Monday, November 3, 2014

The Catcalling Controversy

Strictly speaking the evidence is anecdotal. A woman named Shoshana Roberts put a camera in her backpack and walked around New York City for ten hours.

The experiment was conducted by an anti-harassment organization called Hollaback.

She was, it is fair to say, subjected to catcalls, harassment and some feeble attempts at humor. To give you the flavor of the remarks she received, Amanda Hess explains:

Bliss’ camera caught men approaching, leering, and trailing Roberts’ movements; the mics recorded their comments, which ranged from ostensibly friendly greetings (“Have a nice evening!”) to unsolicited commentaries on Roberts’ body (“Sexy!”) to absurd commands (“Smile!”) to pure expressions of entitlement (“Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful! You should say thank you more!”).

In other words, some of the catcalls are menacing. Some are insulting. To be fair, some were attempts at humor.

Hollaback produced the video in order to show the truth about male behavior.

Amanda Hess explains:

The ceaseless chatter (plus some light stalking!) adds up to a constant reminder that, just for walking from point A to point B, some men believe that women’s bodies and minds should be made accessible to them on command. 

Look closely and you will see that Hess’s sentence contains a dangling participle. Hess thinks she is saying that women are subject to horrific instances of street harassment on a daily, even an hourly basis. Her sentence say men believe that, “just for walking”—the phrase refers to men-- they should have access to women’s bodies on command.

Dare I say that this is positively idiotic. It borders on the paranoid.

Some people believe that dangling participles are harmless and that we ought to allow them. We can allow what we wish, but Hess and her editors should know better.

For my part, I do not dangle participles. I recommend that others follow the rule.

Then, Hanna Rosin took a gander at the video and drew a slightly different conclusion:

But the video also unintentionally makes another point: that harassers are mostly black and Latino, and hanging out on the streets in midday in clothes that suggest they are not on their lunch break. As Roxane Gay tweeted, “The racial politics of the video are fucked up. Like, she didn’t walk through any white neighborhoods?”

So Rosin called out Rob Bliss Creative, producer of the video, for racism.

Rosin might have said that street harassers are more likely to be those that the Obama recovery left behind.  They are today’s lumpen proletariat. Rosin might have said that it has something to do with class distinctions, even class conflict. She didn’t.

Dee Lockett, also writing on Slate Double XX, went Rosin one step better. She accepted that white males do not catcall as often as do unemployed minority men, but still, they are men. And that means, that they are, as the saying goes, “bad to the bone.”

Lockett writes:

That, of course, is not to say that white men don’t have their own predatory nature—one that is expressed in ways unique to their privilege. As we know from countless court cases, it’s not that white men don’t hassle women (or rich white men, as Joyce Carol Oates implied this week in a tone-deaf tweet), it’s that they do it in a different way….

White men, on the other hand, have no use for that sort of catcalling. They marked their territory centuries ago. So, instead, their sexual harassment is less invasive (“in passing,” as Bliss puts it) and harder to recognize—even when it’s staring you in the face. They do it in bars, at parties, on the frat row at your local college campus, in boardrooms, and other places men of color are never privy to, at least not in positions of power.

Now, what passes for feminist thought these days: blatant anti-male and anti-white male bigotry.

Using anecdotal evidence Lockett calls men predatory, and like animals that mark their territory. You know how male animals mark their territory, so I will not explain.

One would like to think that these women see more in men than the will to harass women and to possess women’s bodies. Men, even white men have accomplished things in this world. Some of them enjoy privileges, but these are often privileges that derive from achievement. If Jon Stewart’s children attend private school or live in a beautiful apartment, they are enjoying a privilege. It does not befall them because they are white, but because their father has accomplished something.

Feminist do not care. They have condemned all men, especially all white men for harassment. It can range from abusive language to stalking to looking at a woman the wrong way.

The fact that white males produced the Industrial Revolution, liberal democracy and much of modern science does not count for feminists.

If white men do not act like the lumpen proletariat the reason must be, Lockett declares, that they express their own hostility in more insidious ways, inside boardrooms where women, according to feminists, have been excluded for millennia.

The feminist revolution has held men, especially white men, in contempt. If Lockett's attitude is indicative, feminism has stereotyped and caricatured men as violent and vicious predators, people whose successes were purchased by enslaving and abusing everyone who wasn’t white and male.

It is slightly unrealistic to imagine that a group of people so consistently demeaned and denigrated is not going to respond. In some cases, that response might be criminal. Obviously, it ought to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

It most cases, however, the response is more subtle, and not subject to prosecution.

Therein lies the problem with catcalling.

Put it in perspective.

By the light of feminist reasoning women do not need men. They are strong and powerful. If you do not believe me, listen to how many times media figures label women strong and empowered. Doubtless they all believe that the more they say it, the truer it will become.

Women are therefore independent and autonomous. They do not want to feel that they are under the protection of any man. They want to feel that they can fend for themselves, even defend themselves.

But, men are the born and sworn enemies of women’s emancipation. They do not bear good will to their mothers, their wives or their daughters.

Therein lies a problem. If men are really and truly predators who want nothing more than to abuse and to own women, then a man who acts like a boor or even a predator is fulfilling feminist expectations. His behavior proves that feminism is correct.

Since feminism is an ideology, it is constantly on the lookout for facts that can appear to prove that it is right. It systematically ignores all facts that might contradict its narrative.

Thus, if all men, and especially all white men are sexual predators, a man who adopts a code of gentlemanly conduct and acts respectfully to women must be a fraud.

Does a man then have a vested interest in behaving well toward women? Or is he being induced to behave badly, the better to fulfill the expectations that have unjustly been placed on him.

Putting this aside for the moment, consider this. Strong powerful feminists now believe that women need to be protected by the state and even by extra-judicial authorities from the threat of sexual violence. It's the new vulnerability.

By current feminist logic a strong, empowered woman who gets drunk and does not say No to a casual sexual encounter cannot, by virtue of the fact that she is drunk, be consenting to sex. Thus, strong, powerful women are being infantilized—they cannot really consent—and men will be deprived of their rights under the law because, one must imagine, the law is so corrupt that it sometimes fails to punish rapists.

In a world where men are all sexual predators, they are presumed guilty of the most horrific sexual crimes against women. A woman’s word is law.

From its onset second-wave feminism decided that courtship had to be rejected. When a man holds a door for a woman that can only mean that she is so weak she cannot open the door herself. When a man pays for a woman’s dinner that can only mean that she is too incompetent to support herself.

It was demeaning for a woman to feel protected by a man.

Traditional courtship rules made feminists feel weak and ineffectual. The rules were tossed out like so much detritus. The consequences were often not very good for women, and feminists rose up in anger against the new regime. They forgot one salient point: you broke it; you own it.

If feminism was instrumental in discrediting the old dating and mating customs, then feminism should bear the responsibility for the consequences, both intended and unintended.

Of course, if we are dealing with accusations of rape we are talking about a felony. It ought certainly to be prosecuted.

And yet, trying to regulate human behavior through the criminal justice system is ultimately inefficient. Aside from the fact that this approach makes men and women mortal enemies, thus undermining their impulse to get along with each other, it creates circumstances where men, in particular, will engage in behaviors that are obnoxious, but not criminal.

Walking beside a woman for several minutes on the sidewalk looks to me like stalking behavior. It was the worst that I saw on the tape.

I would have some sympathy if the police were to intervene to explain to the man that his behavior was borderline criminal but if you overdo the impulse to criminalize, that might make it more difficult to prosecute the more violent and threatening stalkers out there.

As for the other kinds of street harassment, I don’t see how you can criminalize expressions like: “Hi, honey;” “You look beautiful;” and “Wow!”

I have occasionally offered my opinion on this problem. Sabrina Schaeffer explains it well in a commentary on the catcalling controversy:

But gender roles helped men and women and in times past allowed the sexes to better navigate the sometimes-rough waters of romance, courtship, marriage, and sex. Feminists view the chivalry and social mores of previous generations as anachronistic. But the reality is these traditional customs of giving up a seat for a woman on a train, or accompanying a woman in public, weren’t all rooted in sexism. They were social structures to help make men more respectful of women and to curb this kind of inappropriate behavior.

It might not have been perfect, but it had a purpose. Today’s dismissal of gender differences instead creates confusion, disappointment, and often more opportunity for harassment.

The conversation about street harassment has revealed once again that feminism has come with a cost, and women are usually the ones who bear the real price. Society has never been perfect, and I’m not advocating for a return to a time when women’s choices were more limited, but in years past men and women both had a better framework to determine what was acceptable behavior and what was not.

Certainly a woman should never be made to feel uncomfortable while just walking to work or picking something up at the store. We all want to encourage a healthier and safer society for both men and women. But instead of focusing on the faux sexism lurking on every street corner, we’d be better to consider the limitations of modern feminism and ask ourselves how we can better navigate this new world of gender relations.


Leo G said...

Hmm, would like to see the "objects" reaction if the men in the vid wore Versacci suits, drove Porches, and played guitar.

What the problem for feminists is, in situations like this, is not the actual cat calling, but what type of man is doing it. They do not want to even acknowledge that the 95% lesser men are alive, so how dare they, the 95%, involve themselves with these women, and make these women uncomfortable, by making said women even have to acknowledge their, the 95%'s, existence!

n.n said...

They have a renewed interest to exploit the moral ambiguity of the rape... or is it rape-rape? exception. At times described with an emancipation metaphor popularized by liberals and, occasionally, libertarians. There is an ulterior motive to, once again, paint men as harassers and rapists. Perhaps progressive morality does not reflect the hopes and dreams of a democratic majority.

Sam L. said...

Could it be that men without jobs are the ones who have the time to spend out on the street, and this reflects the economic reality of those minority areas? Without the full 10-hour video presentation, we really do not know where all she went and how she was treated in the areas not shown.

"One would like to think that these women see more in men than the will to harass women and to possess women’s bodies." They're Feminists, Stu; that's a requirement of the Fem faith.

"Feminist do not care. They have condemned all men,..." Another article of faith.

"Putting this aside for the moment, consider this. Strong powerful feminists now believe that women need to be protected by the state and even by extra-judicial authorities from the threat of sexual violence. It's the new vulnerability." Remember the line in Alice Thru The Looking Glass: You have to believe two contradictory things at the same time (or words to that effect).

"If feminism was instrumental in discrediting the old dating and mating customs, then feminism should bear the responsibility for the consequences, both intended and unintended." See previous comment. They can't wrap their brains around that.

"The conversation about street harassment has revealed once again that feminism has come with a cost, and women are usually the ones who bear the real price."
Feminists war on women.

Sam L. said...

And now, the puppy-blending prof, Glenn Reynolds hisownself, weighs in:

Ares Olympus said...

Oh, my English skills need some practice. First let's see, first a refresher, what is a dangling participle again? "So to sum up, a dangling participle modifies the wrong noun. Usually you've left the subject implied and are taking for granted that your reader will know what you mean, which is generally not a good writing strategy."

Now the sentence:
The ceaseless chatter (plus some light stalking!) adds up to a constant reminder that, just for walking from point A to point B, some men believe that women’s bodies and minds should be made accessible to them on command.

How might I rewrite this "implied noun"?

A woman merely walking from point A to point B experiences ceaseless chatter (plus some light stalking!) from some men. This makes a woman feel like her body and mind should be made accessible to them on command.

At least this follows the sequence of (1) Observation (2) Judgment (3) Feeling (4) Action.

In the video we're supposed to accept this woman is doing NOTHING to attract attention from men, and therefore men should understand their attention is unwanted, and cease and desist.

We might say in social etiquette, you should wait until you gain eye contact before trying to interact with someone, especially someone you don't know, unless there is an explicit reason for getting their attention, like if they dropped something, or were about to be hit by a car or something.

If this was true, then it would be the DUTY of a woman who wanted no interaction to use no eye contact, and purposely ignore everyone around her. It seems like a potentially effective strategy at least.

On the other hand, if someone DOES communicate anyway, especially in a polite way, and you refuse any acknowledgement, then social etiquette might say it is YOU who is being rude. So it looks like a TRAP to poor unsuspecting women just walking from point A to point B!

It would seem the polite response to polite behavior like a greeting is to acknowledge the greeting, but not advance it. If someone says "How are you?" and you pretend they said nothing, that's rude, but you can say "Fine" and THEN look away and that closes the conversation, while showing minimum respect to the speaker.

But what about disrespectful behavior, like unsolicited commentary on woman's appearance? How should she respond? Is pretended nothing was said ALWAYS the best plan?

If a strange man offers attempted flattering "You're beautiful!" a woman might just say "Thank you", and again THEN look away, to close the conversation.

I supposed the only thing similar I can imagine as a man is unsolicited sales calls, and strangely you can pick up the phone and after being asked "How are you?" having that followed by a 60 second speech, while you know 10 seconds into that speech that you're not interested, and its BETTER for the speaker to not waste their time with the remaining 50 seconds, so interrupting with "I'm sorry, I'm not interested" and hanging up feels rude, but you can do it in a kind voice.

So that advice suggests women are supposed to say "I'm sorry, I'm not interested" every 5 minutes if that's how often she encounters a persistent man who doesn't catch her attempts to descalate their interaction.

I might say it would be a great opportunity to practice self-assertiveness, but the open question is whether she can learn the most she does it, what works, and what doesn't work.

At least then she could write a book called "A women's book of strategies on how to tactfully decline men's advances on the street." rather than saying society won't be safe until the 5% of rude men are put into their place somehow by viral videos.

Hopefully I didn't dangle any participles, but if any are annoying, I'm open for rebuke.

Leo G said...

Dennis said...

Anyone ever notice that the people who use race, sex, et al are always guilty of the very things they supposedly oppose? How else does one explain the constant attack agains't men?

What feminism is really about:

As an aside: