I did not know. Now for the most part we are conditioned to believe that "a real man doesn't ask for help", "a real man doesn't need help", and even "to offer help to a man is to insult that man". None of those reasons have anything to do with why I would not help him. Like I said above I would not offer assistance because I do not know him. First I do not know his situation. And second I do not know how he may react to my offer. Perhaps with hostility because he thinks I think he is weak. Too many variables to risk to offer aid.

2. A woman that I do no know: Just like the man I do not know I would not offer aid to a woman I do not know either. Now I know this flies in the face of everything we are taught. "Always help a woman." "Damsel in distress." Stuff like that. But just like the man I don't know I don't know her situation. Nor do I know how she would react. She may think I'm trying to attack her. Other passengers may think I'm the one that harmed her and she needs help and in their attempt to help her I end up getting tossed in jail. Frankly speaking I think offering assistance to a woman I don't know is more risky that offering assistance to a man I don't know.

As you can see unfamiliarity with the person in question leaves too much room for an offer of assistance to become a problem. However once that wall of unfamiliarity is torn down things change quite a bit.

3. For either a man or a woman that I know I would certainly offer assistance with but a few exceptions. One, I know that the person in question would not want me to speak to them under such a situation. Two, I already know the situation and know that the instance in crying in question is just a coping mechanism. Well that's all I can think of (it is 3:44 am mind you) but I'm sure there are more. Barring any of those circumstances my desire to help my friend/acquaintance would over ride my fears of having him think I think he's weak or my fears of her thinking I'm only offering assistance because "women need men to help them".

So what about you reader? What would you do if you saw a man/woman that you do/do not know crying and what would influence your answers?

15 comments:

BigFred said...

I can understand your reservations for not helping those you don't know. I share some of them also. I also thought your point about helping women being particularly interesting. As to your third point, your exceptions are reasonable. I think I would do the same also. Although, I do think I would offer help in different ways for different friends for the same situation. I think the help I would give a male friend with relationship problems compared to a female friend with similar relationship problems could be different.

*BTW I'm cross posting comments, so this comment will appear on both our blogs.

Danny said...

I do agree that my offer of help to a male friend vs. a female friend would be different. I was just talking about the pure sense of "would I help him/her".

Thanks for the cross post

Pelle Billing said...

Cross-posting my comment too:

I still don't have any good answers.

The only thing that comes to mind is that simply by approaching a crying man, we would be breaking new ground. I think it would be possble to sort of stay within the male gender role, by asking a question such as: "Dude, do you need any help?" instead of saying "Oh my god, what's going on, how are you feeling, are you alright?".

So if we affirm a crying man's masculine identity while still offering help we *may* be successful. That's all I kind think of at the moment. I don't think we can expect change without having some bumps along the way.

Pelle

nia said...

I honestly do believe I would approach a man I saw crying and ask if he was ok. I think my first instinct would be to want to know what was wrong with him first, before I decided if I should ask him if he needed help.
I have actually seen a woman crying in public before and I asked her if she was ok.
On the other hand, once when I had a good cry in public I really didn't want anyone to approach me, I just wanted to have a good cry. I had a bad day at work and I just felt like letting it out on the way home in the bus, and I didn't really want to talk to anyone.

Renee said...

I have to say your assertion that you could see another human being crying and not offer aid is incredibly sad. It should not matter what the gender of the person in question is. We have a human responsibility to look out for each other.
The reason offered that somehow helping a man shames him is once again proof of the ways in which sexism hurts men too. Men feel emotions just like women they have only been taught to suppress them and this is not healthy. Ideally we should be free to express ourselves.

Danny said...

It is indeed sad but like I said the gender doesn't matter its a fear of approaching an unknown person on what may be an intimate and personal matter that would make me hesitate. Going up to an unknown man could lead to a confrontation and frankly going up to an unknown women could land me in jail (and my gender has just as much to do with it as my race). When society gets to point where those fears are calmed I'm sure I'd be willing to approach an unknown man or woman in such a situation.

The reason offered that somehow helping a man shames him is once again proof of the ways in which sexism hurts men too.
Precisely. Society tells men that we are only supposed to have certain emotions like anger and lust. This has to end for all our sakes.

Renee said...

@Danny standing a few feet away from someone and asking if they need assistance if you can clearly see that they are in pain is not risking anything. You don't have to touch them if you don't want to. This is an abdication of our duty to look for others.

Society tells men that we are only supposed to have certain emotions like anger and lust. This has to end for all our sakes.

This is precisely why men should support feminism. Part of the goal of feminism is to disturb the rigid gender binary that we have normalized.

Danny said...

@Danny standing a few feet away from someone and asking if they need assistance if you can clearly see that they are in pain is not risking anything. You don't have to touch them if you don't want to. This is an abdication of our duty to look for others.
Actually that is not a bad idea. I just have to get over my own fears. I'm willing to bet there is a small chance of something bad happening from offering a simple "You alright?" but for some reason I can't.

This is precisely why men should support feminism. Part of the goal of feminism is to disturb the rigid gender binary that we have normalized.
Yeah some do but just like the other side of the spectrum (that would be MRAs) there are those that only want to adjust the gender binary to their own advantage, everyone else be damned. That's why I haven't thrown my hat in with either side yet (and until I see some coming together from both sides I don't see myself doing so anytime soon).

BigFred said...

Renee

It should not matter what the gender of the person in question is.

I don't think should matter either. However, I don't know of a diplomatic way of offering aid to someone who may not be receptive to it, even if I know they need it. My concern is that they the very offer of aid could make the situation worse. This may not be case for some guys, but I suspect that others may find an offer of help the icing on cake of their problem(s). I just wonder if there's a way to help the guy out without making the situation worse, but I get the feeling that I can't have my cake and eat it too.

Renee said...

That's why I haven't thrown my hat in with either side yet (and until I see some coming together from both sides I don't see myself doing so anytime soon).

I am interested to learn what kind of compromises you feel that feminism needs to make to patriarchy.

Danny said...

I am interested to learn what kind of compromises you feel that feminism needs to make to patriarchy.

You're starting from the stand point that men's advocate equals patriarchal defender and that's not good because that's not true. And second you sound like you think that feminism has it all figured and anyone that doesn't see that has got a problem and that not good either for that is not true as well.

I think its too soon to talk compromise. That attitude gets everyone worked up on what they will refuse to give up and what they will demand the other side to give up. I would just like some coming together in the sense of civil conversation.

Renee said...

I didn't say that feminism is perfect but your answers imply that a compromise of sorts is needed on both sides, and this is why I asked what you believe that feminism should be willing to negotiate.

Danny said...

Well first I would say that both sides need to quit flinging inflammatory nonsense at each other.

BigFred said...

Danny and Renee your conversation has sparked another blog post by me.

Danny said...

This is precisely why men should support feminism. Part of the goal of feminism is to disturb the rigid gender binary that we have normalized.

When I see an act of merit from feminism I try to point it (although I'll admit I'm a bit behind on that).

You yourself have pointed out flaws in feminism as a woman of color therefore you do not support it in full. I've seen flaws in feminism as a man therefore I don't support it in full. What's the difference?

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