Tuesday, June 03, 2014

"[W]e further codify the idea of women as sexual objects"

Found on Twitter: a confessional essay making more or less the point I made earlier: boys/men aren't the only ones who experience unrequited love. Women and girls, too, can go through long (sometimes lifelong) stretches of unpopularity with the opposite sex. (Obviously gay men and women can also get rebuffed, but that's not so relevant here. Or maybe it is - that also serves as a reminder that there's nothing uniquely hetero-male about romantic disappointment.) Anyway, Lux Alptraum gets at the essential:

Because the problem is this: when we ignore the existence of awkward girls, of the female nerds, losers, and geeks who are just as befuddled by sex and dating, we further codify the idea of women as sexual objects. The notion that all women can get effortlessly laid, if only they open their legs, reduces the reality of female experience, transforming women from complicated individuals to the vessels for male sexual desire lusted after by Elliot Rodger and his ilk, and further fueling the misogynistic rage that leads men like Rodger to feel justified in their anger and actions.
I'll just add - repeating myself from that other post - that this is really the danger of sharing only stories of harassment, of deflecting unwanted male advances, of jealous ex-boyfriends, of leering strangers. Yes, those stories should be shared. But if that's all that's shared, it just reiterates this narrative of women as magical creatures who don't know what it's like to have one's affections repeatedly go unreciprocated. Discuss rape culture, yes, but not in a vacuum sort of a way that assumes women's only challenge in the romantic sphere is unwanted attention from men. It's quite a bit more - as Alptraum says - "complicated" than that.

OK, I'll add one more thing as well, to get into why it's so complicated. The particularity of the female version of unpopular adolescence is that you can be of no interest to the boys in your class, or the boys you like, and be just generally not considered particularly attractive, while at the very same time, you'll be subject to copious leering, catcalling, etc. from creeps on the street. That sort of harassment isn't about admiring female beauty at its peak, or any such nonsense, but about intimidating the most easily intimidated, which is to say girls aged, say, 10-16. So there will be this weird thing where you're spending half the time silently mooning over the boys who like someone else, and the other half getting told "You've been spending too much time on your knees!" by strange men who feel the need to remark in an obscene way on your Rollerblading scabs. Ah, middle school in the 1990s.

Point being, this is, I think, why people get confused. It seems as if all-the-women (#YesAllWomen) must constantly deflect male attention. And it's true in a sense, but not in the sense of attention a woman would possibly interpret as a viable romantic or sexual prospect. Not least because this attention is so often aimed at girls too young to be looking for relationships in the late-teens-and-older sense of the term.