Sexual Harassment

September 26, 2009 Ka'ela Ja'el
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I am not overly eloquent, and I don’t debate very well. I have little bits of knowledge on a wide range of subjects, but there’s very few things that I am really knowledgeable in. Someone just has to talk forcefully or confidentally to me and I will often back down in an argument. It doesn’t mean I’ve changed my mind, rather, I’ll probably go away, double and triple check my facts to confirm what I already thought, and let the other person continue thinking they’re right, rather than rocking the boat. Which is fine when it’s a subject dealing with solid facts, but when it’s an emtional subject, and the facts aren’t so defined, it’s a bit of a different issue. Anyway, I hope I can convey what my thoughts are on this subject, and explain just where I stand, although there’s a good chance that what follows will be disjointed and jump around a bit, too. 🙂

For the record, I haven’t led a charmed or insular life. I have at times, been harassed by men, but then I’ve been badly treated by women too. As a child I spent..ooh, about ten years being abused, but to me, these are the anomalies in my life. Not everyone is going to do this. In fact the majority of people are going to be pleasant and supportive.  It’s the same as my belief that if I lose my phone or my purse there is a greater chance that it will get handed in or returned, than there is that the finder will keep it themselves. And I think in almost every instance of losing a belonging like that, I have had it returned.

Yesterday the subject of sexual harassment came up. Now, I do think anything can be sexual harassment – a whistle, a word, an act, a look. But I don’t think that everything *is* sexual harassment. And I don’t want to waste energy ascribing wrong or negative emotions and motives to people and assuming that every action is a slight against me.

I was pointed to a couple of links, which while interesting reading, I found quite negative and sad in their outlook. They were also portraying women as victims and men as perpetrators, which I don’t agree with. Women can be just as crude and lewd, to men, and to other women, and men can be objectified just as easily. It seemed to me that the articles were advocating we be emotionless robots when interacting with people we don’t know, because we don’t know how they are going to perceive us.

Some things are overt harassment and abuse – uninvited touching, lewd innuendoes, groping, etc…but, I am not talking about these yet. My specific issue, in this instance, is the wolf whistle. One of the articles I was pointed to was talking about street harassment, and putting wolf whistles in that category.

Personally, I don’t see the difference between a wolf whistle and a stranger telling me I look nice. I take it as a compliment. To me, a whistle is more appropriate than yelling from across the street. Crumbs, I have randomly told women I don’t know they look fantastic, or I love their dress/shoes/whatever, and if it’s wrong for a man to give compliments then it must be wrong for me. Of course, when I have done this, it’s been directly, where I can speak to the person – I don’t yell it out from across the street. Which is where I think something like a whistle is handy. It conveys the compliment easily over a distance. Of course, it’s all in context, too, and delivery, too. The comments or actions that may follow, or the manner of delivery may lead me to change my view, but more often than not, it’s one little act.

Am I objectifying them by the compliment? I hope not. And I don’t want to live in a world where people can’t compliment each other. I know on the occassions when I have received a compliment from a stranger it brightens my day. Does that make me shallow?

The articles seems to make the a lot of very negative assumptions, and some of them I found downright offensive.

If a woman doesn’t take what you intended as a compliment the way you expect, the correct response is to recognize you’ve had a communication problem, and it might be that she misunderstood you but it might also be that you don’t sound like you think you do. To think of her, call her, or later describe her to your friends as an “uptight bitch” is an attempt to feel superior to her – to label her as defective. Because that is the real reason you’re yelling at her – to, in some way, make yourself feel superior. If that weren’t true – if you really just found her appealing and were hoping for her phone number – you’d be anxious to correct the communication problem and, with any luck, actually get that number.

Maybe the person called out to her or whistled because he found her appealing. Maybe he didn’t necessaily want her number, but just wanted to pay a compliment. Much as when I compliment a woman on her dress. I’m not after her phone number, I don’t want anything from her.

Or maybe the wolf whistle or shout out wasn’t even for me. Unless I am the only person around, I can’t be sure, particularly if the whistle is from a distance.  Maybe when the person called out “Hey beautiful/sexy/gorgeous,” they were calling to their girlfriend or wife. So why waste my time and expend all that negative energy getting righteously indignant about something that wasn’t even intended for me?

And honestly, I don’t think I have ever seen or been in a situation where a wolf whistle or shout out has been rebuffed and the initator has responded by calling her an uptight bitch or something similar.

Which brings me to part B of my ramblings.

I read the blogs of feminists, and there are a number that are on my flist even. And they often speak of theregular assaults and harassment that they undergo as women. Being cat called, groped, touched, raped, etc…and I can’t help but wonder what’s different for me, because this is not the world I live in. It is nowhere even close to my experience.
As an adult I don’t think I have ever been inappropriately touched or propositioned. I could probably count on one hand the times I have received cat-calls.
While I recognise that these things happen, the amount of times they get mentioned on blogs of my acquaintaces makes me wonder:
Do I live in a totally different universe or world to feminists?
Is it my outlook – these things happen and I don’t notice them?
Is it their view – they are overly sensitised to everything and look at everything in the worst possible light?
Is it the life I lead – do I live a safe life, stay in safe areas, and not engage in any risky behaviours?
Do I have a “don’t mess with me” aura?
Or perhaps I just have no life?

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One Comment Add your own

  • 1. mynxii  |  September 26, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    This was really interesting – thank you so much for sharing 🙂
    I think that there are a couple of things here…
    With the wolf whistle like many other things I think that there is context at play. I find that often, it’s not a single person wolf whistling at me, but one person amongst a group – and I don’t know who that is but they’re all staring at me, so it’s often similar to catcalls for me. Some situations ping as complimentary (if sometimes surprising) and others ping as upsetting/offensive – I’ve found it depends on the situation.
    I’m also a person who will randomly, politely compliment others, so I understand what you’re saying in that perhaps there’s mistaken intentions going on… but really, if they wanted to compliment me in a way where I got to be human, they’d come and talk to me. The way it happens is that it’s an ‘on show’ feeling and their actions come across as though they’re entitled to do that – irrespective of how I feel about it. Given it’s almost always from a group of guys, I have in the past felt nervous/worried that it will turn into something scary.
    I don’t find that the blogs I read, the feminists I read and know to be oversensitive. I do find that once you notice the elephant in the room – you can’t unsee it. This isn’t to be confused with making everything look like what you expect to see. It is that in the study of something you become aware of it, many of the bloggers and feminists study this aspect of society either officially or unofficially. Experience and study isn’t to say that people can’t be wrong however 🙂
    Things happen all the time – people miss them all the time, not just in a sense of sexual harassment but accessibility, race, sexuality, religion – everything. How people perceive things and act or ignore things or don’t experience things is fine – that’s their life and that’s awesome.
    I think really that it’s all contextual and experiential, what you’ve identified and described and experienced is there and valid and interesting to have shared. It’s in ways similar to my personal experience, and other ways not so much, but I value it 🙂 I think it’s also useful to note that there are no hard and fast answers – it’s all personal, and it’s also all general, and it’s never the same for anyone, it’s important to respect that even in disagreement 🙂


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