"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." Edgar Degas

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Harasser And The Harassed

"We insult her every day on TV
And wonder why she has no guts or confidence
When she's young we kill her will to be free
While telling her not to be so smart we put her down for being so dumb
Woman is the nigger of the world." John Lennon

I. Sexual Harassment

On Tuesday a video titled "10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman" was posted to YouTube. Within 24 hours it had been viewed more than 6 million times but it didn't take 24 hours before the woman in the video,Shoshana Roberts, became the target of rape- and death-threats. It's worth watching.




The carefree harassment from such a wide array of men is so despicable that I can't help but feel sorry for the harassers as well as for the harassed. I also can't help but wonder: How did they come to think such behavior is OK?

One in five American women are victims of rape or attempted rape. One in four have been sexually assaulted. And all women - your mother and grandmother, your girlfriend and wife, your sister, daughter, and friend - have been objectified, intimidated, and harassed by many men. Maybe even by you or me.


II. The Objectification of Women

A couple of weeks ago, in a post about my song Broken Angel, I touched on the age-old theme of the damsel in distress. This week I came across a series of videos by Anita Sarkeesian at Feminist Frequency including a few about the trope of damsels in distress in video games. This one, about the objectification of and violence against women, is one of the cornerstones of #gamergate:


On October 14, Ms. Sarkeesian was to speak at Utah State University but had to cancel after the university received threats that they would be the scene of "the deadliest school shooting in American history" if she was allowed to speak. Violence against men is celebrated gleefully enough in both the video gaming and our wider culture, but when the violence is directed towards women it becomes sexualized. The lines between violence and sex get blurry.

The numbing effect of exposure to the objectification of women is an insidious and inescapable part of our society just as in other societies the burqa is the embodiment of the idea that men are uncontrollable animals who can't be held responsible for their behavior. On college campuses women are advised not to get drunk. But drunken women aren't the problem. Drunken men are. Sober ones too.

This got me thinking about the effect of these pervasive images and attitudes on my own behavior.

III. Being a Gentleman

Sometimes when I'm watching the news and I hear the police or a reporter call a murderer or other criminal "the gentleman" I think something has gone horribly wrong with their vocabulary. A gentleman avoids that type of behavior. He also avoids "gentlemen's" clubs.

Not a gentleman

My father was a gentleman and I like to think of myself as one too. But I wonder if anything I've said or done, thinking it was innocuous or complimentary or charming, may have come across otherwise. You don't have to stand on a corner saying "Hey, beautiful" to be a creep.

It's easy for men to overlook the simple fact that they are usually larger and more physically intimidating than women. It's also easy to believe an appreciation of a woman's beauty should be taken as a compliment, especially if that's how it's intended. And it's easy to forget that what one person says, verbally or otherwise, and what another person hears or perceives, is not always the same thing. In situations where a woman is "captive" - rooted to a spot by school, work, family or other obligations - the threshold for harassment drops precipitously, and the responsibility of men to be aware of that rises just as steeply.

A gentleman gives careful consideration to his words and actions. He treats all people with respect. Anyone with a Y chromosome can be a man. The true test of a gentleman is the part about being gentle.