Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sexism, Homophobia, Sex, and Groping

I was talking with my friend the other day about the idea that there's some important connection between sexism and homophobia.  We agreed:  there is. 

Probably there are a lot of important connections, actually, including obvious ones about discrimination and so on.  But I think there's a less obvious one too, having to do with sex, gender, and sexual agency.

Here's a constellation of ideas that I think forms a part of some sexist and homophobic men's view of the world.  Men need sex, and women provide it.  Women aren't rational, so it makes no sense to put them in charge of decisions about something so crucial to men's well-being.  Women shouldn't really be treated as sexual agents, making decisions about what's best for them.  It's more like, keep the pure and domestic ones for home and babies, and treat the female rabble however you want. 

This may sound extreme.  But how else to explain the otherwise extraordinary ways some men defend other men's assault on women's sexual agency? 

Just as a single example, I recently learned about the Ada initiative to get more women involved in open technology and culture.  The executive director and co-founder says the reason she got involved with starting the Ada initiative is because her friend went to an open source conference and was groped -- and that she herself had been groped twice at such conferences. 

Worse, when the friend wrote about the experience on her blog, "hundreds of people made comments like, "Women should expect to get groped at conferences," and "It was her fault."  The comments came from her colleagues in open source, presumably highly educated and pretty thoughtful people.  If you're a reader of comments on the internet, you know this is not an isolated occasion. 

So it's surprising the extent to which some men will defend the appropriateness of just touching women in inappropriate ways when they feel like it. 

But such men don't want to be touched this way themselves.  And they really don't want to be touched this way by other men. 

You can see the groping-double-standard playing out in the recent upset about TSA groping.  I mean, women get groped on the subway all the time, and I feel like the general cultural reaction is a kind of collective shrug:  jeez, girl, you're out, you're on the subway, what did you expect?  Get over it.  But once the groping happens to men, and once it happens to women who are married moms, it's like OMG! Crisis! There's inappropriate touching! Call your congressman, right away

I know it's not quite the same -- because the TSA gropes you with the long arm of the law -- but still, the estimation of harm is obviously very different. 

You can see where I'm going with this.  If you're a guy who thinks that it's OK to treat women as having no sexual agency, that treating women this way is an essential aspect of male sexuality, and that being treated this way in turn would be an outrage, you're going to have a big problem with gay men right off the bat.  Because by turning that male sexual attention on you, gay men threaten the whole logic of your position. 

So even the existence of gay men is a problem for your sexist world view. 

The answer seems obvious to me:  equality and respect for everyone, and when it comes to sex, if you're not sure, ask. 

Why there's so much resistance to this basic set of human goods, I don't know.  


Anonymous said...

I find your observations rather biased and your conclusions too generalized. While it is true that groping is more acceptable in some cultures, from what I read in the news and have experienced daily, the majority of men would find it unacceptable behaviour and agree that only a creep what stoop so low. You state that women get groped all the time on the subway - do you have any facts to support this - could it be another urban myth? And linking this whole thing to homophobia is a strange twist. This is more a case of bullying: a small minority of men will grope women to humiliate her. And like any predator they can sense fear. If the man thought that the woman would retaliate (hit him in the groin) then no assault would take place. I don’t know what to make of the blog comments you mention other than to say that is normal for any controversial issue to have negative comments far outnumber positive ones. It’s unfortunate but some people have a cluster of bad experiences and it effects the way they see the world; sorry, but most men are very nice.

Anonymous said...

I think we would all agree that the majority of men are opposed to sexism and probably 'very nice', and the author of the blog did not say otherwise.

I'm glad you have good experiences daily. However, in Canada in 2009, there were 677 000 reported cases of sexual assault (statsCan), while less than 10% of sexual assaults are reported (Toronto Police Service). In 20% of the cases the perpetrator is a stranger (stats Can 2003), and 26% of sexual assaults take place in public places according to the Canadian Centre for Justice statistics, 2003.

Also, this comment is gross. "If the man thought that the woman would retaliate (hit him in the groin) then no assault would take place."

How is this at all relevant? So if she wasn't so darn weak or scared she wouldn't have been assaulted? Is that really what you want to say?

Anonymous said...

I could probably have said it better but the fact remains that if a woman lets the man get away with groping her then the man will go on to victimize more women. Every time a famous man is confronted many more women come forward with similar complaints against him. The example you gave of starting a group just for women solves nothing. Grab his two small fingers and bend them back until he’s on the ground begging for mercy. Jab him with a kubotan, or yell for the police. Immediate response to a sudden assault is difficult but women need to be prepared. I know intellectuals such as yourself may find this gross but it’s effective.

Anonymous said...

uh, I'll reply later, but to clarify, I'm not the blogger, I'm just a random.

Anonymous said...

Please tell me you're trolling or being facisious?

'Victim blaming' is cliche and I thought something no one actually takes seriously, but apparently that's not true.

So you'd like to create the happy backwards world where the person who doesn't commit the crime is always to blame, there is never any talk about changing the perpetrator's behaviour, and where vigilante justice is some kind of twisted moral obligation?

It is just really a friend tells you she's been assaulted and you, what, tell her she's morally repugnant for not pinning the guy on the ground by his little fingers?

You say that "Every time a famous man is confronted many more women come forward with similar complaints against him."

So it seems this shows that the guy is a skeeze and sexual assault often has a high rate of recidivism... But you see this as a demonstration that the woman he assaulted failed or is to blame for the guy's future crimes?

And when a woman does come forward and reveal her identity, her entire life somehow becomes fair game for public scrutiny.

She must be a prostitute (as if that's somehow relevant), or part of some complicated political conspiracy (but then she's also portrayed as really stupid), or she's a slut (whatever that means), or she just feels like making things up because it's fun to be known as the person who makes those accusations against someone famous.

And for all that, how often are the guys convicted and given significant sentences, in these famous cases you cite?

I don't know what anyone being an 'intellectual' has to do with anything, but I do know that sexual assault is one of the crimes most associated with shame.. you should be ashamed of something someone forced on you.. Don't you think that the misplaced blame is a huge cause of this?

Speaking of stats, where are your facts supporting how 'effective' it is in reducing crime, when people start attempting to practice interesting martial arts moves on their attackers? Is that a police-recommended tactic, to chase the guy down and pull out your key chain weapons?

You comdemn people for not reporting assaults, and in the same breath blame them for the assaults occuring in the first place. That's a winning combination.

anywho, end of long ramble.