I invite male [Crooked Timber] readers to just go around and start asking women they know if anyone has ever felt them up on public transit, or in a crowded mall, or a bar. I’m waiting. What, all of them?! That almost sounds like a serious societal problem we should do something about! Something likeâ€¦embracing feminism (Now balloons and confetti are meant to come down from the ceiling). Many young men are also victimized by this type of thing, and the awesome thing about feminism is that it’s also opposed to sexual violence against men, be it on the bus or in our poorly-run jails. Such violence almost always turns on the hinge of”feminizing”some men and thus making them sexually fair game.
At Women’s Space/The Margins, Heart described a recent bad she had on a bus, writing:
…I had boarded a Seattle Metro bus at approximately 9:00 a.m. and was proceeding down the aisle to find a seat when a middle-aged, scruffy looking guy about my age reached out and grabbed my calf as I walked by, then joked about it to the equally scruffy-looking guy sitting next to him. Like most women who live or work in large cities, especially, I’ve been groped a number of times in my life, and it is always violating and unnerving, but it seems even worse to me now that I am getting older. I am almost 54 years old, a grandmother multiple timesâ€“ does it ever end? Immediately after I was groped I had to make the split-second decision: was I going to make a big scene over it, or not? I didn’tâ€“ for all the old familiar reasons. Because I was embarrassed and in that shocked quasi-denial kind of state I (and I think all girls and women) enter into at the moment we are sexually violated, where we don’t really want to face up to it having happened in an attention-drawing kind of way, before we’ve had time to think about it and deal with it ourselves. Because I was afraid of what might happen, that the guy and his buddy might get violent or act out in other scary ways. Because I needed to get across town in 20 minutes and didn’t have time to wait for security to be called and to deal with whatever calling security entails. Because I wanted to forget it, pretend it didn’t happen, move on with my day. …
Yesterday she followed up with a post entitled The Politics of Groping, which says in pertinent part:
…I wonder what might happen if, when groped, women groped back? I think if women groped back, men might hit them and hurt them. I also fear that if women groped back, men might rape them and would then call what they did “consensual sex.” After all, she returned the grope, that must have meant she was up for it! I think the only way the power dynamic around groping might change would be if women started randomly groping men whenever they got the chanceâ€“ not groping back, but instigating the groping, so that men and boys never knew when or under what circumstances they might be groped and could not predict who would grope them. After all, men grope women they already want, for whatever reason, to touch; touching them back just gives them more of what they wanted in the first place. But women assuming “agency” and groping men they wanted to grope without concern for what the men wantedâ€“ that’s something different. That is, in fact, what men do to women when they grope us.
Women are not going to do that. For one thing, in general, most women have no interest in touching random men; it would be too hard to suspend both the ick factor and the fear factor. For another thing, we still live under male heterosupremacy and are subject to its rules and regulations, spoken and unspoken. I believe if women began groping men in massive numbers, comparable with the numbers of men who grope women, we would find ourselves massively punished: hauled into court, 911 called, physically assaulted and brutalized as well. Our competence as mothers would be called into question and we would lose our kids, to social services or to our exes. I think we’d become pariahs, would lose jobs, have difficulty finding jobs, and would be diagnosed, formally or informally as mentally ill. Because those are the treatments reserved for women who actually, physically challenge male power in the world. On the one hand, I’d like to see what happened, see men’s reactions, if on one day of the year, in mass numbers, women groped them. On the other hand, I care too much about women to want them to take that kind of risk.
Depressingly enough, I think Heart is completely correct. So, this is a good place to remind everyone about the Street Harassment Project, the Blank Noise Project, Tolerance.org and Hollaback NYC. It’s hard to fight back, and not without risks, but it needs doing desperately.