Leah Green filmed men’s reactions to her sexist comments:
The Everyday Sexism project catalogs women’s experiences of unwanted sexual advances. One example:
I was grabbed from behind at a club and force kissed by a guy that I’d never even seen before let alone spoken to. When I pushed him off and turned to see who it was there was a whole group of guys cheering and laughing. I still couldn’t even tell which one it was.
Last week, David Foster inspired a storm of Internet invective when he wrote critically of the project, warning that “there is a risk of comparing offensive and clumsy sexual remarks with respectful, courteous sexual advances”:
We can all agree that aggressive, lewd behaviour is deplorable. But what lies behind some of the crude and boorish conduct catalogued by the Everyday Sexism project is repressed sexuality. It is only by becoming more sexually liberated that those energies might come to be expressed in a respectful way. To promote the outright condemnation of any and all direct sexual propositions would be a disastrously regressive step for the feminist movement. It is a clear indication of how much ground the left has ceded in recent decades that any of this needs restating at all. Whatever happened to the sexual revolution?
Kat Stoeffel challenges Foster’s concerns:
To Foster … one woman’s sexual abuse is another woman’s “direct, unambiguous sexual advance.” But the harassment Everyday Sexism actually chronicles and mocks could not be further from a sincere, good-faith proposition. (If it were, why do men recoil when the tables are turned?) Most of the time catcalls seem designed for the entertainment of other men; the rest of the time, they seem like man’s saddest reminder that even if women are fish, bicycles still rule the street. Workplace sexual overtures (though potentially more legitimate) have a similar effect: Making an environment less welcoming for a woman by highlighting her status as a sexual object.
Mychal Denzel Smith adds:
If we’re still conflating harassment with attraction, then the point has not been made clear enough: harassment is about power, not about sex. When making lewd comments to a woman he doesn’t know on the street, a man is not flirting. He’s asserting his dominance. He’s reminding that woman of her “place.” He’s performing a masculinity based on control. This isn’t sexual liberation.
Alana Massey furthers the ongoing debate:
Let’s compare a man saying “I want to fuck you” to his saying “Hello, may I talk to you?” The first approach simply asserts a male desire, while the other invites female consent. If the first expression is unwelcome, but the person expressing it proceeds anyway, this moves toward being a criminal act. If the second is unwelcome, though, it’s nothing but an annoyance. The latter can ultimately lead to a sexual proposition, as well, but only after mutual interest and attraction are verified.
This may seem like a long, onerous process, but really, this encounter can take only a few minutes. And hey Foster, it’s a long life. So do women a favor and give them this time, space, and agency. If she declines, it’s not because her feminism has failed her. It’s just your bad game.