Look, talk, touch

Pardon me while I take a short break from the New Orleans travelogue.

It's funny how sometimes things happen at the same time. This weekend's Globe and Mail contained an article by Ian Brown called "Why men can't—and shouldn't—stop staring at women." And then today on Facebook, Women Against Violence Against Women posted a link to this video:

Now, the article was about looking, although it also mentioned the Italian male propensity for bum pinching. The video is aimed at men who talk shit to women. I'm guessing they don't mean a friendly hello or even a polite compliment. I'm guessing they mean something of the "hey, baby" or "yo, mamacita" or even more explicit variety—something I would definitely construe as verbal harassment. Still, I'm not sure just what the ground rules are here.

It leaves me a bit confused. I'm pretty sure my feminist credentials are intact, even though not backed up by any academic work. I've always been a self-taught feminist. I understand and see male privilege in action. I understand and see systemic discrimination where it exists. I tend not to use the word oppression, because I don't believe anyone can oppress me without my cooperation. That in itself might be controversial.

When it comes to street behaviour, I decidedly do not want to be touched against my will. I don't care how good-natured those bum pinches are supposed to be. My body, my space, keep your hands to yourself, signore. I also do not want to be shouted at or spoken to in a crude manner. Whether I feel threatened or not, I think that kind of behaviour is potentially threatening and should not happen. Nor do I want to be leered at—not just a look, but a virtual tongue hanging out sort of thing. That's potentially threatening as well. To me, all of those are attempts to exert power, with implied bad consequences should I take issue.

But a man looking at me with desire, reasonably subtly? A man giving me a polite hello, as so many did in friendly New Orleans? A man saying, again politely, that I look good? I realize that the compliment of a heterosexual male (or a lesbian, technically) is not the same as one from a heterosexual woman or a gay man. There is almost always a sexual component to it. But I like to be looked (not stared) at. I like when I catch a man doing so. I like when a man politely greets me. I especially like when I'm told that I look good, especially when I know that I do. Does saying all this destroy my feminist cred? Should it? I really don't know.

It might be a function of being older. I appreciate a mild expression of sexual interest, as long as it doesn't cross a line. Such expressions of interest come my way a lot less often than they will to a younger woman. Receiving an affirmation that I am still sexually desirable (by the right person) feels good to me.

Maybe "as long as it doesn't cross a line" is the key. I know where that line is for me. I think it's probably at least close to where it is for most women of any age. Thankfully, I have never been raped, nor have I been assaulted. If I had, I imagine my line might shift. At any rate, I hope that a range is allowed. I hope that I can enjoy an occasional male gaze and still proclaim myself proudly feminist. If not, someone can let me know.


Ellena said...

Sad to report that I have become invisible. Miss those male gazes and attention of the past. Heads still turn when my voice is heard but quickly turn away again. Waaaaa!

MgS said...

I tend to think of it as mostly a matter of being discrete. I don't object to discrete ... but overt leering makes me very uncomfortable - it tends to get into the realm of someone being predatory.

As you suggest, being predatory or invading personal space without invitation is over the line.

I don't think whether you identify as a feminist or not matters when it comes to establishing your boundaries.