Some random thoughts.
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What he said.
But if you are still here (you fool!) …
A friend once told me that my habit of smiling at women in the street was a bad thing. In fact, she insisted, smiling at a woman I didn’t know was tantamount to rape. Even the fact that I instinctively smile at anyone of any sex and purely in a friendly or amused way, should we happen to make the most fleeting of eye contact, was utterly irrelevant. The violation of my unsolicited smile was unforgivable, and I should take steps to cease doing so forthwith.
But that is not to say I pooh pooh her argument entirely. For one thing I despise the folks who demand a smile in return and make crass comments to that effect, however friendly their manner might really be. I totally understand women who look fixedly at the ground as they pass and only hope they don’t really feel violated by what I hope and believe is a friendly look at a fellow human. Let’s face it, if we were dogs, we’d be discussing how invasive is a sniff of a backside.
And I do get many smiles back, mainly, it must be said, from women. Maybe there are some men who feel molested by my grins. But if we non-rapists are going to stop smiling and leave all beaming rights to the bad guys, I’d be very depressed. Victor Borge used to say that a smile is the shortest distance between two people — I do hope nobody really feels it’s all but penetrative.
This whole #metoo phenomenon is, imao, a phenomenon that is long overdue. at least in terms of the awareness it might bring; so we can hope that some good might come out of the despicable actions (allegedly) of a Hollywood mogul. People say he’s being scapegoated for an endemic problem; maybe, but if it makes a few other sleazeballs think twice and a empowers a few more of their victims to take immediate action, that’s one scapegoat worthy of its sacrifice.
And it is a phenomenon that should give all us blokes pause for very hard thought. Should we, rather than jumping into a #notme denial, not give some serious pondering time to whether we should be putting our hands up and accepting some responsibility, if not culpability? Even those of us, like your present blogger, who like to think we’re supportive; it’s not about beating oneself up and donning the old sackcloth and ashes, but checking not just our privilege but also our culpability and being prepared to fess up and change.
It’s a genuine question. I’m unsure to what extent we should do that, and perhaps more importantly how. And whatever the answer to that, there’s the next question for men and women and all points between and outwith alike: in the immortal words of Mary Beard, what are we going to do about it?
Yes of course there are men who are harassed and abused. I have been wolf-whistled and verbally accosted by men (in Old Compton Street, where I was wearing a very loud jacket) and women, though I take it as read, with my looks, that the attention was of a sarcastic or satiric nature, and time has definitely healed the tendency. I have been groped on underground trains and, on one tightly packed Northern Line carriage, the young woman in front of me was pressing her arse into my groin in a way that didn’t seem excusable simply as a result of the crush, a suspicion that was confirmed when the carriage population was drastically reduced and she not only stayed close, but bent down to adjust her shoes, still rubbing herself against me. But I didn’t feel violated or upset. Nor did I find it totally enjoyable, a degree of bemused discomfort attenuating any arousal that some might have experienced.
And then there was the time of my first office job, the Seventies, the time of which folks who weren’t there say, it was different then, meaning that casual sexism was acceptable — not entirely true and it should be offset against the fact that a sexual genie was out of the very restrictive bottle of previous decades. With women’s increased sexual freedom came a lot of more unsavoury attitudes that had been festering in the bottom of the same container. It was the time of The Female Eunuch and the first full-frontal Playboy pics alike. The topless barmaid and the radical feminist had a common ancestor.
And in my IT office, an equal mix of mainly Northern men and women, amid the general banter and the crude comments, there was the occasional groped buttock or breast and sexual cajolery, but, as far as I remember, given and taken from both sexes. A friend did sleep with the boss after a drunken party, but they had been colleagues and friends since their teens; in no way was it related to preferment (or even turning a blind eye to her erratic attendance hours) and it did result in the whole office learning how poorly the chap was endowed.
But I cannot put my hand on my heart and say with certainty that I never said or did anything that would qualify someone to say #metoo.
From the other side, I get more and more intrigued by the fact that I have a number of female acquaintances who insist #notme (though I have so far seen none risk the storm that might follow saying this online). And I wonder to what extent it is true that some women do get more of this attention than others (and there is no significant statistical difference that I can see between the groups, in ‘attractiveness’ or mode of dress or any other factor some might consider relevant). Or is it more likely that some are so accepting of it as part of the background noise of life, that they hardly notice it? Would that make it OK? Would that mean the others do protest too much? Well, when it seems a seamless line from whistles to rapes, no, I can’t see how it would.
Doubtless some guys who make boorish comments or whistle do not see it, at least consciously, as anything other than a compliment. Indeed, down the years, from second wave to this, when the subject has come up, there are always a few women (at least in the working classes wher your blogger comes from) who will bemoan that they’ve never been wolf-whistled and perhaps only half-jokingly wonder what’s so unattractive about them.
I always wonder to what extent the whole cultural pressure on women to be attractive and men to acknowledge this is a major stumbling block to progress. I can’t help thinking that while the ground floor of every department store or high street chemist is a sea of overpriced cosmetics stands, the cause of feminism, a cause that could benefit everybody, is very heavily handicapped.
But maybe that’s just because I’ve always been a lost cause in the looks stakes, and I find makeup on a woman a total turn off. Ho hum. It’s not easy being a Puritan, though it may help preserve my bi-celibate status.
But, as a friend says, if you think #metoo means you can’t flirt with women at all, it probably means you don’t know how to flirt properly. I could write reams about the question of flirting … maybe another day.
In recent months I have witnessed a couple of blokes outside a Leith boozer call to and then stand in the way of a young woman in a summer outfit. With dignity she just brushed past them and carried on her way, ignoring their ribald but not very aggressive comments. And only last week a respected retired professional gentleman has embarrassed me twice by telling women (on one occasion the life model we had just been drawing) to sit next to me, ‘because he likes pretty women’, making other ‘complimentary’ comments that would have made me uncomfortable even in the Seventies.
Now an activist friend has called on men to take action more often. As she asks, what those of us who pay such good lip service to recognising the problem (especially its sheer scale) have actually done about it. Calling out seems to be the preferred weapon, but cowardice does preserve consciousness in us all; I doubt I’d have been well received trying to show two drunks on Leith walk the error of their ways, and I’m bloody certain, even if I’d got away without physical assault. And though I did say, in admonishing tone, that I like sitting next and chatting to people, I didn’t feel able to give a lecture or start a debate on the topic, especially as the other incident was at a wake.
I know I have female friends who do call out casual sexism, such as guys at a bar discussing how to get served by the ‘hot’ barmaid, but my feeling is that po-faced lectures in such circumstances are actually counterproductive. As far as I can tell, they usually result in a stream of insults, accusations of homosexuality (and to these guys it is an accusation) and a dismissive attitude. If one calls out friends one is killing an atmosphere and quickly getting a reputation as an obsessive killjoy.
Of course the sexist is at fault throughout, but the aim must be to make things better, not just to feel one is on a moral high ground.
No doubt some will say (and have on social media already) that there’s a big jump from a compliment to a lass in a bar to assault and rape. But what has to be considered is the context and general level of background noise in which this occurs. If you’re a woman for whom a smile has been taken as an offer of sex, who has been touched lasciviously or gratuitously on public transport or groped by relatives and family friends since childhood, that compliment, that flirtatious comment might not feel so innocent or trivial. So, in the immortal words of Victoria Wood’s version of Ena Sharples, look sharp and think on. And the most important point is it’s about power and privilege, even just by dint of being male in ‘a man’s world’, the implied threat and that good old violence inherent in the system. That’s never been relevant in my low-key experiences of being on the receiving end, nor was it among colleagues in my laid-back IT departments (as far as I’m aware). As yer man who was abused in the forces (see link above) is well aware, even for him it’s a rare occurrence in a specific situation, not something he has to confront every time he leaves his front door.
Yesterday I saw an interesting point made in an article which spoke of men in an auditorium being asked who among them took measures to avoid being attacked or hassled on a day-to-day basis, and what those measures were. Hardly any hands were raised. The contrast with the response to the same question from women was an eye-opener for many. But the odd fact remains that men are far more likely to be attacked, although less likely (though it does indeed happen) to be sexually assaulted or raped. Most people go about their daily lives without being attacked most of the time (me, two or three times in 65 years). But that culture of drip drip drip harassment and perceived vulnerability has a huge effect on the ability to approach that life with confidence and free from fear.
So now we know that a large number of women, possibly all of them, certainly among the bourgeoisie and liberal ‘thinking’ classes, claim to experience harassment on a daily basis from an early age, and it seems little if any of this can be put down to oversensitivity, or whatever else some might wish to excuse it as.
The geek in me would be fascinated to see a graph or other visual showing what percentage of men were harassing women at what level. Is there a simple curve from a lot of guys smiling or leering or making comments, all the way up, via the bottom pinchers and rub-againsters, to the full-on molesters and rapists? And what would that visual aid tell us that would be of use? Probably nothing, but like I say, I do love a good graph.
Anyway, the day thou gavest, Earth going round Sun, has ended and this blog has rambled more than enough. I could write thirty pages more if I had world enough and time but I have a painting to finish and a novella to write, and I know I wouldn’t be likely to change the world even if anybody read this twaddle. Any regular readers will already be aware of my general ineffectitude and negative charisma. That’s another reason why I don’t engage in discussions with sexist pigs. It’s like the old adage about teaching one to sing … it wastes your time and it annoys the (male chauvinist) pig. Not that I believe it can’t be done. I’m sure there is a way to engage (and it’s not just ‘how would you feel if that was your daughter/sister/granny?’, as double standards are, by definition, immune to that logic), but like I said, I’m no Socrates.
And, like I asked, as Mary B did before me, what are we going to do about it? That, along with Elaine Morgan’s suggestion (in The Descent of Woman) that women will one day be encouraging men to ‘come on in; the water’s lovely’, does give me hope. It’s easy to deprecate men and, fuck me, do we deserve it, but if we can’t find a way out of the #metoo morass beyond the Solanas claim that all men are turds, nobody wins, least of all the lasses.
And they’re so sweet and lovely and sexy (I’m joking!), I’d hate for that to be the case.