Saturday, November 1, 2014

One Two Two: Streets

This month's moral panic seems to involve catcalling. It's an awkward thing to write about, since no one can seriously defend harassing strangers or the gross rudeness of it all. Though it occurs to me that right here at the beginning I'll fall foul of the gender warriors. I don't catcall women, but I don't do it for the wrong reasons. I find it gross and rude, and I abhor rudeness. That's the wrong reason not to do it, I suspect.  The idea of something being disdained as "rude" can be attacked as classist, can't it? My reasoning is based on class-ridden ideas of politeness--- or so I expect I'd be told. You're supposed to oppose catcalling based on structural analyses of gendered power relations, not simply because it's rude or gross. So I've gone wrong right at the beginning--- a compass error.

Reading many of the moral panic articles and the ranting comments to the articles is (as always) depressing and unsettling.  The discussion so often seems to veer away from street harassment and into something else. One article in particular a few days ago began with an angry discussion of vile things the author and friends of hers had experienced on streets and subways. That anger was thoroughly justified. But then she went off into a strange kind of frenzy about how she had a sixth sense that let her know what they were thinking--- they of course meaning "all males".  They might not have said anything or done anything, but she knew they were all thinking vile things. She knew that it was there behind all male eyes, all the time. She could hear it in the air, she wrote, hear it in her own head. I'm not sure what to make of that.  It comes very close to invoking the kinds of voices-in-the-head that lead people to becoming Breaking News stories. Being afraid of physical violence or angry about demeaning comments is one thing. Letting the Voices tell you about all the Bad Thoughts that others might be having is something else.

I'm not sure what to make of the underlying fears there.  No one should have to fear physical violence or being mauled when just walking down a street; no one should be subjected to gross remarks. But there's a fear that others might be thinking sexual thoughts or experiencing some kind of desire--- fear and disdain both. That goes into other concerns. The gender warriors seem to take it as one of their missions to drain any sexual content or sexual tension out of as many areas of life as possible. I always joke that the gender warriors want to make sure that life contains no Cinemax Moments, no moments of sudden, random, impromptu desire. I think it's true, though. They do go beyond wanting to end sexual violence or harassment to an actual opposition to lust itself.

I don't know what to make of some of the rants. There's a hatred for the idea of desire, which is seen as always something imposed, something humiliating or degrading. There's a rejection of the idea that sexual tension and possibilities, even if they're purely pro forma, are something that should be out there in the world. I'm not talking not how those things might be expressed, about what someone does.  What I'm seeing is a flat rejection of the idea that even thoughts of desire or lust are acceptable.  That's not about street harassment--- it's about something deeper and more general.

Well, I have been half-joking all week that the way I've chosen to deal with being one of the assigned class of monsters and oppressors is simply to refuse to speak at all to women in any public or professional setting. I've been telling people that in the unlikely event that a woman would speak to me, I'd snarl at her and very loudly say, "Die, Belgian!" and stride off in a rage. After all, I've been saying that while I'd be regarded as psychotic and violently anti-Flemish, at least I wouldn't be tagged as misogynist.  Half-joking, mind you. Only half.


ms.gylcerides wilde ride said...

Street harassment is awful for a lot of reasons, the main one being if someone makes a request or an overture of some sort and I say no, what will happen to me? Keep in mind I've been out waiting for the bus in jeans, tee-shirt and no make-up and been mistaken for a prostitute in need of a ride in a very nice car. It's the gross rudeness of it all yes, one set of vulgarity was so awful I showed up for class that day crying. If you like what you see smile at me, talk to me, come sit with me at the cafe but keep your senses about you. The only time that has ever worked was when I was on my way to job interview at a coffee house in the university district and this kid in a nice card stopped right next to me and said "Beautiful" I nearly fell over and said "Huh?" then he asked me out on a date, which I refused because I was engaged at the time. Stick to what works, polite is good.

That Girl in Glasses said...

This topic has been on my mind a while. As a girl, the whole leering, "dat ass, baby", stalking down the street thing is uncomfortable and often scary. But we should not throw the baby out with the bath water. Tonight, a gentleman came up to me at work. "Excuse me, miss. I saw you down the hall and you are so beautiful. I needed you to know that." He offered his number to me, I declined, he reiterated that he thought I was pretty, shook my hand, left with a warm smile. That should not become socially unacceptable. So I think I'm basically agreeing with the previous comment.