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"Am I a bad feminist?"
March 8, 2014 6:36 PM   Subscribe

"Last summer I went to Ibiza, Spain, where I was catcalled, sexually objectified, and treated like a piece of meat by men the entire week." Paris Lees, number 1 on the Independent on Sunday's Pink List of 101 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people that make a difference, shares her views on street harassment.
posted by Wordwoman (34 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: I know this has been open for a few hours, but the main article is such egregious flamebait on several very sensitive issues that there's basically no way to have a decent conversation based on the post as a (essentially) single-link "My Opinion" kind of thing. Maybe it can work in a larger context addressing feminism and street harassment, but this one is just blood in the water as is. -- taz



 
It's a big world, so I'm sure there are women who enjoy catcalls. But I've never known one and I don't think I've ever seen a woman respond positively to it.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:54 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Oh dear. I don't think that enjoying being catcalled makes you a bad feminist, but I do think that's a terrible piece of writing. It would be cool if she could realize that other women have different perspectives than her without implying that the difference of opinion stems from the fact that those other women are uptight middle-class snobs who only object when they assume the guys harassing them are of lower social status.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:56 PM on March 8 [10 favorites]


This article makes me feel trolled. Like there's no way to respond that's not getting involved in a fight or being stuck playing someone else's pre-set gotcha game. I'm certainly not someone who is going to call someone a bad feminist; however you can be true to your own brand of feminism and possibly thoughtless towards other people who may come from a position that is not the same as your own.
posted by jessamyn at 6:58 PM on March 8 [40 favorites]


I am absolutely a person who thinks that all people who identify as women should be treated as women, full stop. I feel very strongly that women like Lees should absolutely have an equal voice in women-centric spaces. I do not in any way want to imply that I think that Paris' experiences as a woman are any less valid and worthwhile than mine, or that she isn't equally entitled to speak as a woman about her own life.

I am also a cis woman who grew up presenting as a girl. And my experience -- as well as the experiences of many other cis women I know and have spoken to about this -- is that so much of what's poisonous about catcalling and street harassment is that it often begins when we're much too young to handle it; that by the time we're actually sexually active participants in adult flirting, we've already been objectified and yelled at and made to feel unsafe by strange men for years and years and years. And trans women who presented as boys when they were young and then transitioned as adults just aren't going to be coming from that same place. Which isn't to say they would not also have had their own problems and lousy experiences with strangers -- they would just be different experiences with different impacts on how they view the world.

What I'm saying is that I have a lot of thoughts and reactions to this piece and I don't know how to reconcile them.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:00 PM on March 8 [18 favorites]


And very much yes on the trolling feeling. There are a good ten things in there (like the class thing) that are meant to inspire heated reactions.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:01 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


No, I am a bad feminist for regularly allowing myself to be pressured into silence regarding anti-woman and anti-feminist acts and behaviour.

You appear to not be a feminist at all.
posted by seraphine at 7:03 PM on March 8 [5 favorites]


Yes to the trolling. A running commentary on how attractive the women she's talking to are? Really?

I also agree with Narrative Priorities that people who were socialised and presenting as male during childhood and adolescence have a totally different relationship with catcalls and street harassment than someone who was presenting as female during that time frame. The privilege in being fourteen and able to walk alone without some much older, creepier guy trailing you and yelling about how good you look and don't you wanna come suck his dick really cannot be overstated.

I also found this really--well, condescending: It’s part of a culture that infantilizes women and teaches them to be constantly afraid. I wasn’t brought up that way, and I don’t feel frightened when some spunky dude comes and talks to me.

Because you know, I don't feel frightened either. I feel fucking angry. Angry that the mere act of going outside while female reduces you to a sexual object. Angry that if I act on my anger, there's a nonzero chance that I'll be assaulted. Angry that my eleven year old is already starting to draw assessing looks from much-older men.

I have been catcalled, and I have been raped. I'm not afraid of either. I'm fucking furious.
posted by MeghanC at 7:15 PM on March 8 [29 favorites]


I like being called "princess" and ignoring them as I giggle inside.

Yeah, that's healthy. This just sounds like someone who's an insecure narcissist and gets a huge ego boost and power trip from feeling that random strangers find her sexy. "Why are feminists such buzzkills" just serves as a convenient foil - a way to deflect the topic to anything but that sucking sound from the vacuum in her soul.
posted by crayz at 7:58 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


I do not wish this fate upon her, but - something tells me that the first time one of those catcalls turns into aggressive harrassment, threats, or sexual assault, her opinion of catcalls will change dramatically.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:58 PM on March 8 [8 favorites]


people who were socialised and presenting as male during childhood
Please don't do this. Some people will have different experiences and perspectives; some people won't. Some cis women feel in a weird way both harassed and validated by street harassment. Some trans women do, too. The "SOCIALIZED AS AN X" thing is very dog whistely, since individuals internalize the way they're socialized in different ways and no one is molded perfectly from a blank state into A Boy or A Girl.
posted by byanyothername at 8:24 PM on March 8 [6 favorites]


On reflection, I probably shouldn't have posted at all right now. I apologize. Just a bit of an immediate freakout, because this thread is a shrapnel bomb waiting to go off in a whole bunch of ugly directions.
posted by byanyothername at 8:37 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


I think she's kind of missing the point. The thing that's obnoxious/offensive/dehumanizing about catcalls is that, as the "object" of the catcalling, it's *irrelevant* whether you actually like it or not -- you have to act compliant either way, or else risk the dude escalating. There's an implied threat, at the very least through the (structural) power imbalance. Sometimes there's an explicit threat as well, depending on how things go down.

Sometimes you might like the attention, sometimes not, but that *doesn't matter* -- you always have to keep a smile on your face and make sure to appease or get hit with worse. Or that's the implied threat anyway.

I hate getting catcalled. When I was a kid and didn't feel in control of my own body catcalls/street harassment bothered me less even though it scared me more. Now that I'm grown and feel 100% like the owner of my body it bothers the hell out of me when some dude on the street presumes that he gets to sit in judgment of it or tell me what I should do with it. Who does he think he is?

And telling someone you like how she chose to dress and telling someone you like her body and want to put your dick in it are two different things. Not to mention that most people complimenting your clothes aren't then going to follow you around trying to get a piece of them.
posted by rue72 at 8:38 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


It's maddening that she opens the article by saying "Other women don't speak for all women" and then proceeds to imply that any women who don't agree with her are just playing victim. Like, she's got a right to feel how she wants about stuff without explanation, why can't she give the same to others?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:02 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


The piece about Ninalee Craig linked to in there is surprising. The photo, which scared me the first time I saw it, depicts the exact opposite of what she says it does.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:08 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


[Gun/"stand your ground" derail deleted. Come on.]
posted by taz at 9:23 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


This article makes me feel trolled. Like there's no way to respond that's not getting involved in a fight or being stuck playing someone else's pre-set gotcha game.

She's playing political-correctness Counterstrike with -noclip on.
posted by Sebmojo at 9:55 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


Come on.

Exactly. I am just unable to take this as any kind of serious commentary.

This just sounds like someone who's an insecure narcissist and gets a huge ego boost and power trip from feeling that random strangers find her sexy. "Why are feminists such buzzkills" just serves as a convenient foil - a way to deflect the topic to anything but that sucking sound from the vacuum in her soul.

I don't know if it's technically narcissism and I don't know about souls, but I think this is basically it. Obnoxious, self-absorbed naivete to a great, great number of alternative experiences, most of which mostly disagree with her while mostly agreeing with each other (i.e., reality).
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:21 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


That is a terrible article, and yes, if not trolling consciously, still pretty trolly.

But okay. I grew up in rural Virginia. I've been cat-called precisely once, at sunrise in Chicago. By one dude. Who was downright poetic about it. Like there was nothing overtly sexualized, it was like he was doing some kind of free-form Romantic poetry about me and my two friends. "Hello you beautiful devils in this gorgeous morning," kind of thing. It was completely atypical and kind of like. I don't know, a rooster crowing at the dawn, completely harmless and exuberant. And I smiled, but you know what?

It was still incredibly dehumanizing. And I think I smiled at least partially out of socially-conditioned nervousness. The 'take a compliment' instinct we've had drummed into our heads. Like I and my friends were put there for the express purpose of his enjoyment. And this was absolutely the most benign form of cat-calling I can possibly think of. I'm 99% certain this guy didn't mean anything but to 'pay us a compliment.'

I guess what I'm trying to say-- if that Best of All Possible Catcalls still skeeved me out, there's never a good context for it.

I could be wrong. I'm way sheltered, and that was literally my only experience with the phenomenon, but that's how I feel about it.
posted by dogheart at 10:27 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


The context matters here somewhat. Ibiza is a party destination. Everyone is on E. The clubs never close. Drinks are cheap. And it's full of out of control Northern Europeans on holiday. It is hardly a place to draw broader conclusions about society.

I once had the misfortune of being booked into a hotel in Palma de Mallorca - another Spanish party destination. I am still recovering from the trauma of observing gangs of British women out on a hen night every night for a week.
posted by three blind mice at 10:36 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Interesting juxtaposition against the earlier, heart-lifting Pilot/Intl. Women's Day thread.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:30 PM on March 8


byanyothername: "On reflection, I probably shouldn't have posted at all right now. I apologize. Just a bit of an immediate freakout, because this thread is a shrapnel bomb waiting to go off in a whole bunch of ugly directions."

I am very glad that you did. Note to anyone else considering the argument: stating that trans women are "socialised as male" has the following implications:

1) You are assuming you know intimately the way that trans women respond to socialisation in our youth. You don't.

2) You are telling trans women that an important part of our lives, home to all our formative experiences, was male. It wasn't.

3) You are reducing something very complex and nuanced down to a simple binary, and you are putting trans women on the side of the binary that gets us hurt. Don't.

4) As byanyothername said, it's a dog whistle: the statement is used even today to justify attacks on our womanhood and our personhood, and to exclude us from support, crisis, social and activist women's spaces.

Don't say it. This is not a suggestion.

obviously all trans women are different and some I know respond perfectly politely and positively to said statement but this is not an invitation for cis people to either butt in on a conversation internal to the community or to tell us what our lives were like
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:31 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Missing TERF FUD tag.
posted by bleep-blop at 11:37 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


I spoke to byanyothername out of thread, not wanting to draw them into the thread if they didn't wish to be.

It's worth pointing out that my comment was a direct response to the author's explicit statements that she "used to be a boy" and "wasn't socialised that way". She herself explicitly states in the post that she was socialised as male. I phrased my comment as carefully as I could, and intentionally didn't mention trans women at all, but rather anyone who was socialised as and presenting as male in during adolescence--which the author clearly identifies as having done. There's not a statement that transwomen are socialised as male--some, like the author, clearly see themselves as having done so, and I'm aware that many others don't. I honestly don't know how I could have presented this any better, and not mentioning it seems disingenuous, especially given that her argument is basically "I wasn't socialised like that and don't feel this way, and women who do are boring buzzkills who only think of themselves as victims."

Which, you know, good on you! I'm legitimately pleased, for their sake, that some people do not find catcalling and street harassment fury-inducing. But to going on and talking shit about women who *do* find it frightening or angering or whatever, while totally ignoring that many women don't have the benefit of not being socialised to find strange men yelling at them threatening or whatever, is a douche move.
posted by MeghanC at 11:57 PM on March 8 [8 favorites]


Interesting response piece here.

I've definitely been an admirer of Paris for a long time. In this piece she seems to occupy a similar sort of place to that which Caitlin Moran has for a while now; her heart is, I think, in the right place, but she can seem a bit blind to the experiences with others in a way that rightly puts the wind up a lot of people.

That said, I really want to draw attention to the fact that since the publication of the article, she's been super-receptive to criticism on twitter, has linked to articles criticising hers, and has seemed absolutely willing to take on other viewpoints. I think that's hugely laudable.
posted by ominous_paws at 12:07 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


It's worth pointing out that my comment was a direct response to the author's explicit statements that she "used to be a boy" and "wasn't socialised that way".

Nah. She specifically says, I wasn’t brought up that way, and quotes her sister, her mum, and several other women, who all express compatible sentiments. She also clearly frames it in terms of middle class vs working class, raucous north vs prim south.

The only time she brings her trans status up, that I can see, is to state, So yeah, I’m a bit of a slut. I also used to be a prostitute. And before that, well, a boy. Uh-huh. And I’m a total attention junkie. So I may not represent all women. Who does, though? She's contextualising herself as an individual, not saying, "I think catcalling is okay because I was a boy."

I'm not saying that Paris Lees doesn't think of herself as being "male socialised" but she doesn't say it in this article.

Meanwhile, you explicitly linked her "male" upbringing with her opinions. You're bringing something to the linked article that isn't in the text.

edited to drop in a quote at the start of my comment, since another one appeared inbetween
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:08 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


This is a bad FPP, though, tbh. There is a lot of assumed British cultural knowledge that Americans won't see, and the framing--look at these controversial views on catcalling! from someone at number one on the pink list! gasp!--is gross.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:11 AM on March 9 [6 favorites]


This seems to me to be the equivalent of what someone recently said to me, "But you are from India, you should be used to it" ref. catcalling aka eve teasing, sexual harassment, abuse, rape et al
posted by infini at 12:14 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


For me, one feminist who pisses me off with some of her ideas (or how they are stated), does not dictate my opinion of feminism and all feminists, and this is basically my stance here. Paris Lees is a feminist, and we have different opinions about street harassment. That doesn't mean I have to drop feminism as an ideal. Some of us will disagree!

My kind of feminism is inclusionary, and I also see no reason to change that because I disagree with one trans* feminist. I find the article sort of weird and puzzling for many reasons, but it certainly doesn't change my alliance with all women. In summary, this is kind of weird and my views remain unchanged.
posted by taz at 12:14 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Ugh for "experiences with others" please read "experiences of others".

Also "hugely laudable" might be overdoing it a bit, admittedly. What I'm trying to say is that there's a certain set of UK columnists whose MO with any criticism from twitter is simply to block and mock, to entirely refuse to engage. Paris is not necessarily one of these but is certainly close to at least a couple, and my expectations were set accordingly, so it was a pleasant surprise she'd been more open to engage.
posted by ominous_paws at 12:17 AM on March 9


cotton dress sock: "I don't know if it's technically narcissism and I don't know about souls, but I think this is basically it. Obnoxious, self-absorbed naivete to a great, great number of alternative experiences, most of which mostly disagree with her while mostly agreeing with each other (i.e., reality)."

Before I do this I'm going to mention that my stance on catcalling is emphatically not something I share with Paris Lees. I do this because apparently my opinions on catcalling are forever tainted by my assumed childhood experiences.

But I know several women whose opinion on the subject pretty much runs alongside Lees'. They enjoy the banter, the back and forth, the--for want of a word that doesn't make them sound like they just stepped out of a Carry On film--bawdiness of it all.

Disagree all you want, but there are a great number of women who agree with her, at least partially.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:24 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


I think there is a deeper conversation to have about women and our experiences with regards to our bodies and how we are reacted to in public, primarily by men but somewhat by women as well. I'm reminded of some women's comments that being disabled led them people to infantalize them as non-sexual, and there are stereotypes about women of color that do a similar thing. There's also the reality that disabled women are disproportionately targeted for sexual abuse even while being treated as sexless by the larger population; how women are treated and the actual threats we are under are very different things, though they interact in terms of our self-esteem and sense of control over our bodies.

And I think there's some interesting stuff packed up in the "power" that women get through the attention of men, and through denying those men - I think denying it exists is as dangerous as denying that it is a double edged sword because it is indirect power, and power within a limited field of with-holding something, and thus more easily taken away than the direct power of money or social capital.

I'm not sure how to begin to unpack it, though. Even besides the minefield of disparaging comments about women of different types in the original post, there's whole racial, able-centered, and lgbt-specific issues which would need to be taken into account. It's really easy to become myopic with street harassment because, in general, it is such a personal and isolated thing. I can count on one hand the number of times I was harassed when other people I knew was around and still have most of my fingers left, and incidents of street harassment began for me when I was eleven and continued until I got a car in my twenties.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:31 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Disagree all you want, but there are a great number of women who agree with her, at least partially.

Sure, people will get a charge when their sexual selves (however configured in whichever way) are confirmed in what they feel are acceptable and safe ways. Nothing necessarily wrong with that. But is it conceivable, really just even possible, that some women might be a tad misguided in their judgement of the structures underlying the dynamics they enjoy?

The author's sister: I also think that the guys are brave because they’re just there in broad daylight, shouting down the street.

Just there, poor guys, shouting down the street.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:35 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


cotton dress sock: "But is it conceivable, really just even possible, that some women might be a tad misguided in their judgement of the structures underlying the dynamics they enjoy? "

I tend to agree! I mean, I wouldn't say misguided because universalised feminism is really fucking gross and harmful, but yeah, I think women who are super into being catcalled may possibly benefit from rethinking their position, perhaps maybe.

I'm just objecting to the idea that any woman who thinks the way Lees does is somehow ignoring the 90% of women who disagree. It's demonstrably untrue.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:40 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Yes, I was a bit strong with 'misguided', there, thank you.

I'm just objecting to the idea that any woman who thinks the way Lees does is somehow ignoring the 90% of women who disagree. It's demonstrably untrue.

I didn't see that notion expressed here, although I could have missed something; I'm sure many who sympathize with Lee have considered views. (Some of Lees' supporting arguments, and certainly her tone in this article, are I think why hackles are being raised.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:03 AM on March 9


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