Going After the Players

Yesterday a friend sent me an intriguing article about Yale University’s disciplinary action against a fraternity promulgating a “hostile sexual environment on campus” for women.  I won’t bother summarizing it for you, since a quick scan of the actual article will probably prove more useful.  But what I emailed to my friend in my thank-you response was:

It really encourages me that the symbol of white male status in America (Yale) has taken such a clear and extreme stand against their entitlement mentality (“No means yes”) on behalf of women. This kind of cultural shift is paramount to addressing the root of exploitation.

In that moment, I was so proud of Yale.  I was proud of it for making a big deal out of something that most people might consider innocuous—chanting at a fraternity meeting.  I was proud of it for erring on the side of the severe instead of the side of the lenient when dealing with an issue of sexual threat.  I was proud of it for publishing its disciplinary action—that I found out about it from the NYTimes!

With{out} Make-up

With{out} Make-up

As a woman, I have noticed in my own life that I permit (without reason) certain jokes and advances of sexual hostility in men.  Why should I laugh when a man I hardly know jokes about sitting me on his lap because there are no more seats available in the room?  Why should I accept the tight squeeze in greeting from men that haven’t earned the right (interpersonally) to put their arm around my waist instead of extending a handshake?  Why should I smile along with the group’s plans to get a free drink if I wink at the bartender?  Each one of these scenarios rests on the fact that I as a woman am expected to say “yes” when I want to say “no.”  That I as a woman should be comfortable with being a physical object instead of a moving force.  That I as a woman must learn how to do these things to “make my way in the world.”  And not only I as a woman—-men are also expected to play this game of objectification.

Women are “born knowing” how to play the game, and as such any “skill” they accrue is uncredited.  But the excerpt below is from a blog article on being a better bartender, and it showcases the expected behavior of objectification especially well because it is an action guide from one man to another man (or woman).

Some people think that there is only a certain type of person that has the confidence to talk to the opposite sex, and to talk to them in “that special way”. This isn’t necessarily true when it comes to the drinkslingers of the world – we all have to be at least a little outgoing or we wouldn’t have got the job in the first place!I love to make a girl feel special when she’s at the bar, because hey – she might give you her number. A good way to get into the habit is to have an “alter ego”, someone that is’t accountable for their actions by the light of day. You see this all the time when girls do the Hooters for Shooters, to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. So there’s Me when I’m doing the laundry, walking around the city, and writing for your entertainment, and then there’s Bartender Me, when I’m the cheeky sonovabitch that isn’t afraid to ask for a kiss as payment for that round of shots! A bartender is able to get away with a little more than a “normal” guy at the bar; you shouldn’t be afraid to take this opportunity to flex your flirting muscles! Practice your wink, look into your customer’s eyes (no matter which gender, it implies trust and confidence) – provided it isn’t sleazy, it can speak volumes. [italics mine]

With{out} Glamour

With{out} Glamour

I added the italics because I want you to see the schism that is forced into society, down to the deepest level of an individual psyche.  The schism is between behaving as a person (agent of action) and an object (to be used by another person).  Of course, there are levels of gratification, use and abuse that move back and forth.  The bartender gets better tips when he performs the part of a sexy Romeo; and the customer gets the pleasure of using said sexy Romeo in their own private narrative of conquest.  But beyond the momentary utility of being an object, the act of objectifying either another person (“No means yes”) or yourself (“No means yes”) ultimately divides us from our Selves (agency) and confuses our sense of personal integrity (wholeness).

I don’t want to split myself into parts.  I didn’t audition for the role that our culture has cast for me.  So, in short: thank you, Yale.  And thank you to all the other men and women in America who let our “yes” be yes and our “no” be no.

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    • mellied
    • June 7th, 2011

    what you are describing is exploitation. the problem is that most people not only don’t know they are being exploited they actually invite the exploitation thinking it will win them love, power, money, or whatever it is that they are looking for.

    love you Jessica!

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