Comments are now closed on this discussion.
<b>Edited To Add</b>: By request, there is a GIANT CONTENT WARNING on this post and the comments. It is not recommended that anyone suffering from anxiety read this post or the comments. Or, really anyone at all. It represents a major, major mistake and unkindness and able-ism on my part. Don’t read it.
I am leaving this answer (& discussion) here – don’t believe in erasing mistakes or pretending they didn’t happen. But putting it behind a cut-tag for sure. For a better answer to this question, and follow-up from the Letter Writer, go here. For a thread where people with anxiety discuss anxiety, go here. We as a community are trying very hard to come back from this and rectify this mistake, but the scars still exist.
Dear Captain Awkward:
I’m quite an anxious person, and may have an anxiety disorder. I’ve been diagnosed with GAD (generalised anxiety disorder). Mostly these worries are about my work, but I also used to be quite socially anxious. I mostly conquered that while at university. However, I’m finding that learning about feminism is making some of this social anxiety rear its head again.
As an example, I’m now petrified of talking to any women I don’t know, unless they talk to me first. Reading about things like Schrodinger’s Rapist makes me worry a lot about how I appear, in case I’m freaking someone out. I’ve read so many accounts of how women felt threatened or uncomfortable when men spoke to them in public.
I used to think that it was up to other people to make me aware of any problems. That was a big part of getting over my social anxiety – I told myself that people had no right to be upset about my behaviour if they weren’t going to call me on it. But I don’t think what I understand about social justice supports that view any more. So the worrying resumes. I’ve basically stopped talking to women in public. I was just at an art exhibition and was about to talk to the woman next to me when I start thinking “what if she thinks I’m hitting on her, and gets upset because she just wanted to look at art and not get creeped on”. So I say nothing and move on. This is ridiculous behaviour and I want to stop, I was so much happier, outgoing and nicer to be around when I didn’t have this on my mind..
It’s possible to be an anti-sexist, pro-feminist, actually nice person without constantly worrying about accidentally oppressing women, right? I also think that women aren’t really helped by my worrying. So any advice on this issue would be great.
Keep treating your anxiety disorder.
And maybe, if approaching women in public gives you that much anxiety, don’t do it. There is no law that you have to approach women in public, or talk to them first, or that if you do that you ever have to feel okay about it. Maybe it would be okay if women who wanted to talk to you made the choice to talk to you. Then you could feel 100% ok about talking to them. Maybe you are one of the people for whom this will always be fraught. You have your counterparts on the other side, for whom being approached will always be fraught.
I mean, funny you should specifically mention the Schrödinger’s Rapist post , which was designed to convince men to be more thoughtful about how or whether they should approach women in public. It seems like it is making you question how or whether you should approach strange women in public. Your second-guessing of how the world should work, while almost certainly exacerbated by your anxiety disorder, is not a bug, it’s a feature.
So the rest of what you are asking? Where I try to make you feel good about the world and reassure that you’ll never accidentally bother someone because you are one of the good ones who tries to learn about feminism and be aware?
Even if I wanted to alleviate that discomfort for you (I don’t), I couldn’t. Gaining awareness about where you fit into an oppressive system is just painful and hard to deal with. Like, as a white lady who tries really hard not to perpetuate racism, when I accidentally do something racist, or see something racist happen in front of me that isn’t my fault but makes me aware of the degree that I benefit unfairly from having white skin in a racist time and place, it is seriously uncomfortable. If it’s not uncomfortable, something is wrong. That discomfort is mine to carry and to deal with and hopefully repurpose into making shit less racist. To pretend that it compares with the discomfort of actually living in an actually racist society as a person of color is gross and rude and wrong. I do not ask victims of racism to comfort me because injustice makes me feel icky inside sometimes.
Women’s fear of violence from men is not the same as your fear that you might say the wrong thing to a lady and she may not like you. Keep treating your anxiety disorder. Also, get a fucking grip and do not come to feminist blogs for comfort about this issue. THAT is my advice for you.
P.S. I wish I had included this material in the OP.