Oblivious old white men

Tonight a guy at my modelling gig introduced himself and asked me if my friend/colleague The Veteran had mentioned him to me. She had not. But apparently he wants a model to photograph and she recommended me and he said yes, give her my info, the shoot is later this month blah blah blah.

So I talked to this guy over the breaks and learned more about the work he does and at the end of the night when he offered to drive me home, I said okay (he gave me a not-creepy vibe and actually I think The Veteran had mentioned him before, in passing, and had not mentioned anything sketchy about him).

On the drive, for some fucking reason, he got to talking about gender politics. A few different employers or potential employers have done this with me, all of them older white dudes with a burning need to be befuddled about women at me so I could respond with soothing platitudes.

This particular guy was like “It’s so confusing these days. Just look at this Jian Ghomeshi thing. I mean, you meet a woman in a bar and it’s not like you have a legal contract in your pocket that says ‘I’m allowed to do this, I’m not allowed to do that’ – you’re just going with the flow, and then you end up in all kinds of trouble.”

Jian Ghomeshi is a DJ who sexually assaulted a bunch of women (like at least nine women have come forward, I believe). I haven’t been reading up on him because I find the whole thing kind of triggering, but I did read the account of one of his victims. If I recall correctly, she’d been on one or two perfectly fine dates with him and then one day she went to his place to watch a movie. He started making out with her and then pinned her down and choked her while she fought back and yelled at him to stop. He finally did stop – with a “Jeez, you prude, why are you being so weird about this?” attitude – and she went home.

So, just to recap, I was:

  1. Stuck in a moving car with a guy
  2. Who wants me to be alone with him later this month while he photographs me naked
  3. And thought it would be neat to have a conversation about how not-raping someone is really hard
  4. And told me, in melancholy tones, that you just can’t know what innocent act these crazy wimmenz are going to complain about after the fact – using the example of a guy who choked a woman without asking first (probably more than one; again, I haven’t read all of the accounts)
  5. And waited expectantly for me to respond in a comforting way (I couldn’t bring myself to do that, but I really didn’t fancy a feminist debate with him, either; I just made noncommittal noises)

Yeah, okay, when I see that all written out in black and white, it looks like he could be sussing out my attitudes on sexual assault in order to gauge what he might get away with. I’m…gonna ask around about him before going ahead with the photoshoot.

But here’s what you have to understand: it’s also absolutely feasible that this guy is safe and professional. He would not be the first artist to behave perfectly well with me the entire time I’m posing but riff on triggering and/or inappropriate subjects (under the guise of pleasant small talk) once my clothes are on. Riffing on triggering and/or inappropriate subjects with no idea that they could possibly be triggering and/or inappropriate is what old, oblivious white men do. And they do it with the expectation that I’ll soothe and reassure them. Because that’s what women are for, right? Soothing and reassuring men. Even if the man is telling us that it’s unreasonable for a woman to press charges against a guy who choked her.

The other gem this guy managed to lay on me before we got to my place and I could leave the car was something about wanting to tell young women today, “How can you wake up next to a different man every weekend and then be surprised when something bad happens?”

Yeah. The guy I’d just met, who wants to photograph me naked, sat there basically telling me that it’s dangerous for a woman to be alone and naked with a man she just met and if she gets raped or something, well, what did she expect?

The dumb: it astounds me. And I didn’t feel like I could say anything about it because he would surely get all huffy and defensive and/or start talking about even more triggering things and I’d be stuck there having to deal with it because we were still in a moving car.

I’d like to think I would have handled things differently if we had been in a venue that I could leave. But I probably wouldn’t have. I had a bit of the deer-in-headlights thing going on (no matter how often these fucked-up conversations happen to me, I’m always blindsided…it just seems so fucking obviously inappropriate to initiate a jaunty little conversation about sexual assault with a female acquaintance who has been or will be naked in front of you that I can never believe it’s actually happening. Again.). Plus earlier that evening when we were discussing this photoshoot and I asked what rates he offered, he shrugged and said “whatever you charge.” I’m sure he wouldn’t literally pay me any amount I asked for, but I figure $60/hr is probably within a reasonable range and he was wanting to book me for about five hours. That’s a significant amount of money, for me. So I got cartoon dollar signs in my eyes and was very, very reluctant to blow the gig by being all “Um, Jian Ghomeshi choked a woman. Is it really that confusing to you that she was upset by this? Is that why we need sexual contracts – so a man can look up whether or not digging his thumb into his date’s windpipe is acceptable courtship behaviour?”

And even if I’d had the presence of mind to realize that I would probably feel uncomfortable working with this guy now so I might as well just ditch the gig in favour of telling him how awful he was being, he’s connected in the art community here and I would worry that he would go around telling other potential employers that I’m volatile and scary (because he was just making idle conversation and suddenly I got all mad) and that I see sexual misconduct in every innocent thing a guy ever does (because I didn’t sympathize with that poor Jian Ghomeshi fella). Like, not even trying to start malicious rumours about me, just being genuinely shocked by my reaction to him and needing to talk to his friends about it.

I called The Pedant when I got home and vented about this awkward car conversation. He immediately and repeatedly said “Don’t work with this guy.” I explained to him several times about oblivious old white dudes and how this guy may not even be sketchy, and The Pedant said he understood, but still told me not to work with the guy – and said he deserved to be stabbed in the kneecap. So I don’t think The Pedant really “gets” it, but his anger and protectiveness were rather charming.

I’m still not entirely sure I want to abandon this gig. I’ll go ask some other people about the guy. We have some mutual acquaintances (including The Veteran) whose opinions I trust.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Oblivious old white men

  1. play

    Ugh.

    Also, are you aware of Molly Crabapple? I am not a huge fan of her art, but I enjoyed reading her ‘Drawing Blood’. Molly writes very explicitly about working as a nude model for photographers, or ‘GWCs’, ‘guys with cameras’ as she calls them, to fund her early years as an artist/illustrator.
    (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0062323644/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0062323644&linkCode=as2&tag=mollycrabapple-20&linkId=7ZZHRM3KFQ7OIECZ)

  2. Pingback: Hmm. | hiding in plain sight

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