NO, you CANNOT have my number!

23 02 2009

I plan my route home based on my gender.  If it is light out, I will take the back streets. Besides the obnoxious kids in the house on the corner that scream “Baby got back!” at me as I pass, this is a relatively painless route. But if it is late, I will take Boston Avenue back, because there are shops along this route and it just seems safer. Boston Avenue is not my path of choice. I tend to get cat-called and honked at repeatedly nearly EVERY time I take this route home. Sometimes a random creeper will follow me for a while, until I duck into the corner store to escape him.

I find myself angry at nearly everyone on my walk home. The other day, an older man was sitting on a bench watching me. What right did he have to stare?! I put my Jedi-hood on and looked down at the ground. As I passed, I was embarrassed to hear a nearby woman say “My husband and I really like your hat!” I had snubbed two people who were just trying to be nice.

Sometimes I am infuriated by my trips home, but other times I am merely amused. The other day, a man was following me shouting “DAMNNN, girl, DAMMMN.” I completely abandoned my feminist indignation and burst out laughing. At the time, I didn’t take it as an insult, and I didn’t get creeped either.

What are the societal implications when sexual harassment is treated as a joke? If I followed a man around shouting demeaning comments, I doubt he would laugh. I doubt he would smile. But I don’t know what he would do. I have never thought to sexually harass a man. Nor would I want to. This is not to say women cannot participate in sexual harassment against men, but it certainly isn’t seen as the norm.

The situation reminded me of this MADtv skit.

The skit is actually quite funny.  But despite the “funny because it’s true” aspect, there are some things that bother me about the portrayals of the characters. The man (played by a woman) is obviously a black male stereotype. Black man harasses white female…sounds like a familiar stereotype…Am I reading too far into it? I don’t think I am.

The woman is a model of femininity. She rejects his advances not through blatant honesty or indignation, but through backhanded replies that she just doesn’t give out her number…in theaters. The woman is uncomfortable but not threatened, resistant but not indignant. Imagine how different reactions to the skit might have been if the woman had harassed him back, yelled at him, left the theater, or even (gasp) kicked him in the balls! She is, instead, passive and polite. She answers his questions with a sheepish smile, even though he has no right to ask her questions in the first place. And did you notice how nobody in the background of the skit defends Yvonne?

A lot of the stereotypes in the skit were probably intentional on the part of the writers. Darrell navigates the theater freely, moving his seat multiple times. Yvonne, on the other hand, sits with legs crossed and only moves her seat to escape Darrell. But this is the way women are taught to react to harassment, isn’t it? It would be unladylike to react in any other way, even though the harasser has no problem invading our space and our privacy.

Women experience sexual harassment every day. Whether the encounter is mildly annoying, outrageously insulting, or downright frightening, we are expected to respond passively. But, even though many of the perpetrators seem to think that sexual harassment is a joke, the experience is anything but funny. Sexual harassment is humiliating, and serves as a way to reinforce gendered power hierarchies. Even though the perpetrators may seem to most often be male heterosexuals, harassment occurs in many contexts and is always insulting and demeaning.  What about the LGBTQ person who is harassed for his/her sexual orientation or deviation from gender “norms?”  What about the heterosexual boy or man who is harassed daily because he does not correctly conform to the masculine ideal?  What about girls who harass other girls because they aren’t pretty, cool, popular, etc?  Or someone who is taunted and demeaned not because of gender or sexuality, but based on their race or ethnicity.  Would these topics still be funny in a MADtv skit?  Let’s be careful what we laugh at.

Do you think that we can find more empowering ways to deal with harassment, without putting ourselves in danger? Do you think that it is appropriate to treat sexual harassment as humorous? Does humor provide a good outlet to talk about harassment, or does it trivialize the issue? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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4 responses

23 02 2009
feminist3

You know, I think it would be eye opening to show this video in a high school class, see if people have had experiences related to the one depicted here, and then segue into the less humorous aspects of harassment. It would be interesting to see something like that, meant as humorous and satirical, to be treated seriously. I think it would make people think twice about sexual harassment.

23 02 2009
feminist3

Also: I’m trying to imagine if this video went differently. If Yvonne in fact had reacted angrily, I think Darrell might have mocked her, or he would’ve portrayed his actions as innocent (“I just want your number”) and accused her of overreacting.

But what if Yvonne was like, “what do you think you’re accomplishing by acting this way towards me.” What if she was able to get his true motive (does he really want to go out with her? Or just humiliate her?) she could turn that around on him, like, “Do you really think acting like this makes me want to go out with you?” Or “Your behavior doesn’t reflect on me, it’s just making you look like a jackass to everyone else.”

I’ve never actually dealt with a harasser that way, and if by some chance someone is harassing and if I don’t just choose to ignore him, then maybe I would try this out.

Anyway, thanks for bringing this up. This was a really good thought exercise!

28 02 2009
Melissa

A part of me really likes sketches like this (and Dane Cook’s “Just Wanna Dance,” to name another one) because they are funny and I can identify with them. In a way it feels good to see that other women deal with similar experiences and to just laugh them off. However, a lot of the harassment men commit against women cannot be laughed off (such as rape, abuse, and stalking). Furthermore, even “harmless” harassment like the kind featured in this sketch is damaging. As you said, it affects everyday decisions like which route to take home, etc. Having to worry about avoiding male harassment at every moment creates significant anxiety for women (It’s a fact that women are affected by anxiety disorders twice as much as men, and this is no coincidence. Having to worry about appearance, body image, and being perfect both at work AND in the domestic sphere also play a role in the greater incidence of anxiety among women.) Although this video was funny, you bring up a good question about whether treating male harassment as a joke trivializes the issue and therefore is harmful.

21 04 2009
Jason

…I think all the stereotypes portrayed here are entirely on purpose. Personally. Down to the “black culture” the man (er… male character?) shows, and the fact that she reacts as a “typical woman”.
Do I think it’s trivialising it? No, it takes everything a step further than you’d actually see- and turns it into satire. It comments on how it’s not okay, how rediculous the men are for TRYING it (we can tell that she’s not going to just change her mind just because he’s asked fifteen times) and how uncomfortable it CAN make someone.

“does he really want to go out with her? Or just humiliate her?”
I think the character is supposed to really want to go out with her. Especially given the “I love you” which he says too quietly for her to hear (and is rediculous and amusing) at the end. More a literal case of not taking no for an answer.

…Also I pity Yvonne for being alone in the theatre- half the fun for me is discussing it afterwards. Plus, you can get a huge tub of popcorn and not feel greedy because you share it!

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