A warning: if you are a survivor of sexual assault you may just want to skip this post and the ensuing ugly comment thread it is sure to engender.
A week or so ago the redoubtable Dr. Isis wrote an open letter to me.
In part she wrote:
The pragmatic part of me wants to agree with you that there is no place for open ogling in the workplace. The other part of me fears that there may be a hint of truth in Greg’s argument that we are inherently sexual beings…
I see no reason to fear the truth that we are inherently sexual beings. But the fact that we are sexual beings does not mean that women just have to put up with tit-ogling in the workplace because men are just incapable of controlling themselves. One can both be a sexual being AND exercise self-control. This point has been made before but apparently it bears repeating: tit-ogling in the workplace is not just, or only, about sex. It’s about power, dominance, and control. This has little to do with us as sexual beings and everything to do with patriarchy.
However, I am surprised by the number of women who have posted comments on a blog I wrote on a similar issue confessing to have also used their hooters to their advantage to manipulate a male colleague.
But this isn’t surprising. Sexuality is one of the few ways that patriarchy allows women to exert influence; it makes sense that some women will try to take advantage of it. If we are to be treated as sex objects, then it is to be expected that some of us will deploy our objectified bodies to obtain favors from powerful men. This, however, should not be confused with women, as a class, actually wielding real power over men, as a class.
In my response to Dr. Isis I also said this:
…that power is essentially illusory, because we don’t really wield sexual power over men – men as a class wield sexual power over women as a class via the fear of sexual assault.
and that statement seems to be what freaked Dr. Isis out enough to make her write her open letter. And yet, Dr. Isis herself admits:
I would gander that I do not have a reader that has not, in some way, had their life or the life of someone close to them affected by rape.
We alter our behavior, we think twice about how we dress, we ask for escorts to walk us across campus at night. This is because we are taught to worry about the stranger in the bushes, which is part of the way rape/fear of rape operates to control the lives of women. The cultivated fear of the stranger in the bushes operates to narrow the possibility of women to move freely in society without sanction.
It seems to me that Dr. Isis and some of her commenters think that if one is personally not afraid of being raped by the department chair, or while walking to one’s car at night, then there can’t be any issue about pervasive fear of rape. But the sad truth is, we live in a rape culture. Jill at Feministe said, as quoted on the Feminism 101 blog
Statistically, a woman is most likely to be sexually assaulted in her own home. Women are victimized in private far more often; it’s men who are more likely to be victimized in public. People here are taking issue with your statements because there’s a broad rape narrative which tells women that leaving the house to socialize, to go to parties, to date men, whatever, opens them up to violence. That constant threat of rape is used as a tool of social control against all women.
In reality, men are 150 percent more likely to be victims of violent crimes than women. Men are more likely to be both victims and perpetrators of crimes. Men are more likely to be assaulted, injured or killed when alcohol is involved. Men are more likely to be victimized by a stranger (63 percent of violent victimizations), whereas women are more likely to be victimized by someone they know (62 percent of violent victimizations). Women are more likely to be victimized in their home or in the home of someone they know, whereas men are more likely to be victimized in public.
So the constant narrative of “why do women go here when they know they might be raped?” isn’t innocent, even if you mean it that way. It adopts a greater framework that has always been used to keep women docile and domiciled. It’s men who are more likely to experience violence at places like frat parties, but no one suggests that they simply stay home or don’t socialize in a particular way, because everyone assumes that men are entitled to live in the public space as they see fit. Women don’t have that kind of entitlement. That’s why feminists get pissed off when people suggest that women shouldn’t go certain places or do certain things because they might get themselves raped; it’s both inaccurate and part of a larger misogynist message.
Emphasis added by me.
It is in this way that fear of rape operates to constrain the lives of women as a class. But as Jill said, women are more likely to be raped or sexually abused at home, by someone they know. Paradoxically, we are not only not taught to fear this intimate assault, we are taught to embrace it through popular culture narratives as disparate as Ayn Rand’s objectivist blather and Disney’s ubiquitous princess blandishments.
Not a few present-day feminists read The Fountainhead in their youth and once thought “ooh, Howard Roark, he’s so dreamy!”, then grew up to realize “hey! that Howard Roark dude is a rapist!” That’s what living in a rape culture will do for you. It will make you think a romanticized presentation of rape is actually a romantic, even heroic, love tale. It will make you think that a passionate woman must never actually verbalize her sexual desires nor willingly engage in sex, but instead must passively wait for a manly man to overpower her disdain and resistance. THEN she can love him and have sex with him, because he’s proven himself worthy. The manly man, of course, should ignore her disdain and physical resistance, because what she really wants is for him to TAKE her.
But you can’t wait for the kid to get old enough for Ayn Rand to start the rape culture training. No, little boys and girls must be instructed about proper courting behavior from an early age.
Yes, you want her
Look at her, you know you do
Possible she wants you to
There is one way to ask her
It don’t take a word
Not a single word
Go on and kiss the girl
It’s a perfect package. Inculcate fear of the stranger, constrain women’s behavior and mobility, deny the real threats women face in the home, and romanticize intimate coercion and rape so that women feel confused about what has happened to them, and at all times feel guilty and responsible.
Dr. Isis, you are a kick-ass blogger and no doubt, as you proclaim, a domestic and laboratory goddess. But you are a tad naive, and bit sloppy in your argument. Just because I subscribe to a grim view of reality doesn’t mean I think that reality is unchangeable. For god’s sake, I’m the one arguing that men are actually able to control themselves and ought to be expected to be able to keep themselves from ogling tits in the workplace.
And by the way, I’ll look forward to hearing from you, someday, exactly how it is that women “exert dominance over men in reproduction”, because as I look around me in society, I don’t really see that working out so well for women right now. Or maybe I missed the part where society so reveres child-bearing and rearing that it does everything possible to provide for the well-being of expectant mothers and young children, and to make every accommodation possible to ensure that all women can truly choose whether or not they want to work and raise children or just do one or the other. You can take your time getting back to me on that one.