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BY REBECCA KATHERINE HIRSCH
Know that jaunty feeling when you’re walking down the street and see a fine-looking individual? Don’t punch them in the face. Because that’s what it feels like to be piercingly stared to the ground, whistled at, lip-smacked, pinched and bullied.
I’ve been doing some thinking about that common street harassment excuse that these things are “just compliments.”
This defense brings up a tricky double bind.
The male privilege (taught, not innate) to stare, mock and hurt (a privilege that many men don’t even consider, never having being raised as women to be constantly alert to attack) exists on an unpleasant continuum of dehumanizing actions that stretches from lewd gestures to physical assault. In other words, the philosophy that Women are Prizes, not people—pretty ornaments, immaterial support systems or peripheral cast members to the Everyman—can encompass everything from mockery to rape.
“Sexuality” as presented in this traditional predator-prey mold is adversarial. Man attacks woman. End of story. And in this impossibly limited characterization, the ONLY way a woman is allowed to receive any power without recourse is to enjoy the male attention, to be a happy recipient of condoned male attention or aggression.
But EVERYONE wants to be admired. This is not a FEMALE trait. Everyone wants to admire. This is not a MALE trait. We all want the same things. The issue is context, duration, awareness of situations. Men are taught to pursue. Women are taught to take it or internally fight it, but certainly not do anything to protest the system that created it.
Everyone wants to look and be looked at in comfortable, erotic, safe situations. But it’s not a compliment if the recipient’s response is anger or hurt. So how do we get to more equilateral gender relations? I suggest 1) valuing and teaching clear communication skills and 2) encouraging people to express desires and boundaries with awareness of the other person’s desires and boundaries.
In other words: The next time you see a hot chick/cad/fellow person on the street, smile. Say hello. Do a little dance if you can’t keep it inside. But don’t be mean. No one wants to bang the mean person. After all, no kind expression of interest will ever warrant the desperate defense that it was “just a compliment.”
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