Overheard in the men’s room

“So, I was just in the men’s room, and I overheard a conversation that made me think of you.”

When you’re a feminist blogger, a lot of conversations with your friends begin this way.

In this case, my friend Charles was right: the conversation he had overheard did interest me. We were at a wedding reception, and Charles had found himself in the men’s room with a few members of the wedding party. One of them turned to another and asked something along the lines of, “Hey, dude, are you going for bridesmaids tonight?” to which the other replied something along the lines of, “Yeah, the one with the big tits.”

Charles didn’t join in the discussion, but he did come right back to our table and recount it to me.

“So, did you say anything?” I asked.

“No. I mean, what would I have said?” he responded.

What, indeed.

As I saw it, Charles had missed an opportunity to interrupt sexist behavior, and to make these men think about the implications of their words.

In my opinion, the fact that these guys were willing to say these things so openly – in the men’s room, in the presence of other men they didn’t know – suggested that they saw nothing wrong with what they were saying. Or, even if they knew that what they were saying wasn’t one hundred percent acceptable, they didn’t think the other men present, men like Charles, would have any objections. Had they thought he might object, they would have waited until he had left, or spoken more quietly.

The thing is, I think Charles did have some objections. The bridesmaids in question, the ones being discussed as though they weren’t real people, were his friends, and it made him uncomfortable to hear them spoken about in that way.

Charles and I discussed the possibility that these guys took his silence as tacit approval of what they were saying. He wasn’t so sure, but I’m convinced that in this situation, he had the power to do a bit of feminist good.

I’m of the view that one of the reasons public sexism happens, whether it’s street harassment, sexist jokes, or objectifying comments in the men’s room, is because men don’t think they’ll be called out on it. And if they are called out on it, they’ll be called out by women – and in these situations, women’s objections don’t hold that much sway. As important as I think it is for women to register their discontent with sexist jokes and catcalling, I don’t think these things will go away until the men who do them can stop counting on the implicit approval of other men.

Hugo Schwyzer has written about this, at length, in the context of street harassment:

As frustrating as it is to acknowledge, most harassers harass because they understand that their behavior is sanctioned by their male peers, be those peers on a golf course or a basketball court. A great deal of sexual harassment takes place in the view of other men; frequently, the harassment is a form of puerile male bonding. The best counter-attack to this behavior goes beyond confrontation. The best long-term solution is creating small communities of men who are willing — as a group — to model a very different way of being male. It’s about connecting with other men with whom you can stand in solidarity and together speak out against harassment that happens in your community.

Schwyzer concludes that “the most effective agents against harassment are those who fight it with a recognizable credibility.”

In this case, I wouldn’t have a lot of credibility. I’m a woman (one with big tits, to boot), and I didn’t know these guys. Charles didn’t know them either, but at least he looked like them. He could pass for one of them. Furthermore, he had access to the space in which this conversation was taking place, and I did not.

I’m not entirely sure what Charles might have said in this situation. I’m not entirely sure what an appropriate, non-confrontational response would have been. I’m not entirely sure how easy it is to call out sexism while standing at a urinal with one’s junk in one’s hand (but if anyone could do it, Charles probably could). I know what I would have said if this conversation had taken place in front of me – and it probably wouldn’t have been terribly non-confrontational at all. But because this happened in the men’s room, and because these men probably cared a good deal more about what a fellow dude thought than what I think, what I would have said doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that in this situation, loathe though I am to admit it, Charles has more power to effect feminist change than I ever could.

Readers, what would you have said in Charles’s place? What’s the most effective way for a guy to interrupt this kind of sexism?

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115 Comments

  1. Posted July 19, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    The least confrontational and most likely line that would’ve made the other men apologize would be Charles saying something along the lines of

    “Excuse me, but that’s my sister”

    The sister lie is important because its likely that the other men could relate to his sense of obligation in protecting the bridesmaids honor.

    If he goes with the friend line, than he’s likely to get the response “what’s it to you, faggot?”

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      The sister comment might not be good enough because the takeaway is that it’s oka to talk that way as long as the person they’re talking about is not related to anyone they know. They might say, sorry , if I had known. The mistake being the choice of women they’re talking about and not what they are saying.

      • Posted July 20, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        I agree, and that can do even more damage than good in the end; it implies women are fair game but the women who are related to certain men need protection of their innocence, etc etc.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      If what they said is wrong (and I’m not convinced it is), invoking the patriarchy with the sister lie is not the way to counter.

  2. Posted July 19, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I would have said to your friend that its rude to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations that have nothing to do with you.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      I think it is fairly obvious in this situation that the conversation was being carried on in a way that he couldn’t help but overhear. I’d say it’s rude to carry on sexist and demeaning conversations without regard to anyone who might be around you.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      The point, you missed it.

      We all have a responsibility to hold each other accountable to cultivate social change. We all have a responsibility to engage in rigorous self reflection to understand our own internalized sexism, racism, any “ism” – and sometimes we need encouragement from others to do so. I’m going to assume that these men aren’t truly as awful as they seem and hope that they are individuals who could have grown in this teachable moment. We all have the responsibility to help each other grow, whether or not the conversation is directed as us.

  3. Posted July 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Men and women talk about the physical features of a person that they want to hook up with. She’ll talk about his great abs, and he’ll talk about her wonderful legs. This is not sexist. When you’re just looking for a hookup, a person’s dazzling personality or intelligence doesn’t come into the equation. It would be sexist if that’s the only thing a guy is looking for in a woman for all relationships. So your friend, Charles, did the right thing in not interrupting. I agree, however, that if they were actually acting sexist, Charles needed to step in and let them know that it isn’t ok to be sexist, even in private.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      I agree with destra. He worded it a bit crassly, but ultimately he simply expressed a desire to hook up with a particular woman. It doesn’t even mean it’ll happen. Or she could be in the ladies room conspiring with her friends to go after the Best Man with the cute butt, I dunno.

      In reality, if he butted in on two strangers in a men’s room and reprimanded their conversation, he’d probably just be met with a “Fuck off, mind your own business.” type of response. If the woman described is a friend of his and the situation concerns him, I suppose he could take her aside at some point and alert her to what was said. I know what I just suggested may amount to what some deem the egregious C-B, but if he really feels it’s in her best interest, so what? Then again, she may be up for it herself.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      I think the sexist part of the conversation was actually:

      ““Hey, dude, are you going for bridesmaids tonight?””

      You can gather from the semantics of this sentence, that “bridesmaid” is not referring to a human. It almost sounds like the men are “going for a bridesmaid” as one would go for a “coke” or a “hamburger”.

      It is very de-humanizing.

      If I had been Charles in this situation, I would have said; “Sorry, Exuce me, Which bridesmaid are you going for? Oh the one with the big tits riiight. Well actually, she is a friend of mine. I’ll let her know that some guy in the bathroom is “going for her” tonight and that you like her big tits.”

      Survival of the fit is what I would like to use as a moral in this story. If you would like to procreate with a woman, maybe learn how to communicate with her. That would be the first step. Also, she probably would appreciate some intelligence, manures, humbleness, and respect. Wouldn’t we all?

      • Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        lol *manners. manures? for fertilizing their gardens? idontknow

      • Posted July 20, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        It depends on whether he knows their names or not and whether he is sure the other person knows all of their names. In addition, since he asked about ‘bridesmaidS’ (plural), it seems simpler then saying, Are you going for any of Tina, Jennifer, Alison or Joana?.

        A woman asking a friend if she was interested in any of the groomsmen seems a perfectly legitimate and commonplace conversation. I’m not sure what is so different here.

      • Posted July 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        “If you would like to procreate with a woman, maybe learn how to communicate with her.”

        Wait—who said either the men or the women were looking to procreate here? It’s not the ultimate aim of everyone who wants to have sex, or of every sexual encounter.

        • Posted July 20, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

          Deep down in our unconscious, our ID it is. we like sex because it feels good, it feels good because we evolved neurochemistry of sex. that awesome brain euphoria.

          so wait. i was using evolution to discuss this issue. i was saying that weve evolved past this. we can actually be conscious of the words we use. we are not slaves to the words we use. the semantics. no. we can actually take responsibility for our experience, our actions, and our connotations. OR we could not, and continue to talk to each other as five year olds; “do you want to sex with that person that has big sex balloons?”

          lol. ISn’t that the real issue we are talking about? the evolutionary psychology of linguistics as it pertains to sexism?

          • Posted July 21, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

            I’m not sure I understand your post, but if I do, I don’t understand it at all :)

            S$x is not something I associate with 5 year olds, nor is being attracted to “big ballons”. These are adult things you are talking about and talking like this is a very adult conversation, not a childish one.

            Maybe you don’t like talking about big balloons or big cucumbers or whatever, but I don’t see how it’s our place to judge what specific words people use in private conversations and definitely not our place to judge what or who someone is attracted to. I mean that’s basic 101 stuff.

          • Posted July 21, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

            “Deep down in our unconscious, our ID it is.”

            Maybe in YOUR ID it is. Beyond that I don’t see where assumptively disrespecting feminists who have made the childfree choice is any better than dismissing those who have chosen to become parents.

          • Posted July 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

            To the people that keep responding to me; Please look up the definition of evolution.

            It is a basic truth that we evolved the chemicals in our brains that make us want to have sex because sex is the process of procreating and to exist on this planet we must procreate. im not saying that everytime we have sex we procreate. i am a lesbian. I think i know what im talking about. but that the actual reason why sex feels good and why we have the drive to have sex is because we evolved from wanting to have sex and sex is actually the process of procreating.

            i have no idea what your posts mean, either. Maybe look up the definition of linguistics as well.

  4. Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I don’t find saying this that offensive, it is really only frank. If it was a woman saying “I am going for the tall one with pretty blue eyes”, we wouldn’t be that offended. Bridesmaid with big tits… eh, not a big deal.

    However, I have been dealing with this issue lately, myself. I recently emigrated to an Asian country and have been hanging out with expat acquaintances. The way they talk about the women here is truly offensive, and I won’t give any examples. I sometimes say something like, they wouldn’t like to hear you talking that way, but usually say nothing. I just don’t seek out their company again.

  5. Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Though I don’t identify as male(in case the username didn’t give it away) I am amale bodied and have been dragged into this conversation far too many times than I would like to admit. In response to Chavez, in my experience these conversation involve everyone in the vicinity. This is done so everyone has an equal “chance” and can “claim” who they are going to try and sleep with. I have used the sister lie in previous situations though it has backfired on me before, (She was someone else’s sister) and have tried saying she was the partner of a friend. But, it’s very difficult especially when you don’t know the people. I would agree that being male bodied gives me creedance in these circles but, being a stranger and not an active participant nor physically intimidating makes it ddifficult to be heard. I usually just try to talk about the event or try to distract from the conversation at hand.

  6. Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I think what they said was pretty gross and inappropriate, to say the least. I mean, if they don’t care about being sexist (which obviously they don’t), then think of it this way. This was at a wedding. A wedding between two people who, presumably, they all know and like and, presumably, picked bridesmaids because they are meaningful people to the bride/groom. Isn’t that personal enough to mind your manners? I think Charles could have said calmly, “Hey man, [Bride's name] is friends with her. Chill out.” And walked away. Very simple reminder of “Wow, remember how she’s a human being that matters to someone you care about? Yeah.”

    Looking at someone you find attractive and gushing about that person to your friends in private before you know who they are on the inside is something that doesn’t necessarily bother me. . . but they were being gross in a public restroom filled with people who might have known the bridesmaid. To be honest, it’s just bad manners. Even if they were saying, “Man, that one bridesmaid has the WORST breath and her laugh makes paint peel.” Keep it to yourself, man. The fact that it was a derogatory comment about her breasts just adds to the skeeviness.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      Derogatory comment about her breasts? I’m confused, I think it was meant as a compliment.

      • Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

        Not sure if I’m responding to a troll, but. . . If someone referred to me as “the one with big tits,” I really wouldn’t take it as a compliment.

        • Posted July 20, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

          ???

          I agree that many might not take it as a compliment if directed at them, but that doesn’t change the fact that he meant it as one.

  7. Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed reading your post. I agree with some of the commenters that I’m unsure this conversation was inherently sexist. I think that perhaps had it been said in front of women, or intentionally loud, than I have more of a problem with it. I think men can be cavalier with their language but I don’t blame them for lusting after an attractive woman. Ideally they’d convey their thoughts more respectfully and eloquently, but the typical guy is not either, I believe.

    Ultimately, the power rests in the woman ‘with big tits’. His actions are more important to me than his words and in all likelihood this guy doesn’t have the class required to approach her and would’ve failed when/if he tried.

  8. Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    This is a really difficult situation because the minute Charles responds to these comments he has outed himself as exterior to the group. If he encountered this situation with another friend he would carry more influence as already being interior to a group.

    The best response to this situation would be if Charles had said something like “Are you talking about my friend (insert name)? She’s only into respectful men.” By identifying himself as linked to the woman they are discussing and using her name he would have broken their objectification, but I can definitely understand his discomfort with placing himself in this situation.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      I really like this response. I think very simply stating something like, “I’m friends with (name), the person I think you’re referring to. And I seriously doubt that she would appreciate the way you’re talking about her, because I certainly don’t,” would be effective, too.

  9. Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    The first stage in moving the Overton Window can be a good STFU campaign. I wonder how much it costs to buy those ads in men’s rooms?

  10. Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I think a simple “Ewwwww” can do a lot. Nobody wants to think of themselves as disgusting.

    Recently, I was talking with a group of acquaintances and strangers about what laws we’d pass if we could. One guy said, “I’d make it illegal for women to reject me sexually,” to which I replied, “Ewwwww.” He later said that he hadn’t realized how gross he was being until I said that.

  11. Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I would have said, “You know, the lady you are talking about has a name—it’s ___.”

    Identifying the woman with “big tits” sounds like that’s the only reason why he wants to bang her. Ladies of the One Night Stands deserve respect too.

  12. Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I feel kind of stupid, but I’m not clear on where the sexism is.

    I assume he said “the one with the big t!ts” because he didn’t know her name and knew the other fellow would know who he meant, similar to how people commonly use phrases such as “the tall one” or the “guy with the big muscles” if they don’t know their name. Maybe he could have used a different characteristic but if they’re all wearing the same dress and similar age and all then I dunno, plus I’m not sure why what body part he used matters.

    Beyond that, all they really did was express interest in the bridesmaids. Back when I was single, I certainly talked to my friends at social settings including weddings about which guys I was interested in.

    I don’t think this conversation means the men were (or will be) disrespectful to these women or thought of them as objects. They just didn’t know them very well and were probably horny and as such talked about it in those terms.

  13. Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    “Dude. Seriously?” then walk away shaking your head.

  14. Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    I’m really surprised that so many people commenting here- who, presumably, frequent this site and (maybe?) self-identify as feminists- don’t think this exchange is sexist. There’s a fundamental difference between commenting on someone’s nice legs or physical fitness and someone’s “big tits.” This sort of language is grounded in (and cannot really be separated from, if you ask me) an attitude that is chauvinist.

    I agree that if Charles had called out these men, he probably would have been ridiculed as a “faggot” for not being a complicit member of the Chauvinist Dude’s Club. Someone else suggested that he might approach the conversation by saying “that’s my sister,” but I don’t think this really addresses the core issue, because it only reserves respect for a woman via her relationship to a man; it doesn’t reserve respect for anonymous females, females in general as a group. Ya dig?

    I think Charles should have peed on them.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      Agree agree!
      Also, its funny ppl see big tits as a compliment cuz any tits are great!
      Also, if we could see dude junk like we see tits, and people constantly commented, “I like him but his dick looks too small,” or “I’m going for that guy with the huge uncut one,” that would be sexist and gross. If you can’t say it in front of the woman, it’s probably sexist.

      • Posted July 19, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        Or maybe its rooted in bad body image issues….so complex. Either eay, guys would hate having their dicks on the chopping block to the extent womens bodies are.

      • Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

        I’m not understanding where the sexism is here. Rude? Sure – it could be called a rude comment, but I don’t think having a conversation about casual sex and using rude terminology for a body part qualifies for sexism just because the subject was a woman.

        They’re speaking of trying to hook up – established (I think) as not really sexist. They’re referring to a woman by a physical feature when distinguishing her from others – again not really sexist I think.

        In my opinion, given what little information we have about the two guys having the conversation it’s really more a Rorschach test. You are assuming that two guys in a bathroom talking about a) having no-string sex and b) referring to a woman by her breasts using a juvenile term must also c) have a sexist/demeaning attitude about the woman and d) to really make it sexist, have a lack of respect for the gender in general.

        You may be entirely correct about the assumption, but to jump in on that conversation with that conclusion would be presumptuous and a little bit self-righteous.

        Not for nothing, but I think it’s attitudes like this that feed the equally unfair stereotype about feminists “hating men and having no sense of humor”. Admittedly it was immature and crude, but there was nothing sexist about it.

        We all jump to conclusions and cast judgment on people in the blink of an eye – all colored by our previous experiences. It’s important to try to move past that when interacting with others and what is really the key to defeating ALL the “isms” out there.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      HELL to the YES.

      I agree with everything you just said. errthang.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      “There’s a fundamental difference between commenting on someone’s nice legs or physical fitness and someone’s “big tits.””
      And what is that?

      “Either eay, guys would hate having their dicks on the chopping block to the extent womens bodies are.”
      They already are. many men use penile length as a literal measure of self-worth regardless of its sexual practicality.
      That, and it’s impossible to tell a guy’s length at a glace in the same way one determines breast size.
      There’s really not much viable parallel between the two.

      Here is a challenge that just occurred to me:
      What is an example of the same conversation happening in a “non-sexist” way?
      Your own script, everyone.

      • Posted July 20, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink

        The penis thing was a bad example. The entire rest of their bodies on the chopping block.

        “What is an example of the same conversation happening in a “non-sexist” way?”

        The second person would have to speak first, I think anybody who’s like “so are you hooking up with [someone from an undifferentiated mass of people] or not today” is doing something creepy in assuming hook-ups are something almost guaranteed if there are any attractive people around/assuming the “bridesmaids are for one night stands” shit is true.

        “X is cute, I think I might see if she wants to spend the night with me” would be fine. If he doesn’t know her name, he doesn’t have to identify her by her big tits, or any of her features at all. In fact I don’t know why someone would even bother confiding in someone else these details to be honest. It’s a conversation that has little point.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

      “I’m really surprised that so many people commenting here- who, presumably, frequent this site and (maybe?) self-identify as feminists- don’t think this exchange is sexist.”

      I agree completely. I was about to make a similar comment. All of your points are spot-on.

  15. Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Chloe,

    I really don’t know.

    It is interesting, though, that mayn responses question the assumption that the comment was sexist in the first place.

    Let’s ask the question another way round (already alluded to by destra): if you, Chloe, had overheard two women having the same conversation, and one said that she was going for the guy with the blue eyes or the one with the athlete’s body, how would you have reacted?

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      I agree. I’d like to hear Chloe’s perspective on WHY this was sexist. I’m open to the rationale.

      • Posted July 19, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        I’m sorry, but identifying someone by their “big tits” is simply not on par with identifying them by their pretty blue eyes. I don’t even think it’s on par with saying “I’m going after the really hot one.” Like hilary says a few comments up, “big tit” language is very much tied up in chauvinism and reduces the person to a very predicatable, over-sexualized body part. Do you really not see that? To know someone has blue eyes, you have to look them in the face (and see them as a person). To know someone has “big tits” you don’t even have to look above the neckline. There isn’t really a comparison to be made here for men since systemic sexism does not exist against men. (yes, I recognize men are affected in negative ways by sexism but that does not equal oppression or dehumanization in the same way as it does for women).

        I’m glad you guys are raising this question of what exactly about the comment was sexist, since it is something we need to be able to explain. I’m not sure I did the best job of it, but honestly people. I feel like this is very 101.

        • Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

          “I’m sorry, but identifying someone by their “big tits” is simply not on par with identifying them by their pretty blue eyes. I don’t even think it’s on par with saying “I’m going after the really hot one.”“I’m going after the really hot one.” Like hilary says a few comments up, “big tit” language is very much tied up in chauvinism and reduces the person to a very predicatable, over-sexualized body part. Do you really not see that?”

          I see why one would be offended.
          But since the bridesmaids all (presumably) dress the same for the occasion, there had to be some objective way of telling them apart and specifying the one he was talking about.

          “The really hot one” doesn’t specify unless all the others are particularly unattractive, and it would be even MORE offensive had the man said “The really beautiful one.” Implying the others weren’t because of her outstanding buxom.

          When you see someone for the first time, people tend to gravitate toward really obvious distinguishing characteristics.

  16. Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    I disagree with Red’s suggestion that Charles should have gone with the “sister lie.” It’s not much different than the “daughter test” (http://me.lt/8b0vb) and doesn’t get at the heart of the matter. In this case, Bridesmaid is likely, an able-minded woman who can make her own choices and fend for herself. We all assume that she wouldn’t want to sleep with the person who made the comment, but in truth, some women like asshats. Some women may just want to fuck and don’t give a hoot about her partner’s philosophies. We’re all making tons of assumptions. As such, I think it was right for Charles to stay out of it. The convo might have made him uncomfortable, but ultimately, what happens next isn’t about him. It’s about them.

  17. Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    There is nothing inherently sexist in the statement.
    There is nothing inherently sexist about a woman’s breasts, or admiring them as aesthetically beautiful.

    We are all sexual objects. Recognizing that does not necessarily negate what makes us human.
    The belief that it does is a dinosaur of our Judeo-Christian upbringing. (Sexual object = Bad, degrading, base)

    While it’s true people adopt this line of thinking in language to insult people, I have no reason to believe this was happening here.

    It was a descriptive term, and the guy in question OBVIOUSLY didn’t know the one he was talking about well enough describe her by anything else.

    It’s this line that’s vilifying the male sex drive.
    (The female sex drive has been historically vilified too, but in different ways and for different reasons.)

  18. Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this situational story of sexism, Chole. Yes, your friend Charles could have said something here to show that he didn’t agree with how the conversation was going. Sometimes it’s hard for some men to realize sexism happens, to know how it operates, and what questions to ask to change things in the future. Because a lot of us don’t like the feeling of just being complicit in sexism (and rape culture).

    Course, that “code” is really hard to see through – like I believe some of the commentators have failed to do by pointed out that this wasn’t sexism in action, or that this was merely a discussion about who one wants to have sex with. Yet, why not simply just talk to the person that you want to have sex with? Why tell this to total strangers? One way to explain it is that some men need reaffirmation that being straight, that thinking in terms of body parts and hook-ups (which if women did in front of men they may get a different reaction, no?), is what Men are “supposed” to do.

    Course, even with all that said…how do some men take up challenging this code, facing homophobic remarks, or just responding in a way that shows you don’t agree? Great question. There are many ways and each person needs to figure out what works for them…we also need to practice. What ever it is that you say, say it many times. Be That Guy that chooses to interrupt sexist behavior. More of us what to more often than we think.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      Sorry what do you mean – you don’t think friends can discuss, in a private setting, who they are attracted to or who they plan to talk to that night? Even when someone directly asks you?

      • Posted July 19, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        I’m don’t mean that folks should not talk about sex, but to think about how we talk about sex.

  19. Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Apologies if my privilege is blinding me, but I’m having a hard time getting concerned about this one. A person was interested in a sexual encounter with someone else, and was discussing the possibility with a friend. He used a physical attribute (and sure, probably one of the attributes that made him interested in a sexual encounter) to specify which person he was talking about.

    Should he not have been willing to express interest in her at all? Should he have refused to divulge his interest to the friend? This was a social occasion, not a workplace, so I see the rules and pressures as different. The bridesmaid has no obligation to him as a subordinate employee, or as a coworker, so she’s free to tell him to go pound sand if she’s not interested.

    In short, the entry seems to be hostile to non-monogamous sex, in that a person should not feel free to discuss with a friend, in the privacy of a bathroom, the possibility of having [probable one-time] sex with someone.

    Of course, I’m aware of the conquest implications of ’having sex with the bridesmaids’, but from what was actually said I don’t think any of that can be accused with any certainty. Men should absolutely speak up when women are being exploited or marginalized, but it doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    • Posted July 23, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      The problem is not that the person was interested in/discussing the possibility of a sexual encounter. The problem is that it’s incredibly tiring and dehumanizing to be constantly reduced to “the one with big tits.” I am so SICK of being “the one with big tits.” I feel like two fleshy sacks on legs, and that’s just because of the comments people make in my PRESENCE.
      This is a classic case of objectification vs. attraction 101. Attraction is great. You can appreciate someone’s mammary attributes without reducing them to a pair of boobs. However, the men in the bathroom were objectifying the bridesmaids by first reducing them to an undifferentiated, bang-able mass–”You going after any of the bridesmaids tonight?” and then reducing the chosen one to her tits.
      If we lived in a society unmarred by sexism, this exchange would not be a problem. But we don’t, and therefore it is essential for EVERYONE–men AND women–to consider whether they are treating the subjects of their attraction as object, or as people who possess not only big tits, but also opinions and personalities.

  20. Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    A la “Ellie” and “litcrittero”, I think a small awareness-building remark or guffaw would be most effective. A restroom is probably not the most appropriate place to launch into a deconstruction of their original comments – assuming they have any desire to take that ride with you.
    “How to educate without alienating?” – that is the question. No one wants to be talked down to, so don’t judge where they’re coming from. It’s really easy to do – especially if you’re pissed, or have little context for the behavior.
    Also: choose your battles. I know. I wanna jump in and fight every damn one – but it’s burnout waiting to happen. This exchange, for example, isn’t on par with something like “… the one with the big tits. I’m gonna get her nice and liquored up tonight…”
    We could get really belligerent and blow it out of proportion, or we could let it be known that it is offensive to yourself and many other people, and move on. Then when you see them on the dance floor later, it’s not “i will maim you with my dagger-eyes”, but “hey, ‘member me? the well-meaning respectful guy? i love this song too…”

  21. Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    The scenario described here is similar to one that happened to me this winter at a college formal. While in the bathroom with a few other guys, this older fellow walks in and remarks that, “the way these girls are dressed, if you can’t get laid, you’re queer.” Sexist, creepy, homophobic. The other young guys looked at each other disapprovingly, but I think only because the dude was giving off a gross vibe. I said something snarky about entitlement, but don’t know if it registered. Doubtful. But I have seen the strategy described in that Hugo Schwyzer excerpt work. Showing other guys that you aren’t going to go along with it, not letting it be a bonding mechanism, can de-cool the sexist sentiments. But I’m not sure anything changes without continually challenging them.

  22. Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    The problem is so big that it’s hard to get one’s hands around. All the flip-the-gender analogies fail because the culture isn’t the same around the sexualization of men as it is for women.

    I don’t think there is anything unseemly about people admiring each other’s physical attributes or wanting to hook up for play, including at a wedding. Really, who has a problem with that? Lots of people like sex, it doesn’t have to be about more than that. But the comment was still sexist, and it’s kind of clear that lots of folks just intuitively get why, and others look and don’t see it.

    It’s sexist because so much of this culture’s view of sexuality is sexist and reductive. Women are so over-identified with sex that any mention of sex in the context of a women tends to obscure all other awareness of her personhood; and recognition of women’s sexuality tends to be about her physical beauty, and usually focused on a rigid archetype of beauty or a handful of physical attributes. Men talking about women’s breasts as if that’s the sum total of their importance is not the same as women talking about other women, or men talking about other men, or nonbinary folks talking about anyone, and it isnt’ the same as talking about a man’s build or abs or eyes. There isn’t a culture where men are reduced to just a pair of eyes or just a set of abs, but there is a culture that reduces women to just a pair of breasts. Trying to ignore that results in facile false equivalencies.

    If anyone can express that in a bumper sticker, I’m all ears.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      Thomas,

      Interesting argument. I believe I was the one who made the false equivalencies.

      I can see your argument, but I am not sure the equivalencies are entirely false. True (probably): a pair of breasts carries more weight among men than blue eyes do among women.

      However, other reductions (probably) exist: could it not be argued that (many) men are judged on their income, job or status? If not, on their height? (try chatting up a cheerleader if you measure 1m60 (5′ 3”).)

      All the talk about women judging men differently, I cannot accept. A tall, dark, handsome stranger will find it easier to bed the bridesmaid(s) than the small, bald, anonymous guy (and his wit, intelligence and niceness will not even register).

      • Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        Sexism isn’t just “women have it worse.” Stereotypes that reduce women to bodyparts are problematic. Stereotypes that reduce men to their height or their net worth are problematic. Anything that reduces people to a few narrow parts of themselves based on categories of sex is problematic.

      • Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        Smiley,
        I’d have to agree with Thomas.

        You said: “A tall, dark, handsome stranger will find it easier to bed the bridesmaid(s) than the small, bald, anonymous guy (and his wit, intelligence and niceness will not even register).”

        Sure, and we could probably say that the woman who fits societal definitions of what’s attractive may be more likely to get a partner than one who doesn’t: A short, dark, good looking stranger will find it easier to bed a partner than the tall, obese woman (and her wit, intelligence and niceness will not even register).

        But I think Chloe is talking about something different here- I think because of the culture of reducing women to sex objects, saying “the chick with big tits” isn’t just about preferences or a description. Because it perpetuates the cultural idea that women= sexualized body parts, it has negative consequences.

        If we lived in a cultural vacuum where there was absolutely no context, then I would agree with those who don’t think it’s a big deal. But we don’t.

        • Posted July 19, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

          I agree with you there, but the “vacuum” here is the fact that we don’t even know the people that made the comment.
          We don’t know the tone of voice, gestures, or anything else that indicates he has a less than favorable opinion of sexually active women.

          All we have to go on is the text.

          Sexism is VERY big deal to me, and “sexist” isn’t a term I throw around lightly.

          There are usually alternative explanations that transcend gender, but sometime coincide with gender.

          Something is really only a gender issue when it is contextualized as such by one or more parties.

          • Posted July 20, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

            “the “vacuum” here is the fact that we don’t even know the people that made the comment.
            We don’t know the tone of voice, gestures, or anything else that indicates he has a less than favorable opinion of sexually active women.”

            Considering that this whole thing is about addressing comments that reinforce patriarchy (and I think the phrase “the chick with big tits” does), this background information about the person isn’t all that important.

            Sure, the person who made the comment could possibly have a tremendous amount of respect for women and only made this comment because he felt like that was what he was suppose to say around his friend (Maybe he was even saying it ironically?). Or, maybe he has no respect for women and was about to walk up to the women and say “hey, big tits!” Either way, his opinion of women is not all that important here. We’re not trying to determine whether or not he is sexist. That is a pretty pointless conversation to have, IMO.

            “Something is really only a gender issue when it is contextualized as such by one or more parties.”

            This is a vague statement. Are you implying that we shouldn’t try to understand how situations may relate to gender? That understanding how things such as the objectification of women plays out in our everyday lives is a constrictive viewpoint?

        • Posted July 21, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

          “This is a vague statement. Are you implying that we shouldn’t try to understand how situations may relate to gender? That understanding how things such as the objectification of women plays out in our everyday lives is a constrictive viewpoint?”

          Exactly. Ultimatel many things don’t necessarily relate to gender.
          In fact, there are VERY few things that are necessarily a gender issue. Most things can be largely attributed to other things, that merely coincide with gender.

          For example: “People in power abusing those without.”
          This issue transcends gender.

          Objectification isn’t necessarily an issue of gender, either. If you walk up to Gary Coleman and just shout “Say whatchu talkin’ about, Willis!” Without a greeting or any other appeal to something beside his utility as an entertainer, then that’s objectification.
          Notice how his gender doesn’t necessarily play a role in this.

          Another example: if a man, or woman, said to someone else: “You must be weak because you’re a woman.”
          That is an example of sexism because it’s a unfair statement on the basis of gender. The sexist has to be the one to make it about gender.

          Now.. if the person said: “You’re weak.”
          And the lady replied: “Why? Because I’m a woman, right?”

          In that context, it’s the second person who contextualized it as a gender issue.

          This is what I mean when I say: “Something is only a gender issue when it is consciously contextualized as such.”

          • Posted July 21, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

            I disagree, here’s why:

            You’re saying that power isn’t just about gender. Objectification isn’t just about gender. Right… but nobody says that it is. I know a lot of people who passionately study and take action with gender-related topics, but I’ve never met a single person who thinks that 1) we should only look at the gender in things and/or 2) gender is the only useful frame for understanding an issue.

            Let’s consider the following scenarios:

            -A young woman goes to the police department after being raped at a party the night before and reports what happened, but the police dismiss her case, saying that she shouldn’t have been drinking at a party and shouldn’t have been wearing a revealing outfit.

            -A boy is teased by his peers in school for being too “girly.” He is called a “sissy” and a “fag.” One day, some of the other boys in his class catch him playing with dolls and immediately beat him up.

            -A little girl in a small village in Burundi sees her brothers going to school and decides she wants to get an education too. She tells her parents about her ambitions. The parents don’t know of any girls in the village who go to school. All the girls in their village stay at home and learn to cook and clean. They tell her no, she must stay at home and learn to cook and clean.

            Now, without saying that gender is the end-all be-all way to frame things, do you see how understanding gender norms and cultural definitions of femininity and masculinity could help one make sense of these scenarios?

    • Posted July 23, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      Thank you. It’s so nice to hear someone say exactly what I’ve been trying to articulate, not in bumper-sticker form, of course, but with such eloquence and clarity.

  23. Posted July 19, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the commenters who are skeptical that there was any sexism here. In this case, “big tits” is a description, like “the tall one” or “the blonde one” would have been. A bit crass or crude, perhaps, but not inherently sexist. I think women could have similarly described men they wanted to have sex with.

    If we’re going to live in a society where we accept a certain degree of casual sex that occurs primarily due to physical attraction, then conversations like this will take place. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, and I’m a bit surprised that Chloe does.

  24. Posted July 19, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    “Hey, dude, are you going for bridesmaids tonight?” to which the other replied something along the lines of, “Yeah, the one with the (Insert physical distinguishing characteristic here).”

    How is this sexist? How is this inappropriate? He didn’t know her name obviously, he was in a place of sanctuary to men. What goes on in the women’s bathroom is private and taboo to men, but most of us assume it’s the same. Women go to doll themselves up, freshen up, or what have you.

    Nothing should have been done in this case, because there’s nothing of a “case” as it were to have something be done about.

  25. Posted July 19, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    It is sexist. It is demeaning. It is objectifying. The fact that women also do it is no excuse for the men.

    This kind of talk is a form of male bonding. Without going into all the psychology and anthropology, the effect it has is to drag all of the men involved down to the lowest common denominator of primal urges and bragging. Most men would not be the one to initiate the talk, but being dragged in does more than just coarsen them. Jacob hit the heart of it in observing that the men are staking claim to individual women. Having made their claims, they are now challenged to act on the claim or risk losing face before the others. The bottom line is that it encourages men to be bigger jerks than they might otherwise have been (although some, of course, were already that big of jerks).

    Back to the fact that women do it too. It’s not equivalent. Men are a greater danger to women than women are to men. I amazed how many people still don’t get that fact. Rape, assault, elevators, history, blah, blah, blah. Do we really have to have this discussion again?

    As to what Charles could have done, there is no easy answer. There would have been no way to enter the conversation that would not have been seen as confrontational. The best way, as most have commented, would have been to make some kind of claim to a personal connection to the bridesmaids. This puts the braggers in the position of having challenged Charles in far more serious way than the challenges they were making to each other.

    Confronting them involves all kinds of difficulties. Naaturally, it can backfire if you’re lying. Just breaking the barriers to doing it is an act of enormous strength and effort. Read the studies of bystander inaction in the face of violent crime. I’m in my fifties and I can count the number of times I’ve managed to do it on my fingers, while the number of times I should have probably number into the hundreds. Now, at my age, I can accomplish a lot with a disapproving glare and I have cultivated a truely awesome glare. Unfortunately, that option was not available to Charles.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      In light of the reasons listed above for why it may not be, why is it?
      You didn’t establish how it is.

      Why are we to accept at face value that this is “obviously” an example of sexism because SOME people were offended by it?
      We’re not.

      • Posted July 19, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

        Objectivisation of someone of the opposite sex based on a secondary sexual characteristic is sexist. The ideas that he was simply offering a compliment and and using “big tits” as a term of reference equivalent to “the tall one” don’t pass the laugh test. The conversation was not “who do you find attractive” or “who would you like to meet.” It was “who are you planning to score with.” Again, objectivisation based on secondary sexual characteristics is sexist. If you don’t think it is, I’d like to hear you definition of sexism.

        • Posted July 20, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

          But it wasn’t “who are you going to score with”, which would imply they’re going to score come hell or high water. It was are you interested in any of the bridesmaids. Quite a difference.

        • Posted July 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

          But we ALL objectify based on secondary sexual characteristics. See any psychological approach that acknowledges objects relations (ie. D.W. Winnicott). That’s how sexual attraction works and the conversation was about who the individual in question wanted to have causal sex with. If we are going to have a society in which casual sex is acceptable then these kinds of conversations are almost certain to occur. Of course the guy here is principally interested in the sexual characteristics of this woman – he’s planning on having a mutually agreeable sexual encounter with her based on the fact that both are at a special event and are unlikely to see one another again afterwords. This is the attraction of hooking up at weddings for men and women both.

        • Posted July 20, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

          It’s been said before that the statement was to identify the person uniformly dressed who he didn’t know the name of to his friends. Not necessarily to “compliment” her.

          Sexism… “unfairness on the basis of gender.”

          Unfairness does not = sexism
          Unfairness happening to a woman does not = sexism
          It MUST be on the BASIS OF GENDER for it to be sexism

          Nothing the man said was on the basis of gender.
          The only one to bring gender into this matter was the person listening in on the conversation.

  26. Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    I think Charles (and you) need to lay off the dumb things men say to each other sometimes. I get that in other spaces the sexist comments and/or cat-calling is almost overwhelming, and entirely inexcusable, but was there anyone to harass in the bathroom? It’s almost the one place you’re almost guaranteed not to offend the opposite sex! When they were done talking about the women they’d never have the nerve to speak to they probably boasted about who could jump higher or who caught the biggest fake fish…

    Charles and I discussed the possibility that these guys took his silence as tacit approval of what they were saying. He wasn’t so sure, but I’m convinced that in this situation, he had the power to do a bit of feminist good.

    Charles is right. They weren’t thinking about him. And in that situation, in the bathroom, he had no power to do anything but come across as some feminist weirdo who spouted creepy rhetoric while they were bullshitting.

    I’d love to hear an example of what Charles could have done though. I know for a fact that there’s absolutely nothing he could have said in the bathroom, but following them out and saying something after would have been almost as weird.

  27. Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    It really astounds me how many ppl there are here debating the sexism of the comment Charles overheard. A woman, writing on a feminist site SAYS its sexist. I’m so tired of folks arguing and debating and philosophizing, rather than shutting the fuck up and listening to those who actually have these EXPERIENCES. Talking about all the great ideas and perspectives you have about oppression (be it racist, sexist, classist, etc) does NADA if you won’t begin to listen and believe what we are telling you. Don’t ask “how is this sexist?” “how is this CHarles’ responsibility?” Believe Chloe, believe me. Isn’t it better to err on the side of feminism anyway?

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      No.
      That’s like saying “isn’t it better to err on the side of Christianity?”

      Focus on not erring, and everyone will be better off.
      Making sense should come before blind ideology. Feminist or otherwise.

      • Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, again, I really suggest you begin to listen to women here. If you are here to practice and promote feminism, then yes it is better to err on that side. If you were Christian, then I would suggest you err on the side of your faith, but you’re here and the topic is feminism not religion. The biggest error is that which you are continuing to make: denying women agency by demanding some kind of proof that there’s sexism involved in that bathroom comment, despite being told over and over that it is. If you stopped trying to articulate YOUR pov, then you might recognize that the author’s already makes sense. No blind ideology here, just hecka smart feminists!

        • Posted July 19, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think that you have to simply accept what you read, even from “experts,” especially in a field which has so many varying viewpoints within itself. Obviously, we look towards experts to understand, but Chloe was not in that restroom. She was getting a conversation filtered through another person’s perspective.

          As for what I think Charles could have said, I would’ve suggested a bit of subtle chastising humor. ie: “I hope that you don’t plan on approaching her as, ‘Hey, chick with the big tits! Do you think I’m sexy?’ Because she’s a friend of mine and I honestly don’t think that’s going to fly. If you’re not sure why, then you may want to avoid trying all together, just saying” and left.

          There isn’t really a deep conversation that could have occurred in the restroom that would have made the guy change his mind, if he in fact was inherently sexist (I say if he was because even if his comments were at the time sexist, it doesn’t mean that he has a consistently sexist attitude.) It wouldn’t make it a better situation for him to simply keep his thoughts to himself because his actions would be the same. But, if he’s a decent guy and was putting on a bit of bathroom bravado, it’d make him think twice, I think.

          The one with the real power to change the situation isn’t Charles or even the guys talking. It’s the woman of his “affections.” It is really up to her to accept or reject his attitude and to tell him to kick rocks if she doesn’t appreciate it. Rejection of that kind of attitude is the only thing that ends it.

          • Posted July 20, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink

            It is really up to her to accept or reject his attitude and to tell him to kick rocks if she doesn’t appreciate it. Rejection of that kind of attitude is the only thing that ends it.

            I doubt that as in your example he would go up to her and say “‘Hey, chick with the big tits! Do you think I’m sexy?’” so she wouldn’t know what he said in the bathroom unless it is also up to Charles as a feminist ally to warn her of the sexist things he says while relieving himself.

            I think it would be interesting to have a skit of what the opposite sex thinks happens in men’s restrooms and what happens in women’s restrooms. Because all this talk of a stranger engaging those two men in subtle chiding humor or direct confrontation flies in the face of what I’ve experienced.

        • Posted July 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

          Cool. Which feminists should I side with? Should I be on the team with Sarah Palin? Or how about the one with bell hooks? Or are you just saying that I should side with the majority?

          Listening /= Agreeing With

          In listening to these statements I’ve seen evidence that this behavior was vulgar, but not that it was sexist.

        • Posted July 19, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

          If you are here to practice and promote feminism, then yes it is better to err on that side.

          I am here to practice and promote feminism. That EMPHATICALLY does not mean accepting every lived experience without critical consideration.

          Feminism is far from monolithic.

        • Posted July 19, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

          “denying women agency by demanding some kind of proof that there’s sexism involved in that bathroom comment, despite being told over and over that it is. If you stopped trying to articulate YOUR pov, then you might recognize that the author’s already makes sense. No blind ideology here, just hecka smart feminists!”

          You JUST contradicted yourself.

          You, me, or no one else should jump the gun and accuse someone of sexism without some kind of logically consistent reason why.
          By either A) refusing to give a logically consistent rationale, or B) admitting there is none, you are therefore submitting to blind ideology by insisting it is sexism.

          I save my fire for those who have earned it. Otherwise we’re doing nothing but rationalizing resentment.

          And I’m here to promote gender equality and stomp out sexism, regardless of whether or not that aligns with one’s idea of “feminism.”
          It really does parallel Christianity in regard to how many feminist schools of thought there are.

        • Posted July 19, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

          The great thing about feminism that I have found as I have been learning more and more about it is that it is inherently rational. This is a wonderful thing, but it does mean that good explanations be provided if someone doesn’t understand something. I will never be able to accept “just agree with this person because they know what they are talking about”. If they can not explain it, then they do NOT know what they are talking about. To say otherwise is, in my opinion, intellectually dishonest and intellectually lazy.

          I think everyone here can agree that what this man said in the mens room was rude and crude. Was it sexism? I don’t know and I think, as someone pointed out earlier, a lot of assumptions and detail did not end up in the version of the story we read. It could be, based on how it was said it was clearly sexism, or it could be, as some posters have suggested, that the “big tits” line was just a crude way of describing which woman he was interested in. I don’t know what the context suggests and really feel uncomfortable about saying it either was, or wasn’t sexism without knowing more details, or without a better explanation as to why it was.

          But I would like to move on to a few questions. If the guy had said “The girl with the large breasts” instead of “big tits” would that change whether or not the people saying it is sexism think its sexism?

          Some people have tried to turn the tables and asking about if a girl talked about the “guy with the pretty blue eyes” if that would be sexist. I don’t like that because the two body parts used are certainly not equivalent. But what about if a guy talked about girl with “a great ass” vs a girl talking about a guy with “a great ass”? Would the two situations be sexist? Equal? If they are classified differently, why? I am not trying to set any traps here and am just looking for a good explanation.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      There are an array of feminist camps with disagreements about a lot of issues. How do you err on the feminist side in that situation? Do you just go with whatever position gives you the most justification to be offended?
      I find the debate over whether objectification is sexism or human nature to be fascinating.

      • Posted July 19, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        >I find the debate over whether objectification is sexism or human nature to >be fascinating.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_objectification

        Cool. That “debate” belongs in the Feminism 101 classroom. Thanks for derailing though!

        • Posted July 20, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

          There are a lot of different viewpoints in that Wikipedia article. My terminology might be off, and I apologize, but I think that the debate here is whether a guy expressing intent to pursue a woman based on a physical characteristic that he finds attractive is actually sexist. 90+ comments, says that there is some dispute about that.

      • Posted July 19, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        In my opinion, objectification with a sense of entitlement is the problem. ie: She has big tits, therefore she must be easy. Since she’s easy, it’s my right to conquest her. In casual sex, there isn’t much more than objectification by both parties. However, it doesn’t give anyone the right to make assumptions about that person, and we ALL often make assumptions based solely on what we can see.

        We can’t ever 100% know someone’s intentions behind their words, but we can deduce based on actions and words. In this case, I think one would need to see his actions and her reaction to really analyze the situation.

        Charles could have said, “Man I admire you.” The guy would have asked why. “It takes a lot of guts to talk about one of the bride’s friends like that in the bathroom at the reception filled with her family and friends. I’d be afraid of looking like an ass, but maybe that’s just me.”

        • Posted July 20, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

          Chibi, I feel like it takes some assumptions here to take this to objectification with a sense of entitlement. The comments in question involved “going for” bridesmaids. Then the other guy identified the bridesmaid who he was “going for”. I don’t think that there was any implication that the object of his pursuit would be easier because of her breasts, just that she was the one that he was interested in pursuing. I didn’t see any entitlement to succeed, just an entitlement to try, and I think that any eligible people are entitled to pursue each other.
          I do agree that feeling entitled to a woman sexually based on her appearance or presentation is extremely objectionable. I just think that you’d need more context to take this there. I generally prefer to err on giving people the benefit of the doubt, especially since I think that calling people out on values that they might not hold can be counterproductive.
          I think that I might be going up against a school of feminism or two with this, but I think that the problem this issue runs into is the disagreement as to whether you can express interest in someone based on their physical appearance without devaluing their other attributes?

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

      But Feminism is all about asking questions. Just because someone identifies as female does not mean that they should have the final word on what Feminism and Sexism are. This should be a space for respectful interchange of opinion and argument without the enforcing of gender barriers.

      • Posted July 20, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

        True. I do agree that we should be discerning and open to respectful argument. I just find it frustrating when ppl w/privilege forget to stop and listen to those being oppressed. Perhaps my frustration was misplaced in this particular topic, but with SO many comments, I guess it was the drop that broke the dam.

        • Posted July 20, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

          Consider that men and women can oppress each other, and have for generations to perpetuate their ideas of gender roles.

          ie. Men HAVE to be soldiers.
          Men can’t be nurturing.
          Men most make all the money for his house.. .ALONE.
          Men that don’t fight are cowards.
          Men that show feelings are weak
          Men must play sports

          Men can be sexist toward another man just as much as he can be sexist toward a woman.

          Women readily identify each other as “sluts’ moreso than men, in my personal experience..

          We’re slaves to societal expectations as much as you are. Just different societal expectations.
          Men aren’t the problem. Sexism is.
          Properly identifying then becomes doubly important.

  28. Posted July 19, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    First: we’re relying on statements that were overheard, and then relayed to another person. This means that the words at issue here have been passed through several filters, and as a result we should be pretty cautious about what judgments we derive about them.

    Second: these statements seem vulgar, but I’m not sure they’re sexist. As has been explained above by many others, these statements are casual, and concerned with the sexual prospects of an evening. They are also, seemingly, about people that the speakers do not know by name. As such, they seem to be about who the second speaker will be interested in hooking up with, and how he articulates himself.

    Are these statements vulgar? Yeah. Are they inarticulate? Certainly. Are they sexist? Not necessarily.

    It is unfortunate that we live in a society that distills people down to aspects of our bodies, but those matrices of oppression, while intersecting with gender, seem to be more about the nature of physical forms, and how societies choose to value them.

    As for intervention, it seems tricky to do when you don’t know the person, stakes, or motivations. What bothers me in particular is the way this site tends to talk about how intervention “has” to be possible. Sometimes it is possible, and sometimes it isn’t. Interrupting casual “isms” requires a combination of external socialization and small individual actions at opportune moments.

  29. Posted July 19, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad to see a lot of men on this comment thread. That’s great; men need to be engaging in exactly these conversations. So let me just say that whether everyone agrees with Chloe or not, it’s encouraging to see men reading, commenting, and taking part in these kinds of dialogues about male peer culture, language, and bystander intervention.

    I’ve been reading this blog for a while, but I’ve never felt like I had an obligation to comment before now. I feel strongly that the conversation in question was sexist (see comments from Natalie, John, Thomas above), and Charles very well could have done some “feminist good” had he said something to the two guys in the bathroom.

    However, I think an important take away from the article is that Charles himself was uncomfortable with the conversation and that’s why he brought it up to Chloe. He didn’t bring it up to “tell on” on the guys, attempt to curry favor with a feminist, or make light of the situation. I don’t know Charles, but the implication is that he sought Chloe out based on her knowledge and experience as a feminist blogger and friend. The conversation made him uncomfortable, and he wanted to talk about it. He would not have done that if he was in agreement with the way the guys in the bathroom were talking about women and their bodies. The story isn’t Chloe labeling the event as sexist (as many commenters are focusing on), but Charles’s statement by virtue of addressing the issues in this way.

    The second take away, for me, is that for many men it takes a personal brush with sexism to make the problem personal. I’m not a fan of telling men they should care about sexism and gender-based violence because what if it was your sister, mother, etc. Like has already been said, that doesn’t address the core of the issue. But the truth is, for many men, it takes a personal experience (two guys sexually objectifying Charles’s friend the bridesmaid) for many men to make the connection from “boys will be boys” to disrespecting women. Being a part of the dominant group affords men a level of privilege that can keep real, everyday instances of sexism off of our radars—indefinitely if we let it.

    Charles did exactly the right thing for him in that moment. He may not have been comfortable saying something, he may not have known what to say or that he could even say anything. But he used the event to start a deeper conversation about how the conversation made him feel and an exploration into what his role was in the exchange. That’s commendable.

  30. Posted July 19, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    While the way in which the bridesmaid was spoken about was problematic, I’m not seeing it in the intensely sexist way that it’s being portrayed. It had sexist undertones, but I don’t think of the conversation itself being a huge, biting and terrible example of men just being out-and-out sexist pigs.

    The problem is, I think, two-fold. One, we don’t know of any of the other attributes of this woman being spoken about. Maybe her only discernible physical trait is that her breasts are larger than all the other bridesmaids to a significant degree. We don’t know the composition of the bridesmaids, frequently they’re family. If that’s the case, they could legitimately all look similar.

    I think the second issue revolves around gender-specific exclusive situations. This bathroom, to a greater or lesser extent, is the closest thing these guys get to a safe zone. They can put their thoughts out there without fearing of offending someone by putting it the wrong way. It was crass, and nasty, and gross. But, it’s also how men talk to each other without women around. Does it make it less gross? no. But it is, though, is another chance at practicing masculinity to reinforce the gendered bonds that are afforded to me.

    I think, instead of chastising these men for being sexist assholes, it’s really a moment to reflect on what the hell is wrong with the way masculinity has to operate within the perceived confines of manhood.

    • Posted July 20, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      I’m just going to file an objection to “it’s also how men talk to each other without women around.”

  31. Posted July 19, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Putting myself in Charles’ position, it’s tough to gauge the proper response without actually seeing and hearing the other guys. Are they geek-types? Jocks? Slightly inebriated? Bigger than me? Smaller?

    The tricky thing here, and others have alluded to it, is that I’m interjecting my criticism into another’s conversation, which is inherently confrontational. The ideal outcome would be a sheepish “you’re right, dude”, but I don’t think that’s the most likely outcome unless it’s approached exactly right – and unless the men in question are at least open to some level of introspection.

    I don’t think there’s any doubt about the sexism (imagine women talking about the “guy with the nice ass”). I think what *is* debatable is how much discomfort or even risk you think Charles is obligated to undertake, and if he would really be able to evaluate that in the space of a bathroom conversation.

    For the record, if I were Charles I probably wouldn’t have said anything, then spent the rest of the day fantasizing about what I should have said!

  32. Posted July 19, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    Objectification transcends gender relations, unfortunately.

  33. Posted July 19, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been in the midst of thee sorts of conversations before. I’ve been one of the guys.

    I think the first assumption Charles is making is that these men were being serious. I’d say that most of the time, when this sort of talk goes on, it’s mixed with a strong amount of irony.

    That said, it’s very possible they were actually really horny/drunk/rude and were completely serious.

    If we assume they were, then I think the we can say that at least one of them – the guy asking the question – was being a little predatory towards women. The other was being objectifying. Does predation + objectification = sexism. IMHO, probably, but not necessarily.

    I do my absolute best to support gender equality, but I sometimes – gasp! – am attracted to people based on physical attributes.

    If I’m in a large group of people – say a wedding – and I’m interested in maybe seeking out romance/sex/whatever, it’s not practical to sit and speak with every woman in order to find a real personal connection. I think many people – maybe more men than women – will first narrow down the field by appearance. I like red hair. I have no idea why, I just do. If there are 40 women at a party and 2 have red hair, I’m probably more likely to end up in a conversation with them.

    I might be wrong, but I think most us have these superficial prejudices. Yes, they’re problematic and probably a little pathological (and creepy), but I don’t think we should feel horrible about having them. Ideally, we should all be less superficial and base our romantic choices on more meaningful criteria. That said, if I’m at a wedding and a friend – maybe a man, maybe a woman – asks me if I’m looking to hookup, I don’t think it would be inherently sexist to say “yes, maybe someone with red hair.” Or maybe it is on some level. I’m not sure.

    Does my example sound quite as rude as the interaction Charles witnessed? No. Is it every bit as objectifying and predatory? Yes. Should some stranger be coming up to me lecturing me like I’m an idiot? While I’m in the middle of peeing? No, probably not.

    If Charles wanted to have an actual conversation about the subtleties of what is and isn’t sexist, I think I’d be fine with that. Apparently, most guys here would.

  34. Posted July 20, 2011 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    Even as a feminist, this kind of bathroom banter between men doesn’t really bother me. Why? Because I’ve had conversations just like it with my girlfriends. I think sometimes women tend to believe that men are the only ones who talk like this, but they’re not. I’ve been out many times with my girlfriends, and when we go outside alone or stand in the mile-long line to the bathroom we’ve discussed which “one” we’d like to hook up with and for what reason. Sometimes girls also want to just have some physical fun, and we’ll name shallow reasons for which guy we desire (I, myself, prefer nice shoulders.) I don’t think that because men have conversations like this they’re objectifying women– they’re looking for an easy lay, just like women will sometimes do. I’ve had nights where I’ve wanted to hook up with someone I have no emotional attachment to– doesn’t mean I’m objectifying that person, it just means I have a sexual urge and I want to fulfill it. Now, if the conversation were hinting that a guy was going to FORCE a woman to sleep with her, either by drugging her or using some other deception, THEN I could see a problem with it. But honestly, women do this exact same thing.

  35. Posted July 20, 2011 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    Part of what made these comments sexist was the presumption that, said in the men’s room, they would be acceptable to any bystander. And this is why we are obliged to, as bystanders, respond. I rarely hear racist comments in mixed-race environments. But when I am with other whites, I frequently hear racist speech. An all white group, or an all male group, all straight group, etc. is “safe”. It’s where we can “be ourselves”. For me, the price of my entirely undeserved white privileged is to be a traitor to whiteness. I can’t claim to be “not racist”‘, as racism is embedded in all of the structures of my life, and I don’t live in some Utopian bubble. I can’t just “step aside”. What I can be (and indeed must be) is Anti-Racist. I am obligated to step-up and speak as “other” in any environment where I my silence equals agreement or acceptance of what was said. I am a white traitor, a gender outlaw, a middle-class miscreant, because I can never really compensate those whose pain pays for my privilege, but I can speak up. As to what your friend should have said. How about, “reducing women to sport or body-parts is sexist”?

  36. Posted July 20, 2011 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    I think you would be surprised at how non confrontational these people would have been if something was said. You would also probably be surprised at how smoothly confronting someone on their sexist behavior can be. It is very easy to assume that Charles would be called “faggot” but in reality those guys probably would have said ” oh ya well i didnt really mean it like that” in an apologetic way. Sounds hard to believe I know. The fact that so many people think he would be outed with a homophobic slur makes me think said people have never spoken up in a situation like this. Not the most empowering thing to say but I suggest get some experience with calling people on their behavior before assuming the outcome to be negative and abbrasive.

    • Posted July 20, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Absolutely. There’s a weird perception here that if a male in a bathroom makes a comment about ‘big tits’, then he must be a chauvinist homophobe straight out of Mad Men.

      I think most guys would be okay with someone who politely, rationally disagreed with them.

  37. Posted July 20, 2011 at 2:26 am | Permalink

    Add me to the list of folks more bothered by “go for bridesmaids” than “the one with the big tits.” There’s something creepy and predatory about that phrase.

    As for how one responds… hmm. I think the best way (and I’m not saying I would have been able to think this fast on my feet) would have been to say, “Go for bridesmaids?” with a skeptical look. Let them explain; presumably the idea is that the bridesmaids are sad because they’re not the brides, therefore easy to get into bed. Then say, “You have to resort to THAT for sex?” Shame them in terms they understand; a “real man” can get laid without having to find women who are feeling down and vulnerable.

  38. Posted July 20, 2011 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    The amount of mansplaining and (perhaps purposeful) obtuseness in the comments here is just…astounding.

    “Oh, big tits. It’s just a descriptor. It’s what stood out.”

    If you can’t see what’s wrong with this argument, then you need to stop typing in the comments and go brush up on your Feminism 101.

    • Posted July 20, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      Mansplaining is an interesting concept. A man brought up this scenario to a woman, and the woman tells him how he should have reacted, and ostensibly how he should feel. If I believed you, then other men (and women… are the women who don’t agree mansplainers too?) can’t disagree, or shed light on what happens for this specific example of a conversation in a men’s bathroom. My understanding of feminism is precarious at best (and I get overwhelmed when googling the different terms) but that sounds ridiculous.

      IF they were bridesmaids they were probably all wearing the same thing, and had the same hairdo. Pointing out that particular feature was crude I guess, would it have been any better for you if he said “the one with the x hair” or “the short/tall/pretty/cute/big/small/white/black/asian/hispanic one”?

      • Posted July 20, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        I don’t necessarily thing what was overheard was sexist, but I’m kind of amazed that you don’t see the difference between identifying someone by the size of their breasts and identifying them by their hair color/height.

        • Posted July 20, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

          Maybe Chloe needs to do a whole separate post on this breast topic.

          I really don’t see the difference between commenting on breasts and commenting on some other physical characteristic. I like looking at hair color, eyes, lips, breasts, lots of things. It’s all equally superficial, isn’t it?

          Lots of the guys here are saying this. I think they’re being honest. Why is it so hard to believe?

        • Posted July 20, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

          I agree. If someone shouted “nice big tits” to me on the street, I’d be considerably more offended than if they just said, “You have very pretty blue eyes!”

          I think the sexist part here is that the two men are objectifying women that they don’t even know. They’re treating these bridesmaids as if they’re sexual objects for the taking.

          On a different note, I don’t agree with some of the comments that say that claim this behavior is okay because other women do it. Women can be sexist, too.

          • Posted July 20, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

            Rebecca,

            You’d be amazed how many people here would be offended if someone said to them “You have very pretty blue eyes!”

        • Posted July 20, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

          I understand the difference between pointing out one particular body trait and completely sexualizing and/or objectifying another person. I might be blind in this case though because I’ve felt the same things as the men in the story. Good or bad the physical trait that the random bathroom guy verbalized was her breasts.

          Barring any other differences between the bridesmaids I’m assuming they would go for the most obvious difference, and the words they chose apparently made Charles uncomfortable.

          But to say that Charles had a responsibility to correct the way they express sexual desire *because* he is a would-be feminist is odd to me. Because I believe that women should be able to be just as frank in verbalizing their desires as some random dudebro psyching himself up to get shot down, even if they want to be crude and crass about it.

    • Posted July 20, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      For me I guess it’s because I’ve said to other women the same thing. I.e., I’ve been in conversations, talking about someone, they said, who do you mean, and I’ve said things like, that girl with the big boobs, because to me, it really WAS just a descriptor to differentiate between people. It had nothing to do with s$x.

      Granted I had no sexual interest in these people, but still, since I would do it, and many other women have done it to me before, when I hear the conversational I just think about all the equivalent conversations I’ve had or overheard with women.

      But then again I’ve always had trouble negotiating my general optimism / give people the benefit of the doubt attitude with feminism, as they are sometimes at odds.

  39. Posted July 21, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    I started reading Feministing a few months back, and I don’t ever recall a single post ever having anywhere near this many replies, especially with such debate. There probably were some in the past, yet it’s still clearly an unusual phenomenon. I think it’s worth examining why this post – and by extension, the behavior described in it – stirs up such a response.

    After all, most of us probably agree with the interpretations in most other posts to this blog. Most of us agree that the racialized anti-abortion campaigns are just horrible; most of us agree that women still earn less than men, and that this is a problem that must be fixed; most of us agree that sexual harassment and rape are things that need to be stopped, and that Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his ilk need to be treated the way they deserve. Most of us, in short, hold views that coincide with what one might call feminism – otherwise, every other post would become a long series of debates and replies about the meanings of the topics being discussed. Yet this isn’t really the case.

    So what makes two men having a juvenile, potentially sexist conversation in the bathroom so much more volatile than everything else on this site, for an audience that presumably agrees on most points concerning everything else? What makes this subject one that otherwise “good feminists” (said conscious of the fact that feminism is very hard to pin down) disagree upon?

    The first thing, I think, should be obvious – especially considering the number of men who answered here – is simple. Some men feel as though this were an attack on the ability (some might say the right) to feel lust towards a woman they don’t know very well, or at all. Is it wrong to want to jump into bed with a person without giving second thought to their personality and secret hopes and everyday life and interests? Not a few men (and women as well, probably in equal number) would answer that with a no; but the fact that this conversation is being framed as an issue of sexism (which we all understand to be more serious than, say, juvenile behavior or crudity) makes it seem like casual sex driven by bodily lust is being demonized. Whether that is the case or not, it’s an interpretation of the conversation here that is not obviously off the mark; it’s hard to tell whether the author (and many commentators) expect men (and women!) to stop acknowledging and expressing their bodily lust, or whether the intent is just to handle that lust more respectfully.

    Second, even if we don’t assume we are demonizing bodily lust and casual sex, many of the commentators are attacking the language used to express those bodily desires. “Tits”, they say, carries chauvinistic undertones – and of course it does. “Mammary glands” carries undertones of biology, “breasts” are as neutral as possible with such a body part, “boobies” carries childish undertones, and “tits” carries casual, dirty and disrespectful undertones. I don’t think anyone would disagree with the fact that the man in question was expressing himself in a way that was at best rude, and at worst downright disgusting. Here, the fact that language itself is being pointed at is probably what riles people up. We all agree that sexist behavior is bad, most of us agree that sexist jokes and statements are bad, but there comes a point when people start being skeptical that even individual gendered words with negative connotations are so actively sexist they could turn an otherwise benign (if crude) conversation into a monument to patriarchy. The resistance to having one’s very language controlled by outsiders is a strong one, one that exists beyond the civil rights domains, and more than criticism of “what’s being said”, criticism of “how it’s being said” tends to awaken this desire to resist others’ attempts to bring about change.

    Third, the fact that so many people are claiming “big tits” is a descriptor is interesting. Reducing people to physical features like this is not uncommon, after all – I’ve heard and done it before. Who’s Celina? Oh, right, she’s the redhead. Look at that guy with the lion tattoo! See the twins over there, how cute is that? But reducing them to a physical attribute that is coded sexual is, in the minds of many, not the same thing. Why not?

    If it’s because it means you have no interest in a person beyond a physical, sexual interest – well, if that’s a criticism, then it must be a bad thing, and so we’re back at point one – many people don’t like being told that bodily lust is a bad thing, and people who pride themselves on being lucid about gender issues and trying to watch out for and change things are likely to take it especially hard that their very feelings and emotions are being declared contrary to their rational, humanistic beliefs – like a call to self-loathing.

    If it’s because it’s disrespectful or otherwise inappropriate – i.e. if “the redhead” would have been more appropriate than “the one with the big tits” – then we’re back to the second point; so long as what they are saying is the same (and if the woman in question was the only one with red hair, then “the redhead” and “the one with the big tits” would be structurally, if not connotatively, identical), many people don’t like being told that the way they are expressing themselves is harmful if the content they are expressing is not.

    So what if it’s neither the form (i.e. the language/attributes used) nor the content (i.e. the desire for no-string, impersonal, one-time sex) that is being criticized? Is there a part of this that appeals to us all without rubbing anyone who is otherwise of progressive opinions the wrong way? The objectification argument could be said to fall somewhat to the wayside of both form and content – implications, one might say – but then again, is objectification always bad? What kind of objectification is this, anyway? Martha Nussbaum has some interesting things to say about objectification, which anyone interested should look into.

    All of us intuitively know that there are situations where we objectify people without committing any great moral wrong – when asking a waitress/waiter for food or drink, the majority of us do not do so in order to make the waitress/waiter feel valuable, or to make them exercise for their health or earn their money. We ask them, because we want our food and our drink. Even the tip we give when we leave need not be for compassionate or empathic reasons – it is, after all, a firmly entrenched social custom, the violation of which can garner disapproval from others.

    Yet all of us also know that there are situations where objectification is a real problem – slavery, especially sexual slavery, is the worst form of objectification there is, and there is a whole spectrum of which slavery is only the most extreme form. Yet when it comes to objectification between consenting sexual partners (leaving out debate over what exactly is involved in truly informed consent), society – even progressive circles within society – has yet to negotiate the boundary between accepted and sanctioned objectification. And when some people feel, again, that this boundary is being asserted in such a way as casual sexual behavior falls on the wrong side, they will be displeased.

    Those are my thoughts on why this issue has generated such a magnitude of comments – in short, a lot of people feel that tackling this issue tacitly condemns bodily lust and/or casual sex, or that this represents an illegitimate criticism of the way in which harmless content is expressed – neither of which are felt to belong to feminism.

    It’s worth mentioning that some people may be agitated by this post because, to outsiders not familiar with feminist thought and discourse, it might seem to confirm negative stereotypes about feminists being anti-sex; and anyone who truly believes in real gender equality probably despairs each and every time someone from the lay public characterizes feminism as anti-sex man-hating, and wants to give those people as little reason for thinking the way they do as possible.

    Someone asked this way up above somewhere, but I think it’s worth another try. Say the two men in the bathroom had felt sexual desire towards the bridesmaids, but had been conscious of sexism and gender inequality; how would they have gone about their business without being sexist or misogynistic? Would they have done or said anything at all? If so, what and how? If not, why not?

    To properly understand why this is, or isn’t, sexist, we need to have in mind the best possible alternatives, and be able to compare and contrast them.

    • Posted July 21, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      I’m sorry that this post is probably past page three by now and pretty dead, since I like how you articulated this.

    • Posted July 21, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      Outstanding post, thank you. Sums it up perfectly.

    • Posted July 21, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      A lot to think about here, thanks for the effort you put into this post.

      I wish there was a way that posts that are getting a lot of comments and fostering discussion would remain on the front page because it seems that these discussions die very quickly as soon as a post falls down beyond about page 2.

  40. Posted July 22, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    To Natalie, since I can’t reply in the thread: please look up the definitions of “condescending”, “dismissive”, “patronizing”, “childfree” and above all “INDIVIDUAL CHOICE”.

    Also, as has been pointed out in other posts on Feministing, so-called “evolutionary psychology” has often been used to assert patriarchal agendas.

    • Posted July 22, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      P.S. – What’s with “I’m a lesbian. I think I know what I’m talking about.” How does any one individual’s sexuality give them authority to place pronouncements on every other individual’s sexual drives or other life desires?

      Has anyone looked up the definition of “semiosis” yet?

  41. Posted July 23, 2011 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    For me this is not technically sexism, but it’s sad behavior, in that it reflects a certain lack of depth; the beauty myth is alive and kicking.
    Since women talk about men in just as disparaging terms, I don’t think it’s a gender or sexism issue, but a question of what we value in our potential lovers, and how heavily that’s created for us by fashion and beauty.

  42. Posted July 25, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    This was a really interesting post, and I decided to use it as a conversation starter in my Interpersonal Communication course during the class period devoted to language and verbal messages. I was interested in their responses to sexist language in general (what constitutes it, who is an agent, and the impact on varying people) and your specific questions about masculine credibility and the nature of linguistic interventions.

    Below are the questions that structured our discussion, and some of the responses from the class. I am trying to represent our discussion points, without over-simplifying or galvanizing the issue. I’ve posted this link to our class webpage, and have invited the students to further refine this post if they feel it misrepresents our discussion.

    1. Craft a working definition of sexist language.
    “Language that belittles, de-values, degrades, differentiates, objectifies, and/or dehumanizes individuals based upon sex and/or gender.”

    Some wanted to include “offends” or “offensive,” but there was disagreement about applicability. Part of the class thought that if we included the word, anything could be sexist if interpreted as offensive, which is too subjective and would potentially lead to hyper politically correct language (and the implication that this would be bad). We also discussed how this is often based on extreme sexual and gender stereotypes, and the role of non-verbal behavior in amplifying sexist messages (e.g. Charles not seeing his silence as tacit approval)

    2. Based on your working definition, is this exchange sexist? Or is sexist language present?
    This was split across the class, and seemed to waffle as the conversation developed. For example, many students thought that the specific language choice (e.g. “big tits”) met our definition of “objectifies” and “de-values.” However, this also prompted a long discussion of the differences between objective description and objectifying language. This led to another split, with some students arguing why most language is embedded with sexism (e.g. “Objective language is inherently masculine”) and others making a case for language neutrality in a vacuum (“it’s only offensive because we are reading too much into it”).

    This led to a discussion about authenticity of interpretation – was Charles offended or not? Should we question Charles’ credibility about the based on his relationship to Chloe? Or the knowledge that she is a feminist blogger? Did Chloe’s frame (“I think Charles did have some objections” or “In my opinion”) shade our interpretation? How do the social positions of those that may intervene impact their interpretation of what is or is not sexist language and/or behavior?

    3. Do you agree or disagree with the author’s position on credibility? Why or why not?
    Yes:
    . Women can be “written off” as “feminists,” “over-reacting,” or come across as “bitchy.”
    . Women also have less cultural capital, and often have to make trade-off decisions about when to intervene and why.
    . The private space (a gendered bathroom) provides a unique access point, although there was a general acknowledgement that this was not always a safe decision to make, both socially and materially.

    No:
    . Peer groups have less effect because they don’t always have the power to enact consequences. One student in particular said that he would be more likely to listen and be affected by a woman telling him he was sexist than a man.
    . Credibility isn’t always related to sex or gender. These students thought that credibility has more to do with the relationship between those involved than anything else. For example, if Charles had known one of the other men in the bathroom he may have been more likely or successful in intervening. (And in turn, this would make his silence more salient.)
    . Social norms, gendered identity, and environment determine a lot of what is acceptable and or credible behavior. For example, what if this didn’t happen at a wedding? Or what if Chloe overheard women in the bathroom speaking about a groomsman?

    What might be an effective response, as Charles? As yourself?
    . Deflection – Purposefully responding with alternative language and/or focus. Something along the lines of “Are you talking about Jennie? She’s totally awesome, and you’d be lucky to get to know her.”
    . Sarcastic disapproval – I interpret this as the “plant a seed” paradigm, in the hopes that social discomfort now produces a long-term reflection and impact. Something like “Yeah, she’d totally go for a guy that talked about her like that.”
    . Capitalize on existing norms – Something to the effect of “That’s my sister, why do you think it’s ok to talk about her like that?” Some of these students also acknowledged the ways this might still “differentiate” between sexes, but when posed with such a large problem (the culture of patriarchy) one needs to start somewhere.
    . Humiliation – These students were in the minority of the class, but were very intent on the success of humiliation as a peer-to-peer tactic.

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