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 Outdated Gender Relations 101 is F-U-N! Granted, it turns women into sluts and guys into apes, instead of sexually healthy adults who can freely enjoy the BIG BAD SEX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.
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.
Labels: Some men just don't get it