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October 27, 2005

Comments

Mr. Bad

evil fizz: As another pointed out (in this thread or the other related one earlier this week), girls and women are (or at least should be) fully aware that when they dress provocatively (e.g., with langerie, undergarments, lace, skin, etc., exposed) this will turn men on. So, would you also encourage "personal responsibility" on the part of girls who dress provocatively, and if/when they do so, to not take it as an insult, etc., if boys or men stare at them lustfully? After all, the girl/woman is inviting a look, so what's the problem with boys/men complying?

And as I've already said, acting on the lust is unacceptable. But we've covered that, so please just stick to the topic and answer the above question.

Vacula

Mr. Bad is referring to the thread A Note on Tough Bunnies & Feminism

...girls and women are (or at least should be) fully aware that when they dress provocatively (e.g., with langerie, [sic] undergarments, lace, skin, etc., exposed) this will turn men on.

Again, this is missing the point. Whatever the "standards" for women's fashion or their participation/culpability in the effect of the styles, Hugo is saying that men's sexual response to this is neither necessary nor "innocent." People are responsbile for their thoughts, not only their actions, whether they are lustful or disrespectful or whatever else.

As to your claim that Hugo doesn't call women to equal accountability - do check out the "Sisterhood is Easier in Winter" post - I think he does deal with accountability between women there. In each thread the focus is on our responsibility to respect ourselves and each other.

As feminists, we simultaneously must hold in tension a desire not to shame the female body with a desire not to foster a culture of competitiveness and objectification. We must hold in tension the importance of individual rights of self-expression with the community's right not to be offended.

evil_fizz

So, would you also encourage "personal responsibility" on the part of girls who dress provocatively

Sure. Everyone is required to acknowledge that their choice of dress will influence how people percieve and look (literally) at them. But there's a difference between knowing that people may look at you lustfully and asking to be ogled. Admittedly, a fine line, but not a wholly artificial distinction, I don't think.

Is the looking itself an insult? It depends, and I think this point has been thoroughly discussed. Likewise, the problem with "complying" is that it's not a monolithic response. Wanting to be looked at, admired, or seen as a attractive is distinct from wanting someone to try and fall (metaphorically) into your cleavage. Yes, it's a fine line to walk.

I think the other issue that's complicating things here is this line between looking and acting. Is a man who won't look at my face because I missed a button on my blouse looking or acting? Or is he not acting until he says "nice tits" or tries to touch me? Are looking and acting mutually exclusive?

Medium Dave

I'd like to point out, also, that the phrase "dressing provocatively" contains the assumption that a woman intends to "provoke" attention from men by wearing revealing clothing. This may be true in any given case; then again, it may not.

Gonzman

FIzz, I'll answer you and hugo all in one:

I am perfectly capable of admiring a well-shaped female form for it's own sake, being aware that it is not mine to touch, reasonably concluding that it will probably never be "on limits" to me, and harboring no long -term fantasies or obsessions about it.

As are the very very vast and overwhelming majority of men.

Admiration does not always lead to lust to harassment to criminal actions. It just isn't so. Men are a lot stronger and more moral than that - you're trying to circumscribe behavoior for all men based on the actions of a scant few.

If I wore a muscle shirt that showed off the abs, a tight pair of jeans that left little to the imagination, an unbuttoned shirt that showed off my chest, I'd reasonably have to expect the consequence - namely, those who find such things nice to look at, be they women, gay men, or whatever, will look. I'm not being oppressed. I'm not being objectified. I'm making a choice to dress in a fashion, and being an adult enough to accept the consequences.

And honest to God, if the biggest thing I had to worry about in my life was whether or not I was being ogled, I'd have it pretty easy. Right now it's at a point on my list of concerns that has four digits. I'm really glad other people have life so good that it's much higher - and if they don't, it's time for a serious re-assessment of priorities.

Hugo

Excellent thread, folks. Anthony, I'll see if I can't take a stab at answering the serious questions you ask soon.

evil_fizz

Admiration does not always lead to lust to harassment to criminal actions. It just isn't so. Men are a lot stronger and more moral than that - you're trying to circumscribe behavoior for all men based on the actions of a scant few.

Genuinely perplexed on this point...circumscribe what behavior? Looking at women?

Richard Bennett

Whether the woman in front of me is in a thong or a burka, what I do with my eyes and my thoughts is all on me, 100%.

Are you on drugs? For somebody who claims to be a "pro-feminist Christian man of faith" you've got an awfully patriarchal view of male/female relations. When feminism was a respectable point of view it insisted on a fundamental equality of the sexes, so the default assignment of responsibility for anything that takes place within the nexus of male/female relations is 50/50.

Women who dress provocatively are making a statement, and if you choose to ignore that statement you infantilize, silence, and disempower them. Women who dress in burkas are making a statement, and if you choose to ignore that statement, so also diminish them.

So why don't you get down off your high-horse and join the world of the living? This wall of stereotypes you've erected against honest interactions is really hurting you. Rather than telling yourself that you have a "job" because you believe yourself to be a set of stereotypes, or that others think as they do because they're "MRAs" or some other stereotype, embrace your fundamental humanity and that of your brothers and sisters on this planet and accept reality on its own terms. A sexy young women in tight low-riding jeans, a bare midriff and a low-cut top is asking you to check her out and form the opinion that you'd like to hit that. That doesn't entitle you to any action, of course, and we all know that. But she is asking you to look, to approve, and to feel a little swelling as she walks by. She made a conscious choice when she dressed herself, she's not an inanimate little object, and she deserves to be noticed. Similarly, the woman who chooses to adorn herself with a burka is asking you to think of Allah and to respect her for her purity, which isn't actually all that different from what the sexy chick is saying. In burkaland, a woman in a burka is a desirable woman. In sexyland, a sexy woman is desirable. And we all want to be desirable at some level.

Being a "pro-feminist Christian man of faith" doesn't mean you have to give yourself a lobotomy, does it? Or that you have to castrate yourself?

Hugo

"Are you on drugs?"

Four cups of coffee count?

"Being a 'pro-feminist Christian man of faith' doesn't mean you have to give yourself a lobotomy, does it? Or that you have to castrate yourself?"

Well, there's always Matthew 19:12.

Anthony

The point is to encourage people to elect to say "that's not right/appropriate/suitable" rather than to say "oooh, look! gimme, gimme."

EvilFizz, the point I was making is that people need institutional support for the sort of change you want.

Right now, there is actually some social sanction against saying "that's not appropriate" in all except the more extreme cases. How do you propose to change that? Encouraging men (and women) to not act "inappropriately" for themselves is not going to reach the people it most needs to reach. How do you encourage people to speak out against inappropriate behavior, when there's a fairly strong social animus against "making value judgements"?

The social conservative answer - ban all display of sexuality, and all sexual acts outside marriage, and encourage women to take traditional homemaker roles only, won't work, because too many people are unwilling to give up some of the freedoms gained in the past 50 years, and the social conservatives can't figure out how to discourage "licentious" behavior without suppressing those freedoms.

Remember that in large part, this is a class issue - working-class men are far more likely to make crude comments or otherwise behave objectionably than middle-class men are. How do you penetrate the attitudes of the working class?

Richard Bennett

OK, you're addressed the easy part of my comment, the first and last sentences that provided the wrapping around the actual thought. Be a man and show me you read the meat of it.

Medium Dave

Well, now. Lust is a class issue, and women are 50% responsible for what men do. The things one learns in blogs...

evil_fizz

Remember that in large part, this is a class issue - working-class men are far more likely to make crude comments or otherwise behave objectionably than middle-class men are. How do you penetrate the attitudes of the working class?

Um, wow. I was unaware that manners and appropriate behavior were the province of the middle class. My experience is that money and being classy have sod all to do with each other.

On the issue of institutional support, there are mechanisms in place for dealing with sexual harassment and inappropriate physical contact. It's called the legal system. Lawsuits may not be the ideal solution, but knowing that you can be fired, censured, and sued for acting inappropriately (at least in a professional or academic environment) seems to be a significant incentive. Admittedly, it cannot address things like catcalling (although technically, I'm sure egregious behavior could warrant civil claims).

Also, in terms of sexual harassment, the legal system has put a tremendous amount of pressure on companies to ensure that their employees behave appropriately. Companies without internal systems for dealing with sexual harassment or those seen as being nonresponsive to such allegations can get annihilated in court.

However, I think I'm not adequately addressing the more subtle issues and circumstances that we've been talking about in this post. I'll have to think some more about that.

sophonisba

One wonders why we bother teaching women to speak or write at all, when they're always making "statements" by covering or revealing parts of their bodies.

A sexy young women in tight low-riding jeans, a bare midriff and a low-cut top is asking you to check her out and form the opinion that you'd like to hit that. That doesn't entitle you to any action, of course, and we all know that. But she is asking you to look, to approve, and to feel a little swelling as she walks by.

And for the sexy young woman - non-sexy women's "statements" aren't particularly important here, I take it - who likes to do her "asking" and "telling" with her words, not her tits, what outfits do you recommend? Burkas are right out, you've already said. So are jeans and women's t-shirts. Your great respect for women's "conscious choices" makes it clear that it's you who decide what women mean by our clothes, not us, so be a pal and help us out here. What should we wear when we don't want to "ask" you for anything at all?


Richard Bennett

What should we wear when we don't want to "ask" you for anything at all?

I'm sure you can figure it out if you put your mind to it.

evil_fizz

Well, sophonisba, I'm sure we could play process of elimination. I've managed to attract unwanted attention recently in a business suit and a sweatshirt and baggy yoga pants, so clearly those are out.

Oooh! I think I know! I was left alone while wearing a cassock and surplice at church recently.

Regardless, I would imagine that every woman posting here has had an experience with negative attention when she hasn't been wearing her lowrider jeans and dinner napkin of a shirt. The issue is not exclusive to those times when women are trying to titillate or appear sexy. Those are the times where suggesting that women take responsibility for their outfits won't carry us far enough.

sophonisba

Oh no, I'm not that bright. See, I've been wearing what I please for most of my adult life, and much of the time, you can see that I have breasts - sometimes even cleavage! and for the past four years, all of my jeans have been low-riding. It's what they sell in stores, you know. I was too dumb to know that I was communicating complex messages to strangers - I thought I was dressing like other college students, and later, I thought I was dressing like other women in their twenties. If I'm too dumb to know I was asking men for attention all along, as I clearly was, I certainly can't figure out how to stop on my own. Other women are no help; they pretend they're "dressing for themselves" or their "boyfriends" or the "weather" or even, get this, their "friends."

Like women have friends. Ha! And female friends? As if women care what other women think! Silly, huh? No, it's all about the erections you can cause, like you said. How can another woman's opinion of your clothes matter to you when you can't even make her penis swell?

So you see, you're my only hope for some honest advice on how to make my clothes stop speaking for me. But I can see why you're reluctant to help. This must be the first time a woman's asked you for something in words in a long time. Perhaps you could pretend I'm asking you questions by silently wearing a miniskirt and a tube top and miming, if my use of language unnerves you.

evil_fizz

I know this is relatively off topic, but I'd encourage people to go look at this Slate article, which is about a growing fashion market for conservative Muslim women.

sophonisba

evil_fizz - yeah. And plenty of women who wear baggy sweats get yelled at for not trying to be sexy, too. How dare we! The message that we don't care if men are turned on or not is clearly the most provocative message of all.

Richard Bennett

The notorious FCOS ("feminist chip on the shoulder") has reared its ugly head here. It never fails that whenever somebody tries to inject a little reason into any discussion of women's grievances, real or imaginary, that the discussion is sidetracked with sarcasm, sneering, and straw women.

Dress any way you want, write any way you want, sneer any way you want. The patriarchy is relentless in its oppression of you, so you're doomed no matter what you do. Give up, you can't win.

Biological life has evolved on this planet in concert with all sorts of signals of sexuality and sexual attraction for literally hundreds of millions of years, and the aberrations represented by fundamentalist Islam and sneering pseudo-feminism won't make a dent.

The forces you're dealing with are vast, and the current fads are tiny.

katthemad

And of course it's completely unreasonable to develop a chip on one's shoulder in response to those who claim the right to define which of other one's grievances are real and which are imaginary.

bmmg39

Erin: "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."

I appreciate your fairness, and I agree with the point you're trying to make. I'll say, though, that -- just like I mentioned in the "assault" thread -- sometimes the bigger person becomes the hidden victim.

I've relayed this story before. At my music camp over a year ago, there was a woman -- I'd put her at around 65 -- grabbing other women's butts. They said, half as a joke and half as a "get the hell away from me, psycho," that she should do that do a guy. So she saw me in the distance and made her move. I kept her at arm's length with a stiff-arm block. I remember her looking at me defiantly and saying "I'M allowed!" (That might be the part that p'd me off the most, the sense of entitlement and "that's different.") So I disabused her of that myth rather quickly. I wish I could have maced her.

And the thing is: too many people will hear that story and figure that I almost got "lucky" (with the unwanted butt grab) and wouldn't understand why I wouldn't want that done to me without my permission. Most of those people, of course, would admonish me if *I* were the one copping a feel of women at camp, of course, but would see it differently this way. Hidden victims...

boy genteel

Julie

From a Christian perspective, I believe the responsibility lies with both parties. As a Christian woman, who seeks to help my Christian brothers abide by the principles they believe, I feel a certain responsibility to not wear clothes that invite people to look at intimate parts of my body. For instance, I will not wear a shirt that exposes my breasts, I will wear short skirts, but nothing that exposes my butt when I bend over. To me, you can look fashionable and still dress modestly. Of course, I, having gained a considerable amount of weight after babies one and two, don't really have to worry about this so much anymore. Back when I was thinner and much more comfortable with my looks, however, I really did try to watch what I wore around my male friends. On the other hand, men absolutely have to accept responsibility for their thoughts and actions. If someone were standing on front of them wearing a string bikini, they have responsibility on how to act in that circumstance. They can't place all the blame on the person in front of them. This would be easier for me if we were all Christians and lived by the same ideals :)
Now the feminist part of me will tell you that a woman has every right to dress how she would like and not be ogled or have rude comments made to her and vice versa for men. It's all about basic respect. A woman or a man in a sexually provocative outfit should expect to be looked at, they are fooling themselves if they are not. However, adults of both sexes should be able to look and say, oh wow she's pretty or he's handsome, without drooling, staring, ogling or making obnoxious comments. That's where this personal responsibility comes in... you are 100% responsible for what you do with your eyes, thoughts and words.
And to answer someone (I can't remember the name) but I don't think it's infantalizing a woman for Hugo to say he's responsible for where his eyes and thoughts wander. She may be inviting him to look, but that is absoluetly not an invitation that he must accept. We are all responsible for our own thoughts and feelings, even though we may look to help another person in their struggles, ultimately they must do it themselves. I would personally be very unhappy if my husband looked at another woman and thought "I'd like to hit that", no matter the invitation she was offering by her outfit. Not that I have a problem with him looking at another woman and admitting that he finds her attractive, but actually taking the step to say "she's hot and I want to have sex with her" is to me, the line between acceptable and not acceptable.

sophonisba

Richard, petal, ruminating at length and in public about your "swellings" is perhaps less indicative of "reason" than you would like to believe. The fact that men of your age and ideology believe young sexy women dress with the aim of giving men of your or Hugo's age erections makes you fun to play with, but it does not make you scary.

(Go on, ask me how I can tell what generation you belong to.)

And "vast forces?" Oh dear, dear, dear. You'll never convince anyone you don't like feminist mockery if you keep dressing that way - I mean, if you keep setting yourself up like that. Those tight jeans - er, rhetorical flourishes, I mean - don't suit you half as well as you think, either. Leave them to the younger, sexier MRAs, hmmm?

bmmmg - I'll bet that woman's age had a lot to do with her entitlement. Dirty old women, like dirty old men, tend to think they're a lot more charming than they usually are. I'm glad you got her to back off.

mythago

I wondered how long it would take Richard to make his way over here, although Mr. Bad kind of has his niche.

I wish I could have maced her.

Me too.

Hugo, you (intentionally?) took my comment out of context. You said that it was OK to look at another human being with, for example, awe at their dancing ability, or to marvel at the aesthetic grace of a performer. But when that awe is infused with lust, suddenly that's bad. I don't see why.

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