Nice piece, I wholeheartedly agree women should not be responsible for the predatory acts of men. Sadly, I think you’re fighting the tide, at least in American society. The changes I see seem to be less about reducing men’s objectification of women and more about increasing women’s objectification of themselves, other women and men. In other words, we’re less likely to have respectful men and more likely to have leering women.
One might draw the conclusion that this is by design, a cynical way to increase consumption. By pushing women toward a more male-centric view and attitude, you can actually sell more ‘sex’ and boost the profits. You see this in some corporate environments where women are expected to behave more like men, rather than the opposite. You can see this in television, cinema, fashion and music where women dominate, not with femeninity, but with masculinity. The idea is that if you make women more aggressive they will want more and consume more and the way to do this is S-E-X. I digress.
I would like to know how you define ‘ogling’ though. Surely you wouldn’t expect people to avert their eyes every time someone they find attractive appears. Is there ever a case where looking is ok and maybe women just need to be ok with getting ‘checked out’? That’s not so say that things like cat-calling and having their space invaded is ok; I’d just like to know where the line is. I think your example with your father is clearly wrong, and by drawing attention to his behavior, he made it even worse — could he have not just gotten distracted for a moment then shaken it off and returned to his conversation? Would that have been OK with you, even if you knew it was because he was looking at a woman?
Also, I wonder if you have any thoughts on this in terms of class and culture. In Chicago, I’ve seen a number of egregious acts toward women in public (men yelling out of windows, whistling, catcalling, etc.) and in every case it’s been Hispanic and black men (there’s a hissing thing I’ve heard a few Mexican guys doing, (my wife says it happens a lot) that is easily the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard). Granted, my experiences pale in comparison to any woman who must endure this garbage constantly, but I can’t tell if this is simply a man vs. woman issue, or if there is more to it culturally. Are poor men more likely to behave like this than affluent men? Is this something that can be dealt with systematically? If there is a difference between how Caucasian and Asian men vs. Hispanic and African American men act toward women is it a helpful example of correct behavior, or merely another instance of hegemony and patriarchy?
Ms. Badu’s comments smack of the usual conservative mindset one encounters with religious folk. I saw this at an extreme level when I was in the middle east. What most interested me was not the obvious differences in clothing and access, but rather the practical effects of rigid gender separation. For example, women in full abiyah and nikalb would secretly switch places with sisters and cousins when they didn’t want to go to work, they also (according to my sister) get scandalously kinky when the men aren’t around. From the male perspective, they seemed to have no real sense of control or connection with their families, often acting as nothing more than glorified chauffeurs; they were embarrassingly ignorant of women as people, to the point of being terrified of them; and the Internet cafe’s had a shocking amount of gay pornography in the browser caches for a culture that doesn’t admit homosexuality exists. Of course these are mere anecdotal examples and observations, but I think they demonstrate the limitations of extreme social morality control; people are going to find a way to get off and get around.
Finally, you are very clear in what you think is dangerous to tell young girls and I don’t disagree with you, but what should we tell them? I’ve never dictated to my teenage daughter what to wear or how she should look (though I don’t know what her mother tells her as we’re not together). She did ask me about a costume she wanted to wear that was basically a bikini with leather pants (Morrigan from Dragon Age). I told her that I would never dissuade her from wearing what she wants to wear, but I cautioned her that she would probably draw unwanted attention from strange men and she would have to decide if that was attention she was ok with. Right or wrong, there’s nothing I can do to control the behavior of others, yet, it doesn’t seem right to pretend that the lewd behavior isn’t going to happen.
Sorry for the long response, but this was a thought-provoking essay about a topic I fond both fascinating and invaluable. Thanks!