Tag Archives: sexism
A recent Miss Conduct column featured a letter from a person with a common problem: Unwanted touch.
How do you convey that you’re not a touchy-feely person without coming across as rude or a prude? Ever since starting my freshman year of college, I’ve encountered a startlingly high number of males who think it’s appropriate to massage my shoulder in class, put their hand on my leg when we’re eating lunch together, or pat me on the head when they walk by me. I find this uncomfortable and would like to tell them to stop, but at the same time I know that not everyone has the same physical boundaries. In regard to innocuous things like hugs, is it ever polite or reasonable to say “No, thank you”? T.S. / Chelmsford
A perfectly reasonable question to ask, and one of particular relevance to me because I don’t really like being touched by people I do not know well, or people I know well, honestly, except in set circumstances when I can prepare for it. I know that some FWD readers have sensory issues surrounding touch, for a wide variety of reasons, and I thought this letter would be a good one to highlight for Dear Imprudence before I even read Miss Conduct’s answer.
Of course you can say no to a hug; it’s your body. Keep in mind, though, that those “males” you are in school with are figuring out their physical boundaries and social selves as well. I’m not saying this to tell you to put up with being touched in a way you don’t want, but to point out that college is a big social experiment lab, and the guys don’t really know what they’re doing, either.
So, as long as you’re all working in the same social laboratory, be a good lab partner. Assert your boundaries bluntly and with humor: “It’s hard enough to concentrate in Econ 1 – one more back rub by ‘the invisible hand’ and I’m going to pass out in there, OK?” “Did you seriously just pat my head? Oh no you didn’t.” People will get the idea that T.S. isn’t so much a touchy-feely type and will start leaving you alone. Maybe some folks will think you’re rude or a prude. The others will think you’re a nice, slightly bossy person who doesn’t like to be touched by strangers. Trust me, you could do worse.
Ok, so, the first sentence is strong. Go, Miss Conduct, go. That’s the way to lead things off with a bang. You are absolutely allowed to express your bodily autonomy and to say ‘no, please do not touch me,’ and that doesn’t make you rude or a prude. It just makes you someone who prefers to not be touched, for whatever reason, particularly by random people.
But where Miss Conduct goes from there? It’s a locomotive hurtling down a hill without any brakes on. Are you telling me, Miss Conduct, that college-age ‘guys don’t really know what they’re doing’ when they force unwanted intimate touch on people? Were they tuning out for the ‘keep your hands to yourselves’ lesson in kindgergarten, perhaps? Au contraire, Miss Conduct, they know exactly what they are doing, because the hand on the leg/spontaneous backrub are two moves straight out of any number of men’s advice magazines telling college-aged men how to ‘get chicks.’
You can’t tell me this is a social laboratory. By college, the same social attitudes and norms present in society in general about bodies and who gets to control them are well established. Young men handling their classmates are joining a long and venerable tradition. It’s called ‘rape culture,’ and it absolutely starts with an ‘innocuous’ backrub in some cases.
I like that Miss Conduct came up with some snappy comebacks with the goal of getting people to stop touching you without making A Scene out of it, a common problem in environments like classrooms. But even this advice leaves me with a sour taste, because it puts the burden on T. S. to fight rape culture by being ‘nice,’ if ‘slightly bossy.’ I personally favour a ‘pardon me?’ or a ‘what are you doing?’ or just a snarled ‘don’t touch me’ when I am not interested in being nice to people who are violating my personal space and exerting ownership and control of my body and I do not appreciate being told that I am under an obligation to be nice to people who are touching me without my consent.
It’s bad enough that I feel constantly forced to ‘accept’ things like handshakes and hugs when they make me deeply uncomfortable because to do otherwise is to Make A Scene. A thousand little cuts occur as I allow my boundaries to be violated in the interests of making nice, of facilitating social interactions, of just getting through an interaction so I can move on to the next thing. There’s a very limited circle of people I enjoy hugging and even fewer people I will initiate hugs with, and if some random person started rubbing my back, they would do so at their own peril. I bite and I can move pretty fast when I want to, you get my drift?
How do you respond when people force unwanted touch on you? Do you find yourself compromising your personal boundaries in order to avoid drama in social interactions?
This week’s edition of Dear Prudence had several entries that got me extremely riled up, but the one I’m choosing to feature is one from a young intern who got, well, some pretty awful advice.
The intern wrote:
I landed a dream internship in the entertainment industry and on my first day on the job got to be part of a fabulous evening-long project that culminated in a victory party at a bar. Due to pressure from my supervisors, who were buying the drinks, and poor decision-making, I wound up too drunk to drive home. One of the bosses took me home with him, and when we got there he repeatedly tried to kiss me. This confused me, because I had been certain that he was gay. When I rejected him, saying, “I don’t understand,” he told me that he found me incredibly beautiful and sexy. Twenty minutes later, I was throwing up in his living room while he tried to play nurse and let me sleep it off on his couch. The next day he begged me not to quit, although he didn’t apologize for putting the moves on me. I intend to stay at this internship, because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Do I write the incident off as a crazy, drunken night and nothing more, or confront him about it? Harassment on my first day, though committed under inebriation, is a pretty heavy issue to just sweep under the rug. What should I do?
—Harassed and Hungover
Here’s how Prudie responded:
Get the full DVD set of Entourage and discover that yours could be considered a tame first day on the job in the entertainment industry. Certainly your supervisors should never have encouraged an intern (or any employee) to get drunk. But if you are old enough to have an internship, you should be old enough to know your own limit. Now you do, so that was a valuable evening. There is no Most-Powerful-Man-in-the-World exemption for hitting on an intern (even if the intern flashes some thong); and there’s no Hollywood one, either (especially if the intern is inebriated). Your boss gave you a revolting welcome to the industry, but at least he backed off and got all Florence Nightingale after you ralphed in his living room. Although I’d love to be there, as would any reality-show producer, when you clarify your surprise and horror at his unwanted advances by explaining, “I was certain you were gay, so I couldn’t believe you were trying to kiss me!” there are some things that are best left unsaid. His begging you not to quit indicates that he knows he behaved terribly. Now that you’ve both showered, sobered up, and returned to your desks, you need to show your boss that you have the good judgment to forget about your unfortunate start, and instead spend the rest of the summer showing that you are great at your work.
So, let me get this straight (haha). The intern wrote identifying what happened to her as sexual harassment. Prudie proceeded to blame the victim, basically say that she should have expected this given the industry, and then tell her to forget about it.
Prudie’s advice is bad on a lot of levels. First of all, telling someone to ‘forget about’ harassment is just a terrible thing to do. It’s not enough that he ‘feels he behaved terribly.’ If this intern is comfortable reporting and wants to go through with the process of filing a claim, she should consider doing so. Because she is obviously upset about what happened, she obviously feels violated, and she is obviously feeling uncertain about what to do, but knows what she wants to do something.
To add some victim blaming about how the intern ‘should be old enough’ was just gratuitous and so not necessary. When you are starting a new job and you are trying to fit in, you are not existing in a vacuum. You are struggling with certain pressures and attitudes and it’s not as simple as ‘just say you don’t want anything to drink.’ ‘You learned your lesson, Little Lady,’ is basically what Prudie says here, and no. Being sexually harassed is not ‘learning a lesson.’ You do not need to experience what could have turned into a sexual assault to ‘learn a lesson.’
So, on an individual level, terrible advice. Really, really terrible. But it’s also bad on a structural level.
Here’s the thing. The entertainment industry is sexist. We know this. Amanda Hess over at The Sexist recently wrote about hiring inequalities on The Daily Show and made a really critical series of points about how sexism intersects with the show’s hiring practices. Her points are applicable to the entertainment industry in general; she talked about the way that ignorance, ingrained prejudices, and societal forces all play a role in the perpetuation of sexism in entertainment. The point here is that sexism is institutionalised in the industry, which means that rather than being an individual problem, as Prudence makes it out to be in her response, it is a structural one.
We cannot fight sexism in the entertainment industry by telling people to ‘forget about’ sexual harassment. Or by reinforcing the attitude that ‘well, it’s the entertainment industry, what do you expect?’ Women in entertainment are devalued, constantly reminded that they are worthless, and frequently told that they just need to ‘deal with’ dehumanising behaviour, including rape, sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination. Prudence very neatly reinforced all of these beliefs in her column without a second thought, apparently; presumably she does edit her columns after writing them and apparently still thought it was appropriate to submit this for publication.
The way we dismantle institutions is not by propping them up. Better advice would have included a reiteration that, yes, this is sexual harassment, a reminder that, no, this was not the intern’s fault, and a link to some resources on handling and reporting sexual harassment in the workplace. She could even have included a note that working in a notoriously sexist industry can be an uphill battle sometimes, and wished the intern good luck with her career.
More for Blogging Against Disablism Day.
I just poked around the entry for “Ableism” on Wikipedia. On the Talk page, I found a box placing the Ableism article within WikiProject Sociology:
“This article has been rated as Low-importance on the project’s importance scale.”
Ableism of low importance within Sociology? Erm, ooookay. Let’s have a closer look at their definition of “Low-importance”:
This article is of little importance to this project, but it covers a highly specific area of knowledge or an obscure piece of trivia.
20%, people. Disabled people form around 20% of the population in Australia and the USA (and similar numbers in similar societies). One in five. Discrimination is huge, it is institutionalised, it is very often legal. Disabled people are some of the most vulnerable, the most underemployed, the most abused, the most excluded, the most neglected, the most murdered people in our cultures.
“Low importance”? “Obscure piece of trivia”?
OK, so let’s have a look at some other big discriminations. Racism and sexism, are they categorised as obscure pieces of trivia too? (On Wikipedia, I wouldn’t be surprised…)
Sexism is of High Importance. OK. I agree.
So, racism. I guess the importance of racism within sociology, according to Wikipedians, would be, oh, about similar to that of ableism?
OK, so racism is of High Importance also. OK. I agree with that too.
So why is Ableism of Low Importance? Why does the biggest encyclopedia on earth consider it to be of lesser importance than discrimination against other minorities? Why are sociologists learning and being taught that racism and sexism are The Discriminations, that all others are secondary or tertiary or not really worth bothering about? Why, when a person is both female and PWD, or of colour and PWD, or all three, and/or lesbian, trans, non-citizen, working class, and so on, is ableism automatically ranked as the least important discrimination they’ll encounter? Why are PWD losing this Oppression Olympics, a game we shouldn’t be playing in the first place? (“Intersectionality” hasn’t yet received a rating on the Importance scale at Wikipedia.)
Other topics considered more sociologically important than Ableism (not equal, but more), as far as Wikipedians are concerned, include:
Question Time is a series in which we open up the floor to you, commenters. We invite you to share as you feel comfortable.
Or, the obvious one, given that this is a blog run by disabled feminists! And, reflecting that duality of identity, the question is also twofold:
How have you experienced the intersection of gender and disability identities? And that of sexism and ableism?
I honestly think this is a difficult call. On the one hand the whole point of acting is to take on a personality of someone that isn’t you, hence the point of having straight actors play characters who are gay and vice versa. But there seems to be a catch 22 when it comes to actors who have disabilities. Blind actors are only allowed to play blind characters, which begs the question are they really acting? Obviously they’re not playing themselves, the character likely has personality differences, but why should they be restricted to roles where the audience knows they’re blind? This restriction says to me that directors can’t conceive a blind character playing someone who is sighted and so they don’t allow it, but really they are only restricting the number of roles that blind actors can audition for. So in that case maybe we should be upset that Helen Keller isn’t being played by a young actress who is deaf and/or blind.
Intel’s Reader for the visually impaired isn’t a concept; it goes on sale today. Using an Atom processor, 5-megapixel camera, and Intel’s Linux-based Moblin OS, it turns book pages into digital text and MP3s…then reads aloud in a synthesized voice.
no matter how much you are learning, no matter how much power/money/influence you carry, no matter how much you always know the right things to say,
my body is not for you to exam, conquer, or casually observe
as if the strands of my hair were nothing more than pages of a magazine
the creator did not craft these hands, lungs, feet of mine so you can feel good about yourself. my issues are not for you to solve.
who said you could analyze me? i am not a hobby, a project, a case study
This past week, another scientific study on running raised the issue of athletes with lower-leg amputations who use high-tech prosthetics having a bionic advantage in contests against ordinary competitors. Increasingly sophisticated innovations — like the carbon-fiber Cheetah Flex-Foot — appear to give amputee sprinters a technological edge in medium-distance races like the 400 meters. Isn’t opening able-bodied competitions to disabled athletes like the double-amputee Oscar Pistorius, fitted out with futuristic J-shaped blade extensions, just political correctness run amok?
Annelise M. sent us a link to a relationships advice slide show at ADDITUDE, a website for people with Attention Deficit Disorder and other learning disabilities. The slide show title is “7 Tips for Better Communication in Your ADHD Relationships.” However, even though men are diagnosed with ADD and ADHD two to four times more often than women, the subtitle makes it clear that the advice is for women only and the text specifies “ADD women” and the “partner” or “spouse” is always a “him” (so also heterosexist). The advice was gender-neutral, but the authors decided to go with gender stereotypes instead.
However, even in this environment there is one area that has always troubled me and that revolves around the concept of promiscuity as diagnositic criteria.
My first and biggest problem with this is that I have NEVER heard this brought up as a symptom of mental illness when discussing a male. It is always something that is brought up about a female. I can’t help but assume that this is linked to the belief that “excessive” sexual activity is normal for a man and not a symptom of mental illness while no “healthy” woman would engage in or enjoy casual or alternative styles of sex. I also think it is linked to the belief that women are the only ones that have sex with other people due to low self esteem or possibly in a reckless manner because they have some self-destruct tendencies. See, sex is damaging to women, they can’t just enjoy casual encounters or engage in sex purely for self-satisfaction: they must be wounded in some way or they must be wrongly searching for the intimacy they so desire.
I find myself caught between disabilities.
One of my most promising paths forward health-wise right now is finding a low-impact, non-repetitive form of exercise. Since I have done yoga in the past, I have been searching for a yoga studio. But since I’m in the western suburbs of St. Louis… there just isn’t much here. The most promising place, that offers classes that fit into my schedule, that is likely to be understanding and accomodating of my back issues, is Bikram.
Now I did Bikram a few years ago and loved it – unfortunately, over the course of a couple of months the humidity in the room (Bikram is “hot” yoga, done in a room that’s about 90 degrees) started making my hearing aids go wonky, so I stopped.
The character was dressed in a blue latex suit that covered his head, and he was constantly babbling like an idiot and drooling on himself. I admit that I found the Handiman skits to be hilarious when when they first premiered. The disabled community had been non-existent in Hollywood up until then, and it continues to be non-existent today, so it was good to see some representation, and me not knowing how much of a negative image it was at the time, appreciated the recognition.
I was in my junior year in high school when Handiman made his debut. Ever since I was mainstreamed back in the fifth grade, I have always caught hell because of my disability. I remember being teased many a-day throughout grade school, high school and even college. Handiman perpetuated the stereotypes that people had about people with disabilities. Even to this day, the techniques have changed, but I pretty much know when people are trying to belittle me. Children aren’t as cunning or crafty to hide their emotions, so they would usually laugh or make “retarded-stupid” comments about me.
Sometimes you can maintain a career from your own home, such as on the computer or as a consultant on the phone. Sometimes you just need to stop and re-think the whole idea of being useful. The question of “why am I here?” seems to become magnified when you become confined to a small physical space with others doing all the things you used to do for yourself.
But that does not mean you have become useless. It is very easy to fall into the trap of believing that, especially when people say things like, “it must be so nice to be home all the time and do nothing!” It is not particularly nice to have no impressive answer when people ask what you do all day, but if you are able to ignore that and realize that everyone is on this earth for a reason, you are on your way to finding a new sense of purpose. Maybe not a financial one, but perhaps a spiritual one, which is even more important.
In the news:
Francesca Martinez: A Wobbly Girl Battles Against The Last Taboo [Although I disagree with the idea that disability is the “last taboo”]
Francesca Martinez’s victim is squirming. Trapped under the scrutiny of the comedian and fellow members of the audience at her show in Edinburgh, he is clearly wishing for the proverbial hole to open up. “What are you bad at?” asks Martinez. “Football,” comes the sheepish reply. “Were you born like that?” she enquires, head tilted in sympathy, “Couldn’t your mum have had a test when she was pregnant?” Turning to the man’s girlfriend, she simpers: “You are so brave. Well done… Does it mean he can’t have sex?”
Martinez’s humour bears a political sting. As one of a tiny number of disabled performers who have made it into the mainstream, she is not about to waste opportunities to ram home a message. Born with cerebral palsy, the 31-year-old refuses to accept the label of her condition, preferring to describe herself as “wobbly”.