The Everyday Sexism project has and does highlight the appalling world women live in.
It seems almost alien to someone like me; like a dimension is created when women step into public view- a world populated by horrific behaviour and ugly comments, demanding these women give in to the magnetic attraction they must have to every nearby penis.
Rejection of men’s desire is wrong, resulting in direct name-calling and hatred.
This doesn’t mean it happens to every women- though that’s different to saying it remains a problem that does require proper response, even if, like me, you’re not directly affected.
I don’t even pretend to know what it’s like. Reading what “ordinary” men say to women, in broad daylight and in public- without any repercussions- continues to flirt with fiction.
The point is that this is the current environment for (many/most) women (I’ve seen it, too and responded in a fashion). However, instead of being a concern that is worth fighting, some dudes think it’s a nuisance getting in the way of their sexy time.
“There is a danger that the [Everyday Sexism] campaign is promulgating a view that any direct sexual advance is tantamount to harassment. If directly propositioning somebody for sex is automatically condemned as misogynist, as the campaign appears to assert, then the movement risks being highly counterproductive to the feminist cause and playing into the hands of the sexually repressive, patriarchal ideology that feminism strives to counter."
David Foster writes this in the Guardian (note, the same publication that hosts Everyday Sexism and has an entire section devoted to the cause).
First, Mr Foster offers no evidence the campaign “is promulgating a view that any direct sexual advance is tantamount to harassment”. Oh no, it’s just a “danger”. Does that mean it encourages that view? Is there “a danger” it will “lead” people to that view? Who are these people? Who has made this claim, on behalf of the project or its supporters?
We’re not given any such annoying “facts”. Instead we have scaremongering. (Everyday Sexism itself says the opposite.)
Second, one would think that women are capable of distinguishing, say, cat-calling followed by insults (when ignored) or being considered property and being respectfully flirty.
There’s a world of difference between saying “Well, anyway, that was a lovely chat. Have a great day!” and “Why won’t you give me your number! I was so nice to you and you spoke to me!”
Surprisingly, even the best intentions are misinterpreted. Yeah, annoyingly reality is murky and people interpret behaviours differently because of *gasp* personal experience in the world.
If women face the kinds of behaviours we see reported by Everyday Sexism and elsewhere, is it any wonder some women sometimes interpret perhaps forward behaviour similarly? And this isn’t just women or even all women; just as, as Mr Foster reminds us, it’s not all men- even Laura Bates thinks it’s not most men.
Nor are we applying victimhood to women: it’s merely an acknowledgement that things are tricky and unequal, and an explanation why (because of the ubiquity of everyday sexism).
However, we should stress that people will tell you they are quite capable of telling the difference between flirtation and harassment, thank you.
If there are mistakes and misinterpretations, that may be bad but it means other things:
1. Don’t primarily target “women” or anti-sexist campaigns as being the problem.
No: the problem is the very environment they’re combating and the environment you should be combatting. If really hate that you can’t get your sexy on because sexism has made it difficult, then combat the sexist environment!
2. This isn’t about you. The campaign and others like it have helped create a sense of solidarity and raised this issue in minds that were otherwise closed to it. But, primarily, this is the environment right now.
Your lack of sympathy that this is the reality many face shows that your desire for sexy-time matters more than the security of marginalised people. Your soul will not be condemned to eternal hellfire because you didn’t get that hot girl’s number.
Nobody will die because you didn’t get sex (if I could engrave this one sentence in everyone’s minds, I think the world would be a better place).
3. You’re probably doing flirting wrong if people are interpreting all your flirtation as creepy. Either every single woman you independently meet and make advances on is wrong?—?or you’re being creepy (apologies for the obvious false dichotomy).
That you don’t intend to be creepy doesn’t magically make you not creepy. And, since many people don’t appear to have that problem, since men are still hooking up consensually and amicably with women (and in every other kind of combination) even after the creation of the penis destroying Everyday Sexism project, I’m not sure where this pandemic is stemming from.
Indeed, if you have to keep telling people you’re not creepy, then you’re like the “artist” who has to keep telling people he’s creative. Show it. Demonstrate it. Act it.
Flirtation and hooking up, and relationships and sex, has gotten safer and more accepted, as far as I know; this targeting of the very campaigns that are defending sexual freedom is poorly done, insulting to those of us who can tell the difference, belittling of women as reactionary conservatives; (and is unintentionally telling of an inability to engage non-creepily).
No one wants to be bad, probably. It’s doubtful every man who shouts at a woman is doing it to make her feel bad- surprisingly, he might think he’s complimenting her.
But again: as campaigns like Everyday Sexism highlight, that’s a selfish and bigoted view because it assumes your intention will be perfectly interpreted, that women and men are treated equally in society (they should be, morally and legally, but in reality they’re not).
Some sympathy for the world they face, some acknowledgement that they can distinguish between threats and compliments is necessary here; and, finally, even if you genuinely seemed nice, were none creepy and it still happened…
…Well, too bad, buddy. Get over yourself. (Also that might say more about that individual woman, than all women.)
(All of this ignores that there exist men who don't care at all about such things and are exercising their ability to make life worse for any woman they encounter. I'm trying here to target the kind of people who aren't deliberately trying to make women feel bad - since that seems messier than what are essentially unchangeable villains.
How to tackle those dudes and what kinds of responses they require might be a slightly different article. Furthermore, I'm uncertain whether harassment has to be intentional to constitute as harassment but smarter people than me are looking at this.)
To read more of Tauriq's articles, visi the Guardian, his blog, the New Statesman and don't forget to follow him on Twitter.
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