Sunday, 22 May 2011

A Few Thoughts on Slutwalks

Women should never ever be blamed for being raped or sexually assaulted. Ever. Neither should men – but as a culture, we seem to have that bit down already. You never hear of an attack on a man being based in any way on his clothing. You never hear a man who puts a lot of effort into making himself sexually attractive described as “asking for it”.

However, it would be na├»ve to think that all men and women choose their fashion in terms of what fits well, or feels comfortable. Fashion is not entirely, but largely about sending a message – whether that message is “I can afford this, everybody!” (see most designer labels) or “I am a member of this social group, everybody!” (be it punk, goth, or hipster). These messages extend beyond personal and social identity - they become messages about the responses you are willing to receive from other people. I accept that people are sending out a message with how they dress. Women need to accept this too, and take responsibility for the messages they send. Whether sluts like it or not, dressing in revealing clothes sends the message that they want people to look at or notice their body, or at least are happy with people looking at or paying attention to their body. Just as a man who wears a “muscle shirt” or tight pants is happy for people to pay attention to his body.

I am vaguely reminded – this is not the same thing, I must stress, I just see it as reminiscent – of someone wearing a shirt associated with a sports team, or even a band. That person will get attention for it from the followers of that team/fans of that band, people they can get along with and bond with. They might also get jeered at by people who like a rival team, or think the band are terrible in all sorts of ways, people they have also knowingly attracted the attention of (it is ridiculous to expect everyone in the world to like the same team/band). Likewise, people have different standards of what looks nice and what looks sexy. An easy example to draw here is make up. Some people find it attractive, others find it repellent, others simply don't notice, or care. For some people, heavy eye makeup and bright lipstick is sexy and sultry, while others may think the wearer looks like a clown. These standards are complex and subjective.

Does wearing 'sexy' clothes give people the right to make abusive or derogatory comments about a woman? Some women knowingly and deliberately invite attention from anyone who crosses their path – is it reasonable of them to only expect the kind of attention that makes them feel good? Herein lies the gap between looking/attention and assault/harassment. Therein, surely, lies the responsibility of the attacker/harasser. I would like to think that most males know the different between an innocent/appreciative and a derogatory/abusive comment?

Something else this reminds me of is how a lot of women are treated under Islamic regimes, or within strict Muslim families. It's not a man's responsibility not to harass and abuse women, it's a woman's responsibility to cover up her shameful, tempting body. Or even worse - a man's responsibility to cover up the bodies of the women he cares about – with not so much of a teaspoon of autonomy given to the owners of these bodies. The arabic word awrah – which means the intimate parts of someone's body that it is forbidden to expose – comes from the root awr- which means defectiveness, imperfection or weakness. For women, their awrah is their entire body and can sometimes extend even as far as the voice. While I fully support the idea that a woman's worth does not depend whatsoever on what she looks like, to teach someone that their body, their only means of communicating with the world, ought to be hidden away, ignored and rejected by the higher (male) members of their communities does rarely a healthy attitude make. 

Men rarely have to worry for their safety – you cannot compare this to a man being warned not to flash his gadgets/wear expensive jewellery to avoid getting mugged. There is a lot more at stake than expensive material possessions - it's a human being whose safety is at stake. Nor can you compare “Women have a right to wear what they want and not be assaulted – just as I have a right to leave my front door unlocked and not be burgled.” A woman's body is not an asset or a piece of property – it's a human being.

Arousing the sexual appetite of someone by wearing a short skirt/tight top/whatever does not give that person the right to assault you, or to abuse you verbally. It pains me to know that there are people in this world who disagree with that. I fear for the security of the women in their lives. And while I understand the point the sluts are trying to make with their (lack of) clothing, it creates sensationalist photo opportunities for the tabloids who will not necessarily focus on the issues the sluts themselves are trying to draw attention to. One of the news articles I saw in the London Evening Standard dsecribed the sluts as marching "to protest against threats to womanhood." No mention of sexual assault or the victim-blaming culture that the sluts want to rid us of.

It is a great discredit to men to assume that they have no control over their own sexual desires – when most men manage to have sexual desires and somehow not rape people, it's clearly not invoking sexual desire that's the problem.

The problem is the idea held by many men and some women, that disregards the status of women as complex, autonomous human beings and relegates them to a sub-status, on this planet for the enjoyment or service of others. This is something that has been ingrained in various cultures, including our own, for centuries, and it'll take a whole lot more than taking to the streets in your panties to undo that.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

In Defence Of Guys

Recently, I read this extract:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704409004576146321725889448.html

This left me feeling a bit strange, for several reasons.
I am familiar with her concept of "guys" - males (mostly in their twenties) who fall between boys and men. They play videogames, smoke pot and hang with their buddies. They may or may not have a job. They may or may not be in a band. But the pressures of husbandhood and parenting are far, far away. But Kay S. Hymowitz seems to want to drag them back home by the ear and wag her finger at them, and I'm not entirely sure why.  Marriage and children are not mandatory any more. We learned from the generation before us that getting married and having kids isn't necessarily what makes all people happy, and the grip of social pressure - particularly on women - has loosened somewhat. Plus, around half of us saw what happened when our parents - who got married in their twenties - split up.
Something else that isn't mandatory any more are gender stereotypes. Hymowitz seems to think in them.
However, the society we inhabit is more equal than it used to be. We have plenty of brave, stoic, strong people who are faithful to their duties. Some of them are male. Some of them are female. Women are no longer expected to be quiet, unquestioning and submissive. We don't have to fit our personalities to match a dated idea people have about what our bodies mean as social instruments. So why should men?

This in particular was a favourite quote:
 "In his disregard for domestic life, the playboy was prologue for today's pre-adult male. Unlike the playboy with his jazz and art-filled pad, however, our boy rebel is a creature of the animal house. In the 1990s, Maxim, the rude, lewd and hugely popular "lad" magazine arrived from England. Its philosophy and tone were so juvenile, so entirely undomesticated, that it made Playboy look like Camus."

Haha. In the 2000s some bright spark invented Nuts and Zoo, which make Maxim look like Playboy.

Earlier this year I watched an episode of Channel 4's Tool Academy. I say watched, but it was more of a test of endurance. I decided to see whether I'd be able to turn it off when I got bored or fed up or if pure blind rage would drive me to clawing out my own eyes (I'd actually assumed that this was one of the main points of the show). I lasted six minutes. To me, these people were the opposite of everything a man should be. I must stress - it wasn't because they were men - they were the opposite of everything I think a human being should be. Disrespectful. Dishonest. Ignorant. Arrogant. Obnoxious. Bigoted. Attention-seeking. And it was this that made the viewer never want to spend so much as one second in their company. Not who their friends were. Not what they did in their spare time. But their attitudes about themselves and towards other people, which I'm pleased to tell you can be found in many different lifestyles, whether lazy or hard-working, ambitious or apathetic, married with kids or single. But it's far easier to have a go at the bland, uninspired media that's marketed at them, so...

Hymowitz cites films starring "overgrown boy" actors such as Adam Sandler, Steve Carell and Jim Carrey (she also mentioned Owen Wilson but I'm choosing to ignore that just like I'm choosing to ignore all the terrible films he's made while I re-watch The Darjeeling Ltd.).  But are the movies with juvenile, irritating, sex-obsessed male characters any worse than movies with shallow, irritating, superficial female characters? Yes, young males watch these characters and may well chuckle heartily at their antics, but that does not mean they will necessarily aspire to be just like them. Personally I enjoy an NBC comedy starring Amy Poehler being magnificent, but her character is pretty much the opposite of me. I still like her character. I still think her character is funny. But I don't want to be like her, at all. I think here Hymowitz is exercising a lack of faith that all too often stems from a few bad experiences. The overall tone of the extract seems to suggest that males are Other, an entirely different species that we can't possibly fathom (like a sort of reverse Beauvoir if such a thing were possible) and if left to their own devices the human race would simply die from sitting on their arse drinking beer for too long.

My boyfriend and friends are intelligent, respectful individuals with their own minds and interests. They joke around with each other constantly, they play games and watch movies, and spend their leisure time (of which some have more than others) doing things that they enjoy. But this does not mean that they are babies, distracted by colours and noises and the potential possibility of getting some titty.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Post-graduate Study

I have:
A BA in Philosophy.
An MA in Cold Hard Truth
A BTEC in Disillusionment
An NVQ in Sitting On The Sofa (which took several months to complete)
And now
I'm working on my PhD in Getting Absolutely Nowhere.