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sexual harassment warren farrell

Warren Farrell: Sexual harassment lawsuits are just the latest version of the female mate selection process

By David Futrelle

I‘ve been rereading Warren Farrell’s Myth of Male Power — basically the MRA bible — and boy does my brain hurt.

If you haven’t had the distinct unpleasure of reading any of Farrell’s books, it’s hard to convey just how frustrating and infuriating his writing style is; it’s rambling and convoluted and weirdly evasive. It’s as if he faintly knows that what he’s saying makes no goddamn sense and is trying to do his best to cover up his leaps of illogic with sheer bafflegab.

Let me present you with some of his finest work in this vein, found in his discussion of sexual harassment.

As you might expect, Farrell is not a big fan of sexual harassment legislation, which he feels is discriminatory against men because how are they supposed to know when they’re sexually harassing someone? And also isn’t it unfair that women still get to dress all sexy at work, I mean, it’s like they want you to sexually harass them or something.

That is, as best as I can discern it, his basic argument. But the more closely you read his writing on the subject the weirder it gets. Let’s take this extended disquisition on the evils of miniskirts.

Many women ask, “What’s the big deal with a miniskirt, perfume, and a little flirting in the workplace?” It would not be a big deal for most men if no one were making a big deal of the man’s response.

In other words, it wouldn’t be a big deal if no one cared about men ogling women in the office and saying sexually suggestive things to them about said miniskirts.

But, he thinks, it sends out the wrong sort of signals to men, who see a woman in a miniskirt and think “there’s a woman who wants to get married and quit work.”

It is a big deal, though, for the woman—if her goal is to be treated seriously at work. Here’s why. Her indirect initiatives signal to the man her tendency to avoid direct responsibility. Indirect initiatives signal to him that he is dealing with a woman who is traditional. And traditionally, indirect initiatives were designed to lead to marriage and the end of her involvement in the workplace.

Yeah, maybe if you live inisde a sitcom from the 1960s

So the miniskirt, perfume, and flirting unconsciously tell the man that this woman wants an end to her involvement in the workplace—or, at least, an end to her involvement by obligation.

Because it’s so common for women to marry and quit their jobs. So common that in fact women make up the majority of those in the workforce.

If you were a boss who had to choose between promoting someone who had the option to work versus someone with the obligation to work (e.g., to support a spouse and three children), whom would you take more seriously?

Most women, miniskirted or not, don’t have the option to not work. Only about a quarter of mothers are stay-at-home housewives these days.

Oh, but he’s not done. If you thought wearing miniskirts was bad, consider lipstick. And/or flowers in the hair.

In almost all cultures throughout human history, women’s indirect initiatives were their way of signaling their desire for men to take direct initiatives.

If she smiles at you, it means she wants your dick pics.

A flirtation was an invitation. In some cultures, lipstick was a woman’s way of signaling her willingness to perform fellatio. In the South Sea islands, a fresh flower in a woman’s hair signaled availability. The purpose of the flower, lipstick, or the miniskirt is to put the signal out strongly enough to stimulate every man’s interest. It is only when she has every man’s interest that she has real choice—the choice of the “best” men.

What is it with these guys and lipstick? No, dude, women wearing lipstick aren’t “signaling” anything other than the fact that they think they look good in lipstick.

Also, I want to know exactly which cultures think lipstick means “she wants to give blowjobs.” Farrell has no footnote for that fun factoid; I’m guessing it was pulled directly from his ass.

Farrell then concludes that when women say “no” to the men attracted to them by miniskirts and lipstick and hair-flowers they really mean “keep going.”

What has been the historical importance of her barriers—her “no, noes”? It was her way of selecting a man who could handle life’s rejections and survive, who cared enough for her to take risks, and who would assume total responsibility should anything go awry.

Apparently the ladies are really into guys who do and say things that would get them accused of sexual harassment if they did or said them to someone else?

In a sense, sexual harassment lawsuits are just the latest version of the female selection process—allowing her to select for men who care enough for her to put their career at risk; who have enough finesse to initiate without becoming a jerk and enough guts to initiate despite a potential lawsuit. During this process, she gets a sense of his trustworthiness, his commitment, his ability to overcome barriers, the way he handles rejection.

I’m pretty sure that most women are far more appreciative of men who handle rejection by not hitting on them any more than they are of those who respond to “no” by escalating their “courtship” behavior.

Sexual initiatives by men toward women below them at work is the most frequent definition of sexual harassment. When it works, it’s called courtship. When it doesn’t work, it’s called harassment.

Huh. Maybe men shouldn’t be hitting on women they supervise in the first place. (Or vice versa)

Anyway, enough of that. Does anyone want to hear his defense of dirty jokes at work?

Although both sexes have their own styles of humor, we often heard during the Thomas-Hill confrontation that dirty jokes were the way male bosses exert their power over women. Hardly. Men share dirty jokes with peers, buddies, and with anyone with whom they feel comfortableA dirty joke is often a male boss’s unconscious way of getting his staff to not take him so seriously and therefore not be intimidated; his way of creating an atmosphere of easier feedback, of getting his staff to bond. Men get confused when women say they feel left out when they’re not included, then sue when they are included!

Ah women, those mysterious creatures who for some strange reason don’t want to “bond” with their boss over some joke about a man from Nantucket.

Farrell, for better or worse, is the intellectual godfather of the Men’s Rights movement; his ideas have basically defined the ideology of the movement for nearly three decades. No wonder the Men’s Rights movement is so fucked up.

Send tips to dfutrelle at gmail dot com.

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Ohlmann
Ohlmann
1 year ago

@Naglfar : what the flying inverted scoubidoo. I mean, I alway considered the TERF to be not-so-well disguised misogynists and white apologist, but that shit is hardcore even by neonazi standard.

@Snowberry : they can be (relatively) united against something, that something being progressive in most case.

That being said, haters tend to all hate the same thing. It’s something I learned by seeing that black racist very often hate other blacks. Once a group is marked as an easy target, bigots tend to find reason to hate it, not the other way around. That’s also why there is little to no anti-white racism.

Naglfar
Naglfar
1 year ago

@Snowberry, Ohlmann
While I don’t think a hate singularity will ever happen, as bigots are very prone to fighting each other over minor things, I think a lot of previously single-issue bigots are becoming more open about how their hate has intersections, for example I’m seeing a lot of TERFs be a lot more open about their racism and homophobia.

For TERFs in particular, I think this is because they’re grasping for straws. Their previous favorite celebrity got himself banned from Twitter and has ruined his reputation, and their next hope, JK Rowling, has been met with condemnation from all directions. The British GRA consult revealed that over 70% of the public supports trans* rights. Instead of seeing more people “peak” (TERF speak for becoming transphobic), they’re realizing that most people don’t agree with them. So they’re throwing in everything they can to try to win, but it really is just revealing what they really are to the public. Hopefully they continue to ruin their own image and drag themselves down.

Lainy
Lainy
1 year ago

This cultural pressure and prejudice is also why it’s not helpful for people to come along and go: “Well ackshually I find fat people super hot!” when it comes to discussing fatphobia and other similar body-shaming topics.

Or people that fetishize it. My roommates were two heavier set black women and they had a lot of problem with finding a guy who like them, were attracted to them as people, vs the guys that fetishized them and were making them into sexual objects. And then they acted like they were heroes for doing so because of course so few people are attracted to fat people (belh).

I am not fat, I have never been fat, I will probably never be fat, but I can sympathizes with this really well because as a smaller, petit person, I deal with the people who fetishize me in the opposite way, but they both come from the same place.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
1 year ago

@Naglfar:

It works for me, but I can embed the image from the Twitter post if that helps:
TW: antisemitism

The original link is working again. Looks like Twitter was malfunctioning for a while and serving blank pages, but has returned to normal.

Ironically, though, your image embed didn’t work.

(You’d think for all their vaunted prowess, the tech zillionaires and their armies of well-paid white-collar techbro coders would have this stuff down to a science by now?)

Naglfar
Naglfar
1 year ago

@Surplus

Ironically, though, your image embed didn’t work.

Huh. I can see it, so I’m not sure what the issue is. Maybe it takes time to load?

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
1 year ago

Browser claims to have fully loaded the page.

What image host did you use? Did the link end with an image file type (.jpg, .gif, .png, etc.)? Was it http or https?

Naglfar
Naglfar
1 year ago

@Surplus
I linked directly to the image on Twitter. It’s a png with https://. I can see it in the comment, so I’m not sure why it isn’t working for you. But if you were able to load Twitter, it shouldn’t be a problem because you can see it there.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
1 year ago

Hmm, odd. Maybe they disrupt hotlinking, but since you already had a copy in your browser cache it works for you?

Catalpa
Catalpa
1 year ago

The image works fine for me. It might be because you’ve got some scripts disabled or something, Surplus.

In any case, it’s no big deal.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
1 year ago

Image embeds shouldn’t be affected by scripts. Indeed I’d be extremely surprised if it was possible to include a script in a comment here. Nearly all forum type sites block that for security reasons.

Podkayne Lives
Podkayne Lives
1 year ago

Something I would wonder is, in the modern day, do sex workers often wear lipstick? Maybe that’s where he got his idea from.

It’s so common a make-up among modern women in general that I’d guess most SWs probably put something on their lips for work, although I guess what depends on locality and the look you’re going for. But I teach eighth grade social studies, and I wear lipstick a lot of the time. Older American or British women frequently make a point not to go out without it. My grandma would never have left her home without swiping on some pink lipstick. There have been times and places when it’s been more shocking, or sexual, but I think that, say, since WWII in the English-speaking world, it’s pretty much just signalled “I present as a woman, and I’m wearing some makeup”.

Snowberry
Snowberry
1 year ago

@Podkayne Lives: I was a sex worker for most of 2004, and some did, some didn’t. Maybe 50-50. I didn’t. I couldn’t speak to current times or any locality other than my own, though.

(Side note – I only started because of financial issues and lack of good options, and only stopped because it was illegal. I did enjoy it, mostly, and probably would have continued a good long while otherwise. That said, it’s definitely not suitable work for most people, just like a lot of other jobs.)

Masse_Mysteria
Masse_Mysteria
1 year ago

@Lumipuna

Indeed, this is something I didn’t bother to write about in my comment.

I atted you because your comment made me think of that. Sorry if I sounded like I was implying it was something you’d overlooked.

@Weird Eddie, Catalpa

Nope… the people policing looks are the ones who all find the same things attraxtive

I also kind of doubt that there are that many people who have such a narrowly defined type as to think that all women (or people in general) have to be from the same cookie-cutter to be attractive. Different people look different, and different people are going to be attractive in different ways because attraction isn’t just looks. Even if someone finds only a certain type of person attractive, it should be obvious that not everyone in the world is somehow obliged to become that person for them. So all the policing is at least partially about who has the power to dictate what is deemed acceptable.

@Fraser

And that includes makeup: most people aren’t going to read “not wearing makeup” as a sign you’re there for business, they’ll wonder what kind of mess doesn’t take even minimum care of her looks.

I guess this has to vary from workplace to workplace (not to mention country to country), because as far as I’ve been able to tell, all the places I’ve worked at, some women have worn makeup (some in a “natural” look, others more pronounced), some haven’t.

Schadrach
Schadrach
1 year ago

“Many women ask, “What’s the big deal with a miniskirt, perfume, and a little flirting in the workplace?” It would not be a big deal for most men if no one were making a big deal of the man’s response.”

I notice a bunch of folks acting as though that question “many women ask” is entirely innocent and totally reasonable. Why shouldn’t women at work be allowed to wear anything they like and openly flirt?

Now, just bear with me for a moment, just imagine the least attractive man at your workplace said “What’s the big deal with a little flirting at the workplace?” What are the odds he wouldn’t get an HR complaint just for saying that, let alone acting on it? I believe the words “creepy” and “uncomfortable working environment” would get used with the quickness.

@Policy of Madness:
“What makes him so confident that sexual harassment always and only swings in the male->female direction?”

He doesn’t have to be, he just has to assume that either no one will care when women sexually harass men, or that the bar for them to care is substantially higher.

That’s probably not an unreasonable assumption. It tends to be in every other similar situation.

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