Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hunger pains

Jill at Feministe wrote this post, which very deftly takes apart Salon writer Cary Tennis' latest column. A woman wrote in, asking whether her friend's boyfriend was being too possessive by telling his girlfriend to cover up in public, so as to avoid unwanted attention.

Readers, I've been told more than once that I've got some mad advice giving skills, so indulge me for a minute. Yes, the boyfriend was being controlling - and unrealistic, too. The implication that only attractive, scantily clad women get targeted for molestation is patently false, and disproven by every sexual abuse statistic known to humanity - but for some reason, it will. not. DIE.


A few years back, when I was living in Boston, I went to find an ATM during my lunchbreak. I was wearing a brown turtleneck and black wool pants; my hair was up in a french twist. After getting some cash, I was walking back to my office when a man approached me and said with a leer, "Excuse me, miss? I'd like to have you for lunch."

Smooth, right? I turned back to him and said, "Thanks to you, I feel like I'm going to lose mine. Eat elsewhere." Want it your way, loser? Get your lame ass to Burger King. My point, dear readers, is that I couldn't have been more covered - which matters not a whit to the neighborhood asshat.

So what was Cary Tennis' reply to this woman's query? Surely he would advise her to have a talk with her boyfriend about the reality of sexual violence in our society. Surely he would tell her that, while one might like to consider selecting attire that is appropriate to one's social setting, no outfit, however risqué, is responsible for inciting inappropriate behavior in men. No, indeed; sexual violence in our culture is directly tied to the antiquated, sexist idea that women are responsible for policing the male libido. Women are responsible for Original Sin, possess filthy vagina dentata and must pay for their sins by suffering the pains of childbirth and sexual harrassment. Women are SEX, men must get SEX, but women must not let them have the SEX. Every man wants the SEX from every woman he sees, but women must not want the SEX! Women who enjoy the SEX are dirty whores! But men cannot be whores, because they are hardwired to need the SEX!

Wheee! Outdated Gender Relations 101 is F-U-N! Granted, it turns women into sluts and guys into apes, instead of sexually healthy adults who can freely enjoy the BIG BAD SEX with whomever they choose. Well, I guess that's the way it is, so who are we to question it? The fear of What Men Might Do is at the root of the "cover up" campaign, and it gives no credit to either gender for acting respectful and human. The cure for this fear, dear readers, is simple, and was taught to all of us by the time we were in preschool - "Keep your hands to yourself."

The adult version of this adage is, "Don't be an asshole."

Unfortunately for the woman who wrote to Salon, Mr. Tennis doesn't agree. Long story short, Cary boy implicates women - and their personal style - in their own gropings and sexual assaults. Here's a snippet:

There is something to be said for being invisible...How do we pick our victims? We pick the ones who catch our eye, the ones whose bright colors enrage us, whose sexual attractiveness fills us with resentment and anger. Who will be the victim? That pretty one there.

Big sigh.

Let's get something straight here. Women who wear the burqua in the Middle East are raped. Young children - babies, even, are raped and molested every day, most often by family members. Are scantily clad toddlers in diapers Teh Hawt? No? I didn't think so. The elderly and disabled are also targeted for sexual abuse. Their vulnerability makes them easier targets, not their appearance. As a lady once said, "You can't keep men chaste by keeping women out of sight."

Covering up is all about making women invisible, isn't it? But from whom? Why, from other men, of course. Check it:

perhaps her boyfriend is not really thinking about crime per se, but about something a little more subtle. Perhaps it is his own discomfort at knowing what men think when they look at his girlfriend in her party clothes. He knows because he is a man and thinks certain thoughts, and knows from talking with other men that they think these thoughts too, when they look at women whom they do not know. He knows that on the subway men who do not know his girlfriend will look at her in a certain way and think these thoughts. He does not like these thoughts. They are an outrage.

Translation: "This my Wo-Man! You no look! I cover up so you no touch! Mine! MINE!!"

Wow-ee. If this is professional advice, then I must be the fucking Dalai Lama. Readers, I have run out of sighs. A woman is not an extension of her man. She is not a possession for him to hide from other potential suitors. If a relationship is healthy, other men won't be a problem. Listen, men lust after women. This is natural. Women lust after men. This is also natural. Some women lust after women and some men lust after men and this is also natural, no matter what the wingnuts say.

I digress. Lots of women, when they see an attractive man, will think "I'd like to tap that." Most of us are not alarmed that men think these things too. If we didn't, the human race would die out. You just don't translate those thoughts into action without an invitation. No excuses! This should be a given in the 21st century. Why do people even have to be reminded?

Almost as an afterthought, Tennis goes on to say that it's never ok to attack a woman, but reminds us that women are often blamed anyway. This may sometimes be true, but covering women up isn't the solution. Teaching respect, and eradicating sexism, is.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I completely agree with your reasoning about doing nothing to stop a deviant from making an attack on a woman I do beleive that you might have gotten a little tipped over to the attack side of things. If you were to pick 100 random males and walk past them in a casual setting in a pair of regular blue jeans and a T-shirt, and then walk past those same 100 guys in the outfit that Julia Roberts wore in pretty woman you would get drastically different reactions. Now I do happen to think that there should be a happy middle ground between a burqua, and an itsy-bitsy tiney-winey yellow polka-dot bikini and BOTH sides of a relationship need to engage one another to find it... isn't that pretty much the defination of a relationship? If the clothing one half of the partnership wears makes the other half uncomfortable they both have the right and dare I say responsiblity to attempt to hash it out as mature adults. That works both ways, there are plenty of women out ther who don't like what their man wears (or doesn't).

All that being said, short of literally wearing nothing but your birthday suit and a big tattoo that says 'come get this' there is no excuse for sexual assault.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

If you were to pick 100 random males and walk past them in a casual setting in a pair of regular blue jeans and a T-shirt, and then walk past those same 100 guys in the outfit that Julia Roberts wore in pretty woman you would get drastically different reactions.

Anon, I'm not arguing that. I'm saying that, no matter what your reaction is, you keep your hands to yourself. Was that not clear?

Yes, adults should be quite capable of hashing out relationship problems. But if you get into a relationship with a person who dresses a certain way, and you want them to change how they dress once you've got them, then you are being controlling.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo!!! Very well said! I can't control what a man might or might not find attractive. One man might like a woman in a lowcut shirt and another in a turtleneck. It's all about self control people. Your own self control.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For some reason, this reminds me of an embarrassing moment at the office. I bumped into an associate/friend one day. She was visiting from another office. I hadn't seen her in a while. She looked great and I said so promptly. Then, I turned a pasty shade of lime green and b-lined for my cube. All I wanted to say is "Hi Susan, how are you?", but I said "Hi Susan, you look great!" I meant no offense. She _did_ look great and I felt like a total boob for saying. My wife, who works there too, later told me Susan thought it was nice of me to say so. It turned out all good.


2:25 PM  
Blogger Ginger said...

Hey arc, no worries there. "You look great" is a basic compliment. It's not sexual. Besides which, you knew this woman already, so I'm assuming you have some sort of rapport. We can be a bit more liberal with people that know us a bit. I think it's a completely different kind of interaction.

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is such a loaded issue for me. I was date raped, and by a man I trusted, when I was 30. After that, my 3" heels were retired forever. When it came to men and sex, I questioned my judgment. How could I have allowed that to happen to me? What had I done to bring it on? The answer seemed to be "control." I could control what happened from here on out by hiding my sexuality behind baggy sweats. Now that I'm in my 40s, and I look back at photos of my size old size 6 self, I see what terrific shape I was in and I realize that I allowed him to take so much away from me. Not only confidence in my own judgment, but the ability to enjoy and feel proud of my own body. I wish I knew then what I know now: I cannot control others, for good or ill. Sexuality can/should be a source of joy, not shame.

5:35 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

Wow Gal, thank you for being so candid. I'm sure you know by now that your heels had nothing to do with that man's crime. Even after your physical wounds heal, the violation of trust still lingers, and as you said, can affect a woman for years. I'm so sorry for what you went through. I hope that you know the blame belongs on him, and that you've regained the ability to enjoy your own sexuality.

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually attention from men I don't know still scares me, which makes no sense because I already knew the man who raped me. But feelings are feelings and I can't control those, either. Still I've let myself off the hook for so many other things regarding that night. I think these frank conversations are important in that they help diminish the shame. It's like when we were little and were afraid of things that went bump in the night. Turn on the light and it's not so scary anymore. Thought-provoking posts like yours are like a cyber flashlight.

10:45 PM  
Blogger Ginger said...

Absolutely...I believe that "naming it" is the most powerful thing that you can do after something like that. Actually, your continuing anxiety is normal, because after your trust is betrayed, you look at all men and think, "Are you like him? Are you? What's hiding underneath the surface? Are you being nice to me so that you can get close enough to hurt me?" You don't trust your own judgment anymore, which is one of the most devastating effects of acquaintance rape.

Obviously I'm not a psychologist or a counselor, but I would recommend the book "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker. It's amazing, and deals with exactly the kind of day to day anxiety that you describe. What I like about de Becker is his layman's approach a very common problem in our society - this constant fear that we are always just around the corner from danger. He picks this phenomenon apart and talks about how to deal with worry, so that it doesn't drag you down in your daily life. A good read, if you're interested. Maybe it will even help.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughtful responses. I've come a long way over a long period of time, and that's why I'm able to converse about this so comfortably. I no longer feel responsible. The fear and anger crop up every now and again, so I'll give Mr. de Becker a look. And again, it's important that we discuss these things as co-equal adults, so I really appreciate your blog and that men as well as women respond.

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Andrea Dworkin, I thought you had passed away, so nice to see you back with the living.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How nice to have Camille Paglia weigh in.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

My pleasure, Gal. I'm always blown away at how people can open up when one of my posts hits home, so thank you for that.

I'm also glad that men weigh in as frequently as women. It definitely reflects my social circle, which is about 50/50. I enjoy the company of both genders, and I'm happy to see that reflected here!

12:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:31 PM  
Blogger belledame222 said...

i said it over there as well, but: godDAM that boy skeeves me out. ew ew ew ew ew

4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like anal.

6:00 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

Good for you. I'm sure there's some gal with a strap-on she's been itching to try out on someone.

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