I live in a small lake-centered community about three hours north of Toronto, consisting of about thirty houses: about ten are occupied year-round; the others are occupied mostly just during the summer. So, small neighbourhood.
Over the past few years, I’ve experienced six instances of what I would call over-the-top insult. Specifically misogynist insult.
Man #1: I’d called the MNR to inquire about laws concerning cutting down trees at the shoreline; I emphasized that the guy was doing so on his own private property, but still, I wondered if that was okay—in some areas it is not, because it messes up the ecosystem. The man had put up for sale the peninsula in question (my precious view!), and I had already offered to purchase it at its assessed value, at twice its assessed value, at three times its assessed value—he refused to sell it to me, believing that he could get more for the house on top of the hill if this slice of waterfront was attached (true, but what he could get for house-without-peninsula + only-peninsula might have been even more), and he thought that clearing the peninsula would make it more attractive. (And maybe he didn’t think women should own property.) That afternoon (after paddling over in the morning and begging him to stop, suggesting that the next owners might actually like the natural woodsiness—to no avail whatsoever), I stopped at his house with yet another offer: I would pay the property taxes on the peninsula until he sold the property if he would agree to not cut down any more trees. Barely suppressing rage (at what?), he called me a cunt, flicked the rag he happened to have in his hand at me, pushed me back into my car, told me to leave before he became a murderer, then reached in and smacked my dog.
Man #2: This guy had recently purchased a cottage at the end of our dead-end lane, and his young son had started driving an ATV up and down, and up and down, and up and down, annoying everyone … So I finally stopped him, told him there was a nearby stretch of road that had no one living on it, and suggested he play with his ATV there instead. Next up and down, it was his father on the ATV. He got off, stomped toward me, stood way too close, started jabbing his finger at me, called me a bitch, and told me that his son could drive his ATV wherever he wanted to. Later, while I was walking on the road (dirt/gravel road with no sidewalks), I saw his fast-approaching pick-up, moved as far to the edge of the road as I could, and faced the ditch so I wouldn’t get any gravel in my face. He came so close to me, I felt the swoosh of wind; if I’d happened to bend down to re-tie my shoelace while I waited for him to pass by, I’d probably be in a wheelchair now.
Man #3: The smoke from this guy’s burning leaves had been drifting onto my property for hours, forcing me inside with all the windows closed (I’m one of the many for whom such smoke is a headache trigger). So, deciding to take an indirect approach and thus avoid a physical confrontation, I simply left information about the toxicity of smoke from burning leaves in his mailbox; I figured he could read it and (hopefully) make the decision on his own to just let the leaves decompose in a pile in the corner of his almost-an-acre lot—it was better for the environment that way, quite apart from more respectful of his neighbours. A few days later, he happened to be picking up his mail when I walked by. He asked if I had been the one to put the information in his mailbox; I said yes; he then called me a coward and a cunt, all the while standing way too close and doing the finger jabbing thing.
Man #4: My transgression in this case? I’d knocked over the guy’s pile of rocks. It had apparently taken him hours to build. Unfortunately, he’d built it about thirty feet from shore (and not by any means close to his own property), right in the middle of what I think of as my kayak path—which he would have known had he been paying any attention to me kayaking past almost every day for the last twenty years, hugging the shore to be safe from the jetskis. Apparently he needed a landmark, other than, oh, I don’t know, the dead tree on the opposite shore, in order to avoid the submerged sandbar that was there. So he raced out on his jetski to me in my kayak and started yelling at me, calling me a bitch, asking me how stupid I was, and generally throwing a tantrum.
Man #5: This time? Apparently I wasn’t moving quickly enough from the easy walking of the middle of a seldom-travelled dirt road to the soft edge. That is to say, I wasn’t running out of his way. So while heading straight for me on his ATV, he shouted ‘Ya gotta get out of my way!’ Not terribly misognynistic unless you recognized the patronizing tone he managed to put into it. Like I was a toddler who needed to be told to look both ways before crossing a road. (Sidenote: his father, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, had wanted to hire me to be his maid and caretaker—I’m a consultant for a firm in Washington—and asked if I liked sex and was I any good at it.)
Man #6: I’ve saved the ‘best’ for last. On my way back from an all-afternoon paddle up the river, I stopped in front of a cottage (another of the eight upwind from my house) to ask that they put out the smokepit they’d had going since morning (so, for eight hours). Long story short, a guy came running down to the dock and started lunging at me (as if trying to scare away a bear?), calling me crazy, telling me to fuck off, telling me to mind my own business, and finally telling me I should take off my headphones (they were already off), bash my head with rocks, jump into the lake, and drown. Die. (He probably also called me a cunt, but I’m not sure, because I was so transfixed by his foaming-at-the-mouth reaction to me, to my simple request … )
So. What are the odds? Assuming one man per house, that’s six out of thirty, which is one in five. One in five men responded with absolute outrage when I challenged them on something. That in itself isn’t particularly new. Someone once said that “When men make demands, they expect women to comply.” True enough. And when women make demands, men completely lose their shit.
And I’m no stranger to sexism—as a female human being, I’ve been dismissed and/or ignored all my life.
What caught me by surprise, in every case, was the vehemence of the response, so disproportionate to the stimulus (two of the six uttered near death threats), and the ease with which those who called me a cunt did so.
On top of all that, in four of the six cases, I was significantly older than the man in question. Insults among peers is one thing, but it takes a certain arrogance to insult someone twenty or thirty years your senior: no deference, no hesitation, they were just as reckless, just as abusive, with me as I imagine they might be with their peers.
At first, I thought of individual explanations, something in our history … but to three of the six, I was a total stranger.
So. What’s going on? Yes, our society is increasingly uncivil. And some have attributed that to the internet: in general, people are more insulting when they are anonymous and, no surprise, that rudeness becomes a habit and crosses over into ‘real’ life.
But that doesn’t explain the sexual nature of the insults. Or the ease—and the rage—with which I was called a bitch or a cunt.
So I’m thinking it’s due to internet porn. Most porn, now, is incredibly aggressive and humiliating to women (read Dines’ Pornland and Bray and Reist’s Big Porn, Inc.): women are routinely slapped, hit, fucked; spat on, pissed on; and yes, of course, called a bitch and a cunt. Routinely. And most men watch porn. And, well, we become what we expose ourselves to. (Read the research). Therefore, most men believe they have a right to hurl abuse, sexual abuse, at a woman. Any woman. Anytime. Anywhere.