Guest post by Daniel Fincke of Camels With Hammers, replying to a comment on It was a joke, huh huh huh.
May 30, 2012 at 6:49 am (Edit)
1. It’s not okay to assume that any woman (or non-woman) is at a conference to be your plaything.
(I fail to see such an assumption)
First: this is a general principle Ophelia is laying down. Do you at least agree with the principle?
Second, let’s not get distracted by the semantics of whether literally the couple just looked at Elyse and said, “wow, is that a talking sex doll here at the conference simply for our amusement?? Holy crap, I think it is! Let’s go give her our card with our naked pictures and proposition her for sex!” Of course it is not that simplistic.
But the point is that when your only interaction with a stranger is on the sexual level in a non-sexual context, then what you’re doing is bypassing all other levels of human interaction and saying, “Look, the only thing that I am interested in conveying about the way you strike me is that I’d like to have sex with you.” Now to a stranger, with no context about who you are and no relationship with you, this is objectifying. If the context were, say, an orgy or some other sort of sex party or swingers club or sex website or sex chatroom or strip club or brothel, where this was an understanding of all participants, then maybe the sorts of expectations for how it is permissible to introduce yourself to someone might be a bit different and various ways of (friendly, respectfully) introducing yourself with a sexual pass may be more understandable.
But in the non-sex-specific contexts, people expect to be first addressed and considered and treated on grounds other than their sexual desirability to you. That should be our default assumption. To convey otherwise where this expectation is implicitly in place is to effectively risk being interpreted by the recipient of your sexual request that you are so uninterested in them for anything but sex that you refuse even to take the normal steps of acquaintance and friendship and trust-building but insist instead of just seeing if they are willing to be a sex partner first since that is all that matters. This disregards their own sexual ethics or interests (which you have decided not even to take any steps to inquire about, whether implicitly or explicitly). It disregards any concerns they might have for what sorts of gestures make them feel good or bad about themselves. It disregards any emotions that they may have according to which they would are concerned about being judged on the merits of their arguments or insights or other abilities and not their sexual desirability. It disregards all the possible fears they may have that no matter what they do of merit others will only be judging them by crude standards of whether they want to fuck them.
It disregards all of this and instead treats them first and only in a sexual way as one would treat a sexual plaything. Even in the situations of orgies and brothels and sex chatrooms and strip joints one is not doing this because the context sets up certain assumptions of certain forms of consent. You have in those contexts some consent to proposition people a bit more quickly. You still do not have consent to have sex or touch without the other’s agreement but the context frees things up a bit to be more sexually forward.
Without contextual consent to be sexually forward like that, the default assumptionshould be that the person you are engaging with does not want to be propositioned first and have questions asked later as though they were primarily interested in being perceived as and treated as a potential sex partner.
2. It’s not okay to assume a stranger welcomes your nakedness.
(I fail to see such an assumption)
They gave her a picture of themselves naked to her without first asking whether she would like to see it. Therefore they either assumed that she welcomed seeing their nakedness or they realized she might not and didn’t care that it would repulse and upset her.
You say they didn’t assume she welcomed their nakedness. Okay, then they realized that quite possibly that she would not welcome this and that it would repulse and upset her. So they took the (quite likely) chance of repulsing her and upsetting her rather than erring on the side of avoiding any unnecessary repulsion and dismay. That’s really selfish and inconsiderate and obnoxious behavior on their part. They are no different than unsolicited flashers in this regard.
How you could defend that is beyond me.
3. It’s not okay to remove another person’s ability to have a say in the situation you’ve put them in.
(I fail to see such a removal)
They ran away. They refused to give her a chance to express her feelings directly to their faces—unless she were to call them and arrange a meeting just to yell at them, I guess. That’s an unreasonable demand to put on her. This was effectively, again, like an unsolicited flasher coming up flashing and running away like a coward, not staying to allow the victim to express her feelings in response. They wanted to make the agency to make an aggressive advance but denied the person on the receiving end agency to express her feelings to them.
4. It’s not okay to proposition someone while they are at work.
(a matter of opinion, when it’s a one-off and there is no hint of persistence)
I imagine this depends on the job. In most jobs, it’s not okay and even where it may be justifiable, it should only be where there is already an established mutual rapport, friendship, and trust in which one can be reasonably confident that there are good odds, already expressed to you, that they like you enough, trust you enough, and treat you flirtatiously enough that they seriously could be interested in accepting the offer.
5. Your speaker’s looks are irrelevant to everything else she brings to your conference. And so is your boner.
And so is the basis for this outrage.
No, the basis for the outrage is not irrelevant. The point is that if every time women speakers stepped down from the podium they were treated like they just got off the strip pole and solicited for sexually related activities, then women would have an unfair choice between being speakers and avoiding being treated in a sexual way by strangers. That’s the kind of burden that is put on the speaker if this sort of behavior is condoned/normalized. The speaker has every right that the people who approach her will show respect for her as a speaker first and foremost. It’s extraordinarily rude to send the message that “yeah, whatever you were talking about may be nice and all, but let me cut to what I’m really interested in, ‘wanna fuck?’”
6. If there is a conference policy on not propositioning people at your conference, don’t approach people for sex.
Was there such in this situation?
7. I cannot think of a single situation where it’s ever appropriate to hand someone an invitation to group sex if you haven’t already had or discussed having sex.
Argument from lack of imagination.
There could be scenarios, I guess, like your presence at a swinger’s club where your first discussion of sex might involve a discussion of group sex in particular. But this was not a swinger’s club or any other place specifically designated for greater tolerance of sexual advances. In non-sex-specific contexts where a certain level of consent to discuss sex is not implied by the nature of the event or space, stages of intimacy usually require that one move from less familiar and probing to more familiar and probing. One’s interests, or lack thereof, in group sex are fairly personal for many people. Not for all people but for most people and so it is intrusively abrupt to raise the topic with just anyone since the default assumption is that the person you are speaking with has a typical sense of propriety and a typical aversion to jumping stages of intimacy before being asked about or propositioned for any particularly kinky form of sex. You have to respect the average person’s sensibilities, and when dealing with a woman in particular you must think about the average woman’s sensibilities in thinking about what is generally appropriate. The average woman is put off by questions that leap to very intimate questions of sexual interests before rapport, then trust, then trust with sexual questions have been established.
8. Outnumbering a stranger while putting them in an uncomfortable situation is a dick thing to do.
How does one “outnumber” a stranger?
(Sophistry is sophistic)
There were two of them propositioning one person for sex. This was not “one” outnumbering a stranger. It was two doing so. Two people saying, we both are lurking around here with sexual designs on you is creepier than even just one person doing it.
care to establish your basis for opining that the example provided constitutes creepy, sexist behavior?
(Is it really so very creepy that poly people take a chance in inviting you in? Me, I’d be flattered)
It was a fucking invitation, one that (need I repeat?) I would be flattered to receive.
What sort of world is it where a one-off, indirect but apparently sincere offer is ‘creepy’?
Creepy behavior is whatever disrespects someone’s boundaries or signals a willingness to disregard boundaries. It is disrespectful. When you ignore the typical boundaries of the average person you are showing a disregard for social norms. Now your own private norms may be much different than social norms. You may privately be polyamorous or open to sexual advances from strangers who you have not yourself yet given any implicit or explicit sexual green lights to. But the average woman’s norms are mirrored in social norms which find both of those things transgressive of proper boundaries. Until you have established a private relationship with someone and come to learn her particular private norms and establisher her particular level of rapport, trust, and sexual interest in you, your default assumptions must be that she is one of the “normals” and not like you.
The fact that you would be flattered by the invitation does not mean women are. Humans are not all the same. Men in our culture tend to be more flattered by unsolicited bold come-ons than women. I know I am. But men and women obviously live in wildly different social contexts though and we must respect that. We must respect that women live in a context in which they are turned into both idealized and denigrated sex objects constantly. We must respect that women are in the culturally dictated position of being the ones typically propositioned and so the propositions come far more frequently and far more annoyingly (on that account alone if none other). We have to respect that women are constantly having their capabilities and accomplishments in other areas of life put second to their sexual desirability (or presumed lack thereof) and so propositions in many contexts (such as in the one in the case under discussion) are not flattering at all but a signal that what they would like to people to be focusing on about them is being ignored so that they can be viewed on only a sexual level. Again.
We have to respect that women are often physically smaller and less muscular than the men propositioning them and often in less powerful positions to them and so propositions come with imposing physical, social, and professional threats as possibilities in many cases. Also, many men are socialized to ignore initial (or even all) refusals to propositions that women in various contexts make and so propositions come with them the scary and frustrating possibility of follow up harassment even if they say no.
I could go on listing the ways that the social world in which women are propositioned makes it hard in many cases for them to simply feel flattered. They have good reasons to associate propositions with many unflattering attitudes towards them and good reasons to have Pavlovian fears of follow up harassment and cajoling when they are propositioned—even when dealing with people they like and have sexual interest in but still feel the need to refuse for one reason or another. Even the people they have rapport and trust and a degree of physical intimacy with could turn into date rapists and even have in many women’s experiences. So, in that context, a stranger who signals first and foremost a disregard of social norms and a cluelessness or apathy about how they experience things is creepy to them and rightly so.
(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)