Thursday, August 16, 2007

Metro prick

I came across this awhile ago and have been stewing about it ever since.
Where do I begin? How about where he began, with ‘choice’ – that she chose to buy and wear the top in question, and as such she, not he, is responsible for his leering. Just how much of a choice is this? Not much of one. There are only so many options – you can either be a woman or be reviled. And to count as a woman you have to flaunt what has been determined as its most obvious marker – your sexuality. North American women live in an environment that assesses their claims to ‘power’ based on how much or how little they flaunt their sexuality (don’t believe me? Haven’t you been following the Clinton coverage?). Out of all the rights second wave feminism fought for, sexual freedom was one of the easiest to commodify and co-opt, to throw back at us and then ask us to be thankful that clothes screaming “I'm sexual!” are now readily available. We are now not just able but expected to present ourselves as sexual, desiring subjects, and if we don’t, well clearly we’re not empowered. The problem is that only certain things are sexy (and not very many), only certain bodies are sexy (and not very many), and to get and maintain those things and that body we have to subject ourselves to a regime of self-surveillance even more hostile and damaging* than the surveillance of, say, this prick on the metro. The power a woman can claim as her ‘own’ eerily resembles the sexual fantasies that have been marketed to men for ages: being ‘up for it.’ Sorry, metro prick, our practices are not freely chosen. This rhetoric of choice transposes responsibility onto the individual woman and away from felt, lived, experienced – i.e. real – social and structural inequalities. 'Choices' are pragmatically made with the full knowledge that the playing field is by no means even, that there are material penalties. We don’t have choice, we have a dangerous combination of patriarchy and neo-liberalism.
But perhaps I'm taking this too seriously. Ah, irony – metro pricks now get to have it both ways. Irony is the new defense against sexism: it’s not really sexism if you acknowledge that you know you’re being sexist. Women are supposed to sit there and grin and take this because obviously if the law says we’re equal then we must be and it’s all in good fun, and if we don’t laugh it off we don’t ‘count’ as modern empowered women. It’s a gas, he used ‘funbags,’ he can’t be serious. Yeah, he used funbags. And melons. And jugs. And hooters. And rack. Which doesn’t even scratch the surface of the panoply of ways women’s bodies are objectified and sexualized; this relentless and exhaustive parceling into pieces systemically devalues and divorces the female body from any real sense of a woman as an individual, and, importantly, of women as social group deserving the same rights, protections, and freedoms as men. There are reasons why women are by far the majority of victims in reported sexual assaults. And there are just as many reasons why less than 10% of such crimes are reported to police. Metro prick is just one manifestation of one facet of a much larger problem. The answer? Longer than you have patience for, most likely, so here’s a good place to start: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people” (Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler).

*"Because I live in a world that hates women and I am one . . . who is struggling desperately not to hate myself and my best girlfriends, my whole life is constantly felt by me as a contradiction" (Kathleen Hannah)


Blogger lizzie said...

What is choice when women are sexualized in every context in every way and live in a milieu of violence?

I wrote a longer relavent comment to Ornamenting Away's 'Nipple Licking' post, just cause I happened to be there earlier, which I got to via your entry from yesterday, which thanks for the link, which there you go inspiring me again, which you rock.

3:37 PM  
Blogger flaneur said...

High praise - thank you! I'd say I aim to please, but that's hard to do via feminism in this day and age. I'll happily take inspire (and provoke and disturb) instead. As far as 'choice' goes, it's so much trickier than it looks. A woman's right to wear whatever she wants stacked up against conditions of the implicit rewards and threats attached to those same choices. Unbearable weight indeed...

5:10 PM  

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