Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Those fake boobs look incredible! "Thanks," she says demurely

I

Misogyny and sexism intersect with the labels "slut" or "dirty girl." A dirty girl is a woman who likes sex. You know what a synonym for that is? Normal. Yet any girl with a healthy interest in sex - and who admits it - immediately becomes dirty or a slut. When guys throw these labels around, a few things are happening in their heads:

1. They resent how the dirty girl won't have sex with them. This isn't a joke. She's a "slut" for denying them something she appears to give away freely, which makes them feel inadequate with respect to other men.

2. Sex is purely an aspect of power. It is a medium of exchange in the power dynamic between men and women. The more sex a woman gives away, the more power she gets.

3. An expression of a latent fear that if all women could have sex whenever they want, men would lose all power and control over women and they would have power. Men harbouring this fear feel they will lose their power without receiving sex in exchange, hence women are "robbing" them of their power.

4. When attaching a pejorative label to women it reinforces their delusion they actually have power in society (because they're the ones doing the labelling).

The fascinating thing about misogyny is how well it dovetails with homophobia. Men who have sex with other men aren't simply homosexuals, they are "fags," "fairies" or "sissies." In other words, they are like women. And when men hate gay men for being like women it's easy to see how they might also hate women for being women.

II

Here's a joke for you:

So these mothers in Africa are ironing their daughters' breasts to keep them flat. Isn't that crazy? It won't leave any room for breast implants when they turn 16.

And, scene...

Consider where the humour is here. It's somehow unacceptable to make jokes about mothers disfiguring their daughter's breasts to make them flatter and less sexually appealing, but it's perfectly acceptable to joke about women disfiguring their own breasts to make them larger and ostensibly more sexually attractive and establishing a standard of beauty for every other girl to follow.

The reason is obvious - as long as we joke about how women objectify themselves within our own culture, it's okay, because the women are still objectifying themselves. But we can't joke about how women prevent themselves from being objectified because the unobjectified woman is not really a woman. Or, if you prefer, the girls are less-than-complete women because their breasts are too small, but the women with implants are "more woman" than ordinary women if their breasts are extra large.

How about this instead: women are whole women no matter the size of their breasts, and men's attitudes about sex need to be set properly by their mothers at a young age so they don't become misogynistic assholes.

Underlying both cases of breast mutilation is the acknowledgement by women in both societies that men set the standard for beauty. That a man's attitude is fixed and immutable and those attitudes should dictate what women do with their bodies. We're only outraged by mutilation to reduce breasts because it's the opposite of what our own culture endorses: breast mutilation in the service of enlargement. Apparently, our culture wants women to cut open their breasts and insert plastic implants until their breasts become striated, hard and absurd in order to be more certain of finding a mate. Madness.

Granted there is an element of consent, but the same could be said of mothers who pay other adults to fire hot metal through their daughter's ears at a young age, or who set examples for their daughter by getting cosmetic surgery and neurotoxin injections to (temporarily) look more attractive. The outrage isn't over the lack of a daughter's consent to breast ironing, the outrage is because they feel required to do this in the first place to protect themselves from men.

In Africa, and other places still living in the 15th century, mothers try to protect girls from being preyed upon by men, so at least there is a noble intent of protection from real and life-threatening harm.

In New Zealand, there is no risk of harm. A vanishingly small possibility of sexual harm by random men. The only risk is of not looking as synthetically beautiful as possible is a failure to attract the "right kind" of sexual mate. The pursuit of youth and beauty through surgery is the same mindset motivating mothers to admonish their late-twentysomething daughters to find a husband soon because "they aren't getting any younger."

So yes, breast mutilation is horrible , but joking about it in any context is perfectly acceptable if it illustrates the complete irrationality of the underlying psychology. The more we expose the insanity of the culture (theirs or ours, preferably both) the sooner we can put an end to the nonsense.

III

I find it infuriating that even with so much emphasis on rape over the last 20 years there are still many examples of women smiling demurely, always waiting until the man had gone before throwing their phone number away.

Why would young girls smile demurely if a guy creeps them out unless they were taught to do so? This is my frustration. Not that women aren't being educated to watch out for rapists, but that somehow and from somewhere, they are also being taught to be powerless - to not to stir up trouble, not to enforce their wider boundaries and personal space, etc.

When men pass girls in the shopping mall their cards, they know in advance they will suffer no negative consequences for doing so. How can this be, unless there is a widespread cultural norm that women continue to maintain - and that parents continue to teach - that girls are to accept any sexual advance politely provided she isn't physically threatened? This has to come from mothers because fathers have no idea what it's like to be a woman.

"Isn't that blaming the victim?" HA, no. My whisky makes me impervious to your criticism. Believe me, I can see what's happening from a female's perspective too. I've sat in way too many bars at 2am watching the fireworks to miss the obvious. The same drama plays out every week, thousands of times, across every city:

He finally decides to approach after starting insanely in her direction for 14 minutes. It takes everything he has just to start walking. She saw him the moment her friend dropped her shoulder to laugh an hour ago. He thinks he's about to make a first impression.

If he was confident, he wouldn't have waited 14 minutes. But he makes it over to her anyway. She wasn't attracted to him an hour ago and he's even creepier 20cm away. So she declines his drunk offer and guess what happens? The man gets violent. If he feels in control or in "his" environment, he might hit her. But he's weak so he calls her a slut instead and that "she isn't very pretty anyway." He stumbles back to his stool and the girl turns to her friends as his words slip into her long-term memory.

Years ago the girl noticed her friend's dads looking differently at her at far too early an age but back then she didn't have the wherewithal or psychological maturity to understand what was going on, only that it felt strange. She learned a lesson then, but couldn't put it into words.

It's the same lesson again at the bar. She knows it's better for her health if she just smiles demurely and "strings the guy along" until he loses interest. Her subconscious can only deal with so much violence before it puts the pieces together.

Many women object forcefully only to find the man targeting them escalate the harassment and intimidation. These micro- and macro-aggressions happen so often it must be exhausting to object forcefully every time. This doesn't include the complexities of deciding whether it's dangerous to say something diverting or say something more forceful.

Their demure reaction isn't natural, it's learned. Her mother should have taught her ways to defend herself, but that mother was broken at far too early an age as well and likely never dealt with the same destructive lessons. So the carousel spins another revolution and nothing changes.

IV

My complaint with how women seem to react to assault is not that they fail to act rationally, it's that they try to act rationally instead of acting irrationally. It's common to hear some version of the phrase, "I remember wanting to take a shower, but instead sat on the couch trying to process what had happened and what I could do next."

What the hell does "process" mean? It means making sure she doesn't do anything stupid like cause trouble. "Process" means giving all the behavioural norms about internalising an assault time to work. But the normal response to sexual assault is to act irrationally. To scream, scratch, punch, kick. The normal response to a teenage girl getting hit on by a creepy 30-year-old guy is to say "Ew, gross."

The common responses are learned behaviours. They are the result of some other education circumventing and countering the overt rape-awareness education saturating this culture.

That's why men continue to assault and rape. They know how to pick victims who will behave. You can't train men not to rape because most men already know this. Rape is not a failure of men's impulse control. Most men don't want to conflate sex and violence. The male who does is defective already and in a way no education about harassment will fix. Many rapists who go to prison become rapists of men. It isn't about sex, which means it isn't about women. It's about finding a victim. In other words, it's about finding someone who already is a victim before the attack starts.

How did we get here?

There will always be thieves, murderers and rapists. No matter how many tablets we bring down from the mountain or how much training people receive. What you can do is teach people that regardless of their age they have power and how to use it to protect themselves. Of course, this puts some responsibility for the status quo on women, but that's perfectly fair. Do women want actual power, or the trappings of power? Someone's going to have it.

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