***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.
That is all.