Thursday, October 20, 2005

Here's an interesting thing...

So while cruising the blogosphere in avoidance of real work, I came upon this Ginmar post, linked at Philobiblon via Carnival of Feminists. Go read, or at least skim. I'll wait.

Ginmar quotes one of her posters as saying:
What you and other commenters have said about anger got me thinking. I'm not afraid to express my anger when provoked, but one thing I've noticed is that people often laugh.
Actually, I say people, but the faces that come to mind all belong to men. See, I go clubbing a lot because I enjoy dancing to loud music. What usually happens is that some idiot thinks that because my clothes are tight he can grab my ass. I turn and get angry. Invariably, these guys laugh at me and are all "what's the big deal?"
One particularly bad night I had been groped maybe ten times in under three hours. I was standing outside a club waiting to get in, feeling really on edge. Someone standing behind me grabs my ass. I whirl and almost punch the guy in the face before I realise I know him; he's a friend of a friend. I glare at him and say "that was not cool." He grins. I repeat, vehemently, "that was not cool." He says "aw, c'mon, I was just joking around!"

Now, I don't know if you read the comments following, or not, but what struck me most was that nearly every poster had a story about being touched, grabbed, groped, or otherwise man-handled--and laughed at when she objected. Both the offending groper and other men in the crowd laughed or otherwise dismissed her objections.

What really freaks me out is when other women participate in this bizarre and alarming attitude.
I remember one night an acquaintance's husband (who was a complete creep) grabbed my ass when we were all out at a bar together. I whirled around, planted the heel of my hand in his chest, and shoved hard. Then I told him off in no uncertain terms, and in pretty graphic language. I was furious.

He was indignant and offended. His wife was perplexed. She laughed and told me I was overreacting. Explained that, since I was a lesbian, I apparently just didn't understand that I should be pleased and flattered by the attention.

Yeah. She really said that.

Gag, retch, blech, ptoooie, ICK.

Now. At the time, I thought this was mostly about gender-preference. I was very young--mid-twenties--and self-absorbed. Largely, though, I interpreted both his and her actions as sexual aggression in response to my open lesbianism. The bigger picture was a lost on me. I did realize that I really didn't want to know anything more about the dynamics of their marriage. Whatever freaking kink they shared that made it okay for them to participate in molesting unwitting acquaintances in social situations was just too icky to contemplate.

Now I'm wondering, though--is this attitude something women do to other women on a regular basis? Is this something straight women do to lesbians, to keep us in line? Some of both? Because women participating in the subjection of other women happens a lot.

What's the social motivation for that? It cannot possibly be pleasant for a woman to go to a bar with her husband, for chrissakes, and defend his entitlement to grope other women.

In a sane world, she would have been as pissed at him as I was.

No. Scratch that. In a sane world, it would have never occured to the guy that it was in any way appropriate, acceptable, or otherwise okay to grab a woman's ass in public.


TillyLost said...

I've been grabbed, and laughed at when I've been offended. Mostly in pubs and clubs.

*Hangs head in shame*
I've even on occasion not said anything so I don't get laughed at. Or because I've felt outnumbered and that it wouldn't be safe to.

The explanation made for my anger when I've displayed it has sometimes been that I'm a feminist, but only if an aquaintance who knows this has been there and felt the need to explain my behaviour. That's not the case, I think. I just don't like being grabbed.

I've known women to be flattered by this behaviour, but they tend to be insecure, and I'm not sure I believe them. I can think of at least one who seemed offended at my anger, and another who was confused by it.

"Now I'm wondering, though--is this attitude something women do to other women on a regular basis? Is this something straight women do to lesbians, to keep us in line? Some of both?"
My guess is some of both.

"Because women participating in the subjection of other women happens a lot."

"What's the social motivation for that? "
I honestly don't know.

shannon said...

I've been grabbed and mocked, too. We should start a club. We'd have a pretty big membership base, it seems.

I think it's just that the laughter humiliates the victim, marginalizing and invalidating her objections. And when women buy into this behavior, I think they are trying to buy status by living in terms of the oppressor's value system. It's pretty desperate, really.

But this is the climate that allows for the sexual assault of women and children. One in four girls reports being sexually assaulted or abused by the time she reaches 18. And most don't report. Sexual abuse results in many health problems for the victim--depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, addiction, suicide, and some sources even say higher cancer rates. This is a national health care crisis--an epidemic, and maybe even a pandemic. And this grabbing and mocking is just one way our culture denies and thus supports it.

I wrote an essay and submitted it to the NPR This I Believe series. My belief is that survivors should take a page from breast cancer survivor's books and wear a ribbon--white, for innocence--to signify that we are survivors in order to raise awareness. More than anything I've ever written, I hope this essay is published.

Mac said...

Tilly, I don't think there's anything to be ashamed of, there. If I hadn't already been acquainted with the guy--at least enough to find him familiar, even though annoying--I don't know if my response would have been so violent.

The fact of the matter is that LeapB4 is absolutely correct--this IS the atmosphere that not only supports, but seems to encourage sexual violence towards women.

But then how do we address it? How do we set about changing the widespread acceptance of (what seems to me) outrageously aggressive behavior towards women?

Anonymous said...

I'll never forget the day Steve came home from work really upset: one of his female co-workers came up from behind him and started massaging his shoulders while he was sitting at his work table. At the same place, where the bosses were almost all female, some women would regularly touch/pet his arms. Females often try to stroke his hair (even if I’m sitting there beside him). Shit, I admit I've done this stuff to guys, not intentionally necessarily. Sometimes I just couldn't seem to help myself because I found them so attractive, but the guys sometimes looked as if they didn't like the attention, so I stopped. I can actually only remember being forcefully groped one time: in high school some guy ran by me and pinched me on the ass really hard. I was so fucking angry afterward.

It seems that some females think doing this stuff to males and females is acceptable, and some males think the same. Some PEOPLE are just obnoxious out-of-control individuals. Really, I think everyone should probably follow a hands-off policy unless other people specifically say they don’t mind a hands-on one. And maybe many people need to open their mouths and be more frank on the issue, like if they don’t mind physical contact, they should say so; if they DO mind, they should say so. On the other hand, in certain places, like heavy-metal clubs, people of all sexes sometimes grab each other's asses and crotches. It can be a normal occurrence.

Bonobos are one of my favorite animals. Steve and I are open about sex things--we always have been and we’ve been together a long time. IMO, many people are probably going to flirt and feel attractions toward others, even while in relationships; that kind of thing normally doesn’t stop just because people marry or are no longer single in whatever way. This doesn’t bother us so much because we discuss it; we don’t force each other to be sexually dead, which marriage and married people seem to often do, IMO. And then many married couples seemingly wonder why the sex-spark between them dies so quickly....

My overall point is: I think both sexes receive unwanted sexual advances on a regular basis. Both sexes make unwanted sexual advances on a regular basis. I don’t really know what can be done about this, especially considering I do think humans are quite sexual animals, and especially considering that we may often find ourselves liking people who don't like us back. Does the scenario change if we were and/or are strongly attracted to the person groping us? I think it does sometimes--to a point. I do NOT believe in forced sexual activity at all.

I don't know--maybe people should just not accept touchy-feelyness at all, from anyone, no matter what the sexes or situation involved may be, or maybe people should accept touching will happen sometimes and judge each case individually. Not every touchy-feely person has a nasty intent or ultimately turns into a rapist. Sometimes people are just overwhelmed with passion or they misread signals from others, or both. If someone tells a touchy-feely person to STOP and that person stops, then that’s probably okay. When that person doesn’t stop, THEN there’s a big problem.

(Hmmm, I just remembered some stuff. In Barnes and Noble one time, some woman followed me around. I mean, I was in one area and she was there and then I went into another area and she came there again. I was also with Steve in that second area, and this woman came RIGHT UP NEXT TO ME, stood there and then brushed/bumped into me. And then apologized, looking both embarrassed and pleased. She was twice my size, which made me a bit nervous, but not that nervous. I just looked at her and laughed/smiled a little, and mumbled that it was okay, when maybe it wasn't in retrospect. Another time, where I worked, the male security guard hugged me and then kissed me on the cheek my first day back at work after my wedding. His behavior was forward and uncalled for, but I didn’t really mind that much because I did work with him so knew him a little. Now if some stranger did that--male or female--especially aggressively, I would have kicked that stranger in all the best places. To be honest, I really do not like being touched by strangers in any way for any reason.)

Dawno said...

Quite a feast for thought in your post Mac. I got to thinking about why a man’s reaction to your anger (or any woman’s) might be laughter. Any man who would behave in such a manner is, for lack of a better word, uncivilized. I mean, any man who would care about a woman’s feelings (i.e., a civilized man – where this particular value of ‘civilization’ = treating all humans with respect) wouldn’t grab their ass in the first place, right? So what we’re dealing with is a man completely lacking the trappings of civilization, a barbarian.

So, you have this barbarian who lives in his own testosterone laden universe where he can do pretty much whatever he wants then someone stands up to him. Why would he laugh? I think one reason is fear. Lots of different kinds of fear could be in play here – fear of facing an unexpected reaction and not being in control of the situation, fear that he’ll look weak to his friends if he takes your reaction seriously and backs down, fear that it’s his own insufficiencies that caused you to ‘reject’ him, maybe even some subconscious fear of women from childhood trauma…who knows?

What I’m pretty sure of is that the laughter doesn’t come from thinking an angry woman is funny – unless he was a complete drunk or a sociopath. The only other reason I can think of is conditioning. Somewhere, somehow, this troglodyte and all his troglodyte buddies learned that laughing in the face of anger it got them out of trouble. I’m not excusing any of it, No matter what, he’s wrong to laugh, just trying to analyze it.

And this applies to the women that stay with these men. You said:

“What's the social motivation for that? It cannot possibly be pleasant for a woman to go to a bar with her husband, for chrissakes, and defend his entitlement to grope other women”

I submit they’re afraid as well. It's in my nature to pity her for being so completely domineered by that man. She’s not her own person; she’s not a woman who has the freedom to be concerned about the treatment of other women – she’s convinced herself, probably without consciously acknowledging it, that she’s his and he makes the rules – what a throwback to the days when brides were property. I don’t want to go all armchair psychiatrist over why women like her are the way they are – although I have theories. They go along to get along; they placate, apologize and defend the indefensible – but I think it’s a defense mechanism because they’re afraid. If they weren’t afraid of something, they’d leave and key his car a good one on the way out. And don’t think I’m blaming the victim here – I want women to face the fear, seek help, get out. They don’t have to be this way. But they have to recognize it for what it is and not bury it with denial.

That’s where other women, strong women, have to step in and fight for them. Sometimes the oppressed don’t realize they’re oppressed and don’t appreciate what’s being done in their names, but that shouldn’t stop anyone. Each generation of women like us has to do whatever we can to raise strong daughters (regardless of whether they’re daughters we gave birth to or someone else’s daughters) so they will know how to continue the fight. And we have to fight to make sure those daughters have more opportunity than we did. We might not agree politically on how to accomplish that, but as God is my witness, I agree that it’s has to be done.

I can’t help but reflect as I wind down (yep, I was wound up!), when I think about the social ills we still struggle against, that it was not so long ago when women couldn’t own their own property, make decisions about the fate of their children, to say nothing of voting, in this country. There’s still a lot of progress to be made, but we have made a lot already and we need to celebrate that, too. Heck, I may have the pleasure of being able to vote against the first female candidate for President before long! (just had to get in one conservative dig, there) So while I agree that some things are really bad, I’m still convinced things will get better.

Kira said...


What a great response.

I agree that the response of laughter to an angry woman is mostly conditioning, or the fact that he, collectively, doesn't know how else to react.

Tilly's comment about how she felt about her experience reflects to me how much is wrong with the world. Tilly was right to be angry, and it's a shame she didn't feel she could express it.

All these posts seem to me to point to the fact that we'll never change a man's behavior until our sons are raised to know better, and that will be a long time coming.

So we have to change our own. The wife is Mac's post is probably just what Dawno supposed--afraid in some manner. Maybe she's afraid to acknowledge the truth of the situation because it would force her to give up her security. It's sad, and reminds me of a quote from Benjamin Franklin.

We had to not be that wife. We have to not fear societal reprisals because we think we should.

In my own life, I've met that wife, and she lets it go because she can't take care of herself or her kids alone, and that's the heart of it, I think, on a societal level.

If we could all take care of ourselves, we'd be more likely to reject offensive behavior because we'd know we don't have to put up with it.

Of my female family members, two of us can support ourselves in our current states. We're the most outspoken and least likely to tolerate idiocy from anyone. We don't need to be dependant.

If we all could take care of ourselves, I bet the world wouldn't feel the same, especially to young girls.

And Mac, maybe your POV comes from the fact that as a lesbian, you don't already rely on a man for anything, and so you have a clearer view.

Ms M said...

A kind of devlish response I know but if there is one thing that the British Nanny show can teach us, it's to get down on eye level, be dead serious, put on our authoritive voice and say "Your behaviour is not acceptable" (or "not asseptable" in her case). Now you must go into the naughty room and you can come out after you apologise.

.:J.r.A.:. said...

I've been harrassed like this repeatedly; seems as though most females have. Not sure if this is the best reaction or not, but I tend to sway away from anger and lean towards disgust. A kind of blow to their ego, I think. Like, "How dare you think you're good enough/know me well enough/liked by me enough to touch me like that?"

It works. Sometimes. One of those things though, I suppose it depends on the person.