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October 27, 2005


The Happy Feminsit

Pro-lust secular feminist here. I am not annoyed at all. Where I differ from your perspective, I think, is that I believe it is possible to harbor purely private thoughts that do not effect one's actions. I focus on disciplining my actions rather than my thoughts. I may think of someone lustfully but I would never act in such a way that would imply to the object of my lust that I have a right to him in some way. Likewise, I don't care if some co-worker privately thinks that I'm hot as long as he doesn't look me up and down during a business meeting. In other words, I don't mind the lust but I do mind the disrespectful conduct.

Q Grrl

Another not-offended one. For me, the gaze or the attraction is not the issue, it is when the gaze becomes predatory that it becomes problematic. As a lesbian, I know which women I find visually appealing and I know when the line of lust is crossed. As a woman, I know when men find me attractive, when they find my clothing attractive, and when they start acting in a predatory manner (usually not the same guys).

Yesterday on campus I was catching the bus home from work. A middle-aged guy was lounging near the bus-stop and mentioned to the traffic monitors that he was (heh-heh) just checking out the "eye-candy". I told him, as I walked by, to "fuck off." Why? Because I don't really care how a man debases women in his mind, but once he acts on it or speaks about it in public, he is open to public criticism. Women (and most men) are intimidated by someone staring at them. Just think how offended both men and women would be if I, an open 38-year-old lesbian, stood by the bus-stop, leering at young women and calling them (heh-heh) "eye-candy". Most people would find my actions abnormal, if not slightly insane.

I personally find lust to be more on the creative end of the spectrum of human emotions, rather on the immoral or wrong. Lust does not directly lead to improper action or even sex. Lust can, and has, lead to art, music, war, and peace. Lust, if viewed in a patriarchal continuum of sex, ownership, exclusivity (emotional, not sexual), dominance, and moral propriety, becomes problematic and has only a few, mostly inappropriate, outlets.

Is the issue averting the gaze? Not if through that problematic gaze is self-awareness and god-awareness strengthened. Christ would teach us that to live in Christian community and in community with the world, we don't need ownership, exclusivity, dominance, or even moral propriety. What we do need is a love for others as for ourselves and a belief that all human emotions and actions are worthy of redemption. Averting the gaze avoids the issue and leaves unexamined our societal tendancies to objectify and dominate.

... at least that's my $.02

Mr. Bad

The Happy Femininst makes a good point, that being responsibility for ones actions. I happen to agree with her on this regard.

And once Hugo, yes, your predictability re. men's accountability and inconsistencies vis-a-vis women's accountability shine through.

A week or so ago you posted on the new HPV vaccine "One of the most important things we in the pro-feminist movement try to do is teach young men to take an interest in, and to some degree, a responsibility for, the health of their current or future sexual partners." and "Those vital lessons might be easier to teach if young men were already familiar with doing something simple and practical to protect a woman or women whom they have -- likely -- not yet even met!" Essentially, you said that when it comes to boys/men being responsible for girls'/women's health and well-being, we boys/men are indeed 'our sisters' keepers' vis-a-vis our behavior re. sexual promiscuity, ensuring we get vaccinations, use proper BC, etc.

However, in this post, which to me speaks of women's responsibility to accept the consequences of their behavior, rather than telling them that they should consider "doing something simple and practical to protect" their sensibilities vis-a-vis percieved 'lustful stares,' you instead once again make it boy's/men's responsibilities to 'look away.' Never mind that girls/women might want to consider doing something "simple and practical" like not dressing like a cheap (or expensive) hooker if they don't want to invoke lustful stares (real or imagined) from boys/men.

Come on Hugo, can't you see how patronizing and, ahem, inconsistent you appear to be? You hold boys/men responsible for everything that they do, as well as everything girls/women do. And in doing so, you're treating girls/women like helpless little children who need constant protection from those big, bad, mean males, who (gasp!) might do something horrible like, e.g., visually assaulting (i.e., staring at) them. Or something.

Man, I wish I had my Muck Boots on - it's getting deep in here.

Mr. Bad

Q Grrl, the man you described - if indeed the incident actually happened - is truly a pig, but I'm not convinced that this sort of behavior is common at all. Personallly, I've never in my life witnessed such a thing from a man. Sure, I've seen guys sitting around on the mall watching the girls, checking out the "eye candy" (especially in the springtime), but frankly, the girls are checking out the guys just as intently. IMO it's all part of the mating dance that humans do. But to do as Hugo is, castigating one sex for engaging in it while giving the other sex a pass is, well, sexist.

Mr. Bad

Oh, and Q Grrl, you mentioned that he was talking to the traffic monitors and not you, so perhaps you might consider minding your own business and not eavedropping in on other people's private conversations if the content bothers you.

Just a thought.


A great philosopher [okay, it was Seinfeld] once said: "Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun. You don't stare at it. It's too risky. You get a sense of it and then you look away."

Q Grrl

Mr Bad: I will reply, but I hope that you don't tend to derail this thread with your dislike of feminists. As I said, the man was having a public conversation with public (and working) individuals in a public setting. It was by no means private, nor meant to be -- why else would the man be shouting to other men 20 yards away? If men have a "right" to gaze, women have a "right" to respond as they feel appropriate. Free speech and all that.


For heaven's sakes, Mr. Bad, I am not letting women off the hook here. As a pro-feminist man, my job is to be an advocate for feminism to men. There are countless men and women out there preaching accountability to women, and far fewer doing so to men.

Yes, I focus much more on what men can do than what women can do. That's at the heart and soul of pro-feminist work; we must always be focused on transforming ourselves and those who share our sex before pointing fingers across the gender divide. And while women are often very, very hard on other women -- men are rarely really hard on each other.

And I am hard on men because I love them and believe in them.

Erin C.

I'm also not offended, though I agree with The Happy Feminist and Q Grrl that my big issue is respectful action -- and to fend off the inevitable comments that women are terribly conceited by assuming that staring indicates lust on the part of the starer, it doesn't much matter to me whether the staring originates with lust, revulsion, or anything in between. As Q Grrl says, being stared at is threatening for most people, men included, and nobody should be the object of threatening behavior based on their body shape or manner of dress. I say this as a fat girl who favors jeans and loose t-shirts as my public and private mode of dress; the stares, whistles, shouted insults, etc. directed at me in public from time to time are presumably due to my being insufficently decorative for the guy who decided to hold forth rather than any lust on his part, but that doesn't make it any less wearying.

The Happy Feminist

I hate to take on Mr. Bad when we are happily in agreement at the moment, but I would challenge his perception that the behavior described by Q Grrl is rare. I bet most any woman you talk to could name a litany of similar examples involving men who have expressed lust in a propietary or disrespectful manner. (Also, I don't think Hugo was confining his thoughts to just men looking at women, it works the other way around too.)

Just off the top of my head, I can think of a guy who commented to his buddies "check out the semen receptacle" as I trotted down the street in my lawyer suit just the other day, the boss who used to call me "pussycat," and the most common example, the men who blatantly look me up and down in business contexts. I would never describe this stuff as "a visual assault" and it may not be the end of the world, but it's disrespectful and it's all too common.

Erin C.

>If men have a "right" to gaze, women have a "right" to respond
>as they feel appropriate. Free speech and all that.

Yes -- it looks to me like this isn't about men having the "right" to stare at women; as Hugo rightly points out, they already do. It's about a desire to engage in rude behavior without fear of societal disapproval or reprisal on the part of the target of that rude behavior.

FWIW, I find it just as rude when it's women staring at men, although I submit that being gawped at is considerably more threatening when it's done by somebody who's twice your size and can easily wrestle you to the ground.

Mr. Bad

Q Grrl, sorry that I got on your case about nosing in on a private conversation, but if you re-read your original post you were not at all clear that he was "shouting to other men 20 years away." You said that he "was lounging near the bus-stop and mentioned to the traffic monitors" etc. You have to admit that your revision is definitely quite different than your original statement. But hey, now that you've cleared it up (?), again, sorry for jumping on your case about that.

Hugo, as long as you're up front and make it clear that you hold men to a higher (i.e., double) standard than you do women then I suppose I'm Ok with that. But you seem to think that we men don't hold each other accountable, and that's not true; spend some time at SYG sometime and you'll see that we most definitely do hold each other accountable. Further, you said that "we must always be focused on transforming ourselves and those who share our sex before pointing fingers across the gender divide", but do you hold female feminists to the same standard? Seems like female feminists (and women in general) do a lot of finger-pointed across the gender divide, yet I've heard a whole lot of nothing from you and other feminists re. this. More double standards IMO.

Or is that more of that "male privilege" I keep hearing about? ;)


i'm interested in this one sentence: "Lust is distinct from sexual desire for one's partner or spouse, precisely because with one's partner, that desire is a reflection of a commitment that already exists."

are you saying here that sexual desire for one's partner is lust within the boundaries of commitment? if so, then it's not really fundamentally different from lust, it just has different parameters. if not, then what makes sexual desire for one's spouse fundamentally different from lust, not just categorically different?

it's an interesting distinction, but i can't quite see where the hair splits here....

Mr. Bad

Hi THF, no problem re. disagreements - I'm a very disagreeable person, so I'm down with that. ;)

Like I said, I've not had any experience with guys like the ones you describe, but they do sound like jerks and losers who deserve condemnation. But I'm not about to make broad generalizations about my entire gender simply based on the poor behavior of a few; it would be like you characterizing all women as cheap hookers based on the poor behavior of a few. And as I've said before on other threads, IMO sometimes gazes that women just know are lecherous may in fact be motivated by something else (e.g., disbelief, shock, etc.). As I've said before, you might be misinterpreting the look.

But as far as rude behavior goes, I agree - nobody should tolerate it. Which is why I was bothered by Q Grrl's story about telling the guy to "fuck off" based on what he said to another person in a conversation that Q Grrl was not intended to be involved in. Now I don't know about you, but I consider being told to "fuck off" by someone with whom I'm not talking with a pretty rude thing to do irrespective of whether or not the guy deserved it. So if we're going to cite Christian teachings, etc., then "turn the other cheek" comes to mind in that scenario.

Erin C.

>And as I've said before on other threads, IMO sometimes
>gazes that women just know are lecherous may in fact be
>motivated by something else (e.g., disbelief, shock, etc.).
>As I've said before, you might be misinterpreting the look.

It hardly matters what it's motivated by, IMO.

Q Grrl

Mr. Bad: You believe on one hand that the man I described deserved condemnation, but on the other hand you find it rude that I actually did condemn him with my "fuck off" reply. How would you envision his condemnation? [this is not meant as a snarky comment, I'm interested in where you draw the particular line, and why]

The Happy Feminist

Mr. Bad's comment about the possibility of women misinterpreting men's conduct as lecherous is interesting. I think one of the more uncomfortable things about being a woman is that you are always trying to guage whether you are overreacting to something or not. As a dewy young thing many years ago, I was constantly in the position of having to decide whether questionable conduct warranted some sort of reaction on my part. Maybe it really is accidental that so-and-so keeps brushing up against me at work . . . Maybe I am just imagining that so-and-so is staring at my chest . . . Is it really that big a deal if so-and-so tells a dirty joke involving me . . . etc.

Women constantly have to decide "Do I risk overreacting or do I risk doing nothing and then possibly losing respect or being blamed if the situation escalates?"

Erin C.

>Mr. Bad's comment about the possibility of women misinterpreting
>men's conduct as lecherous is interesting. I think one of the more
>uncomfortable things about being a woman is that you are always
>trying to guage whether you are overreacting to something or not.

Yup. My experience as well.

Mr. Bad

Q Grrl, IMO both of you chose to be rude. He chose to make insulting public statements directed at nobody in particular, and you chose to make insulting public statements directed at an individual using profanity that some people are just as offended by as the words that he used. He did what he did, but you chose to escalate the situation rather than 'turning the other cheek.'

It's a common dilemma for us men: Do we just let the general insulting behavior slide or do we chose to respond, not only escalating the situation but also validating the original behavior. We men are constantly told to 'turn the other cheek and walk away,' so perhaps this is why I thought of this and you didn't. IMO you got away with what you did because you're a woman; if a man had told the guy to "fuck off" I think there's a strong likelihood that he would have had a fight on his hands. After all, a guy who makes such remarks in public would IMO be likely to take it up (verbally or/and physically) with another man under those conditions.

For me, personally, I would have ignored his remarks and not validated them by responding in any way whatsoever. It would also spare me the risk of confrontation.

Mr. Lynch

It's interesting that Mr. Bad should mention "turn the other cheek" as an appropriate response. It's not really about humbly accepting the scorn, but rather the person who turns the other cheek is saying, in effect "Try again. Your first blow failed to achieve its intended effect. I deny you the power to humiliate me. I am a human being just like you. Your status (gender, race, age, wealth) does not alter that. You cannot demean me."

see http://www.soulofacitizen.org/newimp/impexcerptwink.htm


Okay folks, and meanwhile, back at the thread...

Let's consider discussion of this particular incident closed, and move back to discussing the post.


Of course, I lose most right-wing social conservatives by suggesting that the primary onus ought to lie with the one who is lusting, not with the one who is the object of lust. While I am not encouraging immodest dress, ultimately the struggle against objectification can't hinge on what other folks are wearing. To put it in economic terms, I'm not interested in cutting off the supply of visually stimulating bodies and images, I'm interested only in addressing the demand. I'm anti-porn, as my readers know -- but I have no interest in lifting a finger towards the goal of getting laws passed to ban porn. My hatred of porn rests comfortably with my zealous belief that porn is protected by the First Amendment.

The fundamental (and fundamentally correct) conservative insight is that human nature is not particularly malleable, which makes pretty much any social change which requires a "change of heart" impossible to enact or sustain without some sort of agency outside the individual enforcing conformity with the change.

Men (in general) will always feel lust, and will always be drawn to look at attractive women dressed revealingly. And some of those men will look in disrespctful ways, or act disrespectfully, unless there is a strong social or legal constraint against doing so. In the pre-sexual-revolution days, the supply of revealingly-dressed women was rather lower than it is now (even in summertime), but there were also strong social sanctions against acting like an asshole towards women. Those sanctions were different in different classes, though the values of the middle class were stronger in the working and non-working classes than they are today. Also, there are far more women today than then who were deliberately attempting to evoke lust in men, and much less social sanction against those women who do so. (That too, is partly class-bsaed.) The fact that some women are trying to create that behavior is pretty effective in defeating attempts to restrict the behavior.

Appealing to men's "better nature" isn't going to create change, unless you can show men that they will be better off, or if you can create a sanction which men will care about. Being hectored by feminists is not a sanction which will deter most men.

The social conservative agenda of eliminating the most blatant displays of sexuality from the public square aims at the same end, but proposes a somewhat practical method of reaching that end, as people's mores do follow the law to some extent, and a law which discouraged pornography will also increase the social sanction against it. It's also not likely to be terribly effective, as most social conservatives don't understand the relationships between the other social institutions and laws which have changed, and so have no idea which changes can be reversed while leaving others alone and still acheiving results they desire, so they propose going back to a mythical 1950s utopia, which most Americans will reject.

What do you propose?


Regarding offensive speech and overreaction, this is the same problem that many minorities face in our society when it comes to racetalk. Because it's usually socially unacceptable in mixed company to state sexist or racist opinions directly, non-verbal communication and obscure language may or may not be masking disrespect or even hate. It's hard for the person on the recieving end to know what to do when the action may be acceptable but the attitude clearly is not.The prevalence of PC language etiquette doesn't get rid of nasty attitudes. It might spare people having to listen to racial or sexist slurs directly, but the fact is they're still there and they still come out.

That's why standards of etiquette for behavior - like the discussions of "looking" on this thread and Wednesday's post - are needed to encourage us, like PC language really ought to, to think about the other person as a person. It might require that we go out of our way, but that shouldn't change our responsibility to respect each other.

The Happy Feminist

OK, I'm going to get in trouble here. But to answer Anthony's question (which I realize was directed at Hugo), I guess I like the status quo. I want people to have some degree of freedom to behave badly (whether that means leering at someone or wearing clothing that some may consider inappropriate) unless it's going to screw up my safety or my job.

There have always been some men who leer at women even in eras when women were more covered up. Although I may feel anger and discomfort from time to time, I also feel that I have the tools with which to stand up for myself when my safety or my job are threatened -- including a legal system that has a better understanding of rape than in previous eras and options for responding to sexual harassment that has an adverse impact on my job. The key is to improve the public's understanding of these things so that more people understand why it is wrong to objectify others and what the potential consequences are in terms of criminal or civil penalties.


In the pre-sexual-revolution days, the supply of revealingly-dressed women was rather lower than it is now (even in summertime), but there were also strong social sanctions against acting like an asshole towards women.

I think this overlooks a huge array of circumstances in which acting like an asshole was perfectly acceptable. (Discrimination in the workplace and sexual harassment come immediately to mind.) There's also a certain level of approbation associated with this kind of conduct along the lines of boys will be boys.

I think the point here is that "boys will be boys" or "girls will be girls" or human nature is a cop out. It excuses/attempts to explain away conduct that is legitimately worthy of condemnation. I think Hugo's emphasis on personal responsibility is well placed because it makes the point that individuals are not some helpless figure adrift in a world of scantily clad women and porn. These are things that you will be exposed to. The point is to encourage people to elect to say "that's not right/appropriate/suitable" rather than to say "oooh, look! gimme, gimme." We are responsible for our choices and to say "I couldn't help it, she was flaunting" just diminishes our own responsibility.

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