Monday, October 26, 2009

Guys will behave as much of gentlemen as women require of them

From a comment on an article titled Dignity has place on Halloween where a man named Dan writes to a woman he overheard talking about her planned "slut it up" Halloween costume at a Starbucks, Franny Glass wrote in part:

Guys will behave as much of gentlemen as women require of them.

My response was as follows: "So what you’re saying is all guys are sluts at heart and those who don’t behave like sluts are only doing so because women are blocking them from expressing their inner slutitude."

I reframed this sentence in this way because those who make these types of statements in order to change women's behavior often don't think about what their statement implies about all men. Not surprisingly, after reading my response Glass backtracked and accused me of not reading her full comment. Yet her comment began with:

Nicely written, Dan. It is illogical for women to be surprised by a lack of respect from men when they lack respect for themselves.
If women are surprised by how they are treated then this treatment by definition is non-consensual and unwanted. This so-called logic where certain women should expect men to act with a lack of respect toward them again contains a very negative view of men. The reason this logic isn't seen by those who promote it as anti-male is that negative behavior by men is positioned as not their fault or responsibility. The women who are subjected to unwanted behavior have been faulted and made responsible for the actions taken against them.

My criticism isn't specific to Glass since her way of thinking has been around for decades and most likely much longer than that. My parents never talked to me about sex, but I grew up with the expectation that each girl was responsible for containing boys sexual aggression against them. My older sister developed breasts early and I watched the crude disrespect toward her.

The message was that she caused what was done to her against her will by growing large breasts which of course boys would naturally want to grab. She was the one responsible for preventing boys from groping her. Boys were not responsible for sexually and physically assaulting my sister or other girls who looked the most sexually mature.

They were not held responsible, but in reality they were responsible for their actions when they groped or cornered a girl or did worse because of how she looked or what rumors boys were passing around about what a particular girl would let boys do to her. That girls may not have "let" boys do anything either because the rumor was a lie or the spin of a boy who sexually assaulted a girl didn't matter because that reality didn't fit into this line of thinking.

Glass has no way of knowing if the women she is criticizing in reality don't respect themselves. All she knows about the particular woman Dan described is the general type of costume that woman was planning to wear for Halloween. Yet for that choice alone that woman should expect to be treated with a lack of respect from men.

So much of the demand that girls and women behave with dignity uses negative assumptions about the sexual morality of all boys and men, sometimes to the point of excusing rape as nothing more than an animal reflex beyond a man's control while focusing all the disapproval and responsibility onto girls and women.

It is important to bring these negative assumptions about men to the forefront since they underpin so much of the victim blaming women get for men's behavior toward them.

Dan mentioned that he visited a Halloween store and "was hard-pressed to find any female costume that wasn't a "sexed-up" version of something innocent" yet rather than speaking up against that reality he extolled a woman he dubbed Starbucks Girl to create a Susan B Anthony costume "complete with bonnet" or to create some other costume which met Dan's standards of dignity. At one point he wrote, "I don’t mean to tell you how to live your life," but actually that's what he is doing. He has fallen into the trap of being a patronizing ally.

He wrote:
Starbucks Girl, you didn’t notice, but I turned around to look at you. You were pretty! Too pretty to parade your body around on a cold October night just for attention, and far too pretty to risk being taken advantage of by some drunken idiot at a party or bar.
The reference to her prettiness is odd. Like it would be okay for a less pretty girl to be taken advantage of by some drunken idiot. If this woman wanted to connect with some drunken idiot then that drunken idiot wouldn't be taking advantage of her -- at least not from her perspective. This statement is why the issue of rape was raised in the comments.

The statement which I first quoted by Franny Glass in the headline of this post, as written, contains the false claim that men will abide by women's requirements. If this were true there would be no girls or women raped by boys or men. Yet even the most fervent rape denialists don't deny all rapes committed by men against women.

Those who repeat this false claim will need to deny all but the most horrific non-stranger rapes because those rapes, if believed, show this belief to be a dangerous lie. To hold onto this belief most female rape victims must be seen as having not required enough of the boy or man who raped them. If any fault can be found with her then no fault can be found with the boy or man who raped her.

I've lost count of the times I've heard or read someone going on about a nice boy or man who regularly has sex with one or many sluts where his behavior is the same as hers or worse but he remains classified as a nice boy or man because of how behaves around and toward nice girls and women.

When these nice boys/men rape girls or women viewed as sluts and those rape are reported the relative classification under this model (gentleman, slut) has been used as an excuse for many so-called dignified people to declare the defendant to be innocent. Kathleen Parker used this contrast in a column declaring a convicted rapist wrongfully convicted. Parker's evidence focused on everything except the assault itself and basically boiled down to, "I like him, I detest her."

This belief system is likely comforting to girls and women who view themselves as inspiring nothing but gentlemanly behavior. They may even know that many boys and men around them eagerly sexually exploit girls and/or women. As long as those dignified girls and women can find fault with those other girls and women who have been exploited or raped, they can feel safe even if they are hanging out with serial rapists.

This is a dangerous safety strategy.

A man who can rationalize raping a woman who is considered immoral can find ways to rationalize additional rapes. His status centered view of boundaries will at times protect the women who would blame his violent behavior against women they disapprove of on those women.

However, imagine if that dignified woman who is protected by this belief system waits several years until a gentleman rapist is done sowing his wild oats and even waits until marriage. That might sound wonderful and her gentleman/groom's respect for her might make him seem safe now. The only problem is that under the status centered view of boundaries a marriage license is a license to have sex whenever he wants with his wife. As long as he doesn't have sex with any other woman he can still be considered a gentleman.

If his wife didn't consent to all that sex, too bad. He is only as much of a gentleman as he is required to be.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:43 AM   1 comments links to this post


At October 26, 2009 2:12 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

So true because our society overwhelmingly refuses to hold men and boys accountable for their behaviour and actions. Instead it is always women and girls who are supposedly responsible for curtailing/gatekeeping males' supposedly insatiable sexual desires.

Such views totally ignore reality because it is still men and boys who continue to hold social and economic power - not women and girls. The power males have been given is invisible because it is seen as 'natural male sexual expression' not deliberate male sexual predatory behaviour.

Telling women and girls they are all either 'madonnas or whores' neatly absolves males of any accountability. Such misogny also divides women into 'respectable/non-respectable.' But what happens when a supposedly 'respectable' woman/girl is subjected to male sexual violence and the male perpetrator is a 'respectable male?' Why the 'respectable male' is absolved of any accountability and once again the woman/girl is blamed and held responsible.

We need to look at male sexual behaviour which is commonly excused as 'being a stud' when in fact the male's behaviour is, if one adheres to slut shaming - identical to what innumerable women and girls are called. No one is a 'slut' or 'stud' but certainly a majority of males are sexual predators who learn it is their right to have unlimited sexual access to women's/girls' bodies with no accountability or blame levied at them.


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