Friday, July 12, 2019


"I don't trust the perception that the world puts on people when they see things and they don't ask a question, they don't look to find out the truth," [Mississippi Republican gubernatorial candidate Reprentative Robert Foster] said.

"Perception is a reality in this world, and I don't want to give anybody the opinion that I'm doing something that I should not be doing."

Mr. Foster said following the #MeToo movement, "men are under attack all the time".

"I'm not going to allow myself to be put in a situation with any female where they can make an accusation against me" without someone else in attendance, he said.
US politician insists on chaperone for interview with female reporter
The BBC goes on to state that "Some argue the practice [of the 'Billy Graham Rule,' popularized most recently by Vice President Mike Pence] is a matter of professionalism in the workplace while critics decry it as sexist and unfair to women in professional settings." My first thought was that one could likely draw a clear partisan division between those who see at as professionalism, and those who see it as sexism. There is, of course, more to it than that.

But then again, I'm not above being somewhat twitchy about the idea of being in those sorts of situations, myself. As a Black person in the United States, a good number of well-meaning people effectively told me that if I weren't careful, I would be seen as a predator, and that would have serious consequences. But it's worth keeping in mind that my parents and many of my aunts and uncles were old enough that Emmett Till's lynching happened within living memory. Even so, it strikes me as paranoid when I worry that going out to dinner with a friend, or watching a movie together could end very, very, badly.

My friends, however, see those worries as sensible, if perhaps overblown; even though it's not particularly likely that I'd wind up in a situation where I'd be staring jail time (or worse) in the face due to a casual get-together gone aggressively sideways. There's a history there, mostly of dismal race relations in the United States, and that's enough that my worries would seem founded to them. For my part, I try not to worry about it anymore. But I will admit that this is partially out of the sense that there's really nothing to be done about it. Sometimes, one is the windshield, and sometimes, one is the bug. It's just like that. Representative Foster is apparently under the impression that even though "perception is reality in this world," that he can still protect himself by controlling the optics. "In this world," though, a lot of the time, what people may perceive about someone doesn't necessarily have anything to do with that someone. If he honestly thinks (and I'm not sure that he does) that always having women chaperoned in his presence for public and business will be enough to protect him, he's setting himself up for a potentially rude awakening.

That bit of cynicism, and American history, aside, I really do understand that an otherwise innocuous situation is unlikely to genuinely go anywhere nearly that far off the rails. After all, this is 2019, rather than 1959. I can go to the bank, and they'll have a picture of a mixed couple out house hunting without needing to worry about bricks or Molotov cocktails being thrown through the windows. The world that my parents and other relatives warned me about is long gone. I don't have to be as careful about whom I'm seen with, and what impressions people may receive from that, as my grandfathers would need to have been.

So why not look as askance at my concerns as Representative Foster's? (Although, to be sure, I've met people for whom my own concerns about being seen as predatory are also nothing more than misogyny veiled in false caution.) Part of it is, I think, the potential partisan divide that I noted before. I don't really hang out with anyone who buys into the whole "men are under attack all the time" thing. To them, it just sounds like Representative Foster is attempting to ingratiate himself with conservatives by claiming that a vast, left-wing feminist conspiracy is out there looking to make life difficult for innocent men like himself. There is also the fact that my concerns are also very tied up in race. The exact reasons for that are many and varied (and perhaps somewhat sad), but the end result is that I was socialized to be more cautious around some women than others.

In the end, I find Representative Foster's position to be somewhat ironic. In a world where it's supposed to be understood that while not all men may be harassers or worse, any man can be. And Representative Foster is reacting, or perhaps overeacting, to that understanding that he's no longer viewed as above such things due to his position. And he's reacting in a way that's familiar to me; even if that isn't the reaction that some people may have wanted.

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