A month or so ago, after an antiques dealer responded to her comment about a piece of furniture by asking her if she and her female friend “ever made out with each other,” Leah Green of The Guardian decided it was time to try a little gender-reversal experiment: she would use hidden cameras to film her to treat unsuspecting men to the same sort of inappropriate sexual remarks that women get treated to every day, using real life examples collected by the @everydaysexism project.
Many of the men, unaccustomed to this sort of harassment, weren’t exactly sure how to react to her comments. When she asked a bartender for a drink and a lap dance, she had to repeat herself several times before he got her point. When she tried the “have you guys ever made out with each other” line on two older men, they couldn’t quite even process the question at first.
Others got angry. When she yelled “oi, get your asses out” at some construction workers – a gender-swapped version of the classic “show us your tits” — one of the affronted men responded with “you can’t talk to us like that.” And that was essentially the point of the video: no one should be talking to anyone like that.
That point seems to have escaped one angry commenter on the Men’s Rights subreddit going by the name of frankie_q, who spewed forth a well-received virtual manifesto arguing that it’s complaints about cat-calling, not the cat-calling itself, that is the bigger problem. And that the biggest problem of all is that women wear clothes that men consider sexy.
Frankie starts by pointing out that none of the men in the video were dressed like Chippendale dancers (or Donald Trump):
[A]ctivists who point out that on average women are cat-called more than men never admit that on average men tend to dress in very conservative and unrevealing attire compared with women: all of the men featured in the video were dressed in bland, functional clothing. …
The harassed men were not flaunting their flesh, their figures, nor even showing ostentatious displays of wealth, strength or influence (which are things that more often attract women to men than vice-versa). Had these men been wearing tight black leather chaps and shirts, Chippendale tuxedos, hotpants over profile-enhancing push-up underpants; if they were parading their waxed and oiled muscles, or if they were letting their £30,000 Patek Philippe timepieces dangle alluringly from beneath their shirt cuffs, it would have been a much more poignant and valid comparison.
So is Frankie suggesting that all women who get harassed literally dress like strippers? Not quite. He’s suggesting that there’s just not that much difference between what stripper and non-stripper women wear.
[E]ven something as ordinary as a skirt reveals acres more flesh than the equivalent male garment. Almost all women’s clothing is designed to enhance their sexual allure and heighten their sexual power, and this is so normalised that we don’t even notice.
And therefore, women who dress the way women usually do are essentially broadcasting their sexuality to the world and bringing sexual harassment – sorry, sexual attention – upon themselves.
Dress is a form of communication. … A prostitute dressed convincingly as a nun or in dusty overalls would fail to attract many clients, not because nobody desires her services, but because she is not communicating her sexual availability. Conversely, men and women who advertise their desire for sexual attention, whether verbally or through their dress, are wilfully miscommunicating if in truth they desire no such thing.
So should women simply cover themselves up from head to toe?
While I would not advocate for the adoption of burqas in the west, they are a stark and extreme example of how things like cat-calling correlate with appearance. Their use is encouraged in the genuinely patriarchal Arab world by women who wish to evade the attention of men, and by men who perceive immodest dress to be a way for a woman to gain power over them, and while I consider the practice backward, these men and women both have valid points backed up by empirically observable outcomes: dress dowdy, be left alone.
But hey, we don’t need to resort to burqas when we already have pantsuits:
A female office worker in a frumpy pant-suit or a woman running an errand in baggy jeans and a hoodie is as invisible as a man dressed the same way.
And women in baggy or “frumpy” attire are never, ever, ever sexually harassed ever, apparently.
The real problem, in Frankie’s mind, is that women use their sexy sex appeal to have sexy sex power over sex-hungry men. (Women are not as interested in sex, you see, and so are less inclined to lose their minds over men in tiny hotpants.) By dressing sexily, women thus gain an unfair and “unchecked sexual power” over men.
Being sexually desired is a form of power. …
If a person has a strong psychological desire for something, be it a man who desires sex, a woman who desires wealth, an ex-smoker who desires nicotine, a recovering junkie who desires heroin or an infected person who desires a cure, someone who is in possession of the desirable thing has an easy way to manipulate the deprived individual.
So women are basically the drug dealers of the drug … in their pants.
[A] smoker who blows cigarette smoke in the face of an ex-smoker is rightly condemned for frustrating them. A pimp who has an abundant supply of drugs can is considered evil for luring addicts to their ruin. …
But the reasoning that accompanies these kinds of moral judgments does a full 180° turn when the scenario involves a man who is being psychologically controlled through his sexuality. He is afforded none of the sympathy given to the other, comparably manipulated individuals, but worse than that, he is considered an aggressor if he so much as looks at that which he is being tempted with (the “male gaze”, “visual harassment”), never mind if he passes comment or escalates the situation with a romantic advance.
So when a guy yells “show us your tits” at a passing woman, this “romantic advance” is really the fault of the woman for having tits in public. She’s the “morally contemptible party” for displaying herself in front of horny men who are not at that very moment having sex. Don’t blow your tits in men’s faces, ladies!
Oh, but apparently my reaction here is an example of anti-male “empathy apartheid.” In Frankie’s world, sexual harassment is merely a kind of “romantic advance”; the real sexual harassment comes from women wearing makeup and clothes that reveal their female figure.
In a world that treated the male experience with the same empathy and concern as western society treats the female experience, when revealing, figure-hugging clothing, makeup, short skirts and push-up bras are worn in the workplace it would be viewed as sexual harassment, and the women who seek to gain influence through such means would be shamed and reprimanded in the same way as would any other kind of psychological manipulator.
That’s right: women should be “shamed and reprimanded” for making (straight) men think dirty thoughts about women.
I’m pretty sure that most straight men can manage the dirty thoughts all by themselves. Maybe men should be reprimanding their own brains for all the filthy scenarios they keep coming up with.
Thanks to Cloudiah and AgainstMensRights for pointing me to this.