The second example, when Jaffe was speaking on a panel, features a man who is thought to be mentally unstable. Somehow his behavior is supposed to represent the attitudes of men in general, because… well, I’m not quite sure. Let’s look at the example:
We were about to begin when a man dressed in a clown-costume version of a rich man’s getup — with, no joke, a velociraptor puppet on his hand — walked in. He had a top hat on and sunglasses with dollar signs, and he made constant noise, tapping his fingers, clearing his throat, interrupting the speakers. He’d introduced himself (unasked) as “The one percent, here to hear what you people are saying about me,” so perhaps the velociraptor puppet was some sort of statement about capitalism? Velociraptor capitalism? I caught one of the professors’ eye and she shrugged — he definitely wasn’t part of the program.
I thought he was going to be our problem, and finally turned on him when an older man in the crowd asked a question about the hurricane relief being carried out by members of Occupy Wall Street. “We’re talking about people dying,” I snapped. “This isn’t particularly funny.”
But the evening wasn’t over. No, next I fielded a question from a woman in the audience about the media representation of women at Occupy — or the lack thereof.
And of course I gave my standard answer, which is that that was more the media’s problem than Occupy’s, and that it’s not only Occupy coverage which suffers from a lack of women.
It was when I made the point that even progressive women hosts Rachel Maddow and Amy Goodman tend to have more male guests than female when the older man with the questions about Occupy Sandy started grumbling. “They’re women! Rachel Maddow and Amy Goodman!”
Yes, I replied, and that’s not enough.
“Maybe you should take that up with your therapist,” he snapped, and someone in the room gasped.
I think I botched my first comeback, but then the professors got to him, telling him it was time to leave. “I’m not going outside with you!” he said to the two of them, both women.
“What if you’re a martial artist or something?”
They escorted him out, finally, and I looked at a roomful of students unsure of how to react.
“That’s how it goes when you’re a woman who speaks up in public,” I told them. “And it sucks.”
I am going to share something remarkable with you. I am a woman who speaks up in public. Generally I do it in a weird, lispy, vaguely British voice, so sometimes that tricks people into thinking I am agreeing with them when I am not. I’ve found some people are like dogs who only hear the tone of my voice. Nonetheless, I do speak up in public.
Neither an old man or a madman wearing dollar sign sunglasses, a top hat, and a fucking dinosaur puppet on his hand has ever got upset with me at a conference, nor told me I am a martial artist.
Is it possible that that is actually not what happens when you are a woman who speaks up in public?
I asked our office of very vocal women – many of them with louder voices than I! – whether or not this top-hat-velociptor-old-man-yelling-thing had happened to them.
Not a one said it had.
I am forced to draw the conclusion that this is not what happens if you are a woman who speaks up in public.
I will say, however, if this incredibly anomalous situation arose, I would most likely ignore the velociraptor man in question, believing nothing good would come out of discourse with him.
Furthermore, I suppose if I saw a man who was evidently crazy in the crowd, who the other presenters had made clear was not a valid participant in the discourse, I probably wouldn’t single him out and accuse him of being insufficiently serious. I have found as a life rule – for men and women – it is best to avoid getting mired in conversations with mentally unstable people.
This seems like the kind of thing that I would not do, in the same way I do not tell people who want to begin singing loudly on the subway that my super cool iPod (full of 40 Andrew Lloyd Weber hits and one song by The Sex Pistols) needs no additional accompaniment.
I suppose, at best, Sarah might have won that argument with a mentally unstable man, but then all that would have happened is that she would have won an argument with a mentally unstable man. He was not who that panel was for. Politely ignoring people who you strongly suspect will add nothing to the conversation is part of being a rational human being.
So. This is not what happens when you are a woman who speaks up in public. This is what happens when you are a woman who makes a point of talking to people everyone agrees are not in their right minds.
The old man, well, the old man seemed like he had different opinions, and was promptly escorted out. That situation seemed handled effectively.
And in the rare event that you are a woman, speaking in public, and a man, say, tries to storm the podium, well, there are ways to deal with that without talking about how all women speaking are victims. Here.