Helping men get it: An analogy for harassment.

“I said pay for my lunch or you can forget about that promotion!”

It’s an avoidable fact that many men — even really, really good men — don’t always get what the hell women are talking about when we talk about being the constant objects of various kinds of unwarranted sexual attention, whether it be passing comments, hard-core harassment, or the handsy-ness that the world has only recently begun to realize is actually assault.

Even really, really good men will often think “Well, the guy was giving you a compliment!” or “He was just joking!” or “He was just talking big, he would never have actually done that, ” or “Wow, that’s not cool. Did he think you were interested?”

I’ve racked my brains, for years, trying to think of some path to a simple, straightforward explanation that would just: Boom! Reveal the reality! And I’m still not there.

I have, however, finally come up with a kind of analogy – though it’s kind of a bad one. It falls through at a lot of points. But I think it’s a place from which men might begin to understand what the hell we’re talking about, at least a little better.

Money.

Like sex, money is a fact of life. Like sex, people are weird about it, but there’s a near-universal desire to have it, and many people wind up wishing they had more than they do. Also like sex, money and its availability doesn’t define us as people, or it certainly shouldn’t.

So here’s the analogy, as weak as it may be:

Imagine you have money on your person at all times — people know this, but mostly it doesn’t come up much, because mostly people are busy with whatever they need to do. But every day, or every week, someone hounds you for the change in your pocket — and 99% of the people doing the hounding are bigger than, and/or enjoy social dominance over, you.

Every now and then, a friend will say: “Wow, I could go for some pizza,” and you’ll say “Let’s order in!” and they’ll say “Ah, I’m flat right now, I can’t do it,” and you’ll say “Don’t worry, I’ve got it!” This decision to give someone your money involves a prior relationship (even if brief), and a conversation, and ultimately an offer on your part. No demand, no threat, no hounding.

But every day, or every week, someone you don’t know well, or someone you do know well but with whom you don’t have a “bro, can you lend me some cash?” relationship, or someone who is your boss, or your therapist, or your co-worker, or your brother’s friend, or a complete and utter stranger in the street surrounded by other complete and utter strangers —  99% of whom are bigger than, and/or enjoy social dominance over, you — will hound you for money. Often without anything even remotely like a warning.

Some do it in a jokey fashion. Some run after you telling you that they know you really want to give them your cash. Some scream and yell at you for failing to turn around when they tell you how nice it must be to always have money on you. Some turn to you, in the middle of a work presentation, say, or as you’re reaching for something on a high shelf, and start to reach into your pockets. And you personally know a good handful of people who have been beaten up in such circumstances, their money taken against their will, sometimes by people they thought they could trust.

Can you imagine how that might shape your life? How you might decide to avoid certain people, or certain parties, or that one office where you’ve heard the bosses are FOREVER hounding employees for their change? Can you imagine that having to think about this all the time might be exhausting? Can you imagine that you might get thoroughly sick of other people insisting that they get to talk about your money whenever they want to? How frightened you might occasionally feel because, and I really want to stress this again: 99% of the people doing the hounding are are bigger than, and/or enjoy social dominance over, you.

That’s (kinda) what it’s like to be a woman.  Being told, all the time, that your physical autonomy and something that is genuinely yours — isn’t really just yours. Whoever wants to demand it of you, or pass judgment on it, or insist that you change it, can feel free to do so, and if you don’t like it, it’s because there’s something wrong with you.

Only in our case, it’s not something in our pockets — it’s our actual bodies. All the time.

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40 Comments

  1. Zorro

     /  June 4, 2012

    You people are going to hate this post.

    With all due respect, sex is a little different than money, because sexual desire (unlike the desire to get into your wallet) sometimes or usually includes an implied personal complement that mere grifting does not: you’re attractive, I’m attracted, gimme gimme!

    The “gimme gimme” part isn’t fun, particularly, but being told by implication as you walk down the street that you’re attractive (or, “hot” as the youngsters would have it) is not all that bad, so long as the speaker doesn’t have a weapon of some kind. ;) Not that I care that much about what random construction workers “think,” but I’ve been low on self-esteem on occasion and had these guys whistle, and it’s not that bad a sensation. (Well at least I’m not the visual equivalent of a banana slug, whatever else is the matter with me!)

    I’m older than most of you, and of course it wasn’t always so polite back in the day (and it isn’t always polite now) and maybe my tolerance is just an adaptive mechanism. Grabbing me is not OK, threatening physical force is not OK, threatening (or, which may God forbid, using) economic force is not OK, beating me up is not OK, but most men who whistle don’t do such things.

    I guess I’ve gotten through a lot of awkward situations by assuming that the other person didn’t mean it badly, whatever it was, and projecting that. In most interpersonal relationships, however casual, assuming the better motivation tends to bring out the better motivation, you know? People tend to give back what you put out, and they don’t want to be shamed by having you assume the best and then having all of us find out that they’re really turds. (I’m talking normal people here, not criminals.) The turds tend to try to shape up to meet your good opinion.

    This too. The real world is changing. WAY back in the day, when I was a girl lawyer, the old guys told me to my face that I’d never be a success at the law because “the clients will never accept it.” Friday I had an initial meeting with a wealthy client, a woman, who at the end of the discussion (after hiring me) threw her arms around me and declared that all the male lawyers she’d interviewed were jerks, and that she was so glad she had found me.

    I heard, in my inner ear, the old guys, back in the day. The world is what it is and it will ever be so, and all clients, individual and corporate, will always be white men in their 50’s. Who knew.

    Take that, old guys.

    Some of the older construction workers still whistle, and that’s OK too. Whistle away, old farts, I appreciate it.

    The best revenge is living well. God bless the non-criminals, every one. Even the ones who are bit clumsy.

    • Hold on. I didn’t get one word past “sex is a little different than money” — did I not say that? Did I not say, very openly and from the get-go, that the analogy was a poor one? That I’m hoping to encouraging men to think differently about something, but that the tool is only the best one I could find after years of thinking?

      Also, not for nothing, but the words “with all due respect” are the reddest of flags that very little in the way of respect is intended.

      • Zorro

         /  June 4, 2012

        If, as you say, you “didn’t get one word past sex is a little different than money” I guess you didn’t read the entire post. (How is that different from the disrespect you accuse me of?)

        Check Wes’s later post. Am I worse than that? Wes is undoubtedly well intentioned, but I did suggest a different focus. God bless Wes and everyone, we all need to re-think this thing.

      • Zorro

         /  June 4, 2012

        Actually you might be interested in the rest of the post, give it a try.

  2. Sometimes I miss the feeling I had before I transitioned of being selectively invisible. That’s not solely because of gender presentation, of course; being trans in and of itself makes one hypervigilant of others looking at you. But there are sometimes now where I will walk by and some guy will just stare at me, in broad daylight, as if he’s evaluating me. And, of course, he is. Attractiveness has nothing to do with it; if you’re a woman you merit appraisal based upon your looks because that’s what defines your worth. And although I wasn’t socialized to fear that evaluation like most cis women, it’s still odd to me in how brazen it sometimes is.

    That said, I think I’d take the money analogy a bit further. It’s not just that someone’s bugging you about giving them your money. It’s that they’re judging you based upon how much you have and how you use it. It’s a reflection upon your identity. Hell, sometimes by their standards it *is* your identity, and you are allowed to be little else. And in any given situation, you don’t know what kind of effect it will or won’t have on what’s happening.

    There are many situations where a man is judged by his performance of masculinity, of course. But, overall, it’s difficult to really convey how much physical appearance matters when you’re a woman and so often defined by it. It’s visceral. And although I was sympathetic and a self-identified feminist before I transitioned, I don’t know if I ever would have understood in a personal, emotional way without the experience itself.

    • I don’t know if I ever would have understood in a personal, emotional way without the experience itself.

      That’s exactly the problem, isn’t it? I really don’t know how to convey it to someone who will never present as a woman and thus never experience the constant awareness and pressure and often fear and threat. The fear of being mugged is the best analogy I can come up with, and then try to spin it from there, but it’s really weak because until you’ve lived in that skin, it’s really, really hard to even see sometimes.

      And I get that, you know? I don’t think that ignorance is sin. I think refusing to address it is, but if you’re ignorant, you often don’t even know it, right? So how do I reach across that.

      • dmf

         /  June 4, 2012

        I don’t think these kinds of matters can effectively be broadly addressed in abstract ways to strangers, but rather probably have to be addressed over time in the context of a more direct and personal relationship.
        Very hard for us to “own” our un-conscious habits, even we do care enough to try.

        • dmf

           /  June 4, 2012

          oops, even When we do care enough to try

    • I guess I prefer to focus upon humility and listening: accepting that other people’s lived experience is different from my own and then trying to listen to them on their own terms in order to inch closer to an understanding that will only ever be incomplete.

      I’m kind of hesitant about analogies, because I don’t think there’s a dearth of narrative about the experience of difference. I also don’t think there are too many men out there banging their heads against walls because they just.can’t.get.it. More often, I think, it’s because they’re having difficulty letting go of themselves and just devoting themselves to trying to understand the other person where that person is at. That’s what discussions of “privilege” often surround, and it’s why I think the concept plays such a large part in contemporary social justice discourse: that’s where we’re grappling with that fundamental barrier to understanding.

      So much seems to boil down to letting ourselves get in the way of reaching out to others. I think that’s the big hurdle we’ve got to overcome. Once people are committed to listening and empathizing, they can find elaborations in the stories of everyone they meet.

      I certainly don’t say this to denigrate your efforts; I think there’s definitely something to be gained by different approaches and metaphor applied to situations we’re grappling with (indeed, much of the learning comes from the places the analogies don’t fit as much as where they do). But the above is where I try (and often fail) to veer in my own thinking/work.

    • LizR

       /  June 5, 2012

      *wants a like button*

      I really like what you’ve done here, and I think it expands the conversation in a useful way that gets at the idea that not all street harassment is a compliment or taken that way by women who hear it. Fat women in particular get harassed for being fat all the time, and I think that that harassment comes from the same place as the compliments directed at women who are perceived as sexy – it’s valuing your worth in relation to the person making the statement and then either implicitly or explicitly making a statement about how that person thinks your future should go on the basis of that valuation. For fat women or women who are perceived as ugly it’s often super negative – die, disappear, or an explicit rape threat that’s acknowledged as rape by the speaker. For attractive women the elephant in the room is a (likely unwanted) invitation to sexual activity.

      But I think that there are also women who have received both types of harassment, because they used to be fat, or used to be less attractive, or used to not dress as well, and either during their childhood or at some point in their life they experienced either street harassment because they didn’t meet the harasser’s standards for women or nasty compliments of the “that guy pretended he liked me and thought I was pretty and then laughed at me and told me I was ugly when I believed him” variety. And there are also women who just have low self esteem who need to trust that a speaker’s idea of what is beautiful doesn’t line up exactly with the media’s ideal before they can accept a compliment without worrying that it was backhanded in some way. And for all of those women, getting randomly complimented or shouted at by someone that they don’t know can be a really negative experience, because either based on life experience or personal insecurity they don’t trust that the compliment is genuine. And part of the reason that so many cis-women, especially those who are young, struggle with self-esteem issues is precisely that their bodies are subject to public scrutiny.

  3. Zorro

     /  June 4, 2012

    Ophelia your reflections are useful as always! This is such a useful post!!

    It’s that they’re judging you based upon how much you have and how you use it. It’s a reflection upon your identity. Hell, sometimes by their standards it *is* your identity, and you are allowed to be little else.

    Allowed by whom? When and why did my identity become hostage to what random strangers think? Why should I care what they think? (Actually, now that you ask me, I don’t.) You of all people know this. Isn’t the final answer to judgements performed by strangers in the street “who cares”?

    There are many situations where a man is judged by his performance of masculinity, of course. But, overall, it’s difficult to really convey how much physical appearance matters when you’re a woman and so often defined by it.

    Again, judged by whom, and why should we care? Physical appearance matters to whom, defines you by whose opinion, and again, why should we care? These are only problems to the extent that we internalize them.

    Actual economic discrimination in the workplace should be denounced when and where it appears, in season and out of season, and defeated by whatever means are available, using the law where that helps. Unwanted touching of anyone by anybody is battery, a crime and a tort, has always been battery in Anglo-Saxon law, back to 1066, and should be called by its right name and prosecuted where necessary, regardless of who the perpetrators are or what their motivations may be.

    No one’s looks define that person’s worth.

    • Electronic_Neko

       /  June 4, 2012

      No one’s looks define that person’s worth.

      Actually, physical appeareance has a direct effect on your economic worth

      http://www.businessinsider.com/benefits-of-beauty-2011-12

      • Zorro

         /  June 4, 2012

        Worth is not economic worth. This principle is almost too obvious for me to bother to state it. Are we evaluating everything in dollars (euros, whatever)? God help us.

        • Electronic_Neko

           /  June 4, 2012

          You say that other people’s judgement of our appearance should not matter. But it does matter, in very concrete ways. You ask who is judging us upon our physical appearance and why we should care. I answer, at the very least, our coworkers and employers judge us, and their judgement is not insignificant. It has a direct effect on our interpersonal interaction with them, their assessment of our work product, and our compensation. These are not small matters.

          • Zorro

             /  June 4, 2012

            Of course our compensation and the opinions of our coworkers matter to us. But.

            What I’m trying to say is, is our real “worth”, our real identity, dependent on such things? We can measure our personal worth simply by comparing our gross income figure on the 1040?

            Surely not. There are multi-billionaires who hate themselves. There are people of modest circumstances who are content. Which would you choose? What are your standards?

            I would suggest that our own real opinion of ourselves has a greater impact on our lives than you might think. Everyone is more or less, mostly more, unsure of themselves. If you coming into a new situation are sure of yourself, you have a remarkable advantage.

            We are social beings. We take our opinions to a large extent from the opinions of the people around us. If you are sure, really sure, you will find the people around you fall into your sureness a lot more readily than you might think.

            You think you know what you are doing, really think that? You will find that skeptics fall by the way.

          • Yup. And this whole thing has been a massive distraction from the conversation I was hoping to foster. I’m sorry about that.

    • When and why did my identity become hostage to what random strangers think? Why should I care what they think? (Actually, now that you ask me, I don’t.) You of all people know this.

      Well…in the case specifically of transgender people, their sexual and/or legal gender identity is literally hostage to what their doctors, therapists, and strangers who work at the DMV and birth certificate offices may think. These are people who recommend them for therapy/hormone therapy/major, life-altering sugeries/major legal changes. So….that is a concrete example of how the identity of transgender persons in particular is already hostage to what random strangers think.

      As to why transgender people care so much about what these doctors, DMV workers, etc. might think, well–if they object, they don’t get the medicine/surgery/birth certificate change, and they aren’t able to get the change in legal or mental or bodily status that they may need in order to survive as happy human beings.

      It’s not always nice to have to care about what other people think, whether one is transgender, cis, or something else entirely, but sometimes it’s much better than the alternative: as for women, well, we live in a culture where if women themselves don’t think about their identity as people-in-womens’-bodies, they know that other people are already thinking about their identity as bodies for them, and those people are coming to different and often-disturbing conclusions about what that means and who has rights to a woman’s own individual body.

      I would rather not think about what men might think of my body. But knowing that some men might think of my body as something to which they feel entitled just because I am woman-shaped helps me to steer away from places and people where people show that they feel entitled to my body.

      I would rather have to deal with the consequences of knowing that some men might feel entitled to my body than have to deal with the consequences of being ignorant about the fact that some men might feel entitled to my body.

  4. Zorro

     /  June 4, 2012

    the words “with all due respect” are the reddest of flags that very little in the way of respect is intended.

    Emily, what have I said exactly that gives you the idea that I don’t respect you, as you charge? Please quote.

    Disagreeing with you is not the same as disrespecting you. If this is to be a genuine discussion you will need to admit comments from people who do not agree with you in every respect.

    • It is fundamentally disrespectful to so thoroughly disregard the premise of a post on which one is choosing to reply. I said, straight-up and flat out, that the analogy is imperfect. Rather than engage in the discussion that I clearly am hoping to launch, you led your response by telling me that my analogy is imperfect.

      The fact that we disagree is one thing — I would suggest that a social imagination would be helpful here, because one datum [one person's experience with discrimination] doesn’t reflect the reality of the complex whole — but completely disregarding my premise gives every indication that you read as far as you got annoyed, and then started commenting. It gives every indication of not having enough respect for the person with whom you’re having a conversation to actually listen to them.

      • Zorro

         /  June 4, 2012

        BS. Read previously dated replies.

        • That’s enough rudeness, to me and to my commenters. Threadjacking is also rude.

          We’re not doing this here.

  5. Wes

     /  June 4, 2012

    I appreciate your efforts to help us understand what harassment is like for women. What I’d want to know is what solutions or punishments you suggest. What you described is annoying and anti-social behavior. So what? I can ignore the person. Exclude them in every way I can. Or even curse them out. But I wouldn’t run to my boss. I wouldn’t run to police either. “Suck it up” would be my advice to someone dealing with such an jerk.

    Now there must be a line for any behavior. The suspicion is we’d just draw that line in vastly different places.

    • SWNC

       /  June 4, 2012

      For the most part, women do suck it up. After awhile, all that sucking it up wears you down, though.

      In terms of solutions, I don’t think that harassment is something that women can solve. I’d suggest two helpful things that men can do. First, when the women in your life tell you about their experiences with harassment, believe them. Don’t try to explain it away or tell them it’s not that big a deal or that they should feel complimented. (And I don’t mean to imply that you would ever do this, Wes; I’m speaking to the vast anonymous male audience reading Emily’s blog. ;) ) Second, men have to let other men know that this is not acceptable behavior. In addition to not behaving that way yourself, explicitly teach your sons not to do it. Call your friends on it. Etc.

    • Zorro

       /  June 4, 2012

      Wes, depends on the offense, doesn’t it? If a co-worker stole all your money, would you “suck it up”?

      Mere anti-social behavior (insults) in the private arena and other jerkiness, like at parties? Ignore it (negative attention is attention, don’t reward this behavior by attention) and avoid these people. If the behavior doesn’t actually offend you (a construction worker whistles) no action is called for.

      Someone who harasses you in the workplace? I would certainly “run” to my boss (the phrasing suggests that I shouldn’t… I’m not “running”, Wes, I’m reporting an actionable offense!) if the boss is likely to be level-headed. (And aware of the law.) If the boss has his/her head wedged, further action should be contemplated. Is the boss’s boss likely to be more aware? Complain at that level. Is the whole organization wedged? Go to the law.

      If the offender has touched/grabbed you? Consider legal action. This behavior is both criminal and a tort (damages) at the law.

      Wes. You wouldn’t “run to the police” if someone snatched your wallet? Held you up at gunpoint? Please. No one, male or female, should “suck up” crimes or other legal offenses.

      I do not think men can solve this by themselves. We have to help them out. :)

    • I can ignore the person. Exclude them in every way I can. Or even curse them out. But I wouldn’t run to my boss. I wouldn’t run to police either.

      Well—what if the person doing this rude and anti-social behavior is your boss? Or the police? Or the president? Or your friend? Or your parent? Or the person at the burger joint? Or your priest? It’s hard to tune out, exclude, or curse the people you interact with, and sometimes love, and often have to interact with, every single day.

  6. Zorro

     /  June 4, 2012

    Emily,

    I listened. I admit your analogy I but disagree with you. Surely that is legitimate.

    The analogy you propose is interesting, but as I think I said, i my opinion, flawed. Not everyone who disagrees with you or your analogies “disrespects” you as a person. The differing opinions of other people are not necessarily illegitimate or disrespectful. It is not necessary that respecting you means to agree with you on every point. I gather that you cannot find anything actually insulting or disrespectful to you in my post.

    Accusing people who disagree with you of bad faith per se without logical rebuttal (“you got annoyed”) is a way to construct a forum where 100% agreement with your premises, assumptions and analogies is the ticket to admission, and where disagreement on any of these is not welcome.

    In fact, I “actually listened” to you, and I agree with much of what you said, but I don’t agree with all of it. My disagreement is not evidence that I “didn’t listen” (as though anyone who truly listens will automatically agree, as though disagreement among well-intentioned “listening” people were impossible). I just don’t entirely agree.

    You will construct the kind of forum you want here.

  7. SWNC

     /  June 4, 2012

    Interesting analogy, Emily.

    One of the things that I appreciate about my husband is that he has never, ever questioned how often women get catcalled and how it feels, because he’s experienced it so often himself. He’s a small, slender guy and for years, he was clean-shaven with waist-length hair.He would often get people yelling nasty comments at him on the street, either because they thought he was a woman or because they assumed he was gay. (A few times, people yelled anti-gay slurs at the two of us, because they assumed we were a lesbian couple.) It’s given him a lot of visceral empathy.

  8. Zorro

     /  June 4, 2012

    Perhaps not all discussions here are so one-sided.

    • I’m sorry, but on behalf of our host, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.

  9. Amazing post, Emily!
    You are the first Progressive to actually get it. The reason Libertarians are so dang finicky about…

    Deleted from this point forward. While I always appreciate being told that I’m amazing, you could not be further wrong about what I did or did not “get.” But that’s not why I deleted. Simply put, in this space, the only conversational space on earth in which I exercise any kind of control, there will be no uses of the concept of rape to mean anything but rape. Rape is rape, and that is the only thing that is rape, and no survivor of any kind of sexual assault will ever have to read anything else in this space.

    • dmf

       /  June 5, 2012

      that you would try and make such a specious argument on the “back” of rape is why liberals just don’t get it, compromise is part of being in a democratic community of mature adults.

  10. Juliet

     /  June 5, 2012

    Dear Emily,

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the last two paragraphs. Many men just haven’t thought about how pervasive the problem is for women, or even worse, view women as prey (I freaked a little when a man told me this.)

    Dear Commenters on this post,

    Basically your body is not always your private property and it should ALWAYS be your private property.

    This is a problem all people in society need to work on, however you choose to identify, but at the moment it is important to get men on board with this. Hence the popularity of the “don’t be that guy” campaign.

    It is exhausting to always be vigilant about my safety and getting blamed if something does happen (what were you doing out of the house alone? You shouldn’t have been out. Why are you so upset? It’s not a big deal, it could have been a lot worse. It’s called a sense of humour, get one.)

    I don’t know how to express it any more clearly than that.

  11. Darth Thulhu

     /  June 5, 2012

    Thought-provoking analogy, Emily. Thanks for the effort to provide insight.

    The potential flaws or consequences of extrapolating the analogy seem eager to be probed, above. Since picking and poking at potential flaws seems to be what we’re doing in half of this thread, in this first half I feel compelled to point out that the analogy gets incredibly complicated on matters of prostitution. A thoroughly-explored system of currency exchange bureaux and fluctuating exchange rates must be hashed out in laborious detail in these comments before we are done. Apparently. :-)

    On the core topic, I think the analogy to harassment is enlightening and worth expanding upon, because the “money-havers” used to be (very recently) in the cultural position of being *expected* to dress in utter poverty if they didn’t want claims on their money. If they flaunted their cash in any way whatsoever, the unspoken social expectation was, until very recently, that they owed everyone around at least a little spare change – their extra natural wealth wasn’t really theirs, but was often fully public property if they revealed it at all outside their own homes.

    That cultural expectation is, moreover, quite far from dead and gone. Possession and any kind of public display of one’s assets and endowments still frequently leads to entitled claims upon them in the public sphere. Failure to display and share to any given person’s satisfaction can lead to cutting accusations of impoverishment. Sharing freely leads to shaming accusations of being a loose spendthrift. Regardless, there is a public consensus that one’s wealth is an open topic for public discussion and a matter for public claims and judgments.

    (P.S. While I appreciate the sentiment behind your apparent deletion of a rape=theft argument, I think that it is an inherently valid place for an analogy of sexuality=money to go. Such a discussion should have trigger warnings and probably have its own exclusive post and thread to not traumatically expose people to it, but sometimes people beset by past traumas like to work through such mental exercises to process and restore their experiences. Rape is always rape and not something else, but if we are analogizing sexuality to cash then we can analagously explore when rape is more like a violent mugging versus when rape is more like an exploitative partnership with unethical and unequal contractual terms. Just saying.)

  12. solstice

     /  June 7, 2012

    The closest I’ve heard of heterosexual men beginning — just beginning — to have a glimpse of an experience of feeling uncomfortable, vulnerable, harassed, less powerful, a piece of meat for other’s ogling pleasure, a litany of unwanted come-ons, (and the possibility of unwanted touch – although this did not happen), were from straight male colleagues who frequented a gym where they were cruised by gay men.

    This situation does not replicate an inherent gendered power differential (or strength differential), or years of socialization to be “nice” and not be a “bitch” by standing up for yourself. And I’m sure if the gym management were approached about this, they wouldn’t brush it off with “just enjoy the complement” or “boys will be boys” crap. So it’s certainly not a perfect analogy, but it seems close enough to elicit some small sense of this experience. I deeply believe that everyone has a right to be protected from unwanted sexual attention/harassment (in any form). And part of me thinks that it would be incredibly instructive for all heterosexual men, especially the ones who think this attention is a complement or simply their prerogative, to see how they feel after — a week, a month, a year, or five, in a similar situation.

    For men who sincerely want to do their own self-education around this issue, and/or would find it helpful to talk to other men about this, check out Men Can Stop Rape.

  13. Frightening/exciting to have a microcosm of exactly what you’re talking about enacted in the comments. It takes a special mind to read “These are my ideas” and refuse to engage with the “ideas” and instead just quibble over whether you should have said “Those”.

    I think the analogy is apt because of the way many people (myself included) attach feelings of security/safety to having money. If someone can just come and demand it (or demean it, or decrease its value), you don’t get to feel safe just by having it. True for money, true for bodily autonomy. I like when people I love tell me I look nice, the same way I enjoy treating them to lunch (sometimes). I don’t like when strangers leer at me, the same way I wouldn’t enjoy someone stealing my wallet.

  14. I just made my 13yo son read your post… because I was not happy with how an earlier family discussion of ‘booth babes’ had not led to much understanding on his part of the unpleasantness of pervasive sexualization. His response was not ‘Oh, now I understand.’

    There seems to be a strong male group defensiveness when this kind of topic comes up… at least, many vocal responses from males who discount the issue. Maybe males are uncomfortable at generalized descriptions that are based only on male gender… because that’s sexist and unfair to men. Yes, my son did admit there’s a little irony in saying that. And, no, it is not my responsibility to educate the guys who shout from cars. At work, I don’t want to be told my MILF score-card from passers-by, co-workers, bosses, or customers. It is made not acceptable because some hypothetical woman feels it’s a compliment. Lookit, being female does not mean that person wants/needs/deserves to be told about her sexual value.

    But his main objection is that he doesn’t feel that he acts that way, and that surely this is ‘an old fashioned problem’. He was incredulous that I continue to receive some catcalls myself (yes, STILL, even though I am ‘so old’) and that I have seen and experienced unwanted/uninvited sexual comments and pressure at work. Yes, some was 20 years ago, but those guys haven’t exactly left the work force at this point. And the teenagers(?) shouting at girls/women as they drive past… well THAT’S a new generation, not just the 40-plus-year-olds.

    So, I do suggestion about what to do. Tell your hockey team-mates ‘Hey, that’s not cool’ if/when there is shouting at the hot girls on the other side of the hotel pool. If you want, go over there and TALK to the hot girls. Show off your own hotness by goofing around in the pool. Don’t yell “compliments at strangers” from a distance.

  15. This is brilliant, I couldn’t have put it better, and I have never seen it put better. I have shared this with my friends. You have voiced very articulately something I cope with every week. And one of the most dis empowering things is that I am riddled with social anxiety in the first place due to mental health problems, so this harassment from men makes getting out even harder for me. I don’t need going out to be any harder than it is already. I have no way of talking back due my lack of confidence outdoors, and in fact this usually makes it worse as if I don’t reply to their ‘compliments’ (yuck- once a guy sang to me in the street and was upset when I didn’t fall at his feet asking him to marry me) they get angry and insult me instead.

  16. This reminds me of the post at TNC’s house (or here, argh, I can\’t remember where) with the link to the blogger who pointed out that (paraphrasing) when someone makes a sexist joke or comment or something in a group, and you don’t react, odds are that at least one guy in that group actually believes that women are inferior, and has acted physically on that belief … and he thinks you\’re on his side.

    I think that applies here, too. From what I understand, it’s not just that people are always commenting about your money. It’s also that often, one person will comment on it, and other people are sitting or standing there, and no one says ”hey, let’s not talk about someone else’s money.” So the person who made the comment thinks ”hey, this group’s with me, we’re all checking out this dude’s wallet, it’s cool.”

    I mean, yeah, it’s not the same, of course – it can’t ever be the same – but it’s another way to try to get across to us how important it is for us to not be accessories, that it isn’t enough simply to avoid actively harassing women. It doesn’t matter if you know someone who doesn’t mind that people check out their financial status. Maybe they even show it off because they’re rich and they know it and they don’t care … but that’s their decision, and it doesn’t make it OK to react the same way toward everyone you meet who might have money.

    I feel a little weird typing this, because it’s just words. I mean, I think words are important, too. After all, that’s what we’re supposed to do in the example I remembered (poorly) above: speak out and say ”Yeah, that’s not funny.” But it’s not enough just to talk about what we should be doing. I know there are times when I’ll hear someone else talking and suddenly catch something they said, and it’s like a little voice says ”wait, they said what?” And I’m still not at the point where that happens and I do speak up about it, not often enough, anyway.

    I’m working on it, though … and thank you, Emily, for continuing to remind me to do so.

  1. Tomorrows « FeminisTech
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