“You’re Sexy” is not an insult

Ever noticed how some feminists love to cry out for equal rights, while expecting to be treated with inordinate chivalry just for being women? Pssst, guys! Should we break it to them that they can’t have it both ways?

Rebecca Watson, self-proclaimed feminist goddess of womankind, was a keynote speaker at a CFI conference where she narrated her harrowing experience in an elevator with a crude man. Here’s what happened.

—WARNING! GRAPHIC CONTENT—

 The guy invited Rebecca over to his room for coffee. He made a couple of attempts to convince her, but she refused. The guy then bode her farewell and got off the elevator.

—GRAPHIC CONTENT OVER. RESUME READING—

I’ve heard she has already signed a deal with Christopher Nolan, and her story is about to be immortalized by Hollywood…and serve as a call-to-arms for all feminists against the tides of misogynism. Megan Fox was originally being considered to play Rebecca Watson’s character, but they decided that by being sexy, she has defied the core tenet of feminism and was therefore rejected. Everybody knows a feminist has to be a sexless hag, preferably with a sour disposition, a strong-jaw, a permanent look of disgust plastered on her face, and barfs in her mouth at the sight of a human male.

Sarcasm aside (sorry folks, but that’s it for today)…

Since when did feminism become a modern prude-party that encourages women to be ashamed of their sexuality? If a girl, however unattractive and crude, invites me for coffee, even insists that I do…would I be offended? Not really. If a woman comes up to me says, “Hey, nice muscles!”, would I run off the CFI conference whining about how I was objectified? Probably not.

You know why? Because men are generally comfortable about their bodies and know how to take control of their sexuality. It’s about time women learn to do the same. In fact, it’s imperative that they do if they expect the equal rights movement to go any further.

“You’re sexy” is not an insult, it’s a compliment. The correct response by an uninterested female should be, “Thanks! But you’re not getting any, so piss off.” That’s it. It shouldn’t have to be anything more dramatic than that, as long as the alleged complimenter has used nothing more than words.

The proposition faced by Watson was clearly a good example of inappropriate behaviour. But why must everything be a Feminist vs Society issue? Why is it that one cannot even notice that a woman is good-looking without the sisterhood of the uber-ovaries descending upon him with an estrogen-charged tirade. I don’t get compliments about my looks a lot…okay, never…but in a hypothetical situation where I do receive such a remark, it would be a happy, dear diary moment. Not an opportunity for a “how fucking dare you” speech.

The awkwardness of a guy telling women what they ought and ought not to do, has not escaped me. I understand that perfectly. But I owe so much of my knowledge to strong, powerful women and it’s not completely illogical to believe that women can learn a few things from men too!

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  1. Lone, you’ve left out the fact that the guy asked Watson over to his room at 4 am in the night, in an elevator where the two of them were alone, when she’d given him no sign she was interested.

    Watson did not call it a tale of harrowing woe, instead she mentioned in her blog that that sort of behaviour is kinda creepy and guys shouldn’t do stuff like that. It was the misogynistic uproar in her comments that led her to become outspoken on feminist issues in general. She had a valid point and was shouted down by misogynists for daring to have an opinion on the issue.

    The atheist community has fewer women than men in it. It also has a LOT of men who think that since they’ve left God they can be sexist and/or racist as they like and no one can say anything to them. It is no wonder that a woman that is part of the community and faces that boys’club mentality is more than a little annoyed with it.

    ALL that being said, I do agree that being called sexy is a compliment (unless its by a chippar on facebook who also adds other lecherous stuff he wants to do to you, messages that leave one feeling slimy rather than flattered) and that women should be more comfortable with their sexuality. I am a feminist and I am not only comfortable with my sexuality but consider it a part of my liberation, and other womens’. It will take time, but women in general will hopefully be as comfortable too.

    I was disappointed at the misrepresentation in the article – it was unnecessary to make your final point – and I have tried to correct it.

    • As I said, the elevator guy’s behaviour was inappropriate by any standard. But it was merely an exchange of words and nothing more.

      He didn’t touch her. He didn’t utter sexist slurs. He didn’t threaten her. He used simple words to try to convince her, but when she repeatedly refused, he gave up and left. Perhaps his tone was such that she felt “creeped out”, and I cannot argue with her feelings. But this is not exactly an issue. Certainly not worthy of the attention it has mustered.

      It was a matter worth complaining about, but the spin she put on it was wholly unnecessary.

      I’m not denying the problem of sexism and misogynism altogether, and I’m not downplaying the importance of feminism. But Ms. Watson’s line of thinking that even a verbal attempt to persuade a woman into consensual sex in a non-threatening way, is a crime in terms of feminism, is overly dramatic. Women like her frivoloize this movement, and feed the lethal misconception that feminism is just about a bunch of frigid ladies with an innate disgust for the male gender.

      I’m sorry. I’ve had my disagreements with Dawkins in the past, but I’m on his side on this one.

      • F.
      • April 27th, 2012

      @Bakedsunshine: I second your comment, and what’s more, I love you. ❤

      Besides, Loneliberal, you don't get to define another person's sexual boundaries, whether they're a man or a woman. If someone is uncomfortable with being asked out in an otherwise empty elevator at 4 am–YOU do not get to underplay the importance of that, in that context, to that person, and you don't get to write a smug little post about it either. Take charge of my sexuality? Yes sir, I will–and I'll start by wresting it away from you and your self-superior scrutiny.

      Secondly, the way I see it, the 'duty' to be attractive (by whose definition anyway?) is simply the other side of the duty to be 'repulsive' (again, by whose definition?). I appreciate no-one telling me how to look.

      I admire you immensely, I respect your views, and I think you have one of the best Pakistani blogs I've read yet. But on this issue–you keep to your side, I'll keep to mine.

  2. F.
    I’m not defining sexual boundaries. A person can be as promiscuous or frigid as he/she likes. And I am not questioning why Watson felt the way she did, as one cannot really argue with somebody’s feelings. If she felt creeped out, she felt creeped out.

    But to attack a private citizen in a keynote speech at a CFI convention because she didn’t feel good about him propositioning her in the elevator is ridiculous. Maybe if the guy had used sexist slurs, or threatened her, or touched her, it could’ve been correctly marketed as misogynistic behaviour. Just awkwardly propositioning a woman in the elevator doesn’t constitute “misogynism”.

    And when on earth did I say anything about the “duty” to be attractive? A woman may choose to put her make-up on, or use her sexuality to get what she wants, and she may choose not to. That’s her prerogative entirely.

    I’m just pissed off that feminism is being transformed into this esoteric club with a bunch of anti-social hags deciding what makes a woman a good feminist. Making your own choices makes you a feminist, end of definition! (I was digressing from the main issue with that Megan Fox remark. This point merits a deeper discussion).

  3. RE duty to be attractive:-
    “Megan Fox was originally being considered to play Rebecca Watson’s character, but they decided that by being sexy, she has defied the core tenet of feminism and was therefore rejected. Everybody knows a feminist has to be a sexless hag, preferably with a sour disposition, a strong-jaw, a permanent look of disgust plastered on her face, and barfs in her mouth at the sight of a human male.

    Sarcasm aside (sorry folks, but that’s it for today)…

    Since when did feminism become a modern prude-party that encourages women to be ashamed of their sexuality?”

    Strut much?
    Anyway, here’s an excerpt by way of response:

    “A blamer mentioned yesterday that there’s a new post somewhere arguing that I’m a “bimbo-hating radical who undermines feminism by trying to take women’s sexiness away.”

    Just one? I was shocked.
    […]
    Fortunately, I have already read so many of these posts that I can, in my mind’s jaundiced eye, reproduce the one in question verbatim. They appear frequently, as spores after a soft rain — that is, whenever I publish an essay condemning as antifeminist one or another of the beloved rites of femininity. Blow jobs. Beauty. Pencil skirts. Burlesque. “Sex work” as a “choice.” Recently I jotted down a couple of lines on a study commissioned by a cosmetics company. This study purported to show that cosmetics benefit women. My response to this study was, in sum, a Bronx cheer (may I mention that on the planet Obstreperon, we don’t use our mouths for this? No, I didn’t think so.).

    No doubt my dim view of makeup, and by extension, of the quest for pure sexiness, ruffled a few marabou bustiers. Long, long ago, argue the bustiers, when Andrea Dworkin roamed the earth, femininity may well have been a tool of the man. But, they claim, no more. Today’s feminist, empowered by all those articles on vibrators in Bust magazine, chooses choices of her own free will. These choices mirror her own unique sartorial, sexual, and philosophical personality. That these unique choices happen to align precisely with standard male porn fantasies, and that they are therefore rewarded with positive attention, is purely coincidental.

    Such a viewpoint is a luxury of youth. It is the great tragedy of the women’s liberation movement that fully-realized feminist consciousness is too rarely achieved by women who are still young and fit enough to take on Dude Nation in a knife fight. Too often, it’s only when a woman ages out of pornosity, and is too old to do anything but take pictures of cows, that she discovers what the world really thinks of her.

    Lest I be misconstrued as a prudey old sourpuss: nobody understands the reluctance to grok the fullness of patriarchal oppression better than I. I will illustrate this point with, not just an autobiographical anecdote, but with photographs.

    Born a mousey intellectual, in my twenties I discovered all the perks of Porn2K-Compliance. I amassed drawers full of Chanel makeup. I had boxes of wigs. I combed the thrift stores incessantly. I had so many clothes I had to turn a spare bedroom into a closet. I spent hours every day assembling outfits, dying my hair, and styling my edgy hipster look. I never wore the same thing twice.

    It was expensive and time-consuming, but my resulting reputation as a glamorous wisecracking ballbuster sexpot dominatrix made me famous and adored. Everybody wanted to know me, photograph me, take me to dinner, put me in their fashion show. I had fans. I had protégées. I told men to fuck off and I wrote songs about vibrators, so I thought I was a feminist. I was too dumb, when I was young and adored, to grasp that all I had done was to succeed at femininity, and that femininity is no pinnacle of human achievement.

    It would be many years before I would understand that femininity, the practice of femininity, and the fetishization of femininity degrades all women. That femininity is not a “choice” when the alternative is derision, ridicule, workplace sanctions, or ostracization. That femininity is a set of degrading behaviors that communicates one’s level of commitment to male authority and women’s oppression. That femininity is coerced appeasement, regardless of how successfully it is now marketed to young women as ‘feminism.’ ”

    (http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/2011/10/23/spinster-aunt-was-once-adored/)

  4. Sometimes a woman’s choice coincides with the wishes of a male, and it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s being influenced.

    I find this particularly pestiferous because when I became an atheist, I had to endure all kinds of rubbish from my friends and collegues about how I’m being influenced by prominent atheists and doing exactly what they’re telling me to do, instead of thinking for myself. It didn’t occur to many that I was, in fact, thinking for myself and doing what I personally wanted to do.

    And it’s much worse for a woman. Whether she wears a headscarf, or a bikini, she’s fucked because half the male population will berate her for not complying with their customs (half of them would want her to bare it all, and the other half would want her to wear a stifling burqa), and the feminist posse will denounce her choices as “coerced appeasement”.

    If the primary objective of the feminists is to find out what men generally want, and then do precisely the opposite of that, then the movement will inevitably go down the drain. Perhaps men too should start their own masculanism club, which admonishes men who take their wives and girlfriends to watch shmaltzy romantic comedies, because that’s what women want us to do and doing so would mean we’re complicit in sustaining a matriarchal system!

  5. “Perhaps men too should start their own masculanism club, which admonishes men who take their wives and girlfriends to watch shmaltzy romantic comedies, because that’s what women want us to do and doing so would mean we’re complicit in sustaining a matriarchal system!”

    It isn’t already in place? You have the MRAs in the West and in the East a lot of people still adhere to the traditional belief that women are to be seen and not heard.

  6. True, I’m afraid. But the point I’m trying to make is that it isn’t fair.

    Self-destructive choices, like refusing to report her husband’s violent behavior towards her, should obviously be criticized and discouraged.

    But if the objective is to simply prevent the opposite gender from being appeased – even when the woman is appeasing a man by her own will, and without causing herself any real harm – then feminism would effectively be transformed into not only a man-haters club, but an anti-choice movement as well.

  7. I usually look forward to your posts but I have to say that I disagree with this one. Approaching a woman at 4am in a closed space from where she cannot exit and when she is giving no sign she has any interest in you is wrong. The whole thing blew up because she was criticized intensely for feeling that it was wrong and stating so.

    By your post, I should be happy every time a guy in the street or the subway or the elevator passes a remark on my body. There is no such thing as street or sexual harassment. Not to mention, I should never fear a man I happen to come across at a late hour. You can have your opinions, but as a woman, I know when being called sexy is a compliment and when it is harassment, when I should feel reasonably safe and when I should be cautious. The location, how well you know the person, his tone, the time of day, my body language, his ignoring the signs, etc. all play a role. I bet Rebecca knows as well.

    • As I said earlier, I’m not criticizing her for feeling what she felt. I’m criticizing her for making this an issue worthy of ranting about in the keynote speech at the CFI conference, because it wasn’t.

      The threshold for what counts as harassment is significantly lower for women than men. A woman can go grab a man by his crotch without him filing a harassment suit, but a woman crumbles into a whiny mess at the sights of man’s suggestive wink. For gender equality, this discrepancy needs to be dealt with either by teaching women to be less sensitive about sexual gestures, or get men to start weeping about their abs being admired by disrespectful women. The former seems more productive.

      Regardless of the time or place, no strong woman should be afraid of a man expressing his desire to have consensual sex with her. Of course, the tone matters. But as long as there’s no direct verbal or bodily cue of aggressive force coming up (say, threatening demeanor, sexist slurs, outrageously vulgar speech), then I refuse to acknowledge this as a real issue.

      • A couple of links, I hope you will read them:

        http://www.ihollaback.org/resources/myths/
        http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/male-allies/how-to-talk-to-women/
        http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger%E2%80%99s-rapist-or-a-guy%E2%80%99s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/
        http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/08/wolf-whistling-harassment-street

        “Women deserve the same right to privacy in public that most men enjoy, and many women will view a man who approaches her for any reason other than a gender-neutral one, such as asking for directions, the time, or to offer assistance, as violating their privacy, and they may be rude or hostile.”

        “Pay attention to the environment. Look around. Are you in a dark alley? Then probably you ought not approach a woman and try to strike up a conversation. The same applies if you are alone with a woman in most public places. If the public place is a closed area (a subway car, an elevator, a bus), even a crowded one, you may not realize that the woman’s ability to flee in case of threat is limited. Ask yourself, “If I were dangerous, would this woman be safe in this space with me?” If the answer is no, then it isn’t appropriate to approach her.”

        “Women are communicating all the time. Learn to understand and respect women’s communication to you.”

        “Violence is not always physical. The most serious sexual assault I have ever experienced began with a wolf whistle. My perpetrator thought that both his whistle, and what he did to me after that (which definitely was physical), were equally permissible. Whether it’s leering, catcalls, shouts or whispers from strangers, defending this behaviour is a gateway to the cultural acceptance of much more serious crimes across the spectrum of gender-based violence. Dismiss the smaller issues, and the bigger issues go unchallenged too.

        It’s hard for some people to get their heads around, especially those who have never experienced it, but these seemingly harmless interactions with strangers on the street can build up a well of resentment, internalised shame and guilt in the people who live with them.”

        Please trust me on this. Women know when they should be flattered, when a compliment is paid nicely, in a non-threatening manner, and when it is unwelcome and nothing but sexual harassment.

  8. You refuse to acknowledge it as a real issue because you do not know how many times when you ignore a man’s advances, he starts shouting at or verbally abusing you; you do not know how many times street harassment leads to men following you around the market or to your home or attacking you, or how unsafe it makes a women feel to be consistently pursued by a man after you have said no. My friends have been verbally abused by angry men after politely saying no. I have had men tell me to lighten up after I have told them to leave me alone. I feared to make eye contact with any man in Pakistan while driving because it increased the chance that I would be followed home. Numbers have been dropped in my car window and left under my car’s door handle. I have been followed from store to store. I have been groped in crowds. When I have told a man to leave me alone, he has often gotten angry and blamed me for making a big deal out of what is actually stalking. Btw, the reason stalking is treated as a crime in many countries is also because it frequently foreshadows much worse crimes much just like harassment does. Seemingly innocent “mere” verbal comments are indicative of a deep social problem. They made my walking the streets a nightmare in Lahore. Cars slowing down, honking, muttered comments as cyclists rode by, unwanted stares…I don’t think you understand, there is nothing flattering about any of it. It is designed to make sure women know their place is not in the public sphere. I remember a colleague telling me how everyone looked at him when he was walking with me (we walked from our office to a restaurant across the street) and I told him they were looking at me and he needn’t worry about it. What he was temporarily experiencing was what I experience daily. Unless you’re a women and you have been through sexual harassment on a regular basis, I am afraid while you are entitled to your opinion, you are not in a position to decide how important the issue is. Men’s threshold for harassment is higher because they do not experience it to even a slightly comparable extent to women and because they have no need to fear assault which brings me to my next point.

    I wholeheartedly disagree with your statement that “Regardless of the time or place, no strong woman should be afraid of a man expressing his desire to have consensual sex with her.” The time and place matters. There is a way to approach a woman and it is not in the middle of the night in a dimly lit street where she is alone, for instance. It is not by starting with a comment on her buttocks or breasts or by making lecherous comments of what you want to do to her. Do you have any idea how many women are sexually assaulted? A women’s fear when she is approached by a man in a closed space is not unfounded and I would appreciate it if you could stop painting it as such. There is a time, place and a manner to doing all things.

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