August 9, 2009

Hello internet

Until yesterday, I had about 15 readers per day. Then a link from the wonderful blog Eschaton brought 10,000 people to my little blog, and over 100 people have commented on my Three Feminist Rants.

I read all of the comments, and I appreciate those who have expressed support. Rather than wading into the comments myself I thought I would just respond to a few points in a new post.

In response to rant #1 - Someone suggested I will miss catcalls when I am old. Someone else asked why I don't just thank catcallers for the compliment and explain that I'm "already dating." I ignore catcalls because most of the time, I don't believe they are a sincere effort to date me but rather an effort to make me uncomfortable. The one I quoted, "Hey there gorgeous," is fairly benign, but I regularly hear unsolicited comments about my legs, ass, and tits, when I am just walking to the post office. Because of this, any unsolicited comment about my appearance reminds me that men own the streets in my neighborhood, that they can objectify and degrade and humiliate me in public, and I can't do anything but keep walking. Maybe you are a genuinely nice guy who means "gorgeous" as a sincere compliment, but the place for those lines is a bar, not the streets of a neighborhood where women are harassed every day.

In response to rant #2 - In this rant, I was expressing frustration that being a woman means I am regularly advised to restrict my movements in ways that are completely unreasonable (don't go out alone after dark), or take safety precautions that are impossible (always have a man with you).

I am also frustrated that in our society the responsibility for preventing sexual assault falls to women, who are advised to avoid showing skin, to avoid certain streets, and otherwise avoid tempting men to hurt them. The implication is that when something happens to a woman, she is partly to blame because she stupidly walked down the wrong street in the wrong outfit. That's depressing to me, so I was ranting about it.

I did not say that I regularly skip past drug dealers in miniskirts and dare them to assault me in a misguided attempt to prove a feminist point. I am always slightly anxious when I am outside by myself at night, and I do avoid certain streets.

What I said was, "I will go out when I want." I don't hide in my apartment. When my work, my friends, or my activities keep me out late, I walk back to my apartment in the dark -- because the alternative is having no life at all. I live like any normal adult, coming and going regardless of whether it's dark outside.

In response to rant #3 - This was mainly a point about the athlete's choice of words. I am tired of some men pretending they just wish a woman would "take care of herself" -- being good to herself and staying healthy -- when they really mean, "I want you to stay skinny, wear makeup, and dress pretty because that's what I find attractive."

I didn't ask anyone to be attracted to women who are overweight or indifferent to fashion -- you can be attracted to whatever you want -- just to stop pretending that "looking sexy for me" is the same as "taking care of yourself." For many women, restricting food to become skinny is unhealthy, while true self-care would mean eating healthy for its own sake and accepting an imperfect body. And while I happen to love fashion and makeup, women who don't like those things should do whatever makes them comfortable -- and they shouldn't be accused of tragically neglecting themselves.


  • Bravo for your comments!

    I think women should be careful (because we have to be - with so many kooks out there) but we need to have a life too. The idea that we think it's normal that women have to be so careful in our society when we go out is appalling. When I was in Japan, we could go out late a night and walk home with no fear. What is wrong with our society that we feel we have to be so afraid as women? Why have we let this go on so long? Why are so many young girls and women being raped, kidnapped and killed? We should all be outraged.

    Why can't we be out in public without getting harassed? Women don't like comments about their body parts by strangers! Most intelligent, sensitive, women DON'T LIKE THIS.

    There are so many RETRO women who are afraid of men or afraid to be strong. I understand because if women are strong they are bitches. If men are strong it's a positive. Why do you suppose so many nasty things are said about Secretary Clinton. I think she is fabulous. It's a weird society and the more you travel in the world, the more you realize how strangely we treat each other and women.

    By Blogger ZZ, at 8/9/09, 5:02 PM  

  • Although I didn't read all of your comments, I suspect that most of the pushback coming from men is in regards to rant #3. At least that's where I take issue, even in regards to the follow-up.

    Any time I come back from a trip to Europe, it's always a bit of a shock until my eyes adjust. Look, the obesity rates speak for's not about eating healthy and accepting your imperfections, most women (and men for that matter, but as a male I am quicket to notice women) in America do not appear healthy. I'm not talking about skinny, and I'd wager most men are not attracted to the super skinny models you see in fashion magazines. I am talking about healthy, reasonably fit, nothing too crazy.

    Yes, ofcourse men want women to look and dress in a way they find attractive, but that has nothing to do with denying yourself food or wearing heels every time you step out of the house. I think it comes down to the fact that women in America are disproportionately overweight, in relation to other developed countries and I suspect it has more to do with our income inequality and unhealthy food subsidies, than American women refusing to deny themselves food, while being comfortable with themselves.

    Hope that made sense, at least from my, admittedly somewhat vain point of view.

    By Anonymous VMF, at 8/9/09, 5:42 PM  

  • On rant #3, American men should take care of themselves, too. They also are fat, unattractive, and unhealthy. Addictive, sugary drinks; high-fat, fast food "value" meals; and a largely sedentary lifestyle encouraged by the American service economy are essentially to blame for the insanely high number of cases of diabetes. Diabetes is overwhelmingly a fat-people disease and an American-people disease, both.

    Anorexia and bulemia are unhealthy. Over-eating is unhealthy. Eating like civilized people ate for the couple thousand years before the advent of convenience dining is healthy.


    By Blogger Matt, at 8/9/09, 6:22 PM  

  • You blog a lot about getting cat calls when you're out on the street - makes me wonder in part where you are living, but I also think "Wow, Didi must be kind of hot, to have this happen all of the time."

    And while I totally get that it makes you feel uncomfortable, and agree that it would make ME feel uncomfortable too... every time I read your posts about that, I sigh and wish I was even remotely close enough to good looking enough to get a comment on the street.

    That probably makes me sound awful, but I've thought it so many times I just wanted to say it!

    By Blogger Psycgirl, at 8/9/09, 6:47 PM  

  • Psycgirl,

    It's truly just the culture of the neighborhood. I lived in a college town for 4 years and I never got catcalled, but I look exactly the same.

    It happens partly because this is a poor neighborhood, and men who are unemployed hang out on the streets. They are bored, and perhaps resentful when a dressed up white girl walks by on her way to work.

    I truly feel like it's about power, and has nothing to do with my appearance. Usually it feels threatening, not complimentary. So I bet if you lived here you would get catcalled too.

    By Blogger Di Di, at 8/9/09, 7:03 PM  

  • I truly feel like it's about power, and has nothing to do with my appearance. Usually it feels threatening, not complimentary. So I bet if you lived here you would get catcalled too.

    I don't know if there's been any research into the psychology of catcallers - possibly because they're less identifiable - but basically all the empirics done on domestic abusers conforms with your thesis: the abusers feel zero control over their own lives, the violence re-establishes a sense of autonomy or at least relative position, et cetera. Adventures in intersectionality...

    (Of course rape is about power too but I'm unsure whether it's specifically connected to this sense of disenfranchisement.)

    By Blogger M, at 8/9/09, 7:54 PM  

  • Thanks for the rants.

    Will check out this blog from time to time.

    — Visitor from Eschaton

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/9/09, 8:01 PM  

  • Hmm... M, I think you and Didi are onto something. This is essentially a form of verbal bullying and bullying is often 1) learned from a parent or parents and 2)a sign of insecurity and fearfulness.

    Psych girl... I had the same thoughts growing up in a small town and going to a university where everyone but me seemed to have a clue how fashion worked. After my first few experiences with comments, though, I quickly changed my mind. Nothing in what Didi has described in her rants has ever sounded complimentary to me, and the angry reactions of people whom she ignores is downright frightening.

    As a psychotherapist I have run male batterer's groups and I now work in a men's prison. This is exactly the kind of behavior the men I treat engage in and demonstrates the sort of thinking that, in their cases anyway, leads to violence against women. If you've been raised to think this is the correct way to interact with women there is a problem. And if not, and your impulse control is poor enough to violate basic social rules like this, what else are you likely to do?

    By Blogger Mamabeek, at 8/9/09, 8:48 PM  

  • Well said.

    Just wanted to say in support of your rants that the men who catcall are well aware that it is not intended as a true compliment or appreciation.

    Once, when I lived in Manhattan, a man catcalled something obnoxious to me as I walked toward him. He was rendered speechless when I said, "Would you like to say tell my father what you just said to me?"... as my father caught up to me on the sidewalk. The catcaller muttered something and got out of there fast.

    If you can't say it in front of her dad, it ain't a compliment.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/9/09, 10:41 PM  

  • Rant #1 - Sodini had the impression that women had a club somewhere -- everyone with a vagina was a member. At the meetings they would vote to determine which men would be celibate for decades at a time. He was a moron and allowed his resentment for this club to rise to the level of murder. Now, you seem to tell me that there is a club which owns the streets and determines which women will be subject to harrassment, and everyone with a penis is a member. It's simply not true -- I have no input into this club. I have a penis, yes, but I have not whistled at you. Sodini mistakenly believed all women were conspiring to ruin his life. You would do well not to believe that all men are conspiring to rule our streets.

    Rant #2 - I am glad that you do not allow fear to dominate your life. And I certainly recognize your right to wear whatever clothes you want to without being subject to harrassment. However, let's not be ignorant. Men are hardwired to respond to certain visual stimuli. This hardwiring has prevented extinction for millenia -- it is not necessarily good but it serves a purpose. When women dress, they are often aware of this hardwired response, they are intentionally creating an effect in men. You assert that when men call out at you, they are intentionally creating an effect in you. Who's right? Everyone is. It's an interaction and different people at different times are willing and unwilling participants on all sides. It's complicated. No one side can accept all of the blame, and no one side can produce meaningful change unilaterally.

    Rant #3 - I am in the process of discovering my own athletic potential (having been a scrawny nerd for 25 years), and I have also been dating a bunch of different women (of all shapes and sizes). So I have often suggested various physical activities -- such as jogging -- to a wide cross-section of women. It has been my experience that most women are self-conscious about sweating in front of me. However, among the heavier women that I have dated, I have noticed they tend to reveal a startlingly awful self-image which usually culminates in something like "I can't jog." Can't jog? My mind recoils in terror that someone would believe, with complete resignation, that their body is incapable of any sustained aerobic activity whatsoever. Everything else being equal, I would prefer to date a healthy woman, or at least one who _wants_ to be healthy. Starving yourself is not healthy. Neither is sitting on your butt all day with a defeatist attitude. For what it's worth, I'm a bit of a transportation activist and I regularly suggest to men, as well, that they hone their body's capacity for moving itself about. When I say "take care of yourself," I mean just that. Just because I have a penis does not mean that "take care of yourself" means "wear makeup and starve yourself."

    Anyways, I totally agree with your conclusions about the freedoms you will exercise. You only come off as a jerk when you tell me about all men, as if (a) you know anything about us, and (b) we are all the same. Didn't this whole rant start with a man making that same mistake?

    p.s., I happened to read your blog entry in a text-only browser so I didn't see your photo. I was thus blessed to be able to read your article completely absent the sort of shallow perceptions that is so counter-productive in these conversations. However, blogger was screwed up so I had to cut and paste into firefox to actually post this, and now I've seen your photo with your sunglasses, lipstick, hair, bare shoulders, purse, and so on. This here is the internet, and you have the opportunity to present yourself to an audience who is not going to sexualize their perceptions of you. But you squandered this opportunity in exchange for a fashion photo. Men didn't force you to make this decision. It is your right to make this decision, but sadly men are also free to disrespect you because of your appearance.

    By Blogger greg alexander, at 8/10/09, 12:42 AM  

  • "Why are so many young girls and women being raped, kidnapped and killed?"

    Good question?

    Far too many women are raped, for sure, and the reasons are varied and difficult to solve. As for kidnapping - how many young women do you think are kidnapped in a given year? The FBI and DOJ don't even break that out as a subset of violent crime, so I can't imagine it's a prevalent phenomenon. As for being killed, men are 3 times as likely to be murdered in the US as women.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/10/09, 3:44 AM  

  • Greg Alexander:
    I missed this part "Now, you seem to tell me that there is a club which owns the streets and determines which women will be subject to harrassment, and everyone with a penis is a member." Can you tell men when this blogger wrote or implied this?

    Also, you ask us not to think men are monothic, but add: "Men are hardwired to respond to certain visual stimuli. This hardwiring has prevented extinction for millenia -- it is not necessarily good but it serves a purpose." This sounds terribly monothic! Straight men are hardwired to look at attractive women, but nobody is hardwired to be a loud jackass. Many men don't choose that option. The ones who should change their minds.

    By Anonymous Linda, at 8/10/09, 7:46 AM  

  • Linda -

    Certainly. "Because of this, any unsolicited comment about my appearance reminds me that men own the streets in my neighborhood, that they can objectify and degrade and humiliate me in public, and I can't do anything but keep walking." This is no different from saying that "Because tight-fitting clothes remind me that women own the sexual power in my life, that they can enforce humiliating celibacy on me in public, and I can't do anything but ignore it." There is a power dynamic which everyone (man and woman) participates in, sometimes unwillingly, which gives many women the impression that men own the streets. The same dynamic gives many men the impression that women own sexuality. There are very few differences between visual and auditory stimuli in this fashion -- both are difficult to ignore and both serve as often unwelcome reminders of the sexualization of power. Now, I wouldn't argue the two behaviors are morally equivalent...for example men may (I do not know, really) resort to violence and anger more often than women when their gestures are ignored. But both men and women tend to fall for the same fallacy which makes it difficult for any real understanding to occur between the genders.

    And I do not understand why you chose to challenge my assertion that men are not "monothic." Yes, we tend to have hardwired responses. No, yelling at women is not one of the hardwired responses -- it is a choice. Isn't that exactly what both you and I have said? When I see a woman in a tight-fitting shirt walk by, it takes substantial effort not to look at her breasts and even when I exert the effort I am not usually entirely successful. This appears to be hardwired behavior on my part. However, I do not drool, yell, slap, pinch, rape, kidnap, or even stare (usually). Usually the best coping mechanism when actually talking to a very attractive woman is to look at her eyes/face, but even this can have a strong unwelcome effect on my concentration. I am still capable of being a gentleman, and of course there would be no excuse if I was not a gentleman.

    - Greg

    By Blogger greg alexander, at 8/10/09, 10:34 AM  

  • Wow, the world is an irrational place! Really?!

    By Anonymous FZ99, at 8/10/09, 12:26 PM  

  • Great posts. Just a small point. The idea that American women (or men) are unattractive on average is clearly silly. Americans are doing just fine hooking up for casual sex, falling in love, forming long term relationships, procreating, and being generally lusty about each other's physical appearance, thanks all the same. I agree it's obnoxious to use the weasel words "take care of themselves" when instructing American women to become more attractive. But premise, that a group of people are deficient in attractiveness, rests on a flawed understanding of what makes humans attractive to other humans.

    By Blogger camipco, at 8/10/09, 1:30 PM  

  • Greg:
    Greg, it seems we are in agreement about a lot of things. But please tell me why men have the perception that women own the sexual power in their lives. I totally understand how having my butt grabbed when I was a teen, and walking down the street, made me feel powerless. I understand why a carful of guys yelling "bitch" make me feel disempowered.

    Not being able to have sex with whomever you want is not disempowering. I can't grab any money I want, for instance, but I'm not angry about that. I can't walk over other folk's property, but that's not opressive. It's a pain sometimes, but it's life.


    By Anonymous Linda, at 8/10/09, 4:02 PM  

  • Greg:
    I'm not being a wiseass, or accusatory. I'm serious.


    By Anonymous Linda, at 8/10/09, 4:06 PM  

  • Linda -

    It's a good question. I only went so far as identifying it as a common fallacy shared between the genders. :) It's pretty easy to see why women perceive men to have various powers over them -- so many men spend so much effort trying to prove that they are powerful. I think it is simple insecurity on the part of men. We can demonstrate so many powers, but ultimately we are still powerless to make a woman desire us sexually. This response which happens in men when a beautiful woman passes near us, our awareness of it is something we cannot really control (or at least, it is difficult). Really it is our own body/mind which is betraying us, and this lack of control over ourselves is a severe weakness. Most men lack the explicit verbal awareness to tackle it head on so they just feel frustratingly powerless when they are trying to direct their attention away from a woman, and they naturally blame the woman because it is not normal for men to blame themselves when they are wrong (not defending, just saying).

    I mean, there are some complicating factors...there's this perception that a fairly attractive woman, if she puts effort into it, could bed essentially any man (at least within some socioeconomic limits)...but I've seen just enough of life to know that there are women who find it as difficult as I do, and I also know that with a little work, many men can develop the same sexual appeal.

    I've been dating a lot recently, due to a personal crisis, and one of the things I like to do is get a woman to open up about stressful things in her life -- things which could/have been the target of growth. Things like codependent habits learned in childhood and so on. So I've been in the position of hearing a lot of stories about how an ex did her wrong, and I am almost always in the awkward position of semi-defending/explaining the ex, and I am almost always saying "oh that is just an obvious expression of insecurities." I do not want to say that men are justified in their rude/dominant/inconsiderate/etc behavior, but I have personally found it a lot easier to deal with some of the wounds left by my own ex-gfs when I understand that ultimately most people are just acting out insecurities. I've noticed a lot of men tend to express insecurities dominantly. I've noticed a lot of women tend to express insecurities through self-abuse (it is terrifying how many women have confessed eating disorders to me). I've of course seen all ranges of the spectrum in both genders.

    Hope that's not too arrogant...I'm trying to summarize a subject I've been researching for a little while, and I can get excited about sharing some of the stories I've collected. :)

    And yeah, I'm insecure as hell too.

    - Greg

    By Blogger greg alexander, at 8/10/09, 6:41 PM  

  • No, not arrogant. What you said makes sense.


    By Anonymous Linda, at 8/10/09, 9:52 PM  

  • Greg Alexander: ""Because of this, any unsolicited comment about my appearance reminds me that men own the streets in my neighborhood, that they can objectify and degrade and humiliate me in public, and I can't do anything but keep walking." This is no different from saying that "Because tight-fitting clothes remind me that women own the sexual power in my life, that they can enforce humiliating celibacy on me in public, and I can't do anything but ignore it.""


    If six men decide to be jackasses to me every day, I've been insulted and my life is unpleasant. One man not being a jackass won't change that situation.

    If six women decide not to have sex with you, and one does, then you're no longer enforced into celibacy. One woman can change your situation.

    Logic, give it a try.

    By Anonymous oldfeminist, at 8/21/09, 5:00 PM  

  • Ok, oldfeminist, we'll have a logic debate.

    A = have a man initiate unwelcome sexually provocative language towards me (catcalls, etc.)
    B = have a woman display sexually provocative clothing in front of me when she does not want to have sex with me

    A woman experiences A 6 times and not-A once. Her experience of the universe is dominated by A, she concludes that men are mostly jerks to women. But perhaps she marries the guy who manifests not-A (respects her, or presents welcome provocative language) and feels satisfied with gender roles. Or perhaps she's just satisfied to hate men all her life, beats me, I hate to prescribe other people's lifestyles.

    A man experiences B 6 times and not-B once. His experience of the universe is dominated by B, he concludes that women are mostly jerks to men. But perhaps he marries the lady who manifests not-B (has sex with him, or hides her body) and feels satisfied with gender roles.

    You made a little trick by assuming that the availability of not-A (decent men) is completely irrelevant to a woman compared to the availability of not-B (a single woman to have sex with) is to men. This is a subtle point that is well outside of logic which is just concerned with essentially categories. The category not-A is equivalent to the category not-B so far as logic is concerned, and it is just in our subjective experiences that we perceive them differently.

    The biggest different I see is still that men initiate their poor behavior for the purpose of being dominant. I will give women the benefit of the doubt and say most do not even realize they are influencing men, and they certainly are less selective in how they apply this pressure (all men are affected by a woman in a bikini, but only a select few women are subject to constant verbal harrassment).

    Here's a little advice I learned from a real feminist: men and women are basically the same. We are basically equals, and we have basically the same potential. There are some behaviors which are much more common among men in our society, and others which are much more common among women. Since I _know_ you are my equal, you might as well give me the benefit of the doubt too and guess that perhaps I might have something worth saying, even though I am a man, and even though I think that women sometimes put on make up for the express purpose of influencing men in a way men find difficult to control.

    By Blogger greg alexander, at 8/21/09, 5:23 PM  

  • I still don't understand why you think women who wear "provocative" clothing are doing anything to men who happen to be around. (And I'm assuming you have a pretty broad definition of provocative since you thought my blog photo was sexy)

    A cute outfit is not an implicit promise to have sex with anyone who offers. Women who wear provocative clothing and decline sex are not "jerks."

    Women like fashion. They like cute clothes and makeup and flattering haircuts. It does not mean they are trying to attract or tease every man they see -- and if the sight of attractive women who won't sleep with you "affects" you to the point that it makes your life worse, then you have a problem.

    It's like you're saying "When I see an attractive yet unavailable women, I want something that I can't have. That makes me feel frustrated and deprived, and it's HER FAULT for making me want her in the first place!" But, wanting something you can't have is not a fucking tragedy.

    Everyone notices attractive people, but the normal response is to think "wow, she's hot" and then return to your own thoughts. If it makes you feel awful then you must be driving yourself crazy -- don't blame women for that.

    By Blogger Di Di, at 8/21/09, 6:51 PM  

  • Di Di -

    I did not say your blog photo was sexy. I said that you squandered your best chance to be judged solely on the basis of your ideas.

    I never said that a cute outfit was an implicit promise of anything.

    I never said that anything was the woman's fault. I merely pointed out that an attractive woman has an effect on men as surely as a rude man has an effect on women. There are all sorts of differences. There is a key similarity though: people like Sodini draw inappropriate generalizations from his experiences with women, while people like Di Di draw inappropriate generalizations from her experiences with men.

    For example, I never said that it is a woman's fault that she has an affect on men. I carefully did not. That's why I said: "It's an interaction and different people at different times are willing and unwilling participants on all sides. It's complicated. No one side can accept all of the blame, and no one side can produce meaningful change unilaterally." Because that's exactly what I thought. If I thought that it was "her fault," as you say, I would have used a totally different set of words.

    Anyways, I happened to have an experience yesterday which I think may serve to highlight how someone's visual presentation can have an unwelcome effect on others. I was walking to one of my friends' houses. I was hot and sweaty and I happened to know that it doesn't bother my friend to see me shirtless. I wanted to be comfortable, so I took off my shirt. Then it occurred to me to wonder if I had remembered to put on deodorant after my shower, so I lifted up my arm and took a sniff. When I looked up I noticed there was an old lady across the street from me who was visibily disturbed by what she had just witnessed. My intention was just to pursue comfort, and I didn't do anything to affect anyone else but reflect photons. Yet I had a strong affect.

    - Greg

    By Blogger greg alexander, at 8/23/09, 11:29 AM  

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