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Sorry, I don’t get the joke. November 16, 2006

Posted by Winter in rape, sexual harrassment.

I have been meaning to pick up on Winters post about street harassment for a couple of days. I’m going to make this quick as I think that this thread needs more thinking about really, so here are my initial thoughts.

Reading about Winter’s experience in the cafe last week coincided with an experience of my own, and made me recall a third which I think can all be draw together in some kind of moderately coherent group.
The first experience I want to talk about was a couple of months ago when we were having new patio doors fitted (I know, so middle class). The guy who spent nearly four hours at my house fitting these doors wasn’t particularly friendly. After I had offered him a cup of tea, I was going to go upstairs to work in my study so I said, mistakenly, “I’ll be upstairs if you need anything” to which he replied “Oh, that’s an offer” or something similar. Now, I know it was meant to be a joke, but it did make me carry around a large screwdriver until he was gone. Second thing I want to mention is that while on my way out on Saturday night this week (actually within 10 minutes of my house) some guy behind me called out something like “baby, baby, you’ve got a nice ass.” I have no idea who this person was, and in the grand scheme of things, it was quite polite, I guess. But it still made me grip my keys a little tighter in my hand and walk a lot quicker and a lot more upright. Now obvioulsy neither of these experiences is nearly half as bad as that experienced by the waitress in Winter’s post, but I do think they are in the same vein.

I’m pretty sure if you asked any of these men why they do what they do, they’ll probably come out with some kind of response like “It’s only a joke love, no harm done”. Well, at the risk of seeming like a dried out old feminist who hates men and has no sense of humour, I don’t get it. I don’t really understand why men actually do thins kind of thing at all, and in a way I think that’s a big part of the problem. When I see guys doing this kind of thing they always remind me of baboons (I suspect that is rather insulting to baboons, but that’s what I see). I mean frankly it’s embarrassing to mankind that men behave like this in public, seriously I’ve no issue with what they do in their own homes but, well I think their mothers would be embarrassed. But, despite the cringe-worthiness of said behavior, there is a much more sinister side. There is harm done. Harm to people like winter and myself who frankly did not realize that the size of our breasts and curvature of our asses were open for public debate, and who find this kind of behavior threatening.

In a way, I think that the animalistic nature of it is part of the problem. It’s so unpredictable, I don’t get it. Is it a joke? Is it a threat? Is it some strange primitive bonding ceromony that some boys are taken aside at school and told about while the rest of us are forced to participate in without prior consent. Is this guy going to follow me home and do me some damage? Is my life in danger? There are so many possibilities that could stem from the simple miming and “massive tits love” that really it’s quite confusing. So on that basis I think that there is Harm Done. Women are kept in a constant state of anxiety by his kind of low level harassment, and our more sensitive men in a constant state of bemusment. While I want to say Guys, cut it out, Your embarrassing yourselves (Whispered). What I would advocate is some kind of public awareness campaign about street harassment that says firmly, it’s really not funny.



1. Diane - November 16, 2006

This is why I love Holla Back NYC–at least there is some shaming done of these men and boys.

Why do men do this? Because they can. They are not stopped by their fathers, their mothers, their schools, or their communities. They are not even stopped by their victims, most of the time. There is obviously some primitive fear of women that causes men to take ridiculous measures to assert dominance.

Internalized sexism causes some women to think this behavior really is a “joke” or somehow flattering.

2. Anonymous - November 17, 2006

I have always believed that certain types of jokes are poorly concealed acts of hostility. From the person who seems to get a laugh at another expense, to the sort of joke which draws its humor from making the other person seem stupid. Couching sexism as a joke just tries to disguise it in a way that is supposed to be socially acceptable. Why do guys do this? Ye Gods, I haven’t a clue. If I had to guess, I would pull from Queer theory and its idea of gender being performative. They learned it. It does something for them, what I cannot say. It could be a pathetic plea of some lonely isolated person, or it could be repressed hostility towards women and some sort of power dynamic… it could be both. I think the reason that it is impossible to tell is that the very act is couched in a contrived persona. Boys are trained very well not to appear vulnerable, and to hide any real feelings they might have. When I ask myself why feminism is important for men as well as for women, these are the thoughts which come to mind.

How different would our society be if people would just speak up and say: “That’s not appropriate” or “Your being rude”, and I’m not talking about the person on the receiving end saying this, I’m talking about all the people around the idiot, men and women alike. If society were more vocal about things like basic human decency, we might live in a better place.

3. Anonymous - November 17, 2006

I just actually read Winter’s post and I realized that the final paragraph of my previous post to this thread is inappropriate in light of that. The dark side to people speaking up is that if its just one person it causes conflict, potentially both for the victim and for the person addressing the issue. I thought Winter’s assessment of the situation was very appropriate. My suggestion in the previous post would only be effective when more than one or two people speak up at a time: shaming in numbers, and I think Jax’s advice was definitely the best means of handling the issue.

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