A modest proposal.

Dr. Isis offers advice to a reader who gets ogled by a professor.

Numerous commenters chime in with their own experiences of being ogled, groped, and otherwise harassed by professors, classmates, bosses, colleagues, and random guys.

Some of the men among Isis's commentariat say, are you kidding? You have to put up with this crap regularly? (I'm inclined to view this as a positive effect of this blog post: people have the opportunity to hear about something other people experience on a regular basis, something that they hadn't, for whatever reason, noticed themselves. More data give you a fuller picture of the reality.)

Others of the men among Isis's commentariat respond by whipping out the biology excuse: Our lust, it is powerful! It is never turned off, and our visual boob-detectors are always scanning the surroundings!

For example:

The three salient points I am trying to make are these: 1) men and women wired differently than women, 2)there is a generational difference in styles of dress, 3) you can't change his behavior. You CAN however change YOUR behavior.

I'm inclined to think salient point #2 is not terribly salient, since in my experience (and that of many of the commenters on Isis's post) you can get the same unwelcome ogling and groping wearing "frumpy" clothes (or sweats, or a parka) as "sexy" clothes. The fact of being female is often enough, regardless of attire.

But, if we grant for the sake of argument that women and men are wired differently, and that male behavior is an immovable object, it seems clear that the solution is to free public spaces -- including work places and colleges and universities -- of men. After all, if they are biologically incapable of acting with professionalism, it's unfair to put them in situations where professional behavior would be demanded of them. And if their lust is what entrains their attention, clearly we could achieve greater productivity in an all-female work force (since women seem able to keep their lust from regularly interfering with their work).

Possibly, we should also be keeping men isolated indoors, so their uncontrollable biological urges do not harm them or others. But one piece of social engineering at a time.

Sounds good? No?

Then let's stop explaining men's unprofessional conduct towards women with such stupid excuses.

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Sounds like a call for Swift action.

FWIW, however, it might be necessary to distinguish truly involuntary vs. voluntary action. Plenty of research suggests that extremely fast eye movements are genuinely beyond conscious (or learned) control. Hands etc. don't have this excuse -- and neither do eye motions longer than a literal blink.

A good question any of us with Y chromosomes need to be able to answer is, "what color are her eyes?" If you can describe below-the-shoulders better than above-the lips, you're doing it wrong.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 05 Jun 2009 #permalink

Don't be silly, Janet. They can step outdoors. They just can't have shoes, lest they attempt to give chase. Perhaps we can encourage beautifully dainty feet in men as well...

Sorry, expressions of male lust aren't immutable. It's sort of like when someone uses "Life's not fair" in response to the habitual/continual misbehavior of people - while fair isn't applicable to physical reality, it is applicable to human behavior and the cultures that sustain or inhibit it. When someone says that life isn't fair, what they are really saying is that the (particular) misbehavior of others should be treated as a physical reality which cannot be altered rather than as a behavior which can be changed. It implies that there is no justification for the behavior, and so the only way it can continue to be supported is to pretend that it cannot be prevented. Yet some obviously manage to do so, which implies that the behavior isn't some irresistable force, but can be resisted or altered, if the will exists to do so.

I don't think these justifications would hold much water if it were men acting this way towards men.

Hm, do we get to have stacks of books while isolated indoors?
I could do without an internet connection if socially required, but I'd have to have something to read.
Lots of something to read.

You know, there are people who excuse rape by saying "Well she was wearing a short skirt, she was asking for it", and I see no difference between that and "If you don't want us to stare at your breasts then wear shapeless baggy clothes". In fact, suggesting that because men cannot control their biological urges women should be forced to cover themselves up sounds rather like the cultural norms of countries the US and coalition forces are bombing seven bells out of in the name of "freedom".

The real irony here is that in cultures with head-to-toe covering like a burqa, male discussion and poetry still reveal that they are nonetheless desperately ogling the women, especially when it happens to get windy and they can see outlines. So clearly there is not even an asymptotic point at which women are not going to be ogled by at least some men.

I don't have a problem with men looking at me, but I do have a problem with them doing it in a way that makes me feel threatened or uncomfortable, or in a way that undermines me professionally. I don't see why it's beyond the reach of men's social skills to learn how to look and interact in an appropriate way. Many men out there successfully do this! You too can learn!

By and again... (not verified) on 05 Jun 2009 #permalink

@ Steinn Sigurdsson- Pshaw! Like men need to read! Can't you tell from verbal test scores that you just aren't equipped for it???
Anyway, even if you like to read, you're better off not- you might hurt your eyes and then you would be oggling impaired. Don't worry your handsome little head about it. All you need to read is a cookbook!
Just make dinner for when the Missuses comes home after a hard day at a real job, and be ready/willing/able to channel all that testosterone appropriately at her beck and call.
Men reading! What will they think of next?

@and again... Really? Do you honestly think most men can learn this? I mean, I guess I could grant you that a select few seem to have managed it, though maybe they are just better at hiding it then the rest of the male population. Besides, all such men are ugly testosterone-deprived freaks who have learned they will never be attractive to a woman and have just given up on the whole game.

I know, I have occasional radical progressive thoughts and think one day I might be permitted to browse the cookbooks, rather than just go to whichever recipe my wife selected.

You're right about the eyes hurting though.

But I don't really care about most men, they can sit at home in baggy shorts and watch NASCAR reruns,
I want to know if I can read.

Steinn, just watch Sarah Haskins videos. She'll teach you how to do the laundry and put on makeup. And tend to your ahem, garden.

becca, you asked about getting people to stop touching you somewhere on here. Turn at a 90 degree angle, literally, give the cold shoulder. Bend down to pick something up, fix your shoes, completely disengage from the person. If it's perpetual toucher, then invade their space full throttle. I've actually done this. Make yourself unwelcome and dominate the conversation. It works like a charm. They will start hiding when they see you. Pregnancy touching from total strangers requires a shirt that says "you touch the belly and I will stab you" and a serious "I will do it asshole" face.

Men that don't participate in the bad behavior are generally horrified by the ones that do.
There's not a lot we can do besides speaking up to them. (Which I've never had a problem doing.)
Women don't need men to speak up for them, by any means, but the men that are engaging in the bad behavior need to know they can't play it off as women being sensitive. That not only do they not get support from us, but they get active opposition from other men.
In other words, "I'm just being a man!" doesn't cut it. Period.
Any man that isn't helping to police his own is part of the problem.

@becca: That actually made me stop and think. Then I understood it. Cue someone's overreaction to it in 3...2....

By JThompson (not verified) on 05 Jun 2009 #permalink

Becca -- the Isis topic is swamped so I hope Our Hostess will forgive me for answering your social-distance question here.

Bottom line: no good answers. Social distance is cultural, and to anyone not trained in it it's pretty much unconscious. Someone "too far away" for conversation makes us all uncomfortable, likewise "too close." Quite without thinking we try to adjust the difference. I once saw a very interesting covert video of two people at a party, one more or less chasing the other and neither really aware of it.

By the way: people can be taught to use social distance to manipulate others. Creepy to know that we have buttons like that.

The only solution (other than just calling it out and trying to work the problem jointly) is to use furniture. A bar is a bit extreme, but chairs seem to be acceptable to most people without them feeling the need to move them.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 05 Jun 2009 #permalink

s/The only solution/The only solution I know of/

Sorry 'bout that.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 05 Jun 2009 #permalink

The "men are just wired that way and can't help themselves; women need to dress (or act) less provocatively" argument has always been a patriarchy favorite. It has been disproved over and over, yet still seems to get trotted out whenever teh ladeez start complaining about sexual harassment. Or rape.

I'm glad becca and Dr. Freeride still have their humor about them. Mine is currently gone.

By stickypaws (not verified) on 05 Jun 2009 #permalink

The "men are just wired that way and can't help themselves; women need to dress (or act) less provocatively" argument has always been a patriarchy favorite. It has been disproved over and over, yet still seems to get trotted out whenever teh ladeez start complaining about sexual harassment.

That's a two-part statement. The "people are wired to pay attention" part is partially true; see recent work published on involuntary eye movements relative to "attractiveness" of faces. It applies to men, women, and even babies. Which is not the same as five-minute slack-jawed target lock on someone's body.

The "therefore the recipients of this unwanted attention should take all the responsibility is just bogus -- a power play at best. My vote is for a repulsive sludge of power, getting away with it, and blaming the victim.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 05 Jun 2009 #permalink

hey, we can't go a thread without WHAT ABOUT THE MENZZZZZZZ???11?!!!1!!!11!!! you get the prize Danimal.

stickypaws, mine's with yours. search party?

Why the assumption that only men are doing this? I have experienced it the other way around.

Hm...Ah! Here it is..."What About the Men, Dear God, What About the Men?!?"

BINGO!

Danimal,

Verily it sucks to be ogled and/or groped in a professional setting, regardless of one's gender or the gender of the person doing the ogling and/or groping.

However, a salient difference is that I've never heard the "Hey, it's biological and thus inescapable!" excuse deployed to defend women behaving this way, whereas when the ogler or groper is a man it is deployed All. The. Time. Women, somehow, are presumed to be able to control their impulses in the workplace.

Interestingly, it's my understanding that women were presumed to be more in the thrall of their sensual (and sexual) nature than men at various earlier points in history -- and this was used as a justification to control their access to public spaces.

@jc "stickypaws, mine's with yours. search party?"
I am sorry, you lost me??
@Dr. Free-Ride "However, a salient difference is that I've never heard the "Hey, it's biological and thus inescapable!" excuse deployed to defend women behaving this way, whereas when the ogler or groper is a man it is deployed All. The. Time."
I do not disagree.

Why the assumption that only men are doing this?

I don't see "only" up there at all. Otherwise, it's a simple matter of betting the odds -- especially once you weight by power disparity.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 05 Jun 2009 #permalink

Oh god, I hope I don't do this :O

(the ogling, not the groping... I know I don't do that)

ABM @21 makes a point:
It is possible â I don't know how likely, but possible â that the man in question is unaware that he's doing this.

I once had a female colleague who confided in me that a male colleague made her uncomfortable, because most of the time he talked with her, he looked at her breasts. She didn't want to "report" him, but she didn't know what to do. I said I'd think about it and see what I could come up with.

I talked with him about it, politely, telling him that it really looked awkward, that I was sure that the woman "must be noticing", and that "I bet" it bothered her. He seemed genuine when he said, "I do that? Oh, geez, I'm sorry!" I suggested that he not apologize to me, but to her.

He didn't apologize to her. But here's the thing: he stopped doing it. My colleague later thanked me, saying, "Whatever you said to him, it worked!"

Now, I don't know whether he really hadn't known he was doing that, or whether he stopped out of embarrassment that he'd been caught. But I found it interesting that a quiet conversation took care of the problem, at least that time.

ââ
On the other hand, I also had a (different) male colleague who would run out into the hallway and look every time he heard what sounded like feminine footsteps. He thought he was being subtle. He wasn't; there was nothing subtle about it, and everyone knew what he was doing.

Hmmm. The thread over at Isis' took a branch that's right up the line for this blog: what are the ethical aspects to dealing with workplace abuse, considering that (apparently) academic life is somewhat insulated from the law that applies in industry? Notably, several people on that side of things have stated that one way or another making a stand is likely to be a career-limiting move?

$HERSELF's comment is that reprisals or not, sometimes you have to leave the back of the bus. Mine is that Rosa Parks set a pretty high bar -- but then I recalled that Our Hostess is arguably more qualified than I to analyze this question.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 06 Jun 2009 #permalink

On the other hand, I also had a (different) male colleague who would run out into the hallway and look every time he heard what sounded like feminine footsteps. He thought he was being subtle. He wasn't; there was nothing subtle about it, and everyone knew what he was doing.

And what did you say to him, Barry?

The "I can't help it, it's a biological urge!" excuse pisses me off. Some people are addicted to cigarettes- really physically addicted so that they experience physiological discomfort when they're prevented from smoking. And yet we have nonsmoking workplaces and require them to wait until break time to smoke, because smoking cigarettes indoors might bother others. Even if we grant for the sake of argument that you *need* to ogle women's boobs or your testicles will hurt, tough shit. Your testicles are going to have to hurt. Wait until break time and go in a locked bathroom stall and ogle a Barbie doll, or whatever you need to do to keep from objectifying real live women. I have no sympathy.

By JessSnark (not verified) on 06 Jun 2009 #permalink

Cara @24: I don't remember what I said, in particular; many of us, men and women, told him how stupid it looked, that everyone knew, that people thought it was creepy, and such. I didn't change anything, in that case: he even seemed to take some "pride", for reasons I can't imagine.

"It seems clear that the solution is to free public spaces -- including work places and colleges and universities -- of men"

Agreed. "Reckless eyeballing" is a serious threat to decent folk, by which we mean women. Men ought to have to walk around with their eyes downcast at all times.

Oh, and also ought to have to sit at the back of the bus.

By Paul Murray (not verified) on 07 Jun 2009 #permalink

As to the whole biological thing: this circuitry in men seems to be a hot-wired version of that reflex in women that produces the "clucky" response. After all, it works the same: visual stimuli producing a squirt of sex hormone (progesterone or testosterone as the case may be). Note how both men (re women) and women (re babies) note the same things: large eyes, small head, fine little hands, and so on. Note how the reflex is triggered even by very indirect stimuli - even symbolic cultural indicators.

There's plenty of other parallels too, most dramatically fetishization. The man who has a thing for ladies shoes isn't too much different from the lonely gal who crochets baby booty after baby booty, or who fills her flat with pictures and posters and porcelain salt-and-pepper shakers of smiling, chubby-faced cartoon pigs.

And, of course, the male sexual response being tied to a rejigged version of the female mothering response explains paedophillia quite neatly, given that a person starts female and must become male in utero. There's several things that can go wrong, and being left with the male response triggered by the female triggers is one of them.

My point is: turnabout is fair play. Could we perhaps make it illegal for a woman to go ga-ga over a stranger's else's baby? To "ogle" them? To so much as notice them, regardless of how adorably cutely they may be dressed? Try that, and see how you like it.

By Paul Murray (not verified) on 07 Jun 2009 #permalink

Oh, and also ought to have to sit at the back of the bus.

I think there may be a problem with that particular part of the plan.

ISTR that there's a Talmudic proscription against men following women when crossing a stream -- the guys (not exactly what we would consider big on equality) would have a good view as the ladies hiked up their skirts. If the objective is to minimize ogling, the back of the bus is not a winner.

Next time when trying to reframe someone else's reductio ad absurdem try to pick a better inapt reference.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 08 Jun 2009 #permalink

Also, since the menfolk (bless 'em!) are better at household maintenance chores, clearly they are intended by some, I don't know, Supreme Creating Being or something, to remain in the home. In case the plumbing backs up, or the clothes dryer breaks down. Or something.

perhaps men just need to be more subtle in their ogling. or does that defeat the purpose?

By taras pater (not verified) on 08 Jun 2009 #permalink

perhaps men just need to be more subtle in their ogling. or does that defeat the purpose?

Are we heading into "distinction without a difference" country?

My inner physicist says that unless you open the (bone) box, you can't tell. My social conditioning says that a hidden camera in the ladies' locker room is still a Bad Thing even if none of the women know it's there.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 08 Jun 2009 #permalink

DC, I don't think your analogy is very good. If no-one can distinguish that someone is ogling, due to the subtlety of it, then it is more of a thought crime than a real crime. Whereas a hidden camera has action involved (if you know what I mean, I don't think I'm being very clear here.)

I think what 31 means is that a subtle glance is ok, staring is not. The key word here is subtle, not like someone is talking to me and they just glance down at my chest, that is super obvious.

By Katherine (not verified) on 09 Jun 2009 #permalink

The funny thing is that the existence of the first group of men pretty much refutes the claims of the second group. If sexual harassment were really hard-wired in men, why would any of us be shocked at how common it is?

Ogling is so nt a new tng its bn hapenin 4 4eva nd a day, wen dne subtli its accptble wn dne adawise its a cmplt NoNo.