"What a choice: Acknowledged but harassed, or ignored and denied recognition of one's womanhood."
July 31, 2011 2:10 PM   Subscribe

On Harassment and the Marking of Visible Womanhood

"...we were talking about the truly fucked-up scenario in which women who deviate from traditional definitions of womanhood, or whose appearance is nonconforming to beauty standards, are excluded from such discussions by virtue of having rarely or never harassed in that way....

It is a conversation I've had before with trans women, with fat cis women, women with noticeable physical disabilities, and with a women who has severe craniofacial deformities—the "I don't want to be treated like a piece of meat or an object or a possession, but because Visible Women are treated like pieces of meat and objects and possessions, the fact that I'm not makes me feel like I'm not even a woman" conversation...

None of the women with whom I've ever had this conversation want to be harassed, nor do they want other women to be harassed, either—and yet there is something akin to envy they feel, sheerly by virtue of being on the outside looking in.

Simultaneously, they feel guilty for feeling that way, because, to a harassed woman, there is nothing enviable about being harassed.

Except, of course, for how there is—because being harassed is a routine part of the Visible Woman's experience. And as long as women's value is determined by objectification, to not be objectified is to feel unvalued, even if to not be objectified is what you want.

This, of course, is not a commentary on women—objectified or not, feminist or not. This is a commentary on the Patriarchy, and how unfathomably fucked-up it is that a failure to be treated poorly—not in exchange for being treated well, but as an alternative to not being acknowledged at all—has the capacity to make women feel worthless."
posted by flex (212 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
I really got stuck on the sentence:

"We all view, if not consciously, sexual violence and harassment as a sort of rite of passage, a fire through which we must pass on our way to womanhood. To be denied that trial, even though we don't want it, is to be denied as Woman."

That use of "We all..." seems like a stretch... And, the premise in general doesn't sit right with me... But, I'm a guy, perhaps I just don't get it..
posted by tomswift at 2:21 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like Shakesville and this is pretty fascinating. Thanks for posting.

Except, of course, for how there is—because being harassed is a routine part of the Visible Woman's experience. And as long as women's value is determined by objectification, to not be objectified is to feel unvalued, even if to not be objectified is what you want.

This part stood out for me, and I guess I have an alternate interpretation (or just another facet to fasten). Being consciously unnoticed is simply a painful experience, even if being noticed in context means losing your personhood. As someone who's enthusiastically started so many conversations about things I think are fascinating or beautiful or important or worth talking about, only to see interest sliding down someone's face like water from the proverbial duck, I can attest to how painful it is to be consciously unseen. If you live in a culture in which lots of people will notice you (for shallow, harassing reasons), mentally weigh you and then unnotice you, yeah... That hurts.

Also, it's completely sobering to think that many women feel "left out" of abuse.
posted by byanyothername at 2:27 PM on July 31, 2011 [9 favorites]


"We all view, if not consciously, sexual violence and harassment as a sort of rite of passage, a fire through which we must pass on our way to womanhood. To be denied that trial, even though we don't want it, is to be denied as Woman."

Yeah, I don't view it that way either. I view it as a symptom of a sick society, one where I do not want to live or travel. I'm frankly tired of people accepting it. I've lived in and traveled through many places where I wasn't treated this way.

In NYC I've seen ALL kinds of women being sexually harassed. It doesn't matter who you are or what you wear, these men aren't actually interested or hopeful about having sex with you, they want to make you feel belittled, they get off on it. Yes, this is one of the reasons I am moving away from NYC. I'm sick of being told that you just have to be tough to live here, I KNOW there are places where I don't have to deal with this garbage.
posted by melissam at 2:31 PM on July 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


There's a minefield of possible misunderstandings and misinterpretations likely to unfold from this blog post, but nevermind.

An older woman finally free of being hit on and cat-called and told to smile may suddenly "miss" the harassment the despised, because its void is not born of a long-sought respect, but of a silent commentary on her diminished worth as a sex object per the Patriarchy's horseshit standards.

Sort of. It's possible to recognize the fact of becoming "invisible" without missing any of the stuff that made you "visible" before. But the second part of the sentence is dead-on.
posted by jokeefe at 2:32 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, this is one of the reasons I am moving away from NYC. I'm sick of being told that you just have to be tough to live here, I KNOW there are places where I don't have to deal with this garbage.

Come to Seattle, the land of the asocial, sexless nerds of all sorts that can barely look each other in the face when they pass each other on the street.

No, really. It's rather nice. People don't think you're weird if you just want to be left alone to read a book.
posted by loquacious at 2:36 PM on July 31, 2011 [19 favorites]


I suspect there are two common ways men, myself included, react to something like this.

The first is to struggle see how it's a problem in the first place - You want to be objectified? Is objectification that much of a problem?

The second, having read things such as the 'whatcha reading' thread and having spoken to the women in their lives about, is to accept it as a real substantial issue that means women really do have to live a different way to men, is to leap to 'right, how do we solve this thing. Ladies? I want instructions'. My initial thoughts were along this line.

So I reminded myself, based upon conversations with my wife, that the reason things like this are posted are not to seek comment from men on how it's not a real problem, or that it's a problem that needs men to leap in and solve for them, but just to share and explain how they feel. Acknowledgement and understanding are more important. When we're told something bad by women, it's not that we're expected to leap into action and DO something about it as such, which is a bit, well, alien to how blokes deal with problems.

So in that vein, I'll just say that this sucks, and it sucks that we've created such a fucked up way of living with women that they don't feel like a Real Woman if they're not treated like a sex object by men. I wish there was more personally I could do other than not treat women like sex objects, but as well, the real people they are and call out men I encounter who do; but I'm not sure that there is.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:37 PM on July 31, 2011 [28 favorites]


I have a problem with the FPP here being an op-ed piece and a long quote from that piece, which seems less like, "Here's something cool I found on the net," and more like, "I want to start an argument about this issue."
posted by misha at 2:42 PM on July 31, 2011 [18 favorites]


Come to Seattle, the land of the asocial, sexless nerds of all sorts that can barely look each other in the face when they pass each other on the street.

Yeah, I lived in Stockholm and it was a lot like this. I was never sexually harassed there, ever. Not that Europe is some magical land where I can walk down the street peacefully....case in point...Italy.
posted by melissam at 2:47 PM on July 31, 2011


Being consciously unnoticed is simply a painful experience, even if being noticed in context means losing your personhood. As someone who's enthusiastically started so many conversations about things I think are fascinating or beautiful or important or worth talking about, only to see interest sliding down someone's face like water from the proverbial duck, I can attest to how painful it is to be consciously unseen.

To share my experience from the other side of the aisle, though it's in no way comparable, not for a second, it does give me a little experience of how it might feel, however grey and slight.

Growing up as a nerd, I was definitely 'othered' by other boys, and indeed, girls. I liked reading, I was quite good academically, I was interested in things that were interesting in their own way, that had nothing to do with girls, or sports, or other stereotypical things boys like. Because I hadn't had sex by the time I was 15, I wasn't a Real Guy. Because I didn't try to chat up every girl I met, I wasn't a Real Guy. because I was a four-eyed brainiac, I wasn't a Real Guy. Having girls as just a friend and not trying to get into her pants, I wasn't a Real Guy. And I'm ashamed to admit, for a while, I bowed to peer pressure and became a guy that I'm not proud of for a few years before coming to my senses.

Being other'ed really sucks, even if the thing that makes you an other isn't something you want/want to be in the first place. Fortunately, the pressure drops off a hell of a lot as you get older, and now in my mid-thirties, it's just a distant memory of how school sucked. I can't even imagine having to live with that sense of alienation and pressure my whole life, it's just horrific.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:58 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is very useful to me as I process through some crap going on in other communities I'm involved with. Thanks for posting it.
posted by immlass at 3:01 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


An older woman finally free of being hit on and cat-called and told to smile may suddenly "miss" the harassment the despised, because its void is not born of a long-sought respect, but of a silent commentary on her diminished worth as a sex object per the Patriarchy's horseshit standards.

Not me, sister. The happiest day of my fucking life was the one on which I became invisible to, well, pretty much everybody but in particular the assholes of the world.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:01 PM on July 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


Ignoring the sort of generalizing going on here, which is really unfortunate (and I really hate, as a dude, being grouped in the ominous 'Patriarchy,' but whatever), it seems more like a survivor's syndrome situation, like a feeling of "why have I been spared? That isn't fair" than an envy. That's the wrong word. It implies these women would want to be harassed, which the author says is not the case. And in that case, it isn't much different than any sort of guilt people feel from privilege (white guilt, rich guilt, man guilt, whatever).

I mean, it's obviously different, but sometimes I feel a certain lack when it comes to my coming into "manhood" because, unlike most young men during the first half of the century, I never fought in a war or worried about the draft of had a friend die in combat. It's a ridiculous notion certainly, but there it is.

Also: it isn't the same sort of harassment obviously, but don't trans, fat, deformed & c women experience their own unique sort of harassment? Even worse harassment? Maybe I'm naive because I live in Portland which, like Seattle, is full of weirdos and people don't pay much attention to you no matter who or what you are.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:11 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm male, and I've been the receiver of this for as long as I remember. Most people don't give a damn about other people unless you have something they want, or you are attractive by the standards of society, so they just gloss over everything else, up to the point that if someone tries to use visual cues (affixing eyes, smiling, tilting head to one side) I assume they are selling something, and I'm usually right.

The one thing a man does have however, is the ability to use social cues to show power and aggression. Which is an easy way for any man, attractive or not, to turn off any unwanted social interaction. Furrowing the brow, locking the eyes forwards, and walking quickly gives off a "fuck off" stance that usually wards all but the most persistent marketer/pampleter/salesman. Women can do that, but it doesn't have the force that a man does.
posted by zabuni at 3:17 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


In NYC I've seen ALL kinds of women being sexually harassed. It doesn't matter who you are or what you wear, these men aren't actually interested or hopeful about having sex with you, they want to make you feel belittled, they get off on it.

I think you (and some others) are kinda missing the point. I never get harassed on the street - and that includes NYC. I've never been groped, never been flashed, never been the object of some creepy stranger's attention. I have been with friends when they've been harassed or catcalled, but never me. The only time I was ever harassed was when I was traveling by myself in a foreign country and already feeling vulnerable. I pretty much have skated through most of my life without feeling objectified by strangers.

So, when other women point out that all women get harassed, it, well, makes women like me ask themselves "why not me?", which implies stuff like... "am I undesirable?" I guess there's always this undercurrent of denying my experience. I get over it because the alternative (being harassed) is far worse and a much more important issue to discuss, but it'd be nice if there wasn't this prescribed list of "Stuff Women Experience TM" to somehow feel excluded from.

There was certainly a level of confusion, shame, and low self-confidence when I was younger and all my friends shared stories of harassment, even the "fat cis women" I knew. At one time I thought I must have some sort of body dysmorphia, because I look good to me but apparently not to those creepers who'll hit on anything with boobs. I, thankfully, got over that once I understood all the factors that contributed to it.

I appreciate the article because I can't recall anyone actually putting words to this before.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 3:18 PM on July 31, 2011 [59 favorites]


I initially had a lot of trouble parsing this phrase in the pullquote...

"are excluded from such discussions by virtue of having rarely or never harassed in that way"

...until I realized that it probably actually meant:


"are excluded from such discussions by virtue of having rarely or never been harassed in that way"

I was all confused trying to figure out who was harassing who here (since it's not completely beyond reason that someone might want to talk about harassment directly between "visible" woman and other women).
posted by trackofalljades at 3:19 PM on July 31, 2011


I don't want to be harassed, and I don't want my 19 year old daughter to be harassed, but when we're out together and she gets catcalled, I'm simultaneously furiously angry on her behalf that she's been objectified, and resentful on mine, that I am now no longer worthy to be noticed as a sexually desirable woman. This fucks with my head.
posted by b33j at 3:19 PM on July 31, 2011 [17 favorites]


This gay buddy of mine was telling me about becoming invisible, noticing that he was invisible for the first time, he was in some public place and winking or blinking at some hot guy, or smiling suggestively, whatever, and the guy looked at him like "What's goin' on, old timer -- you got gas?" And it was the first time that it happened to him, and he didn't get it, but he was in this coffee shop or wherever with an older woman friend, and he told her about it, and it actually was her that described it to him, as she'd already passed through to the other side of the divide.

I'm pretty much invisible to women anymore, young or old, pretty much they look right through me (unless they happen to be in that .0000310734 percent of women who can hear my song; I think there's like 1.681 of them within fifteen hundred miles of me.) I can't and don't blame them, I'm nutty as hell and I haven't a dime plus I'm 56 years old, it's like I'm from a different world -- gawd. Very annoying.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:21 PM on July 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


There's also this weird undercurrent among women sometimes where someone will talk about how she's constantly getting harrassed (which has to be just the most hellish experience) and sharing the pain of that . . . and as someone who seldom attracted the "complimentary" variety of cat-calling*, I hear a little prehistoric part of my brain saying, "What, are you like bragging? Is this a competition in which whoever gets treated like the nicest piece of meat wins?"

It's always so great when the world can make women feel debased AND pit them against each other!

* This would be the type where they say, "Show me your tits, baby" rather than "Where's your leash, you dog?"
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:27 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Perhaps Im ignorant for not knowing this already, but what is a "fat cis" woman?
Google tells me its "Used of a geometric isomer: cis-2-butene." and that cant be right.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:28 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


why not me?", which implies stuff like... "am I undesirable?

I'm simultaneously furiously angry on her behalf that she's been objectified, and resentful on mine, that I am now no longer worthy to be noticed as a sexually desirable woman.


I sorta feel though that this article is skirting this facet of the issue though, no? I mean, I think this is really at the heart of the rather complex psychology involved here. The article makes it more of a "these women don't connect to the typical female experience and they don't connect to a certain shared bond amongst women' and seems to sort of ignore the issue of how being a woman left out of harassment affects one's self-esteem or sense of self attractiveness.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this article seems to put undo emphasis on the "i feel left out of this shared cultural experience" and not enough perhaps on the "I envy you because the fact that you get harassed makes me feel like you're attractive and I'm not."
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:31 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perhaps Im ignorant for not knowing this already, but what is a "fat cis" woman?
Google tells me its "Used of a geometric isomer: cis-2-butene." and that cant be right.


Hahaha. 'cis' just means that your biological sex and the gender you identify with correspond, in the traditional sense.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:32 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


cis = cissexual. Fat = self-explanatory.

I read this essay a few days ago and it hit home in a really powerful way. It's something I almost can't explain because to do so would be to open myself up in a way I'm not comfortable doing in public. Suffice it to say that this really resonated with me, and it's something I've always wanted to say in discussions about harassment of women (but didn't want to do so and derail the conversation).

Not me, sister. The happiest day of my fucking life was the one on which I became invisible to, well, pretty much everybody but in particular the assholes of the world.

There's a very different experience in becoming invisible vs. always being invisible, especially when the role of women in western society seems to be that we're supposedly there to be looked at.
posted by Salieri at 3:33 PM on July 31, 2011 [10 favorites]


"cis" as in "cisgender", "fat" as in overweight, Senor.
posted by ook at 3:33 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah gotcha. Thanks :)
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:33 PM on July 31, 2011


There's a very different experience in becoming invisible vs. always being invisible, especially when the role of women in western society seems to be that we're supposedly there to be looked at.

Right. The article mentions a variety of experiences: being invisible when others are visible, having the "wrong kind" of visibility, becoming invisible. It may be that the amount and type of attention someone receives during the Years When You're Supposed to Be Visible (i.e., 10--40) has an impact on how she feels about entering the Post-Visibility Era.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:41 PM on July 31, 2011


(It's a back-construction from the chemical definitions of isomers: so if some people are "trans-", then the people who AREN'T "trans-" must therefore be "cis-".)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 3:44 PM on July 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


the "complimentary" variety of cat-calling*

* This would be the type where they say, "Show me your tits, baby" rather than "Where's your leash, you dog?

Good God! Doesn't anyone ever "cat-call" with like a "you look really nice today!" or "I like your glasses!"
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:45 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah. This.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:51 PM on July 31, 2011


I think it's the same as how no-one honks their horn to compliment your manouvring or acknowledge your choice of a fuel-efficient vehicle.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 3:54 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've experienced a tetch of the middle-aged invisibility myself, and I too welcome it. I don't and never have liked unwelcome attention like that.

One thing I think it really does point up, though, is just how much of the interest and attention I got when I was younger was insincere. Sometimes, I have to reevaluate my history and question whether anyone ever really thought I was interesting or talented, or if they were just paying attention to me because they thought I seemed approachable or manipulatable sexually. That's a kind of sickening feeling.

And it has long been my belief that street harassment isn't based so much on your sexual attractiveness, but your apparent sexual vulnerability. I got harassed a lot when I was younger, but it always happened more often when I was tired, sick, or otherwise depleted and trying to avoid social interaction. That's what they'd really target.

This is a really thought-provoking article, though. I get really really mad at other women who say I should be flattered, or who express any kind of envy or anything like that. I'm going to keep being mad about the former, but I'm rethinking the latter now.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:55 PM on July 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


Uh, which is to say, I am one of these women who often evade that kind of harassment and sometimes feel excluded and marginalized in discussions of "all women have this shared experience" for things I haven't experienced. And it ranges from a feeling of elitism (because obviously I am somehow navigating the rocky shoals of social interaction better than other folks are and that's why I've avoided these bad experiences) and feelings of worthlessness (because I'm so ugly nobody even wants to proposition me).
posted by rmd1023 at 3:55 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


ernielundquist: I think a *lot* of harassment comes from people exploiting perceived vulnerableness. Definitely.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:56 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


This article is all over the place. First it conflates harassment with sexual violence. Maybe my standards are lower, but for me sexual violence requires some kind of violence.

And on that same note, I think peoples standards for harassment are entirely too low also.

I doubt any of these women are lamenting that they aren't victims of sexual harassment or sexual violence. They they mourn the fact that for some they don't get to have the same positive experiences as everyone else.

and while i'm being a jerk,

It's ridiculous to say that viewing someone as a sexual being is objectification. Simply stated, being a smart interesting well rounded worthy individual and being a sexual object are not mutually exclusive. One does not detract from the other, if people make you feel that way you should look within as to why.
posted by rcdc at 3:57 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


As baseball and rcdc teach us, it's possible to swing endlessly and yet never hit the ball.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:59 PM on July 31, 2011 [18 favorites]


This part really blew my mind as something I truly cannot identify with:
I have had friends who have never been raped confess to me with wracking guilt that they "envy" my history, because to have survived rape is to have earned admission into what can be a very tight-knit group of survivors, not unlike a group of veterans who emerged from the trauma of war as "brothers," having experienced something outsiders cannot understand and sharing a bond outsiders cannot penetrate.

And I guess thing is that I don't need to experience fucked up things personally to understand/empathize that they are fucked up. I also don't need to be a part of a safe space where I don't share the common bond. It's not my right to be there and I don't feel entitled to share it.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 4:00 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's ridiculous to say that viewing someone as a sexual being is objectification.

Being viewed as a sexual being when you want to be one is key. Many women get to experience that 'viewing' - or rather unwanted and crude action based upon that viewing - all the damn time, regardless of where they are or what they're doing. That's what makes it objectification. It's not their lover expressing sexual desire when they're warm and snuggled up, it's being treated as a piece of meat when they're at work, or walking down the street, or just trying to read a damn book while drinking a coffee.

The article is about that, and how when it suddenly ends - or never happens in the first place, you can can end up questioning your sense of self worth and attractiveness. If everyone else is getting leered at and complimented on their tits, and you're not, then that must mean you're an ugly person not worthy of any attention at all. Which is all kinds of fucked up, and entirely understandable based upon the surface, constant sexualization of women regardless of what THEY want that's endemic for many women in many places.

I doubt any of these women are lamenting that they aren't victims of sexual harassment or sexual violence. They they mourn the fact that for some they don't get to have the same positive experiences as everyone else.

The parallel experience is that of sexual violence. Many women experience that - standard figures are 1 in 4, though I suspect it's actually much higher than that, due to under-reporting - so not having experienced it means either that you're not 'worthy' of some guy trying to assault you in your head, or it will happen to you and you live in fear of it eventually happening and people blaming it on you anyway, or some other women who have experienced it in a sense saying 'oh, you couldn't understand until it happens to you'.

All of which is utterly horrific. The women who haven't been assaulted don't WANT to be; but it's part of this narrative of how attractive women get raped for wearing the wrong clothes, so if you haven't been, you're ergo not attractive or not a Real Woman.

The world *shouldn't* be this way - but it is.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:08 PM on July 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


Friend of mine wrote a column on the same subject. It's a pretty good read, I think, if a very different tone.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:11 PM on July 31, 2011 [15 favorites]


I have had friends who have never been raped confess to me with wracking guilt that they "envy" my history, because to have survived rape is to have earned admission into what can be a very tight-knit group of survivors, not unlike a group of veterans who emerged from the trauma of war as "brothers," having experienced something outsiders cannot understand and sharing a bond outsiders cannot penetrate.


Ya know, this reminds me of what I was reading a few years back about "Bug Chasers", that subset of gay men that would go out of their way to have unprotected sex in hopes of actually catching HIV. There was a rationale that they didnt feel sufficiently part of the gay community without being HIV-positive.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:12 PM on July 31, 2011


Unreal.
posted by Senator at 4:20 PM on July 31, 2011


One thing I think it really does point up, though, is just how much of the interest and attention I got when I was younger was insincere. Sometimes, I have to reevaluate my history and question whether anyone ever really thought I was interesting or talented, or if they were just paying attention to me because they thought I seemed approachable or manipulatable sexually. That's a kind of sickening feeling.

I can't even imagine what that's like. If it's any comfort though, not ALL men are like that. While no doubt some of it when you were younger was what you fear, at least some of the people who paid attention really did think of you as interesting and talented. At least some of them and hopefully most of it were genuinely sincere.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:41 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


restless_nomad, that link is excellent. I can hear my own internal monologue in her writing.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this article seems to put undo emphasis on the "i feel left out of this shared cultural experience" and not enough perhaps on the "I envy you because the fact that you get harassed makes me feel like you're attractive and I'm not."

I think it's a bug (or a feature) of shakesville putting a lot of focus in general on shared cultural experiences and issues of othering in the context of gender/feminism. As individuals recounting experiences, the focus is inevitably a bit more... down to earth and personalized.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 4:42 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


While no doubt some of it when you were younger was what you fear, at least some of the people who paid attention really did think of you as interesting and talented.

My apologies, in advance, for a minor thread-veer:

Part of the problem of questioning people’s motivation for seeking one’s companionship is structurally similar to the problem of altruism, where even an altruist’s motives are tainted because even altruists are engaging in self-gratifying (albeit altruistic) behavior.

Which is, if someone is drawn by another’s beauty, the one attracted is culpable for not valuing the other’s (say) intellect. If one is drawn by another’s intellect (and beauty), the one attracted is culpable for not valuing the other’s spiritualism. If one is drawn by another’s spirituality, etc. and so forth.

Holding people culpable for the reasons they are attracted to others questions a person’s intrinsic value. Insofar as a certain set of features are singled out as desirable, so other unrelated/unvalued features are in recession and interpretable as actively devalued rather than being understood as irrelevant to someone’s interest and/or desire.

None of this is to say that the reasons people find each other attractive are equal and interchangeable. I’m only noting that questioning the reasons people find each other attractive may produce an unstable epistemological domain where the very things for which a person is valued become valueless and people seeking these valuable aspects of a person become subject to suspicion.

/derail
posted by mistersquid at 5:00 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can say I definitely experienced this feeling especially in high school. When you're a teenager everything in that "teen" culture is about appearance and being good enough (even with grades and college applications and jobs), whether you buy into all that stuff or not. I didn't on purpose but I felt like I couldn't avoid it. This was just another thing I wasn't good enough for. I admit it kind of hurt but it's not something I'm proud to say.
posted by bleep at 5:27 PM on July 31, 2011


One thing I think it really does point up, though, is just how much of the interest and attention I got when I was younger was insincere. Sometimes, I have to reevaluate my history and question whether anyone ever really thought I was interesting or talented, or if they were just paying attention to me because they thought I seemed approachable or manipulatable sexually. That's a kind of sickening feeling.

So much this. I was a brilliant young poet when I was about 18.... until I cut my hair and came out and (unrelated but around the same time) gained about 30lbs. Guess how many professors and teachers and published poets wanted me to come over and discuss my work then? It made an amazing difference to how I thought about myself and my skills.
posted by crabintheocean at 5:33 PM on July 31, 2011 [16 favorites]


It seems like there are a few things at work in the differing experiences/perspectives. One thing that I think makes a difference is where the person lives. I grew up in a somewhat rural area--the sort of place where you needed a car to get anywhere. I had neighbors, but we all knew each other well. Things like catcalls just didn't happen. There was no real context for them to happen. It wasn't until I moved to a medium sized college town in my early 20s where I walked/biked/rode the bus a lot that I really started to experience such things.

And then there is the whole being harassed online simply for having a feminine name or in some way noting your gender. The person flinging the shit in all likelihood has no idea what the object of their shit looks like.

Part of what I'm getting from restless_nomad's link and the comment thread over at Shakesville is that we don't all catalog our experiences similarly. She even mentions one instance of being catcalled and then dismisses it.

For me personally, I lump the dude who yells gendered insults at me with the dude who comments on my fuckability. It doesn't matter if one is in a nice car and the other is a smelly homeless dude. Both comments come from the same place. Both comments make me feel shitty in the same way. But I have had conversations with other women who do feel validated by catcalls and I really don't get it.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:35 PM on July 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


During riot grrrl, I always felt like a fat, ugly failure because the whole punk feminist narrative seemed to be about these pretty, femmey girls in mini-skirts talking together about how men harassed them while wearing clothes I could never hope to fit into (and this was when I was thin - I'm muscley and wide-shouldered). Honestly, when I moved to the city and a couple of times guys propositioned me thinking I was a prostitute, I was secretly proud and happy because it meant that I wasn't a total disgusting reject - random creepy men wanted to pay me $20 for a blowjob, and that meant that I was like other women.

Seriously, I thank god I'm queer - as a queer woman, I'm handsome and funny and still sort of young, whereas to straight men I'm a freakish ugly monster who's over the hill to boot. The day I went to my first friendly activist queer event and realized that people were wondering who I was because they saw me as new in town/a potential date, it was...well, it was absolutely unforgettable.

It is absolutely 100% shitty how women - even feminist women, even brainy introspective women - are so, so often moulded to derive so much of their self worth from being assessed by random strangers. When I think of how much pain I was in, how worthless I felt for my whole life until I was thirty...

Even now, I assume that I am so ugly and weird that straight men don't even see me. I was in the elevator with some random staff guy at work and another guy, and the staff guy said, "Hey, I've seen you around" and I just stared off into the corner of the elevator because I assumed he was talking to the other guy. He had to repeat himself to even register with me and I had no idea how to continue that conversation. It was genuinely shocking to me that a random straight dude would even bother talking to me when he wasn't my boss or someone I did work for. That's how I've grown up.
posted by Frowner at 5:41 PM on July 31, 2011 [32 favorites]


Lose 30-50 pounds, get harrassed for the first time in years, and your first thought might well be, Wow, I'm sexually attractive now. Not, Wow, these jerks are harrassing me. Yes, you know they are harrassing jerks. But the greater implication is that you are sexually attractive now to men in general, only some of whom are jerks. That is why there is envy.
posted by serena15221 at 5:42 PM on July 31, 2011


[comment removed - if you are not trolling, please take basic precautions to make it look like you are not trolling. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:54 PM on July 31, 2011


Are you a man? Are you shockingly attractive, profoundly socially skilled, and wealthy? No, well most of us aren't, so in order to have a woman express interest in us, we have to express interest in them first. In fact, even if you have all of the previously mentioned attributes, you're still going to do much better if you express interest in woman in an obvious fashion.

This requirement of women, for us males to express interest in them in an obvious fashion, doesn't come without its drawbacks for women though. Some of them will experience too much interest directed towards them, or they may experience interest directed towards them in an inappropriate fashion. It may also lead to encounters with males who have problems controlling their behavior and following normal rules of social decorum. However, despite these problems, women as a group, with a few exceptions on an individual level, have still decided that it is best for them not to express their interest in men in an obvious fashion because of the negative social repercussions.

Perhaps if women made clear expressions of who they found attractive or even changed society in such a way as to have it be the woman who had to express obvious interest in the man, some of the problems experienced by women as a result of the current arrangement of society would then be placed onto men.

Instead they write blogpost that end with lines like this,

"I can think of few things that more poignantly underline how truly and comprehensively woman-hating the Patriarchy is than its creation of an "envy" to be hurt, just to feel like a complete woman.

ignoring the fact that woman are participants in society too and have an equal responsibility for its impact upon it members.

Or you could believe that Joe, Mike, and myself were sitting at the bar last night cat calling at almost every piece of ass that walked by thinking to ourselves, "I bet those ugly skanks are jealous that we didn't cat call at them when they walked by. Those stupid skanks, that's what they get for not conforming to our gender stereotypes."
posted by 517 at 6:13 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I do not mean to be dismissive at all of the article. I really don't want it to come across that way, and I sincerely don't feel that way. The way it's described in the article makes perfect, sad sense.

However, I get the distinct impression that a lot of the people who express actual, articulated envy, whether they're men, or women who haven't experienced it, don't really get what sexual harassment is. How terrifying it can be, and how consistently demeaning it is. (This is not what the article is doing, but some people have been.)

The vast majority of comments I've gotten were not flattering in the least. They were threatening. And yes, those 'compliments' have escalated to actual assault more than once. In fact, when I was working in a busy downtown area that has sort of a rep as a 'girl watching' spot, riding public transportation and walking to work, I was 'complimented' sexually pretty regularly, followed by men making sucking or kissing noises, or various gestures regularly. Some subset of those who would comment or follow me would then corner me, grab me from behind, touch me without permission, or physically block me from going where I was headed.

And no, it's not because I'm sexy or good looking, not that that matters. It's because I'm a woman, and they perceived me to be weak and an easy target, because I'm sort of slightly built and I tend to not make eye contact or present myself assertively; so they figure they can get away with it.

That's what I think a lot of the non-harassed women need to understand. This isn't attention you want, and it is not based on your actual sexual attractiveness. It is not an expression of interest in consensual sex so much as it is testing the waters for rape.

And men who think they'd be flattered: You don't have any idea what you're talking about, so stop talking about it.
posted by ernielundquist at 6:32 PM on July 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


And men who think they'd be flattered: You don't have any idea what you're talking about, so stop talking about it.

There were some of us, a long time and many suit sizes ago, who were the apple of many a man's eye, backstage, who know exactly what you're talking about, so please let's keep the generalizations to the FPP which is generic enough already.
posted by digitalprimate at 6:35 PM on July 31, 2011


There were some of us, a long time and many suit sizes ago, who were the apple of many a man's eye, backstage, who know exactly what you're talking about, so please let's keep the generalizations to the FPP which is generic enough already.

Were you flattered (and only flattered)? Because otherwise, I don't think that comment was aimed at you.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:38 PM on July 31, 2011


Dude/Lady/AI when a guy twice your body weight presses you up against the wall and describes to you how you secretly, really want it, no I wasn't so much flattered as I was afraid of getting my ass kicked. I don't think I'm a total outlier here.
posted by digitalprimate at 6:41 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


[MetaTalk is for talking about how the site is run and about topics not related to the subject of the thread. We will very happily meet you there if you'd like to talk, but keep the metadiscussions and "fuck you" stuff out of here, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:42 PM on July 31, 2011


I agree with you, ernielundquist. I've been thinking about this thread all day before answering, because the premise made me really angry. I agree that it is something to think about and it's not that I don't think these women can have their perspective, but it just makes me upset to think that they aren't feeling flattered because they're not part of this shared experience of getting hit on constantly. I don't think this street harassment is about wanting a date with me, or even seeing me as a person at all. I feel like the men who do this aren't thinking of me as a young woman on her way to work or whatever, they just literally see me as an entrant in the daily boob n ass parade, and they feel like it's their right to sit and enjoy the show. That's why a lot of these guys shout things like "Damn, God Bless America!" when they see women pass, because they think commenting on women is part of the wonderful luxury of life in America. Come on, this is disgusting. It confuses me that any woman would want to be a part of it, and it also confuses me that men who most likely would not participate in this harassment ever, at all, would still want to explain it away to me as part of some continuum of male sexual interest, with an invitation to dinner and a movie by a nice guy you know at one end, and "hey, baby, your body got bounce" on the other. And yes, the harrassment often does lead, very very quickly, to physical violence. If you respond nicely, you get more attention. If you respond negatively, you get called names. On and on and on. All the time. Every day.
posted by sweetkid at 6:44 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


And because there seems to be at least a couple of people misunderstanding the term, patriarchy doesn't mean 'men' as a group. It's the system that polices gender roles and places the masculine in a dominant position.

You'll sometimes hear people say 'The patriarchy hurts men too,' because it does. And a lot of women very actively perpetuate the patriarchy, too.

And digitalprimate, 'who think they'd be flattered [by that type of aggressive sexual attention]' was a restrictive clause. I don't mean all men. I mean men who think they would be flattered by being approached in a sexually aggressive way that often escalates to actual assault.

I know that a lot of men have experienced that same type of harassment, and do know how terrifying and non-flattering it is. I'm sorry if it came across wrong.
posted by ernielundquist at 6:44 PM on July 31, 2011 [12 favorites]


I wasn't so much flattered as I was afraid of getting my ass kicked

Right, so, the comment you quoted was prefaced with "[a]nd men who think they'd be flattered:", not "all men, without exception:" So you were not among the persons being called out there.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:44 PM on July 31, 2011


@ernielundquist and @Karmakaze no offense taken, just trying to point out that this is not a totally gender/orientation based issue; in my mind, it's more of a human to human issue. Not that this qualification is particularly helpful. Just that some on "the other side" can empathize if not perfectly sympathize.
posted by digitalprimate at 6:53 PM on July 31, 2011


Good God! Doesn't anyone ever "cat-call" with like a "you look really nice today!" or "I like your glasses!"

....Seriously? You SERIOUSLY think that there are people who DO cat-call with stuff like that?

The answer is, no, no one ever cat-calls with polite compliments.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:55 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


To make it clear, I might have been a bit hyperbolic, but I wasn't trolling. Men almost never talk to, much less tell other men to smile on the street, we also don't stare at other men. This is basic respect. Yet men feel comfortable doing it to women. Please show women the same respect you would show other men.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:56 PM on July 31, 2011 [10 favorites]


The message that harassment is related to attractiveness screwed with my head for a long time. It made it really hard for me to talk about being harassed without feeling like I was trying to brag in a really fucked-up way about how pretty I was.

And I remember getting to a point in my mid-twenties where I was beginning to untangle that, but then I went out to visit a friend who was really insecure about her looks. And the first night that we were out walking around in her big Midwestern city together, I kept getting that type of bullshit attention and she didn't. The next morning she made some throw-away comment about it, but we were good enough friends that I could tell she was hurt. So for the next couple of years, I never mentioned the problems I was having to a single soul, even though I could have used some help parsing the major changes in how men were relating to me, because I was so afraid it would look like bragging.

I was lucky enough that I navigated those waters without getting hurt, but I'm pretty sure I re-invented the wheel a couple of times. It would have been helpful if I had felt like I could say to some of my female friends, "This really sketchy married guy at work won't leave me alone, and I don't know what to do about it," but I didn't, because clearly an unhealthy obsession with someone is a sign of deep attraction and not a messed-up psyche. Aarrgh.
posted by colfax at 6:58 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't think the article is discussing a straight-up envy - "I wish I got harassed!!" It's describing something much more complicated and queasy, about our programming and sometimes our complicity in sexism.

I very much nodded along to the article, because I am someone who was street-harassed when much younger, and am now old and fat and incredibly invisible. And like b33j said, I have no wish at all to return to my days of street harassment, and yet am sometimes sulky and resentful that, "I am now no longer worthy to be noticed as a sexually desirable woman" and this very feeling really, "fucks with my head."

I haven't, however, felt left out of being raped. I guess I’ve never hung with women to whom that was a bonding experience.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:00 PM on July 31, 2011 [19 favorites]


This again.
posted by spitbull at 7:17 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I get the distinct impression that a lot of the people who express actual, articulated envy, whether they're men, or women who haven't experienced it, don't really get what sexual harassment is.

Well... yes. I mean, that's sort of the whole point of this article. That as a non-harassed woman, you look at your friends, and you look at yourself, and you think, "Why does this happen to them but not me? Am I truly so hideous?" And they tell you how awful it is, and you believe them, and you're so grateful not to have to deal with this horrible experience. But you still have to wonder, just a little bit, what is so different about you. And you know that you'd hate it if it happened to you, but you also know that you cannot comprehend how much you'd hate it unless it actually happened to you.
posted by mandanza at 7:20 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


In high school I had the most trouble with an issue that's usually a stereotypical male complaint. I was the girl the boys could talk to, right square in the "friend zone." So my male friends would ask me to go-between for them, to introduce them to girls they wanted to date. And I didn't mind doing it, but eventually got kind of pissed off that they never asked me out. And I did not want to date any of those boys, particularly. But there was still the annoyance of feeling that if they wanted to date any girl they could get access to ask, and did not want to date me, then I had failed at being a girl. So I felt hurt for not getting something I didn't even want.

It's the same with the harassment. It's not that I want to be harassed more, it's this feeling of, "What? I'm not even good enough to be treated like crap?" Personally, I appreciate being left the fuck alone more than I miss being visible, but I get why the balance would be different for other people.
posted by Karmakaze at 7:21 PM on July 31, 2011 [10 favorites]


517, cat calling != expressing interest.

/PSA
posted by likeso at 7:22 PM on July 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


This really resonated with me. And Jesus Christ, no, I never wanted to be harassed. Most of me is grateful that I am fat enough to miss that harassment but not quite fat enough to get the other side of it, people oinking out windows and such.

But, for me at least, having grown up in a society that tells girls and women in a million different ways that they must be fuckable and visible, even though I know that's bullshit, there's a mean little voice in the back of my head that says 'You're too hideous even to harass. Those gross men, the dregs of society that say those disgusting things? You're below even them.'

It's not rational. I know that. There's no winning in the patriarchy.

This was incredibly difficult to write. I'm up for reasoned debate, but please no snark.
posted by sugarfish at 7:23 PM on July 31, 2011 [24 favorites]


This requirement of women, for us males to express interest in them in an obvious fashion, doesn't come without its drawbacks for women though. Some of them will experience too much interest directed towards them, or they may experience interest directed towards them in an inappropriate fashion.

People who shout obscenities at their fellow pedestrians, people who make you jump out of your skin by loudly insulting your appearance out of car windows, people who grab their genitals and make slurping noises at you . . . these folks are not "expressing interest in an inappropriate fashion."

They are exercising what they believe to be their god-given right to publicly belittle, humiliate, and intimidate total strangers so as to feel Real Big or impress their worthless knuckle-dragging friends.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:25 PM on July 31, 2011 [16 favorites]


I don't think the article is discussing a straight-up envy - "I wish I got harassed!!" It's describing something much more complicated and queasy, about our programming and sometimes our complicity in sexism.

Precisely.

And then there's the fact that many of us who don't get catcalling-harassed (like, I get harassed all the time but it's homophobic harassment, "what the fuck are you?", hurl-object-at-me-from-passing-car-while-screaming-'dyke' harassment) already feel abnormal, already feel like we are targets because we're failures as women. I stress that I am all about queer theory and gender nonconformity and the way I look in a dress shirt and ribbon tie, but even so there is a sneaking, pained part of me that desperately wants not to feel that I am this ugly monstrous thing, desperately wants not to feel different and marked and unwanted and ashamed. I want to be like the other girls, even though I don't, really. I want to talk about how I shouldn't be valued just for my looks (even though no one has ever valued me for my looks). I want to be able to take part in the average conversations that women have, even though those conversations are about awful stuff. I don't want to be marked out once again as the weirdo who can't even get propositioned by desperate men.

I'm not proud of this part of my character, but it's there. Would I take the bad with the good if I could be turned into a pretty, femmey, normal woman? Not now, but if you'd asked me at twenty....
posted by Frowner at 7:26 PM on July 31, 2011 [28 favorites]


FelliniBlank: The happiest day of my fucking life was the one on which I became invisible to, well, pretty much everybody but in particular the assholes of the world.

I really, really wish we lived in a society where you were telling us about the day you graduated from ninja school, or the time you were bitten by a radioactive chameleon.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:33 PM on July 31, 2011 [21 favorites]


I mean, seriously, we get that sexual harassment isn't awesome. It's that so many [feminist] conversations among women rely on a set of common women's experiences with sexual harassment and treat those experiences as normal, so that if you're already feeling weird and inadequate, it just seems like one more way that you're an outsider.

Seriously, my experiences as a gender-non-conforming woman have revolved around being told I am ugly, ugly, ugly. Complete strangers have walked up to me to tell me I'm ugly. (Men, of course.) When I'm getting really shitty harassment like that, and some other woman is getting the "hey baby" kind of harassment, I experience it as "being around entitled straight guys really sucks for all women, but there's an additional layer of suck when you're told you're ugly on top of it". Also, being harassed for being ugly and/or queer has some similarities in terms of scariness - you wonder whether this particular asshole is the one who's going to actually get out of the car and hurt you, or if it will be that gang of frat boys, or if someone is going to throw something more painful than a full milk carton, or if someone will be crazy enough or drunk enough to try to rape you straight.
posted by Frowner at 7:35 PM on July 31, 2011 [20 favorites]


I really, really wish we lived in a society where you were telling us about the day you graduated from ninja school, or the time you were bitten by a radioactive chameleon.

Me too, just because . . . ninja school! but my visibility years were pretty pleasant -- I'm just so socially ill at ease in routine situations and generally odd that the less noticeable I am in the world, the more freeing and empowering it feels. I am fortunate to live in one of those rural zones where cat-calling is rare (off campus), so it's never been much of an issue, and my few run-ins elsewhere were almost all of the You Ugly Weirdo or WTF Is Your Problem? variety.

That's the thing, though. Fundamentally, it doesn't really matter which flavor of harassment someone experiences because they are all 100% about "you = fair game" for whatever kind of verbal or other abuse someone wants to dish out. And without fail, 10 or 20 or 50 eyes turn right toward the person receiving the abuse with a look that says, "Wow, what did you say/do to piss that guy off?"
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:53 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


That's the thing, though. Fundamentally, it doesn't really matter which flavor of harassment someone experiences because they are all 100% about "you = fair game" for whatever kind of verbal or other abuse someone wants to dish out. And without fail, 10 or 20 or 50 eyes turn right toward the person receiving the abuse with a look that says, "Wow, what did you say/do to piss that guy off?"

Yeah. I totally agree with this. It forces us to all kind of make these constant adjustments and decisions when out and about, deciding whether/how to respond, which roads to take, etc. Also, yes, there is a degree of public embarrassment to these situations, whether it's the "hey baby" or other types, even though you know it's not your fault. Several times when out running I got "hey, that's right baby, keep that body nice and fit for me!" (shudder) and it was so embarrassing that families were out with their young children hearing that.

When I was a teenager in suburban Virginia, I got a lot of guys leaning out of their cars and barking and jeez, sooo much "you're ugly." All through my twenties and early thirties, in New York and other urban areas, I've just gotten the "hey beautiful" catcalls. I dunno, I wasn't ever really happy with the switch. I just want people to quit yelling things at me.
posted by sweetkid at 8:00 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


For the first time in my life, I'm living in a place where I can't safely walk in my neighborhood after dark, and I've been catcalled more since I moved here than I ever have before. The first time, a guy my age said "On your right... you're gorgeous!" as he passed me on his bike and I was like heeey, that feels kind of nice, even though I know I should just be offended/scared.

Then a couple of guys at the bus stop tried to "make friends" with my friend and I by complimenting our anatomy. And that was awful, and neither of us even said aloud how awful it was once we escaped on the bus.

I guess I shouldn't ever feel good about this kind of attention, because it comes from a bad place, but I'd gratefully give up that occasional little thrill if I could feel safe at night where I live and ride the bus wearing a dress without it being taken as an opening for commentary.
posted by MadamM at 8:22 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


517, cat calling != expressing interest.

Yes it does. The fact that you don't know that is an artifact of social class and snobbery, not an absolute truth of society that needs to be enshrined in a PSA.

From the lips of men who do cat calls, I'll paraphrase as best I can, "It gets her attention and shows her that you have confidence. A person who didn't have confidence in themselves wouldn't do it. Almost all the women I do it to, smile back."

I don't do cat calls, but I was also raised in an upper-middle class home where that stuff doesn't fly, but neither does yelling in general. In other levels of society, men do indeed do it because they think women like it, and some women do like it.
posted by 517 at 8:23 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yes it [cat calling] expresses interest. The fact that you don't know that is an artifact of social class and snobbery, not an absolute truth of society that needs to be enshrined in a PSA.

It expresses interest in a woman as "an object." Or -- to be put even more crudely -- it expresses interest in only three parts of my anatomy. It does NOT express interest in the woman as an individual.

From the lips of men who do cat calls, I'll paraphrase as best I can, "It gets her attention and shows her that you have confidence. A person who didn't have confidence in themselves wouldn't do it. Almost all the women I do it to, smile back."

These men claim that "almost all the women smile back"? and you believe them?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:28 PM on July 31, 2011 [13 favorites]


oftentimes they smile back because they are afraid of rocking the boat/angering the catcaller, not because they like it.
posted by sweetkid at 8:31 PM on July 31, 2011 [15 favorites]


Frowner: Sing it, sister.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:33 PM on July 31, 2011


These men claim that "almost all the women smile back"? and you believe them?

In fairness, if someone addresses me like that such that I feel uncomfortable and intimidated then I don't want to antagonize them. I'm not always proud of my reaction but sometimes I do smile because I want to get out of the situation with as little drama/potential unpleasantness as possible.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:33 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Did you know that grimacing in fear can kind of look like smiling?
posted by Karmakaze at 8:38 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, I don't know that the men that 517 polled about this would self-report that these women really look annoyed, cross the street in fear, say nothing, etc.
posted by sweetkid at 8:40 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Smiling is also a way to try and defuse and de-escalate a situation, particularly if you're worried that you're in a situation where escalation may mean violence.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:41 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


This really resonated with me too. I was ugly as a teenager - from the ages of 9 to 17, I had prominent orthodontia and acne that basically looked like my face had recently bursted into flames - and just got used to the idea that I was never, ever going to appeal to anyone based on anything but my brains or my earning potential. I had entire months when I wouldn't look into a mirror because it was so demoralizing. So, I read a lot, and I got into a reasonably lucrative field for undergrad, and I was really, really into punk rock which has broad undercurrents of "I'm hideous and I LIKE it so FUCK YOU" ...and then I took Accutane, and the acne went away, and my braces came off. Not to give any details, but I think I'm pretty cute now. I spent many years being sure I wasn't, but I think I turned out pretty okay, superficially at least.

Well, the harassment faucet I expected to turn on just never did. I think I've been catcalled twice in my whole life, and both times were from behind. When I'm approached by strangers, they're usually pleasant and respectful, and it's usually because I apparently look like I know where I'm going and they think I can give them directions. Sometimes they want to know what I'm reading, but they're never douchebags about it. The unwanted attention I've gotten that has actually made me uncomfortable has been almost uniformly from people who are definitely, visibly mentally ill, riding transit. And while I am thankful thankful thankful that it turned out this way, oh my god you have no idea, because I do know some women who just live in fear and are constantly getting 31 flavors of bullshit, including when I'm with them...I can't help feeling like I'm doing femininity wrong, somehow. Am I still secretly ugly and I just can't tell? What is it about me that I don't attract this kind of attention? What kind of nontrivial "don't fuck with me" vibe could a girl barely over 5 feet really be broadcasting?? Can I bottle this and sell it, somehow? Or maybe I'm getting low-grade harassed all the time but I'm so lacking in social skills that I don't know it?

I try not to think about it too much. These days when I'm out walking, it's mostly with my dogs, and they get way more objectified than I ever did. I'm just hoping the vibe holds up once I eventually get pregnant because I hear strangers like to touch pregnant women's stomachs and I can't even tell you the extent to which that isn't okay with me.

And, yeah, to corroborate all the people directly above me, smiling gently and responding in short sentences is the only possible way to deal with someone who scares you when you're smaller and weaker than them. A smile from a catcalled woman can mean "This makes me feel hot" or it can mean "Oh dear god why did I leave the pepper spray at home today."
posted by troublesome at 8:43 PM on July 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


(I just want to say that I learn something every time one of these discussions happens. Thank you.)
posted by maxwelton at 8:46 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


"It expresses interest in a woman as "an object."."

Obviously. Should they be yelling about the really great critique the yellee just wrote about Shakespeare? But women are both objects and people. Like it or not every stranger you have ever spoken to started off as an object. The fact that the yellers are treating them as an object is a result of the fact that they don't know them yet, they have no choice other than to treat them as an object. The cat call is trying to get their attention.

Or -- to be put even more crudely -- it expresses interest in only three parts of my anatomy.

Mmm, maybe sometimes. But whenever a woman catches my attention it has more to do with the entirety of her appearance rather than solely abstract aspects of her anatomy. I'm guessing most men are like this. One could say that I recognize her as an individual object.

"These men claim that "almost all the women smile back"? and you believe them?

Yes, I do, as I have seen it happen. If you wanted to make an argument here it would it would be about why the women are smiling, not whether or not they are smiling, because chances are a good percentage of them are smiling for reasons other than being happy, but I don't know because I didn't ask them about it.
posted by 517 at 8:59 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


517, you appear to be intelligent, yet you speak as though you don't know what a catcall is. Seriously, you are suggesting this is a socially acceptable and NECESSARY way to approach strangers? With insults and disrespect?
posted by zennie at 9:04 PM on July 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


517, I smile every time. I smile and duck my head as if to say, "I'm flattered - but shy!" I do this because I have learned through trial and error that it is the best way to keep the situation from escalating and I feel like shit every time. I have learned that looking at a man who shouts at women in the street is a great way to get him to follow me or walk beside me or otherwise behave in an intimidating manner. I have also learned that ignoring such a man entirely is a great way to get a man to come closer and hiss stuck up cunt, and that's even scarier. I'm vain as shit, and I love compliments but street harassment is not a compliment, it's frightening.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:14 PM on July 31, 2011 [25 favorites]


Thanks for correcting my spelling and use of catcall. Despite the denotation of catcall in that dictionary and others, the connotation of catcall everywhere else I have ever seen the term would be something along the line of: "a vocalization used to gain the attention of sexually desirable individual in a manner that is directed towards their sexuality."

I'm pretty sure that's what most people think it means, but if you want to go by the dictionary definition, I guess I'll have to make up a new word.

As for the rest of your comment, I'll leave it right where it belongs.
posted by 517 at 9:17 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some of the ideas in this article reminded me a lot of something I said back in the Booth Babes thread: that being harassed was seen as sort of a "badge of honor" for women, and that "the only thing worse than being harassed is not being harassed."

At the time, I was pretty much informed that I had no idea what I was talking about, yet now we have an article which relates very much the same ideas and it's being met with a noticeable amount of agreement.

What gives? Am I misinterpreting the article? Or am I making a false comparison between the author's observations and my own?
posted by ShutterBun at 9:24 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I experience it as "being around entitled straight guys really sucks for all women, but there's an additional layer of suck when you're told you're ugly on top of it"

I'll get catcalled for being ugly or hot depending on what neighborhood I'm in, and for me, it's more complicated than "additional layer of suck." I've found that being catcalled for ugliness is more maddening but, oddly enough, much easier to deal with. More straightforward, anyway. When men lean out of their car windows and bark at me, or whatever, there's no pretense that what they're doing isn't verbal abuse. We're openly in conflict, so I feel perfectly content staring those fuckers down. It helps that I feel that I can pretty easily take the measure of a man who's barking at me.

The supposedly complimentary catcallers, on the other hand -- yeah, goddamn right I'll duck my head and smile, most days. Because when I don't, sometimes the guys get out of their cars and follow me down the street in a pack calling me a bitch. That's scary. When I get that kind of harassment, it feels like I have the additional burden of managing the interaction so that it doesn't go suddenly, drastically sour. And it's really hard for me to tell which one of those interactions is going to be the one that gets seriously problematic.

Entitled guys who are yelling at me for being a dog know perfectly well that they're asking for it. Entitled guys who are yelling at me for being a hottie like to imagine that they're in the right. I hope all their heads fall off.
posted by sculpin at 9:30 PM on July 31, 2011 [18 favorites]


I remember the first time I was car-called. I was 13, my Mom and Steodad and I were going to the store. this guy made remarks about how sexy he thought I was.
I did not even have breasts. I had short hair, it had to have been the Carnaby street outfit my grandmother sent me. It was basically an early sort of pants suit. I was not that cute at that age. I was gangly, and had terrible acne, and thin like Twiggy.
I was so shocked by what happened, so embarrassed because
my whole nuclear family was there.
When we got home, I went to the
bathroom and vomited.
My mother tried to tell me any good looking woman or girl had this experience. She said 'you are younger than me when it happened to me the first time.'
I am sure that experience made me feel less at ease with teenaged boys and grown men.
If a man wants to show interest, there are classy ways of doing that.
But cat-calling a 13 year old girl is several levels of fucked up. I certainly was dressed appropriately for my age.
Later I was to have really scary incidents with men in broad daylight in public spaces. One asked me if I liked to suck male appendages (substitute the NSFW word)
I told him 'No but I really like putting my boot up a guy's behind (substitute NSFW word..) until it meets teeth. I said this with a sift voice.. The guy took off running. I hollered after him 'Hey I would have paid $50 for the privelege !'
Never saw him again. Went on to work. After I was done having the shakes, turned in a good afternoon's work.
I hope that weedy little bastard learned not to do that anymore. Doubt it. I'm fairly sure he was a pervert.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:33 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


"517, I smile every time."

And now we have come full circle, back to what I was talking about in my first comment.
posted by 517 at 9:33 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK, 517. You must be correct. That definition is clearly not applicable. After all, if you saw an ice cream vendor walking by with a cart, and you wanted him to stop so you could buy an ice cream, it would make perfect sense to run at him yelling, HEY GET OVER HERE SO I CAN LICK YOUR CONES. After all, that's how men show interest if they don't know your name. Such an exclamation would never be thought to be pointlessly aggressive or threatening, because it's a simple show of interest, and ice cream vendors like for people to run at them screaming suggestive things.
posted by zennie at 9:34 PM on July 31, 2011 [15 favorites]


Thanks for posting this and this discussion. I've always felt guilty and bad for having these same thoughts. As a fat masculine looking woman I've never been harassed by men (except to have random ones ask if I'm a man or shout ugly or fag at me) yet have experienced sexual violence. It leaves me thinking that I fail as a woman as I'm not deserving enough for catcalls yet deserving enough for rape. It really has done a number on my head that even at 36 I'm still dealing with. I've led an invisible life and expect I always will.

It makes it hard to bond with women. Especially when I was younger. I remember being 20 or so in college and being yelled at by a few because I said I hadn't been harassed or oppressed by men and couldn't relate.

Anyway, thanks for this discussion. I never realized that others thought sort of the way I do and it eases the guilt a lot.
posted by kanata at 9:35 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Am I misinterpreting the article?

Yes, you are.

And as moxiedoll said, when younger I would often smile at street harassers or try to ignore with the most neutral body langue possible, because I'd had experiences of being followed by men who switched instantly from "admiration" to raging anger and it's really embarrassing and fucking scary to be followed down the street by someone shouting about what a cunt you are.

As with the last FPP along these lines, conversation will probably go best if troll-like comments are simply ignored rather than dog-piled.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:38 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


"a vocalization used to gain the attention of sexually desirable individual in a manner that is directed towards their sexuality."

It's pretty super awesome to be carrying groceries home from the store and be subjected to vocalizations about how I am a sexually desirable individual while I am waiting for a light to turn so I can cross the street! When I am out running errands, that's when I most want attention directed toward my sexuality by strangers, yes indeed.

sigh

I read this article a few days ago and felt really ambivalent about it. It is pretty upsetting to think about women feeling left out if they haven't been raped—that part made me really angry, actually, but it must be a really fucked up thing to feel, and I am even more angry at social forces that conspire to make people feel it. Thank you, everyone, for telling your stories in this thread.
posted by bewilderbeast at 9:40 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


At the time, I was pretty much informed that I had no idea what I was talking about, yet now we have an article which relates very much the same ideas and it's being met with a noticeable amount of agreement.

The most obvious reason would be that 99% of the people commenting here so far weren't in that other thread at all. One person did respond to your comment over there by raising some of the issues that have come up here.

Also, totally different discussion/context.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:45 PM on July 31, 2011


Here's the thing, 517. You've got a whole bunch of women telling you straight up that catcalling and other street harassment scares them.

Some of us have actually been physically assaulted by men who have decided to escalate their harassment. And you're persisting in telling us that we're wrong, that we should be flattered or something, and that you think you know better than those who have actually experienced it. You don't. Your opinion doesn't have much weight here, as you haven't experienced it.

Want to actually try to understand it? Stop imagining how you would respond if random women made sexual comments about you. Imagine that it's men, and that they're maybe half a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than you, and that they're complimenting your package, and that every now and again, they escalate to assaulting you if you ignore them or respond angrily. Do you think you might try smiling or even thanking them, then getting the hell out of there?

Catcalling and other unwelcome sexual attention is degrading, demeaning, and often, downright terrifying to the women who experience it, and it's kind of horrifying that you even entertain the notion that you can rebut that with some facile argument about some subset of women who either respond by "smiling" or even who report being flattered that some random guy thought she had a nice rack or whatever.

And that's really part of the problem. It doesn't even occur to a lot of people that what some random street dude thinks about a woman's appearance is a thing of very little import. Women are socialized to accept male attention, and to value themselves based on their sexual appeal to men--even lesbians can fall prey to that. We internalize the message that much--sometimes even most--of our value as human beings lies in the straight male gaze.

So yes, of course there are women who value a relatively non-threatening catcall or take pride in being sexually harassed, and it does make sense in the nuanced way the article describes it, that there are also women who feel vaguely left out that it doesn't happen to them.

None of that makes it OK to harass women, or to dismiss those of us who have told you it's not OK. It just points up the fact that it shouldn't be happening, Men shouldn't be walking around thinking that it's acceptable to create a disruption in a woman's day just to inform her of his assessment of her sexual attractiveness, and women should not be weighing their self-worth against such a ridiculously insignificant thing. That's the patriarchy, right there. Telling us that some insignificant crap like what some random jerk on the street thinks about our fuckability is something we should care about.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:03 PM on July 31, 2011 [35 favorites]


What gives? Am I misinterpreting the article? Or am I making a false comparison between the author's observations and my own?

Because, honestly, there's a lot of nuance necessary to describe a complex dynamic/internal monologue associated with being or not being harassed. "Victim's badge of honor" and staying that women are disappointed they aren't harassed at a convention doesn't quite cut it - it implies they want it, it's okay to do it, and all kinds of other stuff that you probably don't mean (i.e. lacking nuance).

I think this thread also points out that this weird awareness/confusion/doubt/shame of not being harassed is not a "prevailing attitude", but very much a minority one, and one in which a few people mentioned that they keep to themselves. I imagine it would be a much smaller minority of these women who would say "the only thing worse than being harassed is not being harassed."
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 10:15 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


"it would make perfect sense to run at him yelling, HEY GET OVER HERE SO I CAN LICK YOUR CONES."

LoL I'm going to use that one, seriously.

"You've got a whole bunch of women telling you straight up that catcalling and other street harassment scares them. "

I have a very specific group of women here, who probably don't come from the SES I was referring to, and didn't grow up with the social instruction that would be needed to respond to catcalling in a manner other than the one I am seeing here. I am not telling you you're wrong for not liking it. I am saying that the sentiment expressed here isn't as comprehensive as you think it is and only considers catcalling from one perspective.

"Some of us have actually been physically assaulted by men who have decided to escalate their harassment."

I'm sorry about that. I've been assaulted twice. The first guy broke my nose and damage my front tooth enough to require a root canal. The second guy didn't hit me but choked me out, and I would not be here today if kind stranger hadn't saved my ass. Both assaults occurred before I was twenty, and to paraphrase what both the people said to me before they assaulted me "I didn't know when to shut my mouth". To be clear, I'm a guy but can we take the victim card off the table please.

"some facile argument about some subset of women who either respond by "smiling"

You've missed the core of my argument. So I will spell it out.

1. Women are participants in this society, they outnumber men, and their behavior has a direct impact on the behavior of men.

2. To stay specific, I talked about catcalling and how it was impossible to determine, from the males perspective, that the women experiencing it were anything but happy with it when she smiled in response. I know they could take a women's studies course or read metafilter to figure that out, but how many men actually do.

3. A common response to catcalling noted in this thread was to smile in response to it.

4. If the only response to a catcall a woman doesn't want is to smile at it, why would she expect the catcalling to stop, because from a strict behaviorist perspective she is reinforcing the behavior by smiling, and having a direct impact on male behavior. Yes, it is blaming the victim but on some levels it is the victim's responsibility to assert their rights not to be victimized. If that level is below the level of interpersonal communication, I don't know where it is.

5. "That's the patriarchy, right there." In which women are full participants and apparently complicit.

6. I haven't even talked about what was wrong with the original article that was posted.
posted by 517 at 10:31 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, 517, I grew up poor as dirt in a working class neighborhood and when I was 14 and 15 and could not walk home through my family's apartment complex without an 80% chance of some man yelling "Nice ass!" or miming sex acts at me or asking whether I wanted to suck his dick, I did not consider that flattering, or culturally appropriate. I considered that disgusting and terrifying.

So terrifying, in fact, that one day when one of those guys was following me and wouldn't stop talking about what he'd like me to do, I pulled out my pocket knife with shaking hands and told him that if he ever mentioned his penis in my presence again I would be happy to cut it off for him.

So you know, your working class friends who think catcalling is culturally appropriate form of communication with women might want to reconsider before some working class 15-year-old girl feels so threatened she decides to pull a knife. PSA. Yes, 517, you do need a PSA.
posted by BlueJae at 10:36 PM on July 31, 2011 [16 favorites]


Per rcdc's comment:

It's ridiculous to say that viewing someone as a sexual being is objectification. Simply stated, being a smart interesting well rounded worthy individual and being a sexual object are not mutually exclusive.


You've got some confusion going with this. Yes, we are all sexual beings--even children are sexual beings, although they are not ready to express this fully. But NONE of us should be viewed as sexual objects. People are not objects, and when they are objectified, it becomes sexism, racism, and all the other hateful things that go along with forgetting that people are just... people.

While I have gotten some whistles, catcalls, and flat out insulting remarks, I haven't gotten near as many as some other women. I'm not beautiful, but I clean up well. I believe it's more that I have a certain demeanor and carriage. I've noticed many of the horsewomen that I hang out with project a "take no shit" attitude, also. Knowing you can handle a sixteen hand stallion can give you a heck of a lot of confidence. Interestingly enough I don't wear a wedding ring, yet I've had several men comment that they know I'm pretty firmly married. It's the women that can't tell.

I do look back on two occasions with fondness: The first was a wolf whistle, followed by a tip of the hat, and the second was a "Hey Girl! You got it together." Both felt more like compliments than attention seeking behavior or objectification. Not all whistles do, however.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:44 PM on July 31, 2011


The article really resonated with me. I'm not conventionally attractive (lots of factors, including being trans without much passing privilege and overweight), and the world frequently seems to be sending me the message that I'm a combination of unnoticeable and unlovable. That hurts a lot.

Just as Frowner said, "I don't want to be marked out once again as the weirdo who can't even get propositioned by desperate men." And feeling like that makes me loathe the sexist system we live in and hate the choices I'm so often presented with.
posted by jiawen at 10:56 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I swear to god, the only time I think, "gee, i wish MetaFilter had some sort of 'downvote' button" is in threads on sexual harassment and rape - some of the comments just scare and/or anger the crap out of me.

If the only response to a catcall a woman doesn't want is to smile at it, why would she expect the catcalling to stop

Please, mansplain to me how to get the catcalling to stop. Smiling hasn't worked for me, but then neither has ignoring people or telling them to leave me alone, both of which usually get me called a "stuck-up bitch" for my trouble.
posted by naoko at 11:03 PM on July 31, 2011 [27 favorites]


I just wanted to say a big thank you to Frowner and others who have done such a great job explaining why this article resonated with them. I wish I could be as articulate, and I appreciate all of you sharing your experiences.
posted by Salieri at 11:07 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


[Please do not make this thread all about 517's opinions. That includes you, 517. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 11:10 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


And no, it's not because I'm sexy or good looking, not that that matters. It's because I'm a woman, and they perceived me to be weak and an easy target, because I'm sort of slightly built and I tend to not make eye contact or present myself assertively; so they figure they can get away with it.

No, it isn't, and the fact that you insist that it is is the problem this article is addressing.

I'm glad somebody has said what this article is saying, because while I'll be a feminist until I'm cold and dead, when it comes to these online discussions, well... it's alienating enough the way educated, mostly white, relatively very wealthy, basically good-looking, gender-normative women from first world countries set the problem of verbal street harassment up as an unquestionably central issue in feminism just by talking about it constantly, without their also going on to thoughtlessly exclude the countless women who aren't traditionally desirable to streetside perverts from the entire female experience by the way they go about it. Why are so many single, solitary women making absolute pronouncements about what the world is like for all of us as a group? In our last few conversations about this type of thing, men have started doing it too, which is admirable, but even more annoying. "Women" is supposed to mean all women, not just a sufficiently adorable subset of us.

Obviously, I take it sort of personally, and that's because I was ugly until I was about 17, and it was wall to wall misery. Now that, by some miracle and in spite of everything, I'm reasonably nice-looking, it's a privilege that I feel very keenly. I'm not a better person now (if anything I'm worse), but everybody treats me as if I were. I'm certainly not more of a girl or woman now, and I don't think it's OK to talk as if I didn't exist as one until four years ago.

While I'm here, on top of being very uncomfortable with the notion that constant street harassment is something that just happens when you're a woman, I also don't relate to the idea that all women feel more or less sick and afraid about it when it does happen. I resent the implication of something like "Did you know that grimacing in fear can kind of look like smiling?" Personally, I only smile if I want to, and I wish people could find a way to make their points without putting my agency to do even that in question.

I hate that so many of us are being constantly, openly appraised by assholes and weirdos just for being bold enough to go outside. I hate that so many women are made to feel sick and afraid. But, I'm not really. Largely, I know, because I haven't been physically violated, and partly because I was a hard-hearted adult (or just about) by the time I had to start dealing with this stuff. I've been affected, of course. I've been overwhelmed, I've been furious, I've racked up some scary stories. But then again, sometimes it's actually just sort of interesting, the way the type and amount of attention I get change according to various circumstances (where I am in the world, or the weather, or my clothes, or my makeup, or how I walk, etc.). Sometimes, when men are just appreciative and not creepy or obscene, I feel more connected to and less at war with the world around me. And me and my feelings... we exist. I accept that many other women don't feel the way I do. That makes perfect sense; our experiences have been different. They're equally real, though.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:43 PM on July 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


I was really interested by this article until the commenting disclaimer at the end that, to me, seems to say "If you don't agree, you must just be privileged, so just hush and listen to the people that know what they're talking about". One of my biggest pet peeves is when anyone says anything and then shoots down any responses by saying "Well you're privileged and just don't understand"- it nullifies any discussion and conveniently makes it look like everyone agrees with you.
posted by kro at 11:43 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Please, mansplain to me how to get the catcalling to stop. Smiling hasn't worked for me, but then neither has ignoring people or telling them to leave me alone, both of which usually get me called a "stuck-up bitch" for my trouble.

Oh you have to put of with an insult. I'm sorry about that, it must be awful. The same thing happens to me when I ignore the bums asking for money, or the bums who "aren't" asking for money, or when I flip off the guy who cuts me off on the road, or when I interact with just about any stranger in a negative manner. It is the cost of defending yourself. I does wear on you after a while, but what wears on me more is putting up with them with a smile on my face. I can't imagine it's much different for you.

I know this a complex issue, and a solution to this isn't going to be presented in a paragraph of text. There are edge cases when what I have been talking about isn't going to apply, and there are always going to be males who are just perverts who want to explain in detail what they would do to a fifteen year old girl. But if the next time your reply to a catcall you don't want is just a nervous smile instead of giving them the finger, realize that you're part of the patriarchy too.
posted by 517 at 11:47 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I found the article fascinating, and tragic, and frustrating.

Fascinating because as a straight, white male with a lot of cultural studies background, I know just enough to know that I simply lack the requisite experience to really understand what's going on and the paradoxes of all of it. Those experiences are, as comment after comment on the OP attests, tragic.

At the same time, I found the recourse to the cap-P "Patriarchy" to be simplistic, reductive, and counter-productive. Arguments that ground social norms in a largely abstracted and monolithic hegemony do no one any favors, regardless of the individual's status in the supposed hierarchy. I wish we could have all the insight and revelation of the OP without then contributing to that sort of framing, or facilitating that frame via comments.
posted by hank_14 at 11:57 PM on July 31, 2011


But if the next time your reply to a catcall you don't want is just a nervous smile instead of giving them the finger, realize that you're part of the patriarchy too.

I want to say "fuck you very much", but I'm also curious. Please explain how women ought to respond.
posted by moxiedoll at 12:05 AM on August 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh you have to put of with an insult. I'm sorry about that, it must be awful.

Jesus H. Christ. I just don't even know what to say to this.

The same thing happens to me when I ignore the bums asking for money, or the bums who "aren't" asking for money, or when I flip off the guy who cuts me off on the road, or when I interact with just about any stranger in a negative manner.

You do realize that women deal with all of these situations as well, and that sexual harassment is just icing on the cake, right?

I does wear on you after a while, but what wears on me more is putting up with them with a smile on my face.

Good for you. What "wears on me" is when people chase me down the street if I don't respond how they want.

realize that you're part of the patriarchy too.

I...just...wow.
posted by naoko at 12:29 AM on August 1, 2011 [12 favorites]


I thought we were asked politely by a mod to not make this thread about 517's opinions.
posted by spicynuts at 12:35 AM on August 1, 2011


You're right. Goodnight, guys.
posted by naoko at 12:39 AM on August 1, 2011


I'm struggling to write a coherent comment, something that expresses how much this article and comments like Frowner's have resonated with me. I'm not going to lie, I'm a "pretty girl", skinny and tall - but I'm also Black, and sometimes that alone makes me feel somewhat worthless in society.

I take the train everywhere, so I'm out in public all the time -- and I've been harassed and catcalled so many times that I hardly ever leave the house without my "city armor" -- headphones (even if they're not plugged into anything) and dark sunglasses. If I'm going somewhere fancy (even to work) I usually pack my dress, earrings, and makeup and try to change when I get there. It's an extra step that I take because in my head I'm like, "don't call any more attention to yourself!"

It makes me sad that in threads like this, as well as in real life, there's always Some Man shouting about how it can't be as bad as all that, really?

Ugh. I fucking HATE being told to smile by random men on the street. I hate when they stare me up-and-down, I hate when they suck their teeth, I hate when they follow me and call me "baby" and make comments about what I'm buying or where I'm going. It is THREATENING, in no uncertain terms, and men who don't have to deal with this should consider themselves lucky, rather than telling me that I'm imagining things.
posted by polly_dactyl at 12:50 AM on August 1, 2011 [16 favorites]


After perusing this site, I can say I enjoyed and support this as a FPP--a good opportunity to explore the perspectives of this person and consider how she has arrived at them. However, I found many of her opinions and explanations to be generic or abstract (in an unsupported sort of way), sometimes highly contradictory, and so very very angry. A large portion of the vocab list, for example, are words designed to criticize, attack, and hurt.

Re: the specific post sited, I questioned this:

This, of course, is not a commentary on women—objectified or not, feminist or not. This is a commentary on the Patriarchy, and how unfathomably fucked-up it is...

Is this really so obvious to be "of course?" Is it not possible that this internal conflict some people experience regarding being noticed for physical appearance could be revealing instead (or at least additionally) about the people experiencing that feeling, rather than this capital-p patriarchy? This sort of always-outward-looking examination of every issue is an unappealing aspect of the website.

Similarly, the phrase "fucked up" seemed to be the beginning and end of too many of the explanations of the statements made in the comments.

Finally--and I will phrase this as a question, not a statement, in order to convey my lack of desire to offend: Is it possible to be physically attracted to someone else and not simultaneously "objectify" them? If not, why is the first generally considered ok and the latter considered evil? Is it possible for us all to celebrate ourselves as physical objects as long as we do so in addition to being respectful and celebrating each other for our minds, feelings and other less-physical aspects?
posted by ottimo at 12:51 AM on August 1, 2011


Is it possible to be physically attracted to someone else and not simultaneously "objectify" them?

Yes!

If you're looking at a body without being aware of it as being somebody's body, that's when you're doing it wrong. Empathize. Try to imagine what the world looks like from their point of view. The goal isn't celebrating less-physical aspects so much as it's respecting whatever it is the other person wants respected.* Relating to someone on a strictly sexual level doesn't make either of you like a cat-caller, not if that's what you both want.


* well, that's a good first-order approximation. it might be worth asking yourself why a person would want X rather than Y. personal history? societal pressure? on some occasions, unusual but not uncommon, giving someone what they say they want may not be the best way to show respect for them a person.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:05 AM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


517: Like it or not every stranger you have ever spoken to started off as an object.

This, this right here is the problem. No, people should NEVER be objects. Strangers are just people you don't know yet. You don't get to treat them like some object of your sexual desire or desire to have power over them, and then get angry at them because they don't respond precisely the way you want them to.

If you don't learn that growing up, if you're taught that that shit is acceptable by your peers, your parents, and your group, then your group is FUCKED UP, and in need of some changes. THAT is the patriarchy.

Women smiling nervously when yelled at on the street, or are crudely chatted up in an elevator, or are trapped in a store by some guy trying to get their phone number, or are yelled at from a passing car, or the hundred other ways men treat random women like they're own personal property are not the problem here. They are doing it because they're rightly afraid that if they 'give the finger' as you suggest, instead of just being an embarrassing and scary encounter for a few seconds, that they will be followed, that the man will get out of his car and follow them calling them a stuck up cunt. That they will be attacked physically by someone far stronger and taller than them. They fear this from actual experience.

If I put a gun to someone's head, and they smile nervously at me and try to escape as fast as possible, instead of yelling at me, giving me the finger and telling me to fuck off, you'd blame them for not giving me 'clear signals' of what they actually want? You think it'd be fair to actually assume they LIKE having a gun put to their head because they didn't tell me to fuck off?

Many women don't give absolutely clear unambigous signals of how they feel because when they DO, they face threats of significant violence, and certainly they get a lot more really nasty abuse. Those that do stand up for themselves are certainly in for a whole world of constant nastiness.

The onus on the men who cat call is to ACTUALLY find out whether women like it. To NOT treat women like objects. To NOT be agressive, thoughtless assholes who assume just because they do a thing, that women must like it - and if they don't, they're stuck up bitches.

Or you could believe that Joe, Mike, and myself were sitting at the bar last night cat calling at almost every piece of ass that walked by thinking to ourselves, "I bet those ugly skanks are jealous that we didn't cat call at them when they walked by. Those stupid skanks, that's what they get for not conforming to our gender stereotypes."

Well, that's just peachy for you. That you don't see any problem with it, and that you're defending the guys who do precisely that though? Yeah, that doesn't make you a saint.

However, despite these problems, women as a group, with a few exceptions on an individual level, have still decided that it is best for them not to express their interest in men in an obvious fashion because of the negative social repercussions.

Well, perhaps they don't express their interest in men because they're actually doing something else - like walking somewhere, reading a book, going to work, trying to be in a meeting, trying to read a book, ride the subway, and they're you know, not actually sexually interested at that point and don't WANT to be. I've found women do express their interest when they are. It might not be as crude as 'I want to pull your pants off and lick you' but it is there, you just need to pay attention. And you know, not be a fucking asshole.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:34 AM on August 1, 2011 [14 favorites]


Is it possible to be physically attracted to someone else and not simultaneously "objectify" them?

Yes, it is. You can even act on it without being a creep or an asshole. It's about being respectful of the person, that they're an individual with their own thoughts, desires, and moods. Respect their personal space. Be nice. If they're not interested, take it in good grace and politely let them go on their way. Learn to read body language - so much of it is non-verbal, it's about eye contact, hands, what they do with their hair, whether they lean in, or back away. It's also hugely about time and place - what is suitable in a pick-up bar, and what is suitable in a general public place differ HUGELY. What they're doing at the time is hugely important. Just remember - just because they're attractive to you - or not - doesn't give you any right to their time or space if they don't want it. Treat every encounter with a stranger as you would want to be treated yourself - hopefully nicely! - and go from there.

There's nothing wrong with just having a conversation with someone, in the right time and place.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:55 AM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Most men don't catcall. Most men are repulsed by those who do. I come from the lower rungs of the socioeconomic order, but I have always instinctively understood that men who catcalled were assholes. This wasn't something that my father taught me, or my brothers, or other relations, or my peers. I watched the forced smiles of the victims -- masking terror, usually -- and I understood.

What most assholes lack is empathy. Men and women can be equally empathetic, but men who lack empathy can be more threatening (for reasons of superior size, the social acceptance/expectation of male braggadocio, etc.).

For those who have been affected: my apologies.
posted by Chasuk at 4:15 AM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm just kind of amazed that yet another thread about sexist harassment - this time approaching the issue from a different and little-heard-from perspective, no less! - has been derailed into a lesson on how to (politely and nonthreateningly) pick women up.
posted by Salieri at 4:18 AM on August 1, 2011 [16 favorites]


Usually because there's at least one arguing that harrassment is the only way to actually to talk to women because they're so inscrutable. But point taken.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:27 AM on August 1, 2011


Okay, 517 -- if you've been in the presence of your friends when they do address women in this fashion, surely you can remember some of the actual things they've said. Can you share?

I have a feeling that what you are thinking is "a catcall" may not be one.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:05 AM on August 1, 2011


Why are so many single, solitary women making absolute pronouncements about what the world is like for all of us as a group? In our last few conversations about this type of thing, men have started doing it too, which is admirable, but even more annoying. "Women" is supposed to mean all women, not just a sufficiently adorable subset of us.

I think one of the problems is that these incidents so often happens when a woman is alone, so they have to extrapolate to others, and there are always problems when you generalize. But I think the main problem with hearing this generalization is that people think of catcalling as some kind of positive response, which it isn't. Yelling at women about how ugly or fat they are is also catcalling, and is clearly not based on adorability. Maybe catcalling, the so-called positive and negative, happens to all women in the same sense that other things in life "happen to everybody"? Men can also get harassed for being perceived as too feminine.

Regardless, it makes me sad that talking about this stuff makes some people feel extra excluded.
posted by zennie at 5:17 AM on August 1, 2011


The commenting guidelines at the end of the post chill me to the bone: different types of 'privilege' seem to be multiplying like rabbits with the sole intent of clamping off substantive conversation.

Riddle me this: if 'visible womanhood' is now a privilege and yet it leads to the horrors of sexual objectification and sexual violence, is it still a privilege?
posted by gsh at 5:28 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to feel bad about never being harassed -- until someone pointed out that it was probably because I walk relatively confidently and/or aggressively, and so look like a bad target. Which is something that came up in another recent thread - though that research was on sexual assault, not harassment.

So it's not necessarily how you look or your age - my mother has been street harassed (when I was in my late teens) and I haven't.

Geography/local culture also plays a part -- street harassment seems to be much less common in some places than others. I wonder if anyone has tried to survey and map it?
posted by jb at 5:58 AM on August 1, 2011


Riddle me this: if 'visible womanhood' is now a privilege and yet it leads to the horrors of sexual objectification and sexual violence, is it still a privilege?
Yes. In the same way that being male carries privilege and yet leads to the horrors of (for example) involuntary conscription into the armed forces or being culturally prohibited from expressing grief/pain.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:00 AM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


gsh, yes, because it opens up doors to other kinds of societal approval and benefits. The patriarchy is a stinking, steaming pile of shit, but it's easier to walk on top of it if you are a woman who conforms to patriarchal standards (starting with possessing "visible womanhood") than the contrary.

If the thing that chills you to the bone about that post is the commenting guidelines, maybe you should start examining the layers and layers of privilege you're swaddled in. Because the thing that chills me to the bone about Melissa's post are the testimonies of the horrid, relentless stream of shit that gets thrown at us on a daily basis.
posted by lydhre at 6:05 AM on August 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was in my mid-20s, walking down the sidewalk in shorts and a relatively tight t-shirt when a car behind me started honking. I looked back and there was a couple of guys in the car. I wasn't scared - it was broad daylight and there were plenty of people around. My first instinct was to feel flattered; like the subjects of this article, I almost never got catcalled. They started yelling something at me, and I couldn't make it out at first. When they got closer, I realized they were yelling "freak" and "cripple."

It was crushing.
posted by desjardins at 6:19 AM on August 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


This article was one of the most profound things I've ever read, because the basic arguments it makes resonate so very much with me and my experience.

Intellectually, I know that catcalls/harassment/unwanted attention are all awful, messed-up things, the classic elements of male privilege. And it is privilege, because it's done without a) any regard for the objectee, and b) any concern of repercussion.

But emotionally? This article rings so true for me. While I consider myself to be a reasonably attractive person, I've always been overweight, so I've never, ever had the experience of being catcalled on the street. I've never been propositioned. I was never hit on during my college bar-going days. And, as irrational as it seems, that stings way more than I would ever admit out loud.

A couple years ago there was this creep at work who was harassing a couple of women at work (although I didn't know it at the time all of this went down). I was in the work caf one day, and as I walked past, he goes, "Nice boots." I smiled and thanked him, and continued on my way, not even thinking twice about it -- my guess is that because I am not a target for objectification, it didn't even occur to me at the time that that was what had just happened.

But then one evening I was working late. I worked in a typical white-collar cube farm, and it's all silent around me, but my sixth sense just pinged, and I turned around and there he was, gaping at me from over the wall of the cubicle across the aisle from me. He was marginally pleasant, but kept inquiring how late I'd be working tonight, and do I work late often, etc., so much so that I quit working and hustled to get my stuff together and get out of that room and over to the security desk, all the while hoping he wasn't picking up on my panic and trying to be nice to him and not alarm him. I got out of there fine, but I did say something to the security guards on the way out.

But here's the most fucked-up part of all of this: when I was called to the chief of security's office a couple days later to talk about what happened, I worried that he wouldn't believe me because I didn't consider myself "hot enough" to be harassed. I had spent the two days leading up to that meeting questioning what had happened, and I had almost talked myself out of it, but in the end I chose to trust that ping I had felt that evening, and realized it was indeed a real issue that needed to be dealt with.

In the end, the creeper was fired, because I wasn't the only woman he was bothering, and I do consider myself lucky to have experienced only a low-grade harassment.

But even now, three years later, I still think back on that time and feel revolted and relieved and worst of all, a little validated that at least that guy, that one lonely creepy weirdo, thought I was attractive enough to target. It's maddening, especially since I am married to a spectacular man who treats me better than I ever dreamed was possible.
posted by shiu mai baby at 6:23 AM on August 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


So I reminded myself, based upon conversations with my wife, that the reason things like this are posted are not to seek comment from men on how it's not a real problem, or that it's a problem that needs men to leap in and solve for them, but just to share and explain how they feel.

And I've managed to forget my own reminder in this very thread and got sucked into a derail about tackling one man's ego rather than just listening to the people who have real experience of both sides of the problem - those who've been harassed, and those feeling screwed up for not even being 'attractive' to the creeps who harass other women despite knowing it's all horseshit, and those pissed that they 'should' care about it in the first place.

Sorry about that, and I'll try to listen more - it's yet another eye-opening thread, for sure.
posted by ArkhanJG at 6:28 AM on August 1, 2011


that being harassed was seen as sort of a "badge of honor" for women, and that "the only thing worse than being harassed is not being harassed."

For me, personally, these two things aren't obviously related. I haven't been catcalled a lot, mostly because I've generally lived in car-centric places and frequently walk with a 6'4" guy who's built like a linebacker. When I have been harassed and catcalled, I don't find it welcome, or scary, or a badge of honor. Having said that, I absolutely understand why women who feel too outside-norm for whatever reason (age, weight, gender conformance, meeting societal standards for attractiveness, ability status, etc.) feel that not having that experience marks them out and alienates them further. If community norms are marked by experiencing a certain behavior, not experiencing it, even if the behavior is undesirable, can be another way you're alienated. This is not a feeling that's limited to feminist communities where harassment is discussed; I've seen it in other contexts.

Not being harassed is better than being harassed IMO, but I understand that the lack of common experience can mess with your head if you're already feeling alienated.
posted by immlass at 6:33 AM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't have the time today to get back into the thread, but one of you comments stood out to me.

"This, this right here is the problem. No, people should NEVER be objects."

Immanuel Kant, one of the greatest ethical thinkers ever disagreed with you. He thought that is was okay to use people as a means to an end (a object) if you acknowledge their personhood by obtaining their consent.

There are times when it is okay to treat people as objects. There are times when you have no choice other than to treat people as objects, i.e. when you are not yet aware of their personhood. That isn't to say you put a gun to their head and do as you please until you realize they are a person, as you suggested.

All people exists both as objects and people and a simplistic black and white argument like the one you propose is incorrect.

"First, the Humanity formula does not rule out using people as means to our ends. Clearly this would be an absurd demand, since we do this all the time..."
posted by 517 at 7:04 AM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dude, if any of the catcalling guys on the street even know who Kant IS, I'll eat my hat.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:06 AM on August 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


[Folks if we could again not turn this into a referendum on one user that would be terrific. Everyone's got MeMail.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:10 AM on August 1, 2011


I had a lot of friends who had broken bones and had all these great, adventurous stories about how they broke them. "Nope, I've never broken anything" isn't much of a story.

Then I broke my leg, and that cleared that up. Now it's weird when people are impressed by it.

As for the idea that catcalls are showing interest or that it's purely some classism that prevents us from acknowledging that, that's flat bullshit. I grew up poor, I grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood, I grew up in an environment where often young guys yell at women. It's not really about the women at all, it's about machismo and asserting dominance. It's about boasting that you can fuck any woman you choose, and the audience is almost never the woman, but rather your friends or other passers by. If someone is attempting to use this as a venue for expressing interest, they are so incredibly stupid as to beggar the imagination, because it's pretty much the absolute worst strategy available — yelling obscene things at strange women in a context where it will be seen as aggressive and threatening is sub-moronic if your goal is to fuck women.

Further, arguing that it does equal expressing interest ignores all of the other myriad ways to let a woman know that you'd like to fuck her in ways that are actually effective and respectful.

Finally, blaming women for perpetuating this by smiling is fucking offensively stupid. The physical risks for women are real, and avoiding confronting every asshole who yells at them is a real risk mitigation strategy. Blaming women for catcalling because they often smile is the very definition of blaming the victim, and that's an asshole move. I can only hope that now, having been told what an asshole move that is, anyone who is tempted to read that as a sign of interest or encouragement by women would abandon that gobsmackingly idiotic pose.
posted by klangklangston at 7:18 AM on August 1, 2011 [16 favorites]


Maybe this is a class-inflected or regional or generational thing, but regardless of what motivates someone to shout at strangers on the street or make a point of calling attention to their appearance, I was brought up to believe that gratuitously screaming at total strangers in public is rude, just like it is to talk in your outdoor voice in a quiet restaurant. The exception would be an emergency situation, like someone dropping a wallet, standing in the path of a bus, or obliviously walking toward an open manhole. Hormone surges aren't an emergency.

Several days ago, I was walking my herd of little dogs in a different neighborhood, and one of them barked socially a few times in response to a Rottweiler across the street. Several seconds later, out of nowhere comes this angry-sounding bellow: "You'd better keep those vicious dogs on their leashes!" I wasn't scared, just startled as hell, and when I looked over, this young man on his front porch waved and said, "Just being funny." Well fine, no harm, no foul, but I don't know where our culture got this idea that every thought that runs through our heads needs to be broadcast unfiltered to the entire world. It's like some people go around orally tweeting through bullhorns all day long.

A guy I dated used to make these observations (quietly and only to me, thank god) about random people on the street. "Look, that woman's shirt is half open." "See that enormously fat guy a few rows down in the bleachers?" And I found it horribly discomfiting because, man, I don't know how you were raised, but my mother would have knocked me into next week for behaving like that. You don't point and laugh or mock or call attention to people's appearances, not if you're over the age of 6.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:29 AM on August 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


If community norms are marked by experiencing a certain behavior, not experiencing it, even if the behavior is undesirable, can be another way you're alienated.

This is really it in a nutshell.

The reason I love this essay is because it's a different perspective on a concept that's already familiar to many women (whether they identify as feminists or not). When you're sitting there listening to other women tell their horror stories of being catcalled, and you can't join in, it's a weird feeling. I usually stay silent. I wish I could say that it was totally because I don't want to draw attention away from those telling their stories or make it seem like I'm not backing up their experiences. I mean, that's part of it. But it's also shame - I'm admitting in public that there's something about me that's so hideous and awful that not even the losers who call out of cars or hit on drunk women in bars want anything to do with me. And no matter how much of a feminist I am, it's embarrassing to admit how much it bothers me. Shouldn't I be beyond that? And if I'm not experiencing this thing that all women experience...does that mean I'm not a Real Woman?

I don't always feel shame. Sometimes I feel relief, like I'm standing outside my own life and watching it like a movie and there's all this shit happening on the screen that doesn't affect my real life. Being invisible doesn't totally suck.

Everyone's experiences are different, and I think it's great to have that expressed. It can be so hard to really understand each other. One woman tells the story of her harassment, and the other replies that she's never experienced it. The second may be thinking to herself, "Wow, what's wrong with me that something that happens to every woman I know has never happened to me? I must be a total freak. No one wants me, not even the creeps." And meanwhile the first woman is thinking, "Wow, someone else clearly projects enough confidence/power/don't-fuck-with-me-ness to not have to deal with this situation. What's wrong with me that I can't portray that strength?"

Whether we've got hold of the tail or trunk, we're all feeling the elephant. And we're all fucked.
posted by Salieri at 7:32 AM on August 1, 2011 [15 favorites]


Immanuel Kant, one of the greatest ethical thinkers ever disagreed with you. He thought that is was okay to use people as a means to an end (a object) if you acknowledge their personhood by obtaining their consent.

Well, you've just contradicted your own argument - using someone for your own ends, but acknowledge their personhood and obtain their consent, by definition they're not objects.

Anyway, I raise you a Granny Weatherwax:

There's no grays, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is."
"It's a lot more complicated than that--"
"No it ain't. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they're getting worried that they won't like the truth. People as things, that's where it starts."
"Oh, I'm sure there are worse crimes-"
"But they Starts with thinking about people as things…"

posted by ArkhanJG at 7:41 AM on August 1, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm not siding with 517 on this debate, but his description of Kant isn't a self-contradiction. Kant's basic ethical precept was that one could not treat another as merely a mean to an end. Other people are necessarily objects in that their internal cognition cannot be known, or experienced, and as such they can only ever be objects of one's own cognitive processes. They can be treated as if they are more than that - that's ethics for Kant - but there's no getting around their status as an object in your cognitive field. I suspect that Granny's "thinking about people as things" would, if she was writing in the context of Kant, be written as "thinking about people as merely things," so I'm not sure there's any tension between the two citations.

All of that being said, sexual harassment would still violate Kantian ethics in pretty obvious ways. I suspect 517's disagreement is more definitional than it is philosophical, in that I'm not sure he's thinking of sexual harassment in the same way that some other contributors are, both here and in the OP.

Oh, and seriously, let's stop referring to "the" Patriarchy. Even if we are going to contend there is some productive, argumentative benefit to talking about Patriarchy as if it's some big monolith in the social imaginary, there's hardly just one of them.
posted by hank_14 at 8:10 AM on August 1, 2011


I realize that this is a sidebar, but:

Kant's second ethical maxim is that one should not treat human beings as means, but always as ends in themselves. This is the principle of fundamental human dignity - that an ethical person recognizes that other human beings are, like him or her, rational beings, and should not be thought of as one might think of a knife (a means to cut bread and cheese to make a sandwich) or a table (a means to keep a sandwich at a convenient height). The labor of another person might be a means to an end (for example, it might make a table), and the skill of another person might be a means to an end (it might build the website for your startup), but that person remains an end in themselves. Which is why it is not moral to force a person, against their will, to make you a table or build you a website. This is basically covered in the paragraph above and the paragraph below the sentence from Robert Johnson's essay on Kantian morality in the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy quoted above.

Kant's third ethical maxim states that one acts morally when one's action could be extrapolated to a universal law of moral behavior. If you can steal a wallet without negative consequences to yourself, it would not be a moral action, because it would not be universalizably moral to take wallets. This is not least because it people (the owners of wallets) as means to an end (self-enrichment) rather than as ends in themselves. Likewise, forcing a man to make you a website even though you really want a website is not a moral action. Persuading a man that it is in his rational interest to have the creation of your startup's website as an end (usually through an offer of money, employment or equity) is an ethical action. Kidnapping his children to encourage him to do so is not. Paying a taxi driver to take you to Grand Central Station is a moral action (or is not an immoral action of itself, more precisely), killing him and driving his taxi to Grand Central Station is not, even thought in both cases he and his taxi are used as means to get you to Grand Central Station. This is very simple stuff, even if one is using The Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy as a source for one's arguments rather than Groundwork for a Metaphysics of Morals

So, the idea of not knowing yet that a particular person has personhood is both not Kantian and not moral, and the idea of treating a person purely as a means to an end - as one might, for example, if one's end was to look cool in front of one's friends and one's means was catcalling - is not moral according to Kantian ethics. All humans have to be seen as rational agents and treated accordingly.

The idea that one might mistake a human for something which resembles, morally and in terms of its capacity for reason, a table (it is moral to objectify a table sexually, if a little weird) is not a Kantian idea - he was consistently able to distinguish between humans and not-humans (although both could be called objects, but in a different meaning of the term). Conflating the meaning of the terms "means to an end" and "object" to argue that Kant argued for such a thing manages therefore to be bad philosophy and bad philology simultaneously.

So, yeah. Can we not misrepresent Kantian ethics, and can we also not diss Kant for holding positions he does not in fact hold?
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:15 AM on August 1, 2011 [19 favorites]


It's OK. Nietzsche demolished Kant over a century ago.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:25 AM on August 1, 2011


Obligatory Sauceome.
posted by jillithd at 8:34 AM on August 1, 2011


Thanks, running. Less thanks, Crabby.
posted by hank_14 at 8:35 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The day I went to my first friendly activist queer event and realized that people were wondering who I was because they saw me as new in town/a potential date, it was...well, it was absolutely unforgettable.

Frowner, this resonates with me, as does the part about assuming that you're still invisible in public. For my part, before I hit puberty I received negative "you're a weirdo"-type attention from my peers, and afterwards I pretty much faded into the background. I was always hurt and confused by how invisible I seemed to be in high school and after, and it's turned me into someone who doesn't even really notice when other people are talking to her.

Throughout my adolescence I felt like a massive failure as a female for a number of reasons, including the fact that it seemed like I wasn't treated the way women were supposed to be - I was neither hit on nor catcalled, and the only time anybody commented on my appearance was when they told me I needed to shave my armpits, or that my pants were ugly. When I finally tumbled to the lesbian conclusion, it felt like I'd picked some kind of lock and could finally conceptualize myself as female without wondering whether I was lying. Of course, now I know that gender and sexuality and presentation are not that simple, but at the time it was a revelation.

I remember very clearly the first time in my life that someone told me I looked hot, and it was my friend who was also kind of recently out, and I was 23 and living in a new town, and we were going to a gay bar to hang out with other queers, and it felt unbelievably good.

Thanks to everyone for sharing their experiences. This thread has been a very affecting read.
posted by treefort at 8:41 AM on August 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Matthew 7:6
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:42 AM on August 1, 2011


Maybe I should start offering tours of the neighborhood where I work for women so that everyone can feel included? Seriously, here it's not about your attractiveness, it's about men using it as a weapon to make you feel demeaned. If you look even a little like a woman, you get harassed here. I know gay men who have been harassed, old women, thin women, fat women, everyone.
posted by melissam at 8:52 AM on August 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I am really tempted to let this slide, because I know it's a sensitive issue, and I don't really know how to address it appropriately, but I have to.

No, it isn't, and the fact that you insist that it is is the problem this article is addressing.

I think the article cleanly points out that, yes, it really does affect nearly all of us, even those who don't experience the harassment firsthand. I am trying to point out, for those who feel something close to envy, that yes, there are privileges of being perceived as traditionally and acceptably feminine, but a) this is not one of them, and b) at least in my case, I am not even a little flattered, and I don't perceive it as being related to my physical attractiveness, but as related to the impression of weakness. That is, I don't get targeted when I'm looking sexy, but when I'm looking like I'd be easy to overpower and manipulate. Basically, it's when I look like I'd be easy to beat up. Probably a good half of the time, the sexual comments aren't even putatively complimentary. I've gotten "Haw haw, why you cut your hair like that? You afraid someone's gonna rape you?" I recently had a group of tween gentlemen speculate that my butt might look similar to my dog's "butt" (I think they were referring to her vulva). I once spent an embarrassingly long time asking a guy with a very thick accent to repeat himself before I figured out that he was telling me I had the weirdest looking body he had seen.

I do not see these as being distinct from "Hey, baby" or "I want to put my dick in that," or even, "Nice ass." It's all the same. I suppose the only significant difference is that the "Hey baby" guys might be fooling themselves thinking that I'm flattered.

The reason I am often uncomfortable talking about the fact that I am apparently a very frequent target of harrassment in real life is that yes, I am fully aware that some people--I thought it was mostly men--perceive it as bragging. I'm not. I can't even fathom being proud of that. And I am genuinely sorry that some women feel left out or othered by my honest perception that it happens to all of us.

I've seen enough different types of women, including a transgendered and not at the time passing friend who got harassed constantly; obviously, visibly disabled women; fat women; old women; all women. (Some men, too, but pretty much all women.) I saw some dudes doing the doggy-style pantomime or something behind Pat Schroeder one day.

Go to the 16th Street Mall in Denver some day just as the weather is turning springlike. It's a gauntlet.

Again, let me be very clear that I do not distinguish between 'complimentary' and 'insulting' comments. I got both, and I take them all exactly the same way. Half the time, I can't make them out well enough to even tell what they're supposed to be, and I actually don't care because I parse them all the same. They all mean, "Whatever you're doing right now is not as important as my critique of your appearance, so you have to drop everything and give me the audience I demand."

I hate that so many of us are being constantly, openly appraised by assholes and weirdos just for being bold enough to go outside. I hate that so many women are made to feel sick and afraid. But, I'm not really. Largely, I know, because I haven't been physically violated, and partly because I was a hard-hearted adult (or just about) by the time I had to start dealing with this stuff. I've been affected, of course. I've been overwhelmed, I've been furious, I've racked up some scary stories. But then again, sometimes it's actually just sort of interesting, the way the type and amount of attention I get change according to various circumstances (where I am in the world, or the weather, or my clothes, or my makeup, or how I walk, etc.). Sometimes, when men are just appreciative and not creepy or obscene, I feel more connected to and less at war with the world around me. And me and my feelings... we exist. I accept that many other women don't feel the way I do. That makes perfect sense; our experiences have been different. They're equally real, though.

It absolutely sucks that you feel this way, but you know, that thing that makes you feel happier and more connected to others makes me feel unsafe and has dissuaded me from even leaving my house to do things I wanted to do.

I am old and I've been around a lot, so I have stories. This is one of them.

Once, in the middle of the day, in the parking lot of a suburban Target store, some dude addressed me with some kind of generic street harassment type comment. As is common, I couldn't entirely parse what he was saying at first, so I don't even know if it was cast as an insult or a compliment, but I also didn't care. So I initially ignored him, and he persisted, getting mad that I wasn't acknowledging him. He said some other things, including calling me a motherfucker, then getting the brilliant idea that, yes, I should fuck my mother, and that he was going to make me do just that.

Before I could make it into the store--not that I'm even sure that would have made a difference--he grabbed me by my arms and shoulders, stomped on my feet (he was at least twice my weight), shook me, and spit in my face multiple times. People just stood there watching until some old man in his van finally got him to stop and leave. I got his vehicle description, his license number, and pretty much all the info I thought I'd need, and called the police.

They showed up, I gave them the info, and thought that was the end of it. Nope. Turns out, the senior pig had decided that a sweet, adorable, sufficiently feminine lady such as myself would respond to the assault I'd described with hysteria and uncontrollable sobbing or something. Because I hadn't, I was obviously lying, and the guy had probably just said something rude to me and I overreacted and made up some story.

I spent a very long time feeling guilty that I had failed to report the crime appropriately, because there is no doubt in my mind that this wasn't an isolated incident. I am all but positive that that guy went on to attack other women.

I also realized that I couldn't depend on the police, so I got some mace and started carrying a knife; and resolved to deal with such things myself in the future. And I'm fairly sure that if someone had approached me in a similar enough way and not immediately backed off, I would have messed them up pretty hard.

Remember: It started like any other street harassment, and this was in about as traditionally safe a public place as there is.

So if you want to send the message that sometimes, some women appreciate unsolicited sexual comments from men , I am going to make it very clear that sometimes, some women are terrified, and for those many many men who don't care about that, some subset of those women you're scaring have mentally prepared to saw your arm off if you put a hand to them.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:42 AM on August 1, 2011 [15 favorites]


"An older woman finally free of being hit on and cat-called and told to smile may suddenly "miss" the harassment the despised, because its void is not born of a long-sought respect, but of a silent commentary on her diminished worth as a sex object per the Patriarchy's horseshit standards."

As long as I live, no older lady (and I mean older-than-me, not necessarily elderly) will be safe from flirtation! (Yes, I'm going to Hell.)

"The answer is, no, no one ever cat-calls with polite compliments."

"Hey, baby! I bet you could smash a few gender norms about women's abilities in the scientific and mathematical spheres!"
posted by Eideteker at 12:15 PM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


gsh, yes, because it opens up doors to other kinds of societal approval and benefits.

Okay. So, being seen as attractive by someone is privilege but so, now, is being raped. Because if you thought being noticed made you special, hoo boy: wait until you're attacked when you walk home from work! That means you're EXTRA special! Here's your Super Visible Womanhood badge plus a Sexual Assault sticker! Hope they both fit in your invisible knapsack, sister!

And here is where I turn in whatever was left of my feminism membership card and walk away in complete fucking disgust and loathing.
posted by gsh at 12:18 PM on August 1, 2011


For the record, gsh -- I don't think that that has ANYTHING to do with feminism. At least, not the feminism I believe in.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:22 PM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah I feel generally that this post took something that people confide to their close friends and then it became a big post read by and critiqued by everyone-on-the-internet which was not its original target audience. Which always makes things weird. Not any less real for the people discussing it, but weird in that "gee if I knew the whole world was listening, I might have put this differently"

My mom talked about the moment she became invisible. When she hit some age where the guys at the auto shop or on the street no longer flirted with her or sort of hassled her. The lack of hassling was good, the lack of flirting was ... noticeable but sort of neither good nor bad. In many societies there are good roles for people to fill in once they age out of the "cute hottie" category or whatever it is, but the US is not as good at respecting and honoring these roles as other cultures I've traveled in.

And, as people are saying, some people never were in that category to begin with which, again, should be fine, there are a ton of awesome ways to be human and appreciated and it shouldn't just fall out along one two dimensional number line where you can rank everyone by one set of criteria. The two-dimensional thinking makes these topics as difficult to talk about sometimes, I think, as it does to extricate yourself from.
posted by jessamyn at 12:34 PM on August 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think it is that we would appreciate sexual harassment from men but that when you do not even register on their radar when all of society and media is telling you that a "real" woman suffers these things that you can't help but feel less of a woman. And then if you voice these feelings, no matter how guilty or foolish you realize they are. You know that harassment is bad. Maybe you experience only the negative callouts (dyke, fag, ugly, cow) and non of any positive sort (even though you realize the commenting on your breasts or how you look is not positive at all). Then if you voice them you have women telling you your feelings are wrong and you are betraying feminism and you don't know how lucky you are, etc.

When all I want to do is be included in the female experience somewhat instead of being invisible to society and feeling like you can't share your voice in woman's matters as it angers those who do have to put up with it.
posted by kanata at 12:38 PM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


It seems to me, with my outside perspective, that there's also a sense of feeling like one can't or shouldn't talk about their invisible status, because if women start talking about how they don't get harassed, that plays into the patriarchical narrative of "see, it's not really happening all the time after all." If women start talking about how not being treated in these totally fucked-up ways still messes with their culturally-generated sense of how they should be, that plays into the narrative of "see, women really like being cat-called after all."

So it seems to me, again with my outside perspective, that it's not just the lack of inclusion in a broad women's issue that is troublesome, though that is troublesome, but it can seem like talking about that lack of inclusion does harm to a cause shared by both sets. I imagine that has to feel pretty isolating.
posted by Errant at 1:07 PM on August 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


I think that's pretty well put and insightful, Errant, outside perspective or no.
posted by sweetkid at 1:12 PM on August 1, 2011


As one of the few "invisible women" in the Schroedinger's Rapist thread I'm glad that this less-common aspect of "the female experience" is getting a little attention, but I don't entirely agree with the way the author stated her case. I think some of the comments here are closer to the truth - it's not so much envy but alienation that some "invisibles" feel. (I can't imagine anyone in their right mind wanting to be harassed, but I know lots of people who are not so great at using words precisely.)

Feeling alienated and excluded makes most people hurt and angry and envious of the in-group, regardless of whether the in-group is something you would rationally want to be part of. But the envy is a consequence, not the primary emotion.

I actually like being invisible and I wouldn't trade it for any amount of nice, non-skeevy compliments. But when I was younger I definitely felt excluded from "the sisterhood" and that kind of hurt. However, I gradually realized that there are about a dozen reasons why I'll never be completely accepted by womankind at large, and oddly enough, that makes me feel better. If there are just one or two things I fail at, that makes me a failure, but a whole bunch of differences make me feel like I simply don't belong in that category. So I'm a weirdo, and I'm pretty much OK with that.
posted by Quietgal at 1:17 PM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've seen enough different types of women, including a transgendered and not at the time passing friend who got harassed constantly; obviously, visibly disabled women; fat women; old women; all women....Go to the 16th Street Mall in Denver some day just as the weather is turning springlike. It's a gauntlet.

Maybe I should start offering tours of the neighborhood where I work for women so that everyone can feel included? Seriously, here it's not about your attractiveness, it's about men using it as a weapon to make you feel demeaned. If you look even a little like a woman, you get harassed here. I know gay men who have been harassed, old women, thin women, fat women, everyone.


So, this was the kind of attitude I was trying to point out in my initial post as alienating.

I've lived in several large cities, and I can rank them in order of how safe I feel (Seattle: safest, NYC: least safe), but I've still never been sexually harassed. I grew up three houses down from a crack house in a broken, crime-filled community, so it's not like I come from some super SES privileged environment. I've walked through the Bronx lots of times both day and night and never been harassed, but if I take the same walk with my cousin every other time she gets catcalled in front of me. And no, no one's ever yelled variations of "ugly cow" at me either.

This is my experience. Just telling me, "Oh but you just haven't been in the right situation" is really dismissive. I have. Lots of times. I'm still ignored, which is just fine with me. But these descriptions of harassment imply that I am not part of the group that includes "look even a little like a woman" or "all women" or "everyone". If you take a step back, you can see why that's hurtful and silencing.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 1:19 PM on August 1, 2011 [16 favorites]


As Klang points out, there is no sexual upside to being a catcaller.

Catcall, and you instantly become the least appealing slime left above ground to any woman within earshot.

The sexual benefits, and I think they are huge, accrue to all other men. Especially to large, tough men-- men who are not necessarily all that appealing to women intrinsically, partly because their great potential to inflict harm can so easily turn toward their mates and her children.

That 6'4" dude built like a linebacker isn't going to be walking down those mean, woman-hating streets alone unless he just wants to.

And that's the sense in which catcalling is a tool of the patriarchy.
posted by jamjam at 1:53 PM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


"As Klang points out, there is no sexual upside to being a catcaller."

If I'm remembered for nothing else…
posted by klangklangston at 2:00 PM on August 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


subject_verb_remainder: "But these descriptions of harassment imply that I am not part of the group that includes "look even a little like a woman" or "all women" or "everyone". If you take a step back, you can see why that's hurtful and silencing."

This is what I hope people take away from this: that no description of "all women" that draws from anecdata from however many mouths can hope to encompass the actual experience of all women. I get street harassment of the sort described on mefi before (although less in London than I did in Manchester) despite being trans, but nothing about me is "more woman" than trans women who don't pass and get a different kind of harassment altogether.

It was stated upthread that there is a tendency for white, cis, Western (American?) feminist women to generalise their experiences to all women, and I think I agree with this. I'm pretty sure I've also fallen into the trap of thinking and saying stuff re street harassment that's excluding and silencing in the way that s_v_r describes, and I will try to think differently in future.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:45 PM on August 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I always manage to be surprised by the amount of men who come into threads about sexual harassment and make it all about them. "But I'm not like that so your argument is wrong!" Really? Really.

I'm glad to have read this article today because it's something I have been struggling with in my transition from female to male. I was a conventionally attractive female up until I began to transition in my early 20s. This kind of attention was something that I was used to and accepted as part of my lot in life. It validated my existence, as fucked up as that seems, because every other girl had experienced it so it made me one of them.

Since I transitioned and began to be read as male, I receive no attention from men (despite still being attracted to them). It's been a mindfuck to realize that, in a really fucked up way, I miss it. I miss that sense of validation. Would I want to be validated as a woman? Fuck no. But being invisible all of a sudden is incredibly hard and makes me feel like I have little to no worth.

I feel like I'm failing to articulate myself properly but the core of my post is that I'm glad to have read a discussion of this topic as it has made me reframe some of my own ideas.
posted by buteo at 6:37 PM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


subject_verb_reminder: absolutely agree with you.

The comments that most drove me crazy were from a previous thread:

some guy, skeptical that harassment is as common as it's being described: Maybe the problem stems from being surrounded by women who tell me this type of thing never happens to them.

response 1: "There are lots of women who don't see it either, you know. That's part of the problem when you're raised from birth in a sexist society. Most people don't see most of what's actually happening around them. My bet is that the women you're surrounded by have not encountered these kinds of discussions, or with enough frequency, for anything like any of the stories here to have registered with them as sexist, though they likely experience them every day."

response 2: Consider this: just as it's hard for some men to notice this behavior, because they've never experienced it, it may be hard for some women to notice it, because they've never NOT experienced it. It's the air that they walk through, not something they see or discuss.

That's when I disabled my account here, because I was (/am) not able to argue against this without apparently trolling, and I can't stand people arguing that I am simply too ignorant (sorry, "culturally blind") to notice what's happening to me.
posted by jacalata at 6:37 PM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I absolutely believe it happens as women say it happens, I see it happen. As a man, if I had people yelling at me on the street, I would be incredibly intimidated. As men, we are raised with violence, we learn the looks and body language to challenge other men. We play rough, and are trained in sports from a young age. I am not kidding when I say the language of men is violence and intimidation, although there are many of us who are not like that. But we need to accept what people tell us, they are not lying, or trying to score points. Anyway, I am goingnto leave it alone. But think, how would a man interpret my actions, would his hackles get raised? If so, you shouldn't be doing what you are doing.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:39 PM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


First of all, what's with all the typos above?--I think it's spelled c-u-n-t, not kant.

Secondly, it seems like there is much discussion that tends to revolve around abstract words, such as "objectify," which mean different things to different people.

Next, I'm bothered by some of the conceptions of "privilege" that I see. I still remember the first time I was told that I've had an easy life because of one or more of my physical characteristics. That seemed like an unfair generalization and a denial of everything I've ever done or worked hard to achieve. Not to mention, an assumption that I've never had a difficult moment or been mistreated. I would suggest that the focus should be on preventing the denial of basic rights to various peoples, not criticizing other people for having not been denied those rights. Too many people who have been hurt respond by trying to hurt others rather than simply advocating for themselves. The answer to discrimination, generalization, and harassment is not to respond by engaging in those very activities yourself.

I have been hit on by many men in my life. Some simply asked if I was interested. Some grabbed my ass uninvited, and one actually peered over into my urinal and asked to see what I had. In all cases, it was a bit awkward for me, but the polite advances were, of course, appreciated in comparison to the others. But I did also experience the feeling, despite being heterosexual, of slightly enjoying the idea that someone else thought I was attractive. I don't blame those mixed emotions on "the Patriarchy."

There is some point where I think we should acknowledge that sexual and/or romantic partnering is a complicated dance, and some awkwardness should be forgiven. Different people will have different limits about what is acceptable. Even making an advance is partly a way of determining who the other person is and what they like or don't. And almost everyone is fine with almost any advance from someone they like, but equally wary of almost any advance from someone they don't like. Of course, some people take it to extremes--either denouncing all advances as inappropriate, or assuming any kind of advance is ok. But what are the rest of us arguing about, then?--that our personal preferences should be written into law for everyone else?

To summarize, I guess I'm saying--1) Don't fight fire with fire (i.e., don't fight assholes by being an asshole). And 2) Try to be more specific about what the problems and situations are rather than making sweeping generalizations about abstract concepts like "privilege" and "objectify" as if you alone know the route to utopia.
posted by ottimo at 11:36 PM on August 1, 2011


I know I said I would bow out, but in some respects I agree with ottimo. We all have to make our way in the world, we all come up again opposition, we all struggle. The thing is, some of us have to struggle more than others, for no real reason but the fact that we were born a certain way. I was raised an only child by a single mom, probably the smartest most competent person I have ever met, the kind of person I still call for advice. I watched her struggle in ways that would never happen to me, the person I love and respect the most in the entire world would not walk past a construction site because she could not stand being catcalled. Sure men hit on other men who are not receptive, but it is an oddity, so much so that we can remember the exact situation. Being hit on, or stared at, or judged in some way for their appearance is just a fact of life for women, and it shouldn't be.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:56 PM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ad hominem, I agree that some people have to struggle more than others, and some peoples' struggles are compounded due to their birth characteristics. I would just caution anyone who would make assumptions about how much difficulty someone has faced, or even how much they have had to work for their accomplishments, based on those (more typically acceptable) characteristics. Just as I would caution any person who would make any other type of assumption based on those (less typically acceptable) characteristics.

And yes, men hitting on men who are not receptive may not be nearly as ubiquitous as men hitting on women. But for a variety of reasons, I have probably been in situations of men hitting on me more often than the average heterosexual man. So much so that I don't actually remember anywhere near all of the times--perhaps just the most vivid ones. Anyway, I try to use those instances to relate to, not to equate myself to, women being hit on. (Rhyme not intended.)

But do you really think that ALL instances of being hit on, stared at, etc should not be something women have to deal with? I guess that's kind of the extreme case I was referring to in my previous post.

I think that's a kind of lost topic that the original article/blog bypasses by blaming everything on the patriarchy. And that topic is the interesting, awkward, and I would say, necessary interactions that all humans (not men or women in particular) engage in as they get together, or don't. And how we all have mixed emotions about those interactions, depending on the situation. That's a part of being human to me, less than being a disease of a culture. Not that I don't disagree with the other extreme, in which people are rude, acting entitled, or unable or unwilling to empathize with or consider another person's feelings.

Based on my--perhaps relatively limited--experiences of being "hit on," I can definitely empathize to some degree with what it must be like to not be able to avoid situations where you can be less concerned with having to deal with that. On the other hand, men also have to figure out their role in each interaction, and as Kramer once said, "it's no picnic" either. For one thing, even to simply start a conversation to get to know someone you are attracted to physically is sometimes (and for the most empathetic men) a very vulnerable state to put yourself into. I think that's why, as someone said, you might get a variety of men commenting on topics such as this promoting the "what about us" aspect of social interactions. It's not that they don't agree with the topic, but that there is, perhaps, a small group of people on the extreme of criticizing all "hitting on" (depending on how you define that term) that make them feel like, "What am I supposed to do then?"

Similar to the fact that "being hit on" could be defined in so many different ways, so could "stared at" or "judged." Body language and furtive glances, I think, can be an appropriate and integral part of meeting someone. And we all judge others based on looks, to at least a small extent. But rude and gross staring or judgments that are overly-assumptive--those are the extremes we should be careful to specify as what "shouldn't be."

Anyway, thanks for your response.
posted by ottimo at 12:42 AM on August 2, 2011


Yeah you are right, but it is not our place to judge or analyze, or compete with how people feel. I believe you when say you were not comfortable in certain situations, I am not going to discount you, or try to second guess what happened. We owe it to all the other posters not to question them or second guess how they felt. If they felt put-upon, I will take them at their word, just as I take you at your word that men were hitting on you.

You are right that it is a tricky situation, what is appropriate is not always clear. Hell, I've worked with women who would joke that they refused to sign HR sexual harassment guidelines because they liked being harassed, but we all knew there was a line, an not to cross it. It is like the supreme court said,you know it when you see it, and for the most part we just need to do our best.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:17 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


First of all, what's with all the typos above?--I think it's spelled c-u-n-t, not kant.

I guess this is a joke, but I don't get it. Little help?
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:30 AM on August 2, 2011


Yes, definintely I don't agree with questioning anyone's feelings about their personal experiences. And yeah, I was also thinking about the concept of a line...and I think I can define when one's been clearly crossed. Problem is when you get close to the line, it turns out to be a kind of fuzzy one with nebulous borders.

I just disagree when I see people who are overly certain, or who only look outward and never inward, or who engage in the same behaviors in reponse to those they purport to denounce. I don't see that in many of the posts I read, but I did in some of them, as well as in the originally sited article/blog. Which doesn't mean I don't agree with many of the issues raised. In particular, I thought the basic topic--the conflicting feelings about being noticed in inappropriate ways--was very worthwhile. I did balk at the simplistic dismissal of it as merely a symptom of patriarchy.

One of my best friends is a homosexual male, a previous girlfriend's roommate was a gay male, and I've had several other friends as well who were gay men--so I've spent a lot of time exposed to gay men in situations where they are not to be too criticized for thinking I might be gay as well. However, I could usually choose not to be in those situations or leave them if I desired. Nevertheless, they were informative and valuable experiences. Eventually, it became less awkward and I became fairly comfortable in how I prefered to respond. But one thing I never did was to try to make them feel badly--even the guy who tried to watch me using the bathroom--jeesh.
posted by ottimo at 1:46 AM on August 2, 2011


First of all, what's with all the typos above?--I think it's spelled c-u-n-t, not kant.

I guess this is a joke, but I don't get it. Little help?

yes, I was definitely being silly with that. It's no specific joke with a single explanation. Just playing off the words and the topic. I have some ways I would mean it if pressed, but I'd prefer to leave the interpretations open, since there isn't a single one. But certainly it was not meant to be offensive or make a particular statement.
posted by ottimo at 1:51 AM on August 2, 2011


Next, I'm bothered by some of the conceptions of "privilege" that I see. I still remember the first time I was told that I've had an easy life because of one or more of my physical characteristics. That seemed like an unfair generalization and a denial of everything I've ever done or worked hard to achieve. Not to mention, an assumption that I've never had a difficult moment or been mistreated.

This is absolutely not what the word privilege, as used in feminism, means. If you have white privilege or straight privilege or passing privilege it doesn't mean you have an easy life or have never faced hardship, it just means that you are not vulnerable to certain forms of discrimination that are skin- or sexuality- or passing-based, with perhaps the additional commentary that you might not be particularly good at spotting skin- or sexuality- or passing-based oppression when you see it, since none of these affect you. You can have white privilege but not class privilege, if you grew up poor in a poor neighbourhood, and while yeah, your white skin may not be helping you much in dealing with your class-based oppression, you don't also have to deal with the extra shit lumped on people who lack class privilege who are also, say, hispanic, and have to deal with all the crazy nonsense US society aims at hispanic people.

Privileges multiply, and so do oppressions. I'm transsexual and queer and a woman and disabled, but I'm also white and middle class and educated and I pass and I can sound like the fucking Queen when I have to; I would say in most cases my advantages at least balance my disadvantages.

I'm someone uses the language of privilege and oppression to say that you, hypothetical you or specific you, have never been mistreated and haven't worked hard for what you've achieved, they are Doing It Wrong.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:52 AM on August 2, 2011 [10 favorites]


Kittens: That's why I said "some of" the conceptions of that word I've seen/experienced. Indeed, those are the instances (which you mention in your final paragraph) in which someone has used that term in the manner I explained that I don't like. And I agree that is...I won't say "wrong," but a perspective I have problems with.

However, I might even go further to say that "privilege" is perhaps not the best word to use for the phenomenon you and others describe. Is it really privilege given to one side or, rather, denial of basics to the other? Privilege to me denotes something beyond the ordinary. I think the use of that word suggests that men are given something extra rather than the idea that women are denied something basic. In that regard, the use of that word, even by those using it in the way you suggest is more appropriate, seems to me to be a bit too focused on switching the attention to criticizing others as opposed to asking ourselves what we can do to make things better.
posted by ottimo at 2:05 AM on August 2, 2011


I agree that privilege really isn't the perfect word for the phenomena we are both describing, and that talking in terms of disadvantages to people is both more accurate and less likely to be taken as an insult by the person who doesn't have those disadvantages. But I do think there needs to be a word that encapsulates the concept of someone who doesn't have one of any of those disadvantages because the concept of "white privilege" has proven to be persuasive to many people (and yes, perhaps it puts off as many people as it persuades) in a way that "non-white disadvantage" probably wouldn't be.

And if there's (in my opinion) got to be a word for that, then trying to come up with an alternative to privilege is probably pretty pointless at this point since so many people use it. If you do have a better one I'm game for trying to spread it around though.

Although to leap, fangs bared, claws out, and feet in kicking position at your last sentence, I do think that characterising the concept of privilege as a criticism of others is unfair: if people treat white people better than black people, that's not the individual white person's fault and I would hope that no-one is suggesting that it is; it's not something they (probably) asked for, and it's not something they (perhaps) know is happening, it's just a thing in the world and it's unfair but it's not the fault of the recipient.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:27 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


To flip the privilege question over - I don't think anyone here is likely to argue without contest that George Washington Carver was the smartest man in the world between his birth in 1864 and his death in 1943 - that is, during a period he shared with Freud, Einstein and von Braun, among others. However, you would also have to be certifiably an idiot to say that Carver found it as easy to get access to education and had the same support for going to and staying in school as Werner von Braun did. von Braun and Carver's circumstances materially differed, beyond even what one might have expected from their relative differential in wealth.

I think the use of that word suggests that men are given something extra rather than the idea that women are denied something basic. In that regard, the use of that word, even by those using it in the way you suggest is more appropriate, seems to me to be a bit too focused on switching the attention to criticizing others as opposed to asking ourselves what we can do to make things better.

Well, this thread's first article (as in, Reading The First Article) is about women being not just harassed but also raped, and responding by forming close-knit communities of shared experience, and how this fucked-up event and its consequence can have the also fucked-up consequence of making women potentially feel excluded from the community of women because of their lack of experience of sexual harassment and violation. Concern about word choice is somewhat burying the needle on the meh-ometer, right now.

"Privilege" means a right or immunity conferred upon people of a particular status or rank. Like, I have the privilege of being allowed to carry a sword in certain places because of my background. I didn't even ask for that - it's just a thing that I can do.

That's not a basic right, as my right to life might arguably be considered - it's an artificial entitlement, which can be conferred or rescinded. As such, "privilege" seems a perfectly accurate term for certain entitlements or immunities which are conferred differently depending on social factors and can in certain circumstances be abrogated (in the case of transpeople, for example).
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:27 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hmm, interesting discussion on the word "privilege." Getting down to specifics and trying to define what we're all really talking about seems so much more productive to me than arguments about whether someone or something is or isn't [abstract word].

An alternative that I would prefer to privilege. Um...Well, I suppose your idea that the word gets results is worth considering. Kind of a means justifies the ends, perhaps. Lots of people use it--okay, but one might object to that as a sort of ad nauseam, ad numerum, or ad populum perspective. Not to make those terms the focus, but...well, a lot of people misuse other terms, too, and that doesn't necessarily make them acceptable to me. I guess I object less to the term ever being used than to how some people use it to be hurtful or critical, which I do think some or even many people do. So anyway, my votes for alternatives are, um, UNMITIGATED, VIRILE, CAPRICIOUS, and BLANCHED. But I doubt any of those will catch on--I'm not a talented advertiser.

But ArmyOfKittens, I'm not sure what, in your last paragraph you are objecting to--I think we agree on that point wholeheartedly. Except, maybe, that I do think some people do say (and use certain words to extremes to emphasize) that it is the "privileged" (or "unmitigated") person's fault.

running order squabble fest, "concern about word choice" is not a complete and fair encapsulation of my comments. I would venture to say that we agree on topics of rape and the value of sharing experiences. But a response that states such obvious agreement is not really worth posting, so I was focusing my comments on issues that seemed to me to be concerning aspects and not so clear. And I do disagree that my above comments are inconsequential. If you don't find them worthwhile, fine--I don't need every single person to appreciate my thoughts--but I do think still think I had some valid concerns that speak significantly to the issue, and they had repercussions far beyond mere "word choice." Not that word choice isn't frequently significant.

I more or less agree with your definition of "privilege," but I disagree with your ending statement that "as such" it "seems a perfectly accurate term..." I am not "immune" from mistreatment or "entitled" to benefits because I'm caucasian. I am, however, not subject to discrimination for being other-than-white or subject to having my benefites or achievements discounted for the same reason. I don't think that's privilege because it's not over the ordinary. I think of the people who suffer those things as being pushed down under the ordinary. And I think referring to my status as white as a "privilege" is perhaps not the best word, and among some particularly mean-spirited people, used to be hurtful.

But per my discussion with the army of kittens, I'm not set in stone about that word, either. Valuable conversation, though, and I appreciate both of your comments. I do think it helps to talk on this level and explore the nuances of issues.
posted by ottimo at 4:12 AM on August 2, 2011


And I do disagree that my above comments are inconsequential.

Oh, I don't think your comments are inconsequential - I think a lot can be learned from them. Let's look at:

First of all, what's with all the typos above?--I think it's spelled c-u-n-t, not kant.

I asked what that was intended to do, and I was interested by your response that it was essentially just a silly thing you did with no intention to offend. You feel like throwing a cunt joke into a thread discussing women being harassed, and you just do. Not for any particular reason. Notwithstanding that every other usage of the word in the thread has been a description of abuse delivered to women by men. That sort of learned thoughtlessness seems to me to be quite a good illustration of the kind of behaviors privilege trains one to feel comfortable with - as is deciding to take a post about women getting raped and harassed and use it to explain what women are and are not entitled to feel unhappy about when it comes to being stared at or hit on.

Likewise, I find your word choice very interesting and useful here:

I am not "immune" from mistreatment or "entitled" to benefits because I'm caucasian. I am, however, not subject to discrimination for being other-than-white or subject to having my benefites or achievements discounted for the same reason. I don't think that's privilege because it's not over the ordinary.

What you're saying there is that being a white European or American man is "the ordinary", and that it should be the baseline for what anyone else is or is not entitled to? That's... kind of entitled. In fact, something that comes up quite often in postcolonial studies and gender studies is the distinction between being treated like white European and American men ("I don't even notice she's a woman") and being treated equally.

If it makes you feel better, you can insist that nobody ever calls your status "privilege", because it might be used to be hurtful. If you want to, you can start a campaign to the effect that instead of privilege being called "privilege" it should be called something like "the absence of a series of disadvantages which the norm - that is, the world as experienced by white, straight European and American men - creates and perpetuates but does not perceive". That's totally something you can do with your time.

I don't think it will catch on, though, and I don't think that the average privilege-denying dude is going to change his position just because his right to be considered the benchmark for normality has been resasserted. They will just appear in threads like this one and complain that they, personally, do not create or perpetuate any of these disadvantages, and as such they think it is hurtful that mean-spirited people are suggesting that they do.

I do think that your unhappiness with the term "privilege" has some interesting things to say about privilege itself, however; privilege being in some ways a blunt diagnostic tool, but one which it is useful to keep an eye on in oneself.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:54 AM on August 2, 2011 [17 favorites]


I am white, and I am privileged as a result. I have an education, of sorts, and am smart (arguably)--and I am privileged because of that, too. My mother had adequate nutrition and care when I was in the womb, and I didn't want for basic necessities growing up. That was a privilege as well. I have a penis, which also grants me privilege. I am over 6' tall, another privilege. The list goes on and on.

I don't have to think about the doors which are opened by these things (and more besides). Not only that, they're nearly impossible to not be opened. Any "hard work" I've done to gain even more advantage was built from the foundation laid for me...the world, in a way, was and is mine to lose. That's wrong.

The insidious thing about privilege is that it makes it very, very difficult to empathize with people who aren't--these doors are open for everyone, eh--I've never seen them shut. The truth is they shut behind us. "Born on third base, thinks he hit a triple" comes to mind.

I think it's unfair to claim much insight to the plight of those who don't have a particular privilege by relating what seems to be a similar experience, but which is really a poor reflection. I, too, was hit on numerous time by men when I was young, sometimes aggressively. I've was even catcalled by (apparently sight-impaired) women.

In none of these encounters did I feel anything other than mild embarrassment. I left the house the next day without worry; I didn't change how I dressed or the route I took to work. I did not feel physically threatened, nor did anyone get angry or seem ready to dish out violence when I turned down their advances or scurried away from the "nice butt!" calls.

Where there is smoke, there is fire. I think it behooves us as men to listen to the stories related here and recognize that when a woman makes a general statement about men in that context, it's shorthand for "in my experience, most" rather than "all." It's a good opportunity to see if you're doing what you can to not be one of the most, and, better yet, take active steps to help pull more men out of the group of jerks through education (if possible).

It's also a good opportunity to simply listen.
posted by maxwelton at 4:58 AM on August 2, 2011 [10 favorites]


I really love how these threads always devolve into some dude whining about how just talking about privilege hurts his feelings. I mean, object lesson much? There really should be some sort of term for this phenomenon.
posted by sugarfish at 9:57 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really love how these threads always devolve into some dude whining about how just talking about privilege hurts his feelings. [...] There really should be some sort of term for this phenomenon.

"Manpaining?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:13 AM on August 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Manpaining?"

Hee hee heeeee.

That should not be as funny to me as it is.
posted by Salieri at 10:28 AM on August 2, 2011


running order squabble fest said what I was going to say. It's certainly possible to view "privilege" as a two-sided coin, with presence of benefits -- one might argue the major benefit of privilege is the benefit of the doubt -- on one side, and denial of basics on the other. It's not incoherent to frame the discussion in one of those two ways.

I prefer the way privilege is routinely framed, however, because it places the theoretical emphasis on the unmarked category. Describing inequality as "denial of basics" presumes in its construction that the unmarked normative is indeed a true normative to which one either applies or falls short. Framing the discussion in this way continues the practice of placing the differential emphasis on the non-normative, on the other, and argues implicitly that it is the responsibility of the other to un-other themselves by working to achieve "basics".

It is instead useful to dispense with the fiction of the unmarked category and identify the bearers of privilege as being also marked, also differential, by virtue of their default-presumptive power. It is quite useful to place the rhetorical onus on the bearer of privilege, because one does not need to tell someone oppressed by the kyriarchy that they ought not to be, but one does frequently need to tell those benefiting from that structure of the costs invoked by their profit. Power is both aphrodisiac and soporific, and when we explicitly obviate the unmarked category construct, we also dispense with the culturally-generated institutional cover that allows bearers of privilege to ignore the effects of the unequal power structure.

So, basically, I find privilege incredibly useful as a theoretical construct, because it imposes an awareness of their own difference, of their markers, on those who have been culturally inculcated to believe that they are the norm, that the different people are those other people. This is a frequently fraught and painful process, attacking as it does one of the basic deceptions of society, so I'm not really surprised that people have trouble with it. I certainly do. It is, however, an important step on the road to, not equality, but equivalence, which is to my mind a more desirable goal.
posted by Errant at 11:18 AM on August 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I really love how these threads always devolve into some dude whining about how just talking about privilege hurts his feelings. I mean, object lesson much? There really should be some sort of term for this phenomenon.

This is a subset of what is often referred to as WATM, or What About [The|Teh] Menz? I think I prefer manpaining now, though.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:26 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow--that discussion took a turn after I left yesterday. I'll try to post a few responses in case anyone who commented on my thoughts might be truly interested, and because I really do find value thinking and writing about this topic, to the extent of even being willing to engage in some defensiveness:

First, it was not a "cunt joke." It was a Kant joke. There was a reason for it. The reason had nothing to do with being abusive towards women, and it was not "thoughtless." Also, I did not realize that using the word "cunt" in a silly but meaningful remark on MeFi was a privilege, since anyone can do so, but now that I know--I'll appreciate it all the more.

deciding to take a post about women getting raped and harassed and use it to explain what women are and are not entitled to feel unhappy about when it comes to being stared at or hit on.

That is not at all what I said or did with my above posts. In fact, there are many statements I made which directly contradict this assertion.

What you're saying there is that being a white European or American man is "the ordinary", and that it should be the baseline for what anyone else is or is not entitled to?

Answer to your question: No. Using the term "the ordinary" was a bit lazy on my part, as I was getting rather tired by the time I wrote that post, and feeling like I had already typed too much--and so was trying to limit my explanations. What I meant to refer to was some sort of middle where people are neither given something extra they didn't earn, nor discredited for that which they did do. It's an indistinct "middle," and one that depends somewhat on perspective...

As does the term "privilege," which was a big part of my original point. If we were to think of amount of "rights" bestowed as a continuum, anyone below someone else might use "privileged" to desribe those "above" them. And anyone above, as it were, might consider themselves normal or ordinary and those "below" as being denied something.

I understand that there is a perspective thing going on here. My intention is not to completely denounce the word "privilege," but to point out that it is, in it's own way, claming that those who are harassed, raped, discriminated against, or whatever else, are the normal or ordinary, and therefore those who aren't are being given something extra. I think that it's important to be reminded of this perspective issue, at the very least. And at most, there are some cases in which people do indeed latch on to such words and use them to be rather hurtful, discriminatory, and hateful towards anyone they can, without much thought. Because of those occasional cases, I question whether privilege is the best word to use. I question it, but my goal is not to change how everyone else thinks--only to share my perspective.

Next, I would like to address what I see as some hypocrisy going on. 1) You suggest I'm using my status to define "ordinary," but at the same time suggest that your status should be considered the norm. 2) I'm criticized for using the word "cunt," but you are willing to refer to me as a "dude." 3) I'm criticized (falsely) for suggesting how a woman ought to feel about being harassed, but my feelings are dismissed as examples of being "privileged," or as "manpaining," or "whining," or as a "dude" having "his feelings hurt." This seems to suggest that men should respect women's feelings, but women should not have to respect men's feelings. Furthermore, those latter comments even play off of the male stereotype that men should not have feelings, which seems an odd position for a "feminist" to support. This hypocrisy all goes back to my previous statement, along the lines of: it's not necessary to fight fire with fire, or discrimination and hurtfulness with discrimination and hurtfulness. Not only is it not necessary, it's blatantly contradictory and undermines your supposed cause.

Errant, I suggest if you are interested in a response, you go back and read my previous comment regarding abstract terms.
posted by ottimo at 3:24 AM on August 3, 2011


P.S. Speaking of interesting use of words: it may be significant that you chose to use the word "entitled" in the statement below--

deciding to take a post about women getting raped and harassed and use it to explain what women are and are not entitled to feel unhappy about when it comes to being stared at or hit on.

I guess it's at least consistent in terms of your perspective on what's "normal." But how does it feel--having your emotions seem like an entitlement and not a basic given?
posted by ottimo at 3:44 AM on August 3, 2011


Yep. I think that's a consistent usage. I think women pretty much have a right to feel how they feel about being stared at or hit on. I am suggesting in that phrase that you feel this to be an entitlement rather than a right. Defined here:

"Privilege" means a right or immunity conferred upon people of a particular status or rank. Like, I have the privilege of being allowed to carry a sword in certain places because of my background. I didn't even ask for that - it's just a thing that I can do.

That's not a basic right, as my right to life might arguably be considered - it's an artificial entitlement, which can be conferred or rescinded.


You are treating women's freedom to feel a way that you disapprove of about being stared at or hit on as an artificial entitlement de facto, because you want to editorialise on it, hence my choice of word. I believe the right of people in general to feel emotions without running them past me first to be pretty basic.

So, question, ottimo - if you're combing through at that level of detail looking for incidences of particular words in order to make inept gotchas, how can you have managed not to have read my or, it seems, your own comments? quo vide

1) You suggest I'm using my status to define "ordinary," but at the same time suggest that your status should be considered the norm.

I get to carry a sword. I have privilege up the wazoo. There is no way on Earth my status is the norm. Are you even reading this stuff?

2) I'm criticized for using the word "cunt," but you are willing to refer to me as a "dude."

Your particular usage of the word was cited as an example of privilege. The fact that you used it at all was not. Reading fail, and one you must have worked quite hard to make. And, actually, I didn't refer to you as a "dude" at all. Again, reading fail. My only use of "dude" was a reference to "the average privilege-denying dude" in a hypothetical. If you want to cast yourself in that role, go for it, but I didn't.

sugarfish actually did refer to you, or rather the class s/he feels you exemplify, as a dude, presumably meaning "fellow" or "chap". S/he might clarify what the intention was there, but it doesn't seem like a terrible thing. Do you actually have a coherent reason to be offended by this? Do you feel there is an imbalance in power here? Because this doesn't even feel like a straw man. It is simply a straw. As in, clutching at.

3) I'm criticized (falsely) for suggesting how a woman ought to feel about being harassed, but my feelings are dismissed as examples of being "privileged," or as "manpaining," or "whining," or as a "dude" having "his feelings hurt."

Here is a good example of a place where you suggest how women ought to feel about being "stared at or hit on", and how they should behave in response. Not "harassed", you made that statement of mine up. Another reading fail. In fact, you even quote me saying "stared at or hit on" in your terrible attempt at a gotcha, here. Again, are you reading this stuff?

I haven't used "whining" or "mainpaining", so that's kind of not something I can speak to, but it's worth noting that feeling hurt is very much your core concern, so it would have been odd if it hadn't been mentioned at all in any response:

And I think referring to my status as white as a "privilege" is perhaps not the best word, and among some particularly mean-spirited people, used to be hurtful.

I guess I object less to the term ever being used than to how some people use it to be hurtful or critical, which I do think some or even many people do.

The proposition that a tool used to examine inequality should be mothballed because sometimes it makes you feel bad (or, to bake in a possible attribution error, mean-spirited people use it deliberately to hurt you) is yours, and really is a key argument for you.

Sidebar: there's something generally called "concern trolling" - saying that you are of course on the side of the angels, but that you have some concerns which need to be addressed before you can really sign up. It's a way to control the agenda, and to demand concessions from less privileged groups before taking their own concerns seriously. Of course, it often turns out that our hypothetical privilege-denying dude then just has a couple of other concerns that need to be addressed before he can have a discussion about this in confidence that the mean-spirited people will not be hurtful or critical. It's closely related to the tone argument, where minority voices are told that if they express any anger or vehemence they will alienate the very people they need to persuade, and so they must ameliorate their tone before they will be listened to. Again, for some reason, the tone never seems to be quite pleasant enough - perhaps because when people are telling you things you don't want to hear, their tone never seems very pleasant. These objections are perfectly sincere, but they are also not very rational.

So, you have certainly not made a good case for the idea that the diagnostic tools around the term "privilege" going away would lead to any forward motion. If you are going use the existence of the term as an eject button - something which gives you permission to assume that people who use it are, at the moment they make you uncomfortable, mean-spirited people using it to be hurtful, you are building yourself an easy way out. This will insultate you against some unhappy thoughts, probably, but will also make your engagement with ideas less rational and rewarding. Ironically, you're reinforcing privilege with the word "privilege".
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:56 AM on August 3, 2011


okay, Errant, I went back and re-read your post for a 7th, 8th, and 9th time. Although I stick to my previous advice, I think I can now attempt a further response:

Your first paragraph, as best as I can interpret the terms, seems consistent with what I've been saying re: perspective. Although "not incoherent" is a rather back-handed compliment.

2nd paragraph: True, I did hold back on explicitly discussing the perspective issue, though I did hint at it a couple of times. I was trying to decide what to explicate and what to imply, and left that perspective part out of my explicit statements--wondering if anyone would pick up on it and discuss it more thoroughly. As is apparent from my latest posts, however, I do not believe in an absolute norm. And also, your final statement in this paragraph is quite wrong: I do NOT suggest that it is soley the responsibility of the other/mitigated/unprivileged to "un-other" themselves, whatever that means (how abstract and generic can we get here?). But taking your terms as they are, even if I don't necessarily agree with their conception, I can definitely say that I don't limit responsibility for change: I figure we can ALL contribute--other, unother, nonothers, quasi-others, pseudo-others, brothers, mothers, and flowers.

3rd paragraph: In the 2nd paragraph, you used "unmarked category" to make a point, and now you call it a "fiction." Seriously, this paragraph is so randomly and abstractly cliched, I'm starting to wonder if this post isn't just spam. "Explicitly obviate," though, is a wonderful oxymoron. So is anything that is both an aphrodisiac and soporific. I do agree with the sentiment that the bearers of privilege should face the effects of an unequal power construct, which is why I find so much irony in this thread.

Final paragraph: Question--What is the difference you suggest between equality and equivalence, specifically? Also, someone having a different perspective or disagreeing with you does not immediately prove that they are merely in pain because you are challenging their perspective. I'd suggest that such a flimsy argument can be exposed as flimsy by simply turning it around and saying...you are only objecting because I'm challenging your norm. But I'm not going to do that, other than to make the logical point which exposes your statements. Overall, regarding this final paragraph, I'd say that I agree with this: awareness.
posted by ottimo at 5:08 AM on August 3, 2011


Seriously, this paragraph is so randomly and abstractly cliched, I'm starting to wonder if this post isn't just spam.

It's great that you're approaching this in good faith.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:12 AM on August 3, 2011


It's great that you're approaching this in good faith.

I am, absolutely, especially when one considers what's been leveled against me. That paragraph in particular, though, really struck me as perhaps being indicative of a "fuck with someone" kind of post--for the reasons I mentioned. My apologies if I'm wrong...I still tried to respond to it, in good faith.

I'm working on repsonding to your other post.
posted by ottimo at 5:19 AM on August 3, 2011


Calling someone who is not spamming a spammer isn't good faith, even if you weasel it with "I'm starting to wonder if...". Spammers are banned from MetaFilter, and if you think someone is spamming you need to tell a moderator. Unless you're just using the word to be hurtful, in which case your right to get upset when people talk about privilege (or use abstract nouns) seems to be undermined somewhat.

PS: "obviate" means to prevent or remove. It's not an oxymoron explicitly to obviate something - it isn't even a contradiction, which I think you mistakenly believe "oxymoron" to mean. You might be thinking of obliviate, which is I believe may be the spell used in Harry Potter to make people forget things. If you spent a bit less time trying to gotcha people, I think you would look smarter - which may look like a paradox, but is not.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:48 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think obviously, as I said, I agree that, if looking at it as a continuum, it's consistent usage of the term, privilege. I totally agree with your second sentence. I'm guessing there was miscommunication about the use of the word "entitled," however...I was suggesting that it conveyed another example of hypocrisy. But it seems you may have been bestowing the word upon me, not using it as your own choice. In that case, I take it back as an example of hypocrisy and instead agree with you: feelings should not be an entitlement; they should be a given and acceptable as they are. Where you find anything I say to contradict that, I'm not sure.

Re: your question--As I think I said before, it not merely a word choice I was commenting on--but rather the larger implications of an attitude reflected in such. Inept--how so? Gotchas--I can only guess that this suggests I mean only to discredit someone. which is not true--I comment on things that interest me intellectually and emotionally, to share my perspective, not to affect, influence, or berate anyone else. And, I haven't read your comments or my own? Huh? Is that a "good faith" question--because obviously I have, or are you just being mean-spirited...

You--or someone--suggested I was considering myself the norm. Using the word "privileged" to desribe me suggests that you consider yourself--or if not you, anyone else "under" me as the norm. That's what I meant by calling that hypocrisy. I'm not stating a norm. I'm trying to describe a continuum. If you want to establish a norm, you are contradicting yourself. There is no way on earth you are the norm: exactly what I was saying.

Regarding "dude," I was not referring to anyone's usage in particular, but rather the several instances of its usage overall. And as such, my statement stands. And as to your indirect reference to me as a dude, you can argue, retreatingly and passive-aggressively, that you did not mean me in particular, but this is again another example of hypocrisy--because are you only offended if someone calls YOU a bitch, or does it offend you if someone calls any woman that name...? It's not a "chap" or whatever, either, it's a generic derrogatory name--suggesting that I'm a nameless, meaningless, random man that fits all negative male stereotypes--see? You're fighting fire with fire.

Re: #3---Wow, you are being so hateful and not apparently interested in "good faith" discussion here. I suggest you quit focusing on trying to hurt me and convey a more respectful attitude, like the one you purport to require of people towards yourself.

That said, and ignoring the hateful part, you are partially correct: I did imply and mean to imply the value of a wider perspective on being hit upon. I meant to do so without simultaneously invalidating anyone's current or past feelings, but if I did so, I would like to clarify. I believe that people should not be made to feel badly about their feelings nor told that they are ever "wrong." At the same time, I believe it is a falsehood--for everyone, myself included--to assume that all feelings are a necessary and eternal reaction to a given situation. We, all human beings, are also capable of adjusting our thoughts and feelings in response to certain situations--but at our own impetus, of course. Offering a different perspective is not a call for other to HAVE to change, but sometimes just an offer to consider.

I wouldn't say that "feeling hurt" is my main concern at all--but certainly part of what I'm saying is that those who claim to be hurt have no problem trying to hurt. But even if it were my main point, those terms--manplaining and such--are derrogatory conceptions of it, meant to hurt in a fight fire with fire kind of way.

You misused the term "attribution error."

You can call it "a tool used to examine inequality" if you want, but that's a big part of my point: If your tool is the same tool used to establish inequality, then you aren't really doing much good. You are perpetuating the attitude that it's ok to beat up on others in order to make yourself feel better.

Sidebar: that's a rather sophisticated justification for being close-minded and never considering that your single-minded agenda might be solipsistic and narrow. To be clear, I'm not on the side of the angels. I'm a flawed, messed-up human being like everyone else here, just trying my best.

So, I have made a very cogent case for my perspective, not that I have any designs on trying to make the word "privilege" go away. And as I mentioned, what I was commenting on is not reducable to some simple argument about one word like privilege.

And as I clearly said earlier, I don't even completely reject that word, nor object to all uses of it, but mostly only the group of people who latch on to it in the extreme, and use it to be as hurtful as those they claim to detest--for their hurtfulness.
posted by ottimo at 6:32 AM on August 3, 2011


Jesus, ottimo, thank you so much for taking what had been a thoughtful discussion about a very real thing that a whole lot of women -- some of them here on Metafilter! one of them who is typing this to you right now! -- experience, a confusing, painful, guilt-ridden, and shame-inducing phenomenon, and making it ALL ABOUT YOU and your pet semantic projects.

Thank you. Well played.
posted by shiu mai baby at 6:50 AM on August 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


ugh, explicitly obviate is an oxymoron, and if you don't understand why, I suggest you think about it some more. But again, you are picking on words while criticizing my picking on words--does the hypocrisy ever end?
posted by ottimo at 6:50 AM on August 3, 2011


Jesus, shiu mai baby, thank you so much for taking my sincere and heartfelt comments about a serious issue, and suggesting that I did not mean for them to be productive and that they are merely semantics and about myself, rather than the important issues I tried to convey.
posted by ottimo at 6:53 AM on August 3, 2011


Hey guys, I just thought I'd peek in here to see how things were going... and, uh, okay. I'll just quietly back away now.
posted by jokeefe at 7:01 AM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


shiu mai, at the heart of it, he's just trying to come up with a justification for using the word "cunt". The dude's already several steps behind on the discourse ladder.

I say let him use the word. It'll serve as a convenient heads-up to women that "ah, this is someone I will not want to engage in conversation. Good to know." And then we won't waste our time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:04 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Making a throwaway cunt joke in a thread about sexual harassment of women pretty much undercuts any attempt you may have tried to make at being "sincere and heartfelt." It's tone-deafness at the highest level, and I can only assume (and hope) that you're not in the U.S., where the word "cunt" is a vicious and demeaning insult against women, and isn't even remotely on the same plane as "dude."

You have, from the get-go, made it about you. You've tried to equate your being hit on by men as the same thing as women being hit on by men, without acknowledging the vast power differential that separates those two scenarios. You don't like the word privilege because you think it takes away from all that you've achieved, and yet you don't acknowledge that there are things that you can do, do without even thinking about them, simply because you are male, which is the very heart of the concept of privilege. And then, you fall right down into the rabbit hole of a discussion about the semantics of the word "privilege," and in doing so, you've made the classic move that seems to happen on most MeFi threads about women and sexual harassment, which is make it all about the average white male's discomfort with terminology that is widely used and accepted in feminist spheres.

Which is, to sum it up, making it all about you. When it wasn't about you to begin with.
posted by shiu mai baby at 7:06 AM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hey guys, I just thought I'd peek in here to see how things were going... and, uh, okay. I'll just quietly back away now.


Yeah... I'm kind of deleting my response to all that, too. If the level we're at is "you're wrong, but I'm not going to tell you how or why, you just are", and "I know you are, but what am I?" then there's not a lot of point, is there?

I or anyone else in this thread could beat a few more quaffles into the open quidditch goals of otimmo's godawful ESL rhetoric, mangled word readings (seriously, has anyone ever thought that "dude" and "bitch" were equally derogatory? Or that "dude" was intrinsically derogatory at all?) and inattention. But, armed with the obviate curse, he would be able to make himself forget that this was the result of anything more than mean-spirited (and now hateful, and of course hypocritical) people being unfair to him. It's a waste of time to try to engage.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:16 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hey, ottimo! Welcome to MetaFilter!
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:30 AM on August 3, 2011


So, in absence of having any actual ability to respond logically or respectfully to my comments, you have resorted to simply insulting me personally for baseless reasons, comfited, apparently, in the fact that it's 3 or 4 or you vs. just a lonely one me.

Well, I'm sorry that you could not engage with me in a respectful manner. A manner which I have tried to uphold for myself despite a rather complete barrage of unjustified insults.

It's quite amazing to me that, in a thread about unfairness that you support, you criticize someone for suggesting fairness is important.

I have tried to ignore the insults and focus on the issues. I have tried to make a specific point to delineate where I do agree with people.

So, yes, disengage...it's what idealists and solipsists do best. Retreat into your own world where no one else has a valid perspective that disagrees even slightly with your own.

did you even see where I agreed with you?

And keep lighting your fires.
posted by ottimo at 7:34 AM on August 3, 2011


[Folks, you are more than welcome to take this to MeMail. The thread turning into a referendum on one person's opinions and wording is sort of dull for everyone else.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:35 AM on August 3, 2011


Hey, ottimo! Welcome to MetaFilter!

Thanks, but it's more like, "Welcome to humanity." I've already been there for a long time, and turns out feminists are just like every other group of people: a few good, but most of them are idiots.
posted by ottimo at 7:38 AM on August 3, 2011


ottimo: if you acknowledge that most people in humanity are idiots, have you considered the possibility that you may be amongst the majority of humanity right now?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:39 AM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


[Folks, you are more than welcome to take this to MeMail. The thread turning into a referendum on one person's opinions and wording is sort of dull for everyone else.]

Yes, and not to mention, a bit overwhelming for that person :P
I'm done, anyway. But I really do try.
posted by ottimo at 7:40 AM on August 3, 2011


Ottimo, you lost a lot of sympathy from me when you implied that your "cunt" was equal to anyone's "dude."

And explicitly obviate is not an oxymoron any more than "explicitly remove" is. Sorry.
posted by klangklangston at 7:41 AM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ottimo, you lost a lot of sympathy from me when you implied that your "cunt" was equal to anyone's "dude."

And explicitly obviate is not an oxymoron any more than "explicitly remove" is. Sorry.


Actually, I think that "dude" is much worse than "cunt." But we all have different perspectives on words.

And sorry, but you are wrong about explicitly obviate. Think about it.

Bonfire, and seriously, I'm done because I have no need for hate-filled discourse. Sincere best wishes to everyone, and thanks to those who did respond respectfully early on...my perspective has grown and changed as a result of those exchanges. Maybe catch you on another post.

Deference,
Ottimo
posted by ottimo at 7:50 AM on August 3, 2011


Actually, I think that "dude" is much worse than "cunt." But we all have different perspectives on words.

Jesus, ottimo - you've totally lost me now too.

You did have a point - and I was ready to unload - because the point you did have fit with something Jessamyn wrote way upthread that keeps chiming with me:

Yeah I feel generally that this post took something that people confide to their close friends and then it became a big post read by and critiqued by everyone-on-the-internet which was not its original target audience. Which always makes things weird. Not any less real for the people discussing it, but weird in that "gee if I knew the whole world was listening, I might have put this differently"

But with that last stupid flourish, you're behaving like a teenager.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:00 AM on August 3, 2011


Ottimo, I know you're bowing out of the conversation (repeatedly), but one honest and sincere question: Are you from the US? Because here in the states "dude" and "cunt" aren't even in the same solar system of offensive terms.
posted by shiu mai baby at 8:02 AM on August 3, 2011


"Actually, I think that "dude" is much worse than "cunt." But we all have different perspectives on words.

And sorry, but you are wrong about explicitly obviate. Think about it.
"

Then you're wrong twice.

"Dude" is a common, informal pronoun with no pejorative intent outside of your imagined lexicon.

"Cunt" is an explicitly gendered insult, made worse by this context of a discussion on sexism. You're frankly full of shit on that one, and outside of your defensiveness, there's no justification for arguing that they're equal, let alone that "dude" is worse.

"Obviate" means to bypass, and "explicitly obviate" has a long history of usage, mostly in academic or legal writing, but also in the popular press.

You can explicitly bypass an obstacle. If you want to argue from Latin roots, you could say that it's a mixed metaphor, given that "explicate" comes from the idea of unfolding or opening and that obviation implies (through a shared "obvious") a path, but given that there's an English idiom of paths unfolding, that's not a very great argument, and anyway, we're arguing in English here.

So yeah, instead of being all coy and saying, "Think about it," recognize that you're wrong, why you're wrong, and move on — a strategy that could greatly aid you in other matters in this thread. Like that you're hung up on an idiosyncratic reading of "privilege" to the exclusion of rational counter-readings.
posted by klangklangston at 10:21 AM on August 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is a prior comment of mine that I think deserves getting dusted off, updated a bit and reposted to try and help explain. Apologies if you've seen it before. And thank you to those who've shared their experiences here - it really does help men like me try to get a window on what it's like, even if it's only a small view onto an entirely different world. I'm frustrated too that we always seem to end up getting derailed.

---

Novelist Margaret Atwood writes that when she asked a male friend why men feel threatened by women, he answered, "They are afraid women will laugh at them." When she asked a group of women why they feel threatened by men, they said, "We're afraid of being killed."

You have to understand the difference in the power dynamic. Men scare women. We're bigger, much stronger, and way, way WAY too many of my fellow men have scared the women around them ranging from actions that are merely crass and ignorant (creepy guy leering at the party), to outright assholishness (catcalling or bugging when you don't want to be bugged) to downright aggressive and scary behaviour such as following home, yelling on the street or groping, and of course yet more serious assaults. There's an aggression, a threat of violence there that is often implicit, and sometimes explicit.

This is what I didn't know before - these incidents are not rare, or isolated to a few unlucky women. They are damn near universal. Damn near every woman you ever meet has been leered at, called a bitch for not wanting to talk sexually to a man she doesn't know, followed home or made to feel scared by a man doing something that would scare *anyone* in the same dynamic - and not just once, but repeatedly. Whether they're sexually attractive to those men or not, they feel the right to impose their sexual opinion on them at any time - be it saying 'nice tits' or 'smile, baby!' or 'dyke' or 'you're so fucking ugly' or barking like a dog from a passing car - or grabbing them, touching them or physically hurting them - on the street no less. And they often are made to feel that it's THEIR fault, or just not even believed at all.

Many many women have been raped or otherwise seriously sexually assaulted. Not all, but a much, much bigger percentage than many men think or realise. And it's often the men that women thought they could trust; friends, family, that previously nice and decent guy who decides that surprise butt sex is on the menu today.

This is the thing. It might only be some men that do it, and many men are decent, honest nice guys - and I'm thankful that many of the women who've gone through horrible experiences are still prepared to give us a chance at all. But the nice guys aren't who they encounter so very often.

The assholes who think it's perfectly ok to tell women precisely what they want to do to their bodies in the street (not them; it's always about the body parts), the ones that leer at them on the subway, the ones that follow them home and bang upon the door, or trap them in a store and try to get their phone number, the ones that pull up beside them in a car and try to get a teenage girl on her own to get in with them, or throw things from cars, or the ones that ask for a cigarette and then thow them to the ground and rape them.

*These* are the men that many women encounter every damn day because they're the ones that constantly harrass women because they don't see anything wrong with it. And it makes me so very sad, and so very angry. And then we have men that come in and say 'but men get raped too. And men are more likely to be assaulted or mugged. And I'm not like that, so you're being sexist assuming I'm one of them.' and YOU'RE PART OF THE PROBLEM.

Women put up with something so horribly, so terribly wrong that many men, myself included, just don't get it, don't understand it. That it becomes internalised, and after a lifetime of it you're become subconciously wary. It's not an ongoing thing where you think about it every moment, but it's there and colours your actions in so many different ways that you can't even count them because you're not even aware of them most of the time; my wife tells me that it's just something you do without thinking, it's just the way things are. She walks with her keys in her hand at night, just in case she needs a knuckleduster. She checks behind her when she opens the front door, she checks who's around when she gets in the car. Not because she's conciously afraid, but because that's just how she lives. Cautiously, by instinct. I had no idea. I still don't, not really. But I'm trying to. This is why I'm privileged - I rarely have to think about what I'm wearing, or what time it is, because I won't have random men on the street telling me what they think of me, and then getting violent if I don't smile and respond back to them how they want me to.

I don't have to worry about what my boss thinks about what I'd be like in the sack, or whether my co-workers want to follow me home from work. I wasn't even aware that I didn't need to worry about that kind of shit, which is why I'm privileged - of course, I have other problems, just like everyone, but there's a whole layer of crap I don't have to live with, and until threads like these, I didn't even know I didn't have to live with them. That is what privilege IS - being blissfully unaware of all the advantages you do have, and dismissing that sort of thing as equivalent to the problems you DO have, when it really, really isn't. And of course, women have just the same problems we do, but with this whole extra shit sandwich on top to eat.

Men might feel wary walking down a dark street in the wrong part of town. Now imagine feeling that way subconsciously all the time, because time after time after time some guy didn't just want a light, he wanted to talk to you you about sucking his cock and his friends just stand around laughing while he tries to feel you up. Or your brother, or your father abused you. Or you know several of your friends who were made to have sex when they didn't want to, because they were afraid what would happen if they said 'no'. Or that creepy guy in the building comes banging on your doorway at 2am in the morning and keeps coming back, demanding you let him in.

Not all men are the enemy, and even the women who've been seriously assaulted are telling you that. But way too many of them treat women like shit, way too many men don't call other men on it, and it happens all the time. So even nice, decent guys like me are going to be treated with wariness, with caution, even if all I'm doing is standing at a bus stop at night or telling them they dropped their phone. Because they don't know me, they don't know if I'm a good guy or an asshole - and even if they did, they don't know that I'm going to keep being a good guy. And that's ok. If I'd been through what they go through, I'd feel that way too. Frankly I'm amazed they still talk to any of us at all.

So cut them some slack. Don't be an asshole. WE don't have to put up with a fraction of the crap they live with, including other men telling them that it's not so bad really and they're just over-reacting and hurting their feelings. Or other women making them feel guilty and envious because they don't have to put up with being hit on, because they're not 'attractive', and then feeling like shit because that means that they feel they're not a 'proper' femme woman. Go read through these threads, and this one again and listen, really listen to what the women are telling you even if you don't want to accept it or believe it. It really is eye-opening, and frankly, horrible, but if we close our eyes to the problem, then we're part of it.

Then do what you can to treat women with respect and decency and understanding, and callout other men who don't. All they want to do is share what they experience, and we at least should be able to listen to their stories without asking 'well, what about US?'. Threads like this aren't about us, and we shouldn't make them so.
posted by ArkhanJG at 10:37 AM on August 3, 2011 [12 favorites]


ArkhanJG, thank you for that comment. It shows a lot about exactly what kind of person you are that you took the time to write that, and so thoughtfully.
posted by sweetkid at 10:48 AM on August 3, 2011


Huh, I wasn't expecting to wake up to this.

I don't want to resurrect the taking-on-all-comers bit, but I will answer some general questions about my terminology.

In the 2nd paragraph, you used "unmarked category" to make a point, and now you call it a "fiction."

Things can be both fictional and have real impact. Most social configurations are necessary and agreed-upon fictions, which is to say that they are artificial constructs arising from consensus and not inherent, natural-law orientations. "Fiction" doesn't mean "lie", except maybe to fundamentalists. I am arguing that the unmarked category is a real construct that has a real impact, but that it is a fiction that causes harm in order to support the social prop of a default normative and therefore it is a fiction we, as a society, should dispense with. I don't find those ideas to be incoherent.

(how abstract and generic can we get here?)

Pretty abstract, although not really generic -- I'm being fairly specific with my branding. I am talking about some fairly abstract concepts which serve as explanations of the ways that societies organize around an artificial hierarchy. I am also being abstract so that we can talk about ideas and not about whether some specific person is an idiot or a spammer. I guess that didn't really work, though.

Question--What is the difference you suggest between equality and equivalence, specifically?


I'd argue that the way "equality" is often used, as the "granting of basics" to the unprivileged for example, supports the essential concept of a norm to which people adhere or of which they fall short. I can't be "equal" to you, however. We're different, and rightly so; we are not interchangeable nor should we be. Mathematically speaking, we are not superposable. We can, however, come to possess similar value to the society we both inhabit, and we can come to exist on the same plane of power, while still observing and even celebrating the differences between us. I am calling this "equivalence", the idea that we will all be marked to each other and come to view those marks as evidence of our collective richness, not as diversions from or denigrations of an artificial norm, while still enjoying the full benefit of membership in the shared artifice of society.

Oh, not really a terminology bit, but one more thing: if you don't think something can be both aphrodisiac and soporific, I submit that you have never had a really good glass of wine. You should try to do that one of these days, it's pretty great.
posted by Errant at 12:18 PM on August 3, 2011


He imagined the story of her body: it was lost among millions of other bodies until the day a look of desire settled on it and drew it forth from the nebulous multitude; then the number of such looks increased and set afire this body, which ever since has been moving through the world like a torch; now is its time of radiant glory, but soon the looks will start to grow fewer, the light to dim little by little, until the day when this translucent, then transparent, then invisible body will pace the streets like a small itinerant non-being. On this journey from the first invisibility to the second, the phrase "men don't turn to look at me anymore" is the red light signaling that the body's gradual extinction has begun.

(Milan Kundera, Identity)
posted by prefpara at 6:51 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


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