The double standards around me are impressive. Hollaback is up in arms about street harassment in the form of, “Hey beautiful!” but what about Kim Kardashian’s naked ass? Already parodied at least a half dozen times, even if you’re not trying to look for it, that butt has been plastered all over the place and in your face.
In light of it’s ever so shiny plumpness (also spoofed by Archer, some crass H. Jon Benjamin brilliance I rather enjoy), how are people really supposed to have a clear understanding of a complex issues like harassment and interpersonal communication, something that is incredibly subjective?
While I rail against the conservative nature of my upbringing, the truth is, I have some really traditional ideas. Let’s start with the fact that men are, on average, the stronger sex, as is evidenced by the fact that women site their fear of men being able to overpower them on the street. Men, on the whole, are larger than women and often that accompanies, if nothing else, a sense of physical intimidation with (some? many?) women. As such, I actually think it is gentlemanly when a man opens a door, lets a woman walk on the inside of the street, takes a woman’s arm, offers her his seat and so on. If you want to label me “old fashion” I’d admit that’s partly true (though my bright magenta dreads embellished with rhinestones might belie those words 😉 ).
The other part of me will say that I’m a realist. When one chooses to honor the weakness in another from a place of respect, that is a gift, not patriarchal control. I see a man choosing to honor a woman with the aforementioned old fashioned actions as honoring the woman. Some feminists will say I’m brainwashed, which I’m sure accounts for the fact that I got a degree in computer science in 1991 (just what brainwashed good girls do, right?) and worked in tech for well over a decade… incidentally, without a single incident of sexual harassment or sexism directed toward me. Yes, that’s right, I think the stories about these gender issues in the male dominated computer field toward girl geeks are also somewhat exaggerated.
Xer Women Pave the Way
Looking back through my lifetime of 45 years, Gen X women like myself come from an interesting era. We really are the first generation of women who stood a chance of holding an equal place in the workforce with men. That’s not to say that amazing women didn’t do amazing things before us, like my own mother who was a superintendent of schools in New York City in the 80’s. Rather, it’s to say my mom was the exception. I believe that as latch key kids came to be more a norm for Xers, we girls grew up thinking we could be women and have competitive careers too, even if, for the most part, the generation before us worked as teachers, nurses and secretaries.
Enter affirmative action, the plan for somehow creating equality. Sure, maybe it did help in the beginning, but in my career, it seemed more to hurt than help. Telling someone to follow a set of rules to attempt to fix what’s happened in the past or reprogram people to be more tolerant isn’t going to create understanding but rather, suspicion and lack of trust. “Did she get that job because she’s qualified or because she ‘earned’ it by having the right genitalia?” I perceive that question to be one that was part of the experience for every woman of my era as a result of affirmative action. The reality was, people wanted to hire women in tech and there really weren’t a lot of women qualified to do the job, something I might not have believed had I not been a hiring manager in tech myself. It wasn’t gender discrimination that prevented women from getting jobs. It was a lack of trained women that prevented women from getting jobs.
To all the women out there I say, I get it. I understand that you somehow feel like men — not just The Man — have been trying to keep us down. I get that you feel like the patriarchy has dominated us, we have been systematically oppressed and the guys on the street hollering at us in some way is them asserting control over us.
In reality, I don’t think that’s the full story and may not even be the most important part of the story. Think back to 150 years ago. Lives were very different and there was a lot more physical labor required to do anything. The strength men possess simply because of their size and build (if not what results from their hormones) separated us and separated the work we did. It is only as a result of the industrial revolution that women can even begin to be on the same playing field as men and in fact, that humans can even start to live in such isolated units rather than families. Now, after having survived with and because of the other gender, women want to look at these same creatures and shun them for what allowed us all to get to this moment? I can’t and won’t do it. I won’t choose to call myself a feminist and further separate myself from my brothers in the interest of allegedly serving equality.
I am not a Feminist; I’m a humanist.
I posted a status about this on Facebook last night:
I’m not a feminist even though I have spent my life doing things I was told (more than once because of my gender), “you could never do that!” I think identifying with gender in fighting against those thoughts is another way of feeding them.
Instead, I’m a humanist. Because we are all far more capable than our naysayers believe us to be.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, here’s Wikipedia’s stab at it:
Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism).
That resonates with me a whole bunch more than what I perceive about feminism. As a humanist, I take into consideration far more than just gender. Please, let’s consider age, region, location, access to resources and other important factors that define the fabric of our lives. Being a humanist is about the whole of the system interacting in a way as to be empowering for as many people in as many ways as possible while honoring both the individual and the whole society.
Sure, at some point in time feminism might have meant something that I could have agreed with though today, I think it gets a bad rap and not necessarily a wholly undeserved one because of how I have seen so many self-proclaimed feminists act. I have experienced first hand a serious lack of rationality and tolerance — including toward me.
A female friend commented on my status saying:
And here I thought feminism was about striving for equality and not against anything. If we are all equal isn’t that a humanist perspective as well? Choose any label you want for yourself, but there is no contradiction between being feminist and humanist.
I had to take pause a moment to consider that. I looked up feminism:
Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women.
Here’s the thing that I think gets me into trouble with self-proclaimed feminists: I don’t think we’re all equal. We may all deserve equal rights, but we all have our gifts and all have our shadows. On an individual level, we certainly aren’t all equal. On a biological level, men and women have different bodies and different capabilities. To say we are “equal” seems odd, weird and really inaccurate. Maybe when men start popping babies out and enjoy the pleasure of being an emotional wreck driven by hormones because they are sloughing their insides once a month and women are concerned about getting kicked in a nut sack I’ll believe we’re equal. Until then, I say we are distinct in our genders AND deserve the same rights, but we are not equal.
As a result of this… fixation on equality, I often see feminist women not living in touch with the deeply feminine sex goddess within. I get that (some) women think being objectified is somehow <insert moral judgment here>. Yet, admiring a woman because she is beautiful is hardly criminal, at least to me, even if the admirer is only appreciating the woman for the piece of art that her body is. Women are dubbed the fairer sex for a reason (whether we agree or not) but some feminists would have you believe that’s another form of control asserted over you rather than a compliment.
Let’s be honest about this other thing too: not all women object to being cat called and “harassed”, especially as presented in the Hollaback video, just like the reality that not all women see being looked at as objectification and/or see objectification as something from which to shy away. Case in point, current events in the last 72 hours seemingly is not favoring the landing of the Philae space probe, launched in 2004, on a comet in outer space whose scientific data may help us understand the origins of life itself better but rather, the apparently more newsworthiness of a naked woman’s body — one that’s already made the news in the past at that.
When I consider that for a second I have to then ask, Are we so repressed that it’s more important for there to be news coverage of a slicked up, beautifully bubble-butted Kim Kardashian than Philae? Which leads to the next question: If Kim Kardashian didn’t want to be objectified, would she bother putting that picture (or other picture, or other picture, or other picture) out there?
I’m having a “Great Carnac” moment here: the feminists are now going to say Kim Kardashian is also brainwashed and is subjugated by the male patriarchy. Because even though she said 3 years ago she wouldn’t ever do nude photos again, here she is doing it again.
The patriarchy did that? Really?
I don’t buy it. I think Kim, like many women, like to be looked at and appreciated, as long as it’s done in just the right way by just the right guy/gal. I think many women actually like it when they get the attention of wo/men but have been shamed (largely, by feminists) into thinking there is something wrong with being looked at sexually, objectified or in some way have made up a story that if someone is complimenting them in that way, they are either asserting dominance, diminishing the woman’s worth to an object, or in some way setting back the feminist movement.
Since the Hollaback video came out I have been talking about the topic of harassment quite a bit. I wrote some extensive commentary on the topic in this Facebook thread because I essentially think it’s a horrible example of harassment. My first and biggest concern is that harassment is being alleged throughout the video when at no point in any of the footage do we see the woman actually assert a boundary. In a public space, we can’t expect someone else to mind read and know what is and is not comfortable for us, particularly if we want to retain our First Amendment rights. How can we hold them accountable to “harassment” when they don’t even know a boundary has been violated? Furthermore, in our ever more multicultural world, we can’t expect people from other backgrounds to step into our world and know what we want. It’s not only foolish, it’s ineffective.
Now I get it — there are times when it seems like a guy is really being lecherous and you just want to take a shower after you walk past him. No doubt that is a very real thing and I have experienced this sort of interaction first hand. I really appreciate what The1Janitor has to say about Sexulization and Objectification because, yes, I do believe a guy can tell the difference.
I also believe a guy can say, “Hello, beautiful!” and have it be a genuine greeting… just as I also believe it can be experienced in a cheesy pick up that failed… just as it can be conveyed with lascivious intent. All these things are possible yet if we’re to start assuming the intent of the other person, in my mind, we’re moving a bit too close to The Minority Report for my liking.
My husband, who is in his mid 20’s, was talking about the difficulty his generation of men is facing interacting with women. As a result of the pervasive rape culture and harassment conversations, people his age are faced with some tough challenges meeting others, and not just for dating purposes. He told me a story of how he was on the street and woman dropped her cell phone. When he went to return it, despite his approaching her, saying, “Excuse me,” while positioned on her side, her immediate response (from his perspective) was one of distrust.
He went on to share his perception — one with which I agree — that to some extent it seems that the same comments coming from a different person will be perceived radically differently… sadly, in large part based on appearance. It’s not altogether illogical to draw conclusions based on appearance and as internationally renowned author and TEDx speaker Mark Bowden points out in this talk, we all form our initial judgments in split seconds.
Have you seen this SNL sketch? My friend summarized it quite succinctly:
How to avoid sexual harassment suits [as the ‘harasser’]:
Step 1: be attractive.
How to be harassed as a woman:
Step 1: be attractive.
Women Aren’t the Only Ones Getting Harassed
While their about page says, “We believe that everyone has a right to feel safe and confident without being objectified,” the Hollaback video does nothing to make me believe they want to help anyone but women. Even if I didn’t have an issue with the idea of “feeling safe and confident,” which is subjective and internally generated (yet all too few people take responsibility for their part in those feelings), I’m left with this: if you or Hollaback think women are the only one’s harassed, you haven’t been my husband walking down the streets of the Castro; you haven’t been walking in SoMa, San Francisco recently where you’ll be bombarded by panhandlers; and you certainly weren’t this man walking through the streets of NYC getting just as “harassed” as the woman in the Hollaback clip. Seeing that clip, I’m clear I can’t just take this issue on from the feminist perspective. It’s much more about interpersonal flow than simply male-female dynamics.
The Hollaback website defines street harassment as “a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces” which really seems to miss the mark. Consider what the Factual Feminist says in this video. Particularly relevant is the bit about evangelists, those folks with clip boards from Greenpeace and even the panhandlers, all of whom are equally “harassing” as what’s shown in the Hollaback video, though best as I can tell, in a non-sexual manner.
The fabulous commentary on her video reminds us that:
- the Hollaback video is a marketing video
- designed to go viral
- pushing a specific set of values
- serving their goals
I’m not saying there isn’t harassment out there.
I’m saying the Hollaback’s marketing video can’t be the standard in defining it because, while there may be 2 instances of guys following her in the video, they are being categorized the same way as saying “Hey beautiful!” Are we to ban the basic greeting on the streets of our cities? Because if we don’t ban communication and legislate it by law — something I’d think was in violation of our first amendment rights — how can we hold people accountable to a non-existent standard?
I get that feminism is supposed to be the cause to help with these interpersonal dynamics… and I think it’s not cutting it. A fellow coach posted his own article on Feminism – What’s in a name? which really hit the mark as to why. If women really want to make change, men have to be engaged in the process, yet are they invited to work with women when terms like “feminism” are used?
Gender equality really is something that takes men and women and everything in between working together to achieve and to feel left out of the equation really does put me off. The word feminism makes me think “oh this is their thing and if I want to address my side of things then I need to start a different movement for men”.
We are going to have to work together if we want to make change. Part of that relies not just on enrolling men in the cause but also, in women learning how to take more responsibility while giving less of a shit about people demanding their attention on the street.
Giving Good ‘No’
Now I can’t speak to the specifics of some actual harassment issues after boundaries are set — someone being followed in the dark and then attacked or instances that cross the line and become assault or worse. But I certainly have a lot of opinions on the Hollaback video and from where I sit, every one of those instances was simply about giving good ‘no’. My friend asked me how to do that effectively.
Like anything, I think giving good ‘no’ is a practice. If we choose not to engage in the practice, then we never develop the skill. I have taken different approaches with different people who approached me in an unwanted fashion. Sometimes a hostile response, sometimes a direct response, sometimes an educational response, sometimes a playful response, sometimes a compassionate response, sometimes a humorous response, and sometimes the ignoring option works for me.
I can say that mostly when I am practicing engaging with people on the street I tend to wear less provocative clothing and have my cleavage covered and my ass covered with a long coat or shirt even (especially?) if I’m wearing yoga pants. I do think engaging when you look hotter gives a different impression than engaging when you’re bundled up in something that is less provocative looking or shows off your sexy parts less. Part of my practice has been to wear clothing that has me feel covered up in a less alluring manner so that I could say things when people engaged with me and not feel naked or like they were undressing me with their eyes.
I should say that I took this on as an active practice some years ago because I didn’t want to feel unsafe walking near my dance studio. To me, it seemed like an urban survival skill. Perhaps because I took it on with that mindset I developed the perspectives I have. I get to practice every day though because Temple of Poi is in a transitional neighborhood and I engage with a homeless person every time I come or go from there. Without exception for the past many years, in fact.
Rather than succumbing to the initial sense of fear that I had in that experience, I have developed my personal safety practice so that I feel mostly safe and comfortable walking around there. Even at night, though maybe not in the wee hours of the morning. I definitely notice a difference when my coat is open and my cleavage is showing. And I definitely get treated differently. After years of practice though, it feels relatively harmless to me.
Perhaps the key piece of this is that I took this on as a practice so that I wouldn’t feel fear and instead, would feel safe(r).
In the end, my biggest challenge with this whole Hollaback hoopla is this gem from Cary Welder:
…non-violent speech does not directly violate or threaten the rights of any individual. Those who call for quelling the free speech of another person through the initiation of government force, are far more dangerous to society than a homeless drunk man vomiting up whatever lewd thoughts pop into his head as a pretty woman walks by.
The Factual Feminist said something similar, though her point of comparison was the Greenpeace guy.
At the end of the day, I’d rather the evangelist, the Greenpeace guy and the panhandler were allowed to harass me on the street next to the lewd guy who may or may not be attempting to assert patriacal control than legislate to end these sorts of interactions. I’d rather see Kim Kardashian’s ass plastered on the inter web than claim it’s yet another form of men dominating women. And I’d rather take responsibility for myself than implement legislation; rather learn how to feel safe in urban environments than than feed the fear monster; and I’d rather call myself humanist than a feminist and limit myself to supporting equal rights for only half the population.
Isa GlitterGirl Isaacs is somatic coach helping individuals explore their authentic expression through self exploration in the practice of flow and fire dancing. Join her now for group classes or private instruction via the internet or in our San Francisco classes. Contact GlitterGirl directly for a free consultation (GlitterGirl <that pretty little ‘at’ symbol> TempleOfPoi <daaaaaaaught> com).