• Thanks, But No Thanks – Combatting sexual harassment intelligently

    By Fergus Blair

    The idea was inspired by a girl from Amsterdam who I’m sure many of you are aware of… she decided to spend a month taking selfies with all of the men who cat called her. I thought this was quite novel and admirable, and certainly made me more aware of the scale of the problem and the mindset of the men who do this… as you can see they seem totally oblivious of the fact they are willing participants in their shaming.


    Funnily enough this is something I experienced first hand recently visiting a girl in Brazil, walking down the street with her and some guy was quite obviously talking at us when we walked past, a few moments later I asked her what he had said and she translated “what are you doing with that gringo, come with me instead and I’ll fuck you good”. I was shocked, then she told me that was the 5th time it had happened in the last hour. Obviously usually these men wouldn’t say anything if the woman is in the presence of a man, but these men felt totally comfortable seeing that I clearly wasn’t Brazilian and I wasn’t going to understand what they said.

    Disclaimer – this campaign has shifted its focus from tackling street harassment, we’ll get back to that.

    I thought, how can you deliver a message to men who just appear to have no awareness of they way they make women feel? I’m sure some do, but I don’t think most of the men that do this are inherently violent.

    From my understanding, when being made uncomfortable by sexual attention in some form, most women would like to say something but don’t, either because they don’t have the time, the energy, the confidence or because they feel threatened… and of course, they shouldn’t have to.

    I figured the there could be a means to deliver a message without actually saying something. If you could have a fake business card to hand with contact details on it, you could give it to a man in any scenario that you see fit and feel comfortable doing so. I’d bet the vast majority of the time, that man will follow up the contact details… and here lies the opportunity.

    If we set up a phone number with an automated response, we could send a link to a video which would deliver the message, encouraging the man to have a think about the way he approaches women in such environments. In order to have any chance in shaking the subjects perspective the video would have to be careful to not alienate or humiliate and preferably be quite humorous. It is at this point that focus of the campaign goes away from cat callers and to the lower end of the spectrum of inappropriate sexual behavior, because that is where you are most likely to achieve change with such a message.

    We are beginning to work with Bristol Zero Tolerance and others locally to develop this project and will be holding an open discussion on Wednesday 17th January 2018 7-9pm at The Jam Jar, 4a The Old Malt House, Little Ann Street, Bristol, BS2 9EB

    Find out more, share, and say if you can make it here – https://www.facebook.com/events/144073166212747/ 

    One of the main points of this evening is to start the process of piecing together a message as a group so that we can all agree what will satisfy the need to have feelings articulated, but is a message that most men are capable of listening to.

    So that’s the basic concept, but the more thought I gave it, the more potential I saw. For example, instead of one automated response, you could have a chatbot. I think we all know a person or two who we admire for their patience, their intelligence, their understanding, their assertiveness and their willingness to engage with people who are in the wrong, in exactly the right way. I think we have all been in situations where have lost our patience with someone and we wished that friend of ours was there to help.

    Now imagine we could recreate that personality, design it specifically to talk to men who struggle in identifying right from wrong. We can do this with artificial intelligence! We would be able to summon this paragon of reason when needed, it would never tire, it would never lose patience, it would be impossible to emotionally manipulate, it would be understanding and empathetic where we might struggle to be. It would be constantly growing and evolving to perform its given task as effectively as possible. It could be a combination of the best personality attributes of everybody in this room that can be manifested in written conversation… and it could talk to 1000’s of subjects at the same time. It could potentially encourage subjects to open up to them, offering support, advice and maybe even diagnosing mental illness.

    Furthermore, I am just speculating here, but I think this could be a powerful tool for research, amassing lots of data, testing hypotheses and teaching us a lot more about the psychology of the subjects, their thought patterns and the root causes of such behavior. It could potentially give us some valuable insights which we can take out into the world and help to change it for the better.

    Everyone is a victim of gender inequality and toxic masculinity… please do not think that I am trying to trivialise the heinous crimes perpetrated disproportionately by men against women, but also the single biggest cause of death for young men in the UK today is suicide, at a rate that is 3 times higher than women.

    This chatbot could be a means to experiment with the idea of engaging with the men who regularly cause discomfort to women as victims of their own toxic masculinity, and maybe helping to alleviate some of them from that internalised pressure, thus mitigating the damage for us all.

    We hope that you will engage with this project, by coming to the meeting or supporting it in other ways, tell your friends, and be part of exploring how we can change the contemporary culture that enables and condones the attitudes and behaviors that manifest in sexual violence and harassment.


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