Saturday, July 7, 2012

Thirty-Five: Contact

I'm physically affectionate in some ways. I've always liked holding hands across a table, or tracing a fingertip across a young companion's cheekbone or lips. Driving with a hand on a lovely young companion's thigh has been something I've loved since my long-ago youth, and what can be more exhilarating than running through the streets of a nighttime city hand-in-hand with a lover? Yet I'm not someone who hugs. Touch as a romantic gesture is very much part of what and who I am, but I'm not from a physically demonstrative family, and I've never been one for hugs.

Having said that, though, I did discover a new reason to avoid hugs the other day. I ran into an argument on the web where the author argued that hugging was tantamount to sexual harassment. I assume that the gender-studies crowd and the so-called "social justice" crowd agree with the author's position, though that should hardly surprise me. The argument was that the person (and here the person was assigned as female) giving the hug probably intended it to be a non-sexual gesture. The person (inevitably assigned as male) who receives the hug may feel some kind of sexual frisson upon being hugged. Since that feeling was never intended, by feeling anything sexual--- even inadvertently ---the person being hugged was engaging in a kind of non-consensual sex with the person initiating the hug. And, the author noted,  neither party could ever predict whether a hug could produce those feelings in advance. The author announced at the end of the article that hugging was too dangerous a thing to do or receive, if one truly believed in issues of consent and harassment.

Now I don't like being hugged very much. I like physical gestures that are clearly part of a romance or a seduction. But I find the argument here to be...exasperating. There's a level of fear in it that baffles me. There's a fear that sex may be lurking in any gesture, and I suppose it's related to the same fear that once had teachers monitoring school dances, ruler in hand, checking to see how far apart dancers might be. I find it telling that the argument wasn't that initiating a hug as a way of touching someone--- the hug as groping ---was a kind of nonconsensual sex, but that any sexual feeling that the person being hugged might feel, even if inadvertently, was somehow an act violating the will of the hugger. It's the lurking monster that the author was afraid of, the idea that any physical gesture might somehow allow in the noonday demon.

Once upon a time, in another city and another life, I was sitting with a lovely companion at a coffeshop near a major university, and we were listening to the people at the next table discuss the evil of sexual fantasy. The girl at the next table doing most of the talking was explaining that all sexual fantasies that involve any real, living person were a kind of violation. She used the terms "abstract rape" and  "rape through the imagination". Her argument that was that any fantasy was a kind of non-consensual use of the person being imagined, and that all fantasy was about exerting the power of the "imagined gaze". She made the point that all (male) masturbation, insofar as it involved fantasies about actual people, was no better than rape, since the person being imagined had never given explicit consent. To fantasize was to violate, to be fantasized about was to be violated. My young companion just shook her head and pointed out to me that there were clear reasons why she'd chosen to attend a university just up the railway line and not the one just up the street. I had to laugh--- we both attended the better university to the north, and there was some feeling of justified superiority on our parts ---but I did feel a small touch of fear. I couldn't imagine what a world would be like where our cafe neighbors' ideas were taken as correct...and socially enforced.

There's a kind of fear out there that I don't understand: a fear of what might be lurking inside the mind, a fear that any sexual tinge added to a contact is oppressive and destructive, a fear of what might be hiding inside the imagination, a fear of what can be born from the gaze. I don't hug, but I do hold hands, and twine fingers, and construct fantasy scenarios. I can't decide what the final argument is to be--- is that contact itself is a gateway to social evil, or that the imagination itself must be dismantled?  

1 comment:

tsvandenberg said...

"The person (inevitably assigned as male) who receives the hug may feel some kind of sexual frisson upon being hugged. Since that feeling was never intended, by feeling anything sexual--- even inadvertently ---the person being hugged was engaging in a kind of non-consensual sex with the person initiating the hug."

This kind of thinking sets a lot of unfriendly precedents. I imagine a very fussy, egocentric child. And anything you do or say can set him off, if you don't do and say exactly what he expects. The idea that you are responsible for their own idiosyncratic misunderstandings is preposterous. How far should we go then? If we treat each individual as a unique and alien culture, every custom and nuance of society would quickly begin to disappear. An entire nation would begin to lose its identity in favour of something cold, distantn, detached.

And if it starts with hugging, why stop there? How about all physical contact. The friendly gesture of a hand-shake? A cheerful pat on the back? How about something a bit more abstract: Many repressive, Eastern countries outlaw eye contact between genders. Perhaps we should outlaw revealing clothing for the sinful feelings that stir our hearts and loins? Yes, this is a slippery slope argument. But ask yourself: in such countries where these practices are not just customs but law, how did it all start? I can assure you, it started just like this.

"There's a level of fear in it that baffles me. There's a fear that sex may be lurking in any gesture, and I suppose it's related to the same fear that once had teachers monitoring school dances, ruler in hand, checking to see how far apart dancers might be."

Do you suppose that it's possible that the teachers just might have projected their own insecurities and lingering doubts, thus inspiring such feelings of sexual anticipation in even the mildest of physical interactions? I find it highly likely. And it's very Freudian, if you ask me.