Musings on Life for the Queerly Inclined

Posts tagged ‘men’

I Am Not Overreacting. I Am Not Uptight. I Am Not Kidding.

TW: street harassment

Yesterday something amazing was proven.  Y’all ready for this?  It’s groundbreaking.  *Drum roll*  It is possible to compliment someone–a stranger–on their appearance without scaring them.  Compliments without massive power plays–wow.  As I was going into work yesterday, a man passed me on the street.

Man 1: I like your outfit.

Me: Thanks!

Then we both kept walking.  This interaction was not creepy, aggressive, or terror-inducing.  It did not make me reach for my keys or rush into work and slam the door shut behind me.  We’re certainly not obligated to want compliments or be open to receiving them, but overall Man 1’s approach was pretty low-risk.  I appreciated the compliment and continued on with my day, looking fly.

The Much More Common Alternative

After an awesome day at work (dear god, I wish that were more firmly rooted in my memory than the rest of this shit), I headed to the train to go to an artsy networking event further downtown.  While walking to the train, I saw a group of five men–all in their 60s–standing on the sidewalk together.  As I neared them, one of them came up to me, moving progressively closer to the point of nearly pushing me into the buildings.  I was on the phone with a friend and trying to ignore the man walking with/on me, while his posse stared me down.  I sped up and so did he.  Then he pulled out the same old line that is thrown at women all the fucking time: “Smile!  Hey, smile!”  He said it five times, with increasing aggression.  He kept pushing and his buddies kept staring.

This is when the diatribe that is constantly playing inside my head actually came out of my mouth.  Pulling ahead, I spun around and yelled “NO!  I SMILE FOR MYSELF!  I DO NOT SMILE ON COMMAND!!”

They all stared, taken aback.  I hurried away.  A second later, a voice in my ear asked “Did someone just tell you to smile?”  Having momentarily forgotten about my phone conversation, I’d clearly just yelled in my friend’s ear as well as at five men on the street.  Whoops–that part was unintentional.

It wasn’t until I reached the train platform (a block later) that I realized I was shaking and freaking out. “Holy shit,” I thought to myself. “I just yelled at five men for harassing me.  Finally.  I’m glad I did, but that was scary.”

“WTF?  That’s so sketchy.  Who does that?”

To anyone reading this and thinking, “Wow, that’s so messed up.  You must’ve been in a ‘bad neighborhood’ or have really bad luck”: NO.  CHECK YOURSELF.  This stuff happens all the time, everywhere.  If you’re unaware of it, you’re in a position of extreme privilege.  I’ve had literally this same encounter–let’s call it the “smile bullshit”–at least four times in the past two weeks (minus the attempt to push me into a wall–that took things a big step further).

What type of man would do that?

All kinds.  Our society trains us all to believe that men deserve access to women’s bodies.  Do all men buy into that?  No.  Some boys and young men are raised around wonderful people who adamantly reject this notion.  Others work hard to unlearn it.  But still, there are zillions of men all over the place who believe this–consciously or not–to varying degrees.

I’ve noticed an awkward dichotomy in the way our society views older men.  Either:

  • a) they’re automatically assumed to be perverts and merit extra suspicion, or
  • b) when they’re actually predatory, their actions are justified to no end. “Oh don’t worry about him–he’s just set in his ways.  He doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Generational differences, blah, blah, blah.  He doesn’t mean anything by it; it’s harmless.”  FUCK THAT.  YES, IT’S MEANT TO BE AGGRESSIVE AND NO IT’S NOT HARMLESS.

Why does this happen?

Because patriarchy.  (Isn’t that the answer to so many things?)  Women and girls are always supposed to smile, appease, and be visually appealing and available to men.  Especially if you are feminine, in which case you should acquiesce passively at all times.  Great system, right?  *Gags*  This shows up in childhood when kids are told “Give a kiss to that relative you’re uncomfortable around.  He’s your [insert familial relationship here] and he’ll be sad if you don’t.”  It shows up from pre-teenager-dom onward when men catcall, yell at, make demands of, and physically grope and grab at gender minorities on the street, in our workplaces, in stores, in relaxation spaces, on the beach, at the everywhere in the world.

This is not to say that men never experience street harassment or that perpetrators are always men.  There are many targeted identities and many factors that could lead to someone being harassed.  However, in the vast majority of these cases, men are the harassers and people perceived to be men are safer on the streets.**  Because many men never experience street harassment (and other types of “casual” attacks), they’re often totally unaware of its existence and prevalence.  There are two groups of out-to-lunch people here:

  • The willfully ignorant: men who’ve been told by women in their lives about these incidents, but refuse to believe them and try to invalidate their experiences. “You’re overreacting.” “That’s never happened to me, therefore it can’t be true.” “Jeeze, can’t you just take a compliment?”  These men are tacitly endorsing harassment.  They’re assholes and I have no time for them.
  • The unenlightened: some guys have literally no idea that this shit happens.  They’re not trying to support patriarchal attacks, but they’ve never given them any thought.  I start telling stories like this and they’re actually blown away when I tell them that–even in my most relaxed state–I live with a constant baseline of fear.  I don’t let fear govern my life and curtail all my actions, but it’s always there.

Then there are the guys who are aware, look out for these situations, and call them out.  I appreciate those guys and I feel safer around them.  Yet this post is not about them and they do not deserve magical ally cookies just for being decent human beings.

It is never the responsibility of oppressed groups to educate privileged groups.  No one is obligated to do this, but I do believe it’s valuable to speak out if and when we want to, so that some of this inadvertent ignorance decreases.

Aftermath of Shitty Encounters

Beyond all of the bullshit already described, the thing that really makes me angry is how these comments–tossed out at no expense to the harasser–have the power to ruin my day.  Ya know what I mean?  I had an awesome day at work, after which I texted several friends and my mom about how excited I was to have met all these amazing artists.  I accepted an awesome opportunity, bonded with people over sequins, and was feeling on top of the world.  Then, the unwanted actions of five strangers threw my mood from euphoric to scared and wanting to curl up in a ball in bed.  I spent the train ride down to my evening event talking myself out of that and willing myself not to let those guys ruin my night.  Fortunately, I ended up meeting some great people and I’m glad I went.  Still, I hate that this bullshit happened last night, that it impacted me enough that I’m still preoccupied with it today, and that it happens all the time.

Attention, Chicago residents: I am sick of this.  You come near me in a potentially threatening manner and biting your head off is the very least I will do.  Stay the fuck away.

**I am referring specifically to this type of catcalling “smile for me, baby” street harassment, which is usually directed at women and feminine-presenting folks.  That is not the same as racial profiling, trans*phobic attacks, etc. and should not be equated to those.

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Summer Nights are for Women; Steel is for Men

Those of you who know me in real life know how much I love deodorant.  Okay, okay, I don’t have some weird obsession with anti-perspirants; I’m just fascinated by the names.  First of all, they’re completely ridiculous.  What do “summer nights” and “playa” smell like exactly?  Second, the names are incredibly gendered, or at least the packaging would suggest as much.  Take a stroll through CVS’s deo aisle and you’ll see a selection of small pastel containers bearing names like “warm rain,” “summer stroll,” and “allure.”  Across the aisle will be larger, squarer containers in black, forest green, and fiery red: “swagger,” “phoenix,” “steel,” “pulse,” and “manliest man who ever manned.”  (I may have made that last one up, but I’m sure you’ll agree that it fits right in.)  Apparently “convict,” “recovery,” and “instinct” are other branded scents.

On a recent shopping excursion, I discovered that “romance” smells disgusting to me and “escape” is great.  Hold on while I go ponder my life…

 

This week I discovered a new favorite soap: “falling rain.”  Let’s be clear now–this does not evoke the rain rushing through the cracks in your driveway.  It’s not the muddied water pooling in the sandbox and obscuring the toy truck than Janine left behind at recess.  It’s falling.  Interestingly enough, this soap smells suspiciously like peppermint.  Who has peppermint rain?  Please come forward.

So what’s the deal with deodorant marketing?  In case you hadn’t noticed, deodorants (and soaps, shampoos, and other toiletries) marketed toward women cost more.  Not only that, they come in smaller packages, so they’re ultimately much more expensive.  This problem is exacerbated by the number of individual products that are marketed to women, where combo products (all-in-one shampoo/conditioner/body wash) are advertised for men.  Women are paid less (hello, people, the pay gap is still alive and well!) and conditioned to pay more for our products.

So what is it we’re paying for?  What makes the difference?  Turquoise packaging and cosmetics industry employees who sit in far away offices devising names like falling rain.

“I totally support femmes–they’re so hot”: Terrible Opening Line

Dear universe and would-be allies:


Source: the lovely femmesandfamily, whose blog I recommend you check out.

Femmephobia, a topic that is more often than not on my mind in some form, was brought up anew in a conversation with a friend a couple nights ago.  We talked about wanting to wear overtly feminine clothes some of the time and more masculine ones at other times. Should be easy, right?  But it’s not.

Getting Dressed: A How-To Guide for Femmes and Anyone Who Dips into Femininity Occasionally

  1. Find fly outfit (trying on five is normal–we can’t always get it right the first time)
  2. Put it on
  3. Contemplate accessories (flower? pocket watch? jewelry? picket sign? rock?)**
  4. Worry about people hassling you and/or making asshole comments about your appearance
  5. Tell yourself that you’re over-thinking things and that no one is going to give you a hard time about how you look
  6. Go out into the world, looking fly and feeling good
  7. Someone will invariably make an asshole comment about how you’re presenting yourself

I (and so many other friends I’ve spoken with) have noticed a trend in sectors of the queer community: the idealizing of the thin, white, androgynous hipster look.  If this is your look and you wanna rock it, that’s great for you.  But when the attention paid to people who embody this look far eclipses the focus on all other gender presentations, there’s a big problem.

What’s going on here?

  • Patriarchal society prizes men and masculinity.  Looking through all sorts of intersecting oppressions, the ideal person (according to US society) is a white, cisgender, able, upwardly-mobile, masculine man.
  • In this patriarchal society, women are required to be feminine and then punished for doing so.  Femininity is seen as compulsory (you must look/behave “like a lady”) and also weak and deserving of ridicule (“girly” stuff is routinely dismissed as useless, superfluous, a joke).
  • We internalize misogyny; everyone is taught that femininity is not strong or powerful.
  • Results: men are socialized to be masculine and hate on femininity (“Why do women spend so much time on their hair/makeup?  What a waste of time!” and “A feminine man–shock, horror!  I must distance myself from him!”).  Women who don’t wanna fit into the socialized femininity are told that they can have an out by also hating on it (“I don’t get along with women–they’re so vain and catty.  All my friends are guys.”).  Everyone gets cool points for hating on femininity.  Wow, how fucked up is that?

What about queer communities?

  • Stereotypes: queer women are masculine, queer men are feminine.  That totally describes everyone, right??  Ha no.
  • Result: anyone who doesn’t fit this description is usually unseen/ignored.  People who do fit it are stereotyped as the big dyke or the gay bff.

The Really Nasty Part that Started this Whole Post:

Rejecting femininity is seen as a cool and radical thing to do.  Femme-ness is consequently labeled conformist and unimportant.  According to this logic, femmes are eye candy, but we don’t really have anything interesting to say.  In case there was any doubt about this, let me clarify: just because I wear makeup and heels does not mean I’m brainless, unaware of my actions, and unwittingly conforming to patriarchal expectations.  I have not failed to deconstruct my internalized whatever-the-fuck.  I am not waiting for you, oh great masculine-of-center queer person to save me by showing me the error of my ways.

If you describe yourself as a radical queer activist, but all you have to say about femmes is that we look hot, while simultaneously ignoring our contributions to discussions in favor of listening to masculine-of-center folks (who may well be saying the same damn things we said ten minutes ago), do not be surprised by the wall of skepticism that I will build between us.

If femmes/sometimes-feminine folks are talking about how it’s an achievement to wear what we want without worrying about it, do not look at us with blank stares, as though we’ve said the most obvious thing in the world.  Do not roll your eyes when we affirm for one another that it is in fact okay to say “fuck you” to people’s expectations and present our genders differently every day.  If you do, chances are you’re one of the people who makes us uncomfortable and fuels our preemptive worries to begin with.  Do not be step #7 when we get dressed.

**Note on the accessories list: “Why did you include a rock?”  I know people who carry rocks in their purses.  This is not an issue of advocating violence; it is an issue of protecting oneself when you know that you’re at risk of being attacked as you walk down the street.

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