Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Male privilege

***WARNING! This is going to be long. And angry.***

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and strippers came up.

This friend of mine is fantastic, deeply thoughtful and extremely...evolved for lack of a better term. There are, however, occasionally times when male privilege rears its ugly head and I am somehow always surprised and disappointed. I thought he had evolved past certain points, but sadly no.

Men and women are different - no shocker there. We live different lives. We experience different things - even at the exact same moment under the exact same circumstances.

This was brought to my attention, yet again, when we had lunch celebrating Sierra's swearing in ceremony last week (I'll write that up later - with pictures!). We were out in public, with Sierra and Scott, her family and friends. Sitting down to lunch, there was a table of 3 men sitting behind Sierra, that I was facing. Three men who stared at me long enough to make me uncomfortable. In public.

  • Is it because I'm pregnant? Possibly, but that doesn't take minutes of examination to determine and isn't helped once I'm sitting down. You can then no longer see the enormous baby bump I'm carrying around.
  • My beauty? Debatable. Some days, I look fabulous! Somewhat unusual, dark hair and dark eyes and olive skin. I could be from anywhere. Other days, I look like hell. Most days, I just look ordinary. Mediocrity - the bane of civilization.
  • Is it because of my clothing? Nothing sexy, let me tell you. Although I was wearing a maternity skort, it (and my legs) was also no longer visible once I was sitting down.
  • Did they know me? Don't think so. If they did, surely they would have come over and done the whole..."Hey! Remember me?" thing.

No, they were staring because they could. Because somehow, in our society it is OKAY for men to stare at women - old, young, thin, fat, tall, medium, short, pretty, plain or ugly - until it makes the women uncomfortable and the men do not have to deal with any consequences for doing so. The onus is then on the woman to do something about the rudeness of the staring, or not. If she does, she is an uppity bitch and they weren't "doing" anything. Doesn't she appreciate the male gaze?! If she doesn't do anything, yet another man gets away with behavior that should be frowned upon by polite society.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not talking about the appreciative glances, the ones that say, "Hey! You look nice!" Those kind are relatively short lived and don't make you feel like there's a porn fantasy playing out behind the observer's eyes. Even being told "You're beautiful." by a perfect stranger can be accomplished in a way that doesn't diminish or threaten either party. However, if you're sitting in a public forum and are staring at some woman for minutes on end until she can feel the weight of your gaze repeatedly, there's something wrong. With you.

It's not OK to break women down into parts - pieces of meat - and comment on each, as if we really need to or want to know what you think about our ass, rack, legs, face, etc.

This is where the disappointing conversation with my friend ended abruptly. We were talking about bachelor party rituals and the inevitable visit to a strip bar came up, which I (unsurprisingly enough) do not agree with at all.

"But there are strip bars for women!" my friend complained. This is true. However it does not make the existence or use of strip bars for men either equivalent or equal to those for women. When we reached the point of the conversation where I expressed that it's not OK to reduce either women or men to parts to be oggled, my friend left me, angry that I was trying to make him feel bad about his past choices to go to strip bars.

He's mad at me, I think, because inside he knows it to be true.

Pornography is wrong.

An entire industry that thrives on breaking women and men down into lumps of sexually titillating meat for others to watch and get off on? Most of which portrays violence against women. How is watching this good for you as an individual, the women in the industry or for the human race as a whole?

Many men can't seem to make that leap from women as object of porn/scorn/derision to equal/co-worker/boss/love.

That statement always gets me the response of something equivalent to, "Well men have it bad, too!" To which I call bullshit.

Let's just have a quick jaunt down memory lane to see how different my experiences have been, in life, from my friend's, shall we?

How often in the average male's lifetime have any or all of the following happened to them?
  • Had a man, in a trench coat naturally, expose his erect genitals to them at the age of 8?
  • Had men follow them home from school, from junior high through high school?
  • Had men demand that you "Smile, honey, you'd look so pretty if only you'd smile!" from elementary through college.
  • Had a man grab them in the crotch, from behind, on the way to school in high school?
  • Had a man chase them in a car, at night, right outside of their own house, up and down the block? At high school age?
  • Had a man chase them and a friend, at night, in heels, in high school?
  • Had men sit touching them on public transport, because they could?
  • Had men scream, catcall, hoot, holler and make sexual threats at them from junior high through college?
  • Had a man, or a women, begin to turn into a stalker on them after dating them for a little while?
  • Let's not even talk about what happens at work: dismissed, treated like a servant, talked down to, hit on, etc.

Is any of that OK with you? Because it's not OKAY with me and my examples (And they are my actual experiences!) are simple, common and ubiquitous. Ask any woman about her experiences with harassment - your mother, sister, friend, co-worker.

If we return, momentarily, to the issue of strippers, how many of them are there because they want to be? Oh, you know someone? Everyone always seems to know one person who is somehow expected to prove that all of the women in those situations want to be there. The men have the same problems? Not even! Again, neither equal nor equivalent. How many male strippers do you think live with the fear that at some point they might be stalked, raped and possibly killed by their clientele?

I agree with you that men are also raped and that it is under reported. However, this does not mean that it is either
equal or equivalent to the number of women that are raped and do not report it every single day in our nation. Do you think that behavior is happening in a vacuum? Do you think some percentage of our population is bent on stalking/raping/killing the other half of the population without some sort of reinforcement?

It's every where. The constant cultural reinforcement that women are not human is every where. It's in advertising, movies, music, books, television, etc. etc. etc. We are not considered "normal". Normal is considered to be male. Not human - MALE. That leaves half of the population of the planet to be considered as abnormal. Something that can be degraded. Something that should be controlled.

Perhaps my friend can't see this since he is, after all, male?

Here's the thing: even if you can't see it, it's still happening. All the time. Every day.

Pornography doesn't help the situation any. It exacerbates it. Participating in an industry that enables the further degradation of women (Yes, AND men!) does not help to alleviate the issue. Yes, you are only one person. But if we can accept that each individual person can make a difference by voting, by recycling, by choosing to eat organic, by choosing where to spend their money, why does that equation suddenly collapse when pornography enters the picture?

My friend doesn't want to feel bad about enjoying the privileges of the bachelor party. However, if there's nothing to feel bad about, if the profession of a stripper is so respected then is it OK for my daughter to become a stripper? What about your mother/sister/friend/daughter/wife? Is it something that should be on their list of acceptable, nay coveted! career paths? Right next to brain surgeon, firefighter, and veterinarian is pole dancer? Again, if the equation breaks down here, "Well, no, it's not really a good choice of careers..." then why would you participate in it? Clearly something in you recognizes that there's something wrong with it if it's not a career path you'd suggest for your friend's child or family members. And if we break out our empathy for a moment, you might remember that those women, writhing around poles are someone else's daughter/sister/friend/mother/wife. If it's not OK for some other men to get off while watching your
daughter/sister/friend/mother/wife dance while naked, it shouldn't be OK for you, either.

Look, I am trying, very hard, to become the woman that I want my children to see as a role model. I want my daughters to want to be like me. I want my son to accept that this is what a real woman looks and acts like. That he should accept no less than a strong, independent, intelligent woman as his mate. (Or a man - I've no idea what his sexual preferences will be!) I want my children to understand that emotionally secure people don't play passive aggressive games. No lying, half-truths, secrets, or word games. "I'm fine!" isn't something you should say, unless you mean it. Stamp collecting should involve actual, physical, stamps.

My children need to know what it's like to be strong and to look after themselves. They need to know what being real and not a stereotype means. I want them to respect me, as a woman, as their mother, as a representative of my sex. I want them to grow up feeling that they really can do anything and that they can and will have the skills to protect themselves and stand up for themselves. Skills that I never had as a child or teenager. Skills I wish I'd had as a young adult.

I'll have those hard conversations with them that my mother didn't have with me. That's it's not OK to let someone hurt you, either physically, verbally or emotionally. That this is your vagina and
that is your penis and it's not OK for someone else to touch you until (and unless!) you want them to. That this is how you defend yourself against verbal attacks and that is how you defend against physical attacks and this is how you respect yourself enough to not get into certain situations to begin with. That no really does mean no. That being a good friend means looking out for your friends, even when they may not want you to. That the world isn't fair and that no one is going to protect them in the long run, except themselves. That when bad things happen, you're usually all by yourself and you'll have no one to rely on but yourself. Getting the skills and the mindset to prepare you to deal with those situations is just as important as scholastic achievement - and will likely have a longer lasting impact.

Here's what it all boils down to, for me:
  • The world is not a safe place.
  • It's actively worse if you're a woman.
  • Don't add to it by your actions or inactions.
  • Empathize.

That is all.


Scylla said...

I think my realization of the inequity in safety for women really hit home when I learned about the rape calendar. A global study was done of women in all countries, classes, professions, ages, etc. This study showed that women subconciously, once they have reached an age to be aware of the existence of rape, schedule their lives around preventing rape.
All women, in all cultures, choose to walk places that will reduce their chances of being raped, at times that will reduce their chances of being raped.

The important thing to notice is this, women do not have crime schedule. They do not subconciously alter their behavior in order to avoid crimes, such as muggings, robbery, battery, murder. They have a RAPE schedule.

Rape is so common in the world that women have to build their lives and behaviors around avoiding it.

That is an experience men simply do not have. There is no one crime against men that is so common and rampant that they, as a group, have developed a series of behaviors designed to avoid it.

My favorite scary experience? I was visiting a friend in LA, and was walking down to Melrose to shop. I was alone. A single man, in a car, began to follow me, he would slowly drive down the street I was walking on, then circle the block and follow me again. Follow, circle, follow, circle. There was no one else around, I did not have a cell phone or weapon. I was about 22 or so. I finally hid inside a store for an hour until he was no longer passing by.

Anonymous said...

As someone who was date raped at 15, whose younger sister was molested not once, but twice before she eas even a teen, had one older sister gang raped as a teenager, another older sister lucky as hell that she wasn't raped because she didn't react with fear when the @sshole violently threw her down on a bed, I can tell you, THAT male friend of yours doesn't know his rape statistics. Or the rape/molestation statistics of most female strippers.

Adam Carolla of "Loveline" worked as a bouncer for a while in a stip club, and got to know a lot of the strippers he helped protect from free-wheeling hands. He mentioned in one of the shows that most of the women he met had been raped or molested and had very few positive impressions of themselves or the men for whom they danced.

When I was a RA for a small liberal arts college, we had to undergo date rape training. One of the frat boys who wanted to be an RA did not believe the 1 in 5 rape statistics being discussed. Flat out did NOT believe it was that many women. He counted us all up and said, "With those statistics, 4 women in this room have either been raped or had an attempt made against them." Five women, including myself, ANGRILY shut him down. I knew there was one more, because we had talked about it before. And the Assistant director of housing told me afterwards that she had been date raped in college. I think he believes the statistics now.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that the older sister who had been gang raped as a teen, may have been molested as a child, and that two of her four children were concieved as a result of marital rape. She's full-blood native Alaskan, and was adopted at birth.

Also, I can't tell you about my 4th, and oldest adopted, sister. When we were still in close contact, I was 7 years younger than she. As a 12 year-old, I didn't ask her about things like date rape.

I haven't seen her since 1983, because her controlling, racist (anti-white) Native Alaskan husband won't let her travel outside the village in which we primarily grew up, and in which she still resides, because he's afraid she won't come back. Probably with reason 20+ years ago, when we still lived in Alaska and may have had the opportunity to support her emotionally if not financially, if she had decided to leave him.

Most of her 4 kids are grown now. But she's no longer the tasmanian-devil, overies-to-the-wall, will try anything older sister I once knew and admired. Last time I spoke to her (in 1998?) she said she was afraid to even get on a snow-mobile. She used to get on my Dad's RACING snow-mobile in the early 80s and race the guys in the village.

So, as far as I know, in a family of 5 girls, 4 of them have been molested, date raped, had an attempt made against them and gang-raped.
How's that for statistics?

How many of them were reported to the authorities?


Not even me.

Woman with a Hatchet said...


I can't even begin to tell you how horrified I am by your story. I don't have the words.

All I know is that you, personally, have come a long damned way in life and I'm proud I know you.

Hang in there.

Scylla said...

Anon: You are amazing, and thank you for posting your comment for us. I appreciate your willingness to share this information with others, not enough stories get told.
Your post reinforces to me the importance of speaking out against rape and the degradation of women, and will help me remender to do so, even when surrounded by peers who don't share my views.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I will begin this by saying what I probably should not. I am a man.

I don't think I should mention that because I fear you will simply not read the rest with an open mind, or that you will dismiss what I have to say due to my gender.

I have been physically, verbally and emotionally abused by women.
I have been raped by a women.
I have been sexually assaulted by a woman.
I have been kidnapped by a woman.

All my life I have been dominated and abused by women. I have been taught that women are the abusers and men simply victims. I was taught that women should do this to men because men deserve it. They said men deserve it because of what they did and what they would do in the future if women didn't control them.

Is that what you would advocate? In some of what you write it seems like you might.

Men can understand rape Scylla. We know the anger, the fear, the self-hate, and the hole it leaves that never really goes away.

Please don't hate all men because of what was done to you. I don't hate women because of what was done to me. Please don't dismiss us as partners in making society a better place.

Scylla said...

To Anon male poster:

I don't hate you because you are a man, in fact I don't hate you at all. I do find it distressing that you feel that your personal experiences give you the right to tell others they are wrong for talking about theirs, or that the fact that women also commit rape diminishes the fact that they are raped.

I find your willingness to jump to conclusions about people based on one comment posted in a blog disconcerting.

However, most of all, I find your belief that I or anyone else, male or female, hates men because we choose to write about some of the things bad men have done to us insulting.

I don't have to hate men to hate what certain men have done. I am the daughter of a great man, the wife of a wonderful man, the mother of an amazing man, and the friend of many caring, loving, and dear men.

As for what I advocate, obviously you don't get it, because nothing I have said indicates that I would advocate that anyone be abused for any reason.

You can take your hate elsewhere.

Red Flashlight said...

This terrible hole that never goes away - it's there in part because rape leaves us isolated and unable to communicate with one another. Ironic that expressing feelings about the problem seems to perpetuate the problem! I find that way too convenient for those who don't want to acknowledge responsibility for their own abusive acts - it's easy for them to dismiss legitimate gripes when their prey can't agree on who's to blame.

(I am not referring to you guys. I am referring to people who deny, retreat, and abandon rather than be compelled to face the impact of their acts on others.)

Sexism harms both genders equally. I want to think the anger expressed here is about the abuse, not about the gender. Am I right?

Woman with a Hatchet said...

The anger that I am expressing is about the nature of our society harming women the majority of the time. I even said that men are also raped.

I certainly never said that I hate men. Hell, I am married to one and about to have more children by him. Do I sound like I hate my husband who is a male?

There are certainly women that abuse men, however this does not distract from the fact that the majority of the time the abuse is male vs. female and that there is no way anyone reading anything I've ever written could construe anything I've ever said as "advocating" female vs. male violence.

To say that I am, on my own blog is highly insulting.

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