Sex Policies

In this confessional post about a “sexual misconduct” claim filed against him, Patrick Witt describes how the faulty claim messed up his personal, academic, and professional life. He claims that he is innocent of whatever claim his ex-girlfriend filed against him, but explains that he is unable to make a clear case of his innocence because he was never allowed to learn the nature of the claims. In his post, he uses these and other examples to criticize Harvard and Yale’s sexual harassment policies.

Reading his story, I didn’t really care whether or not Witt was guilty.  It’s natural to form a judgment based on what we read, especially if the writing is persuasive, BUT, I reminded myself that guilt and truth are not matters that anyone can claim to decide simply by reading one side of a story.

So, decisions of guilt and innocence aside, what’s important to me is that he appears to have been treated as if he was guilty, based on no evidence at all and without any opportunity to defend himself.

If he’s innocent, then I really feel for him, for everything he lost because of this claim. How could this happen to him? Was his ex-girlfriend vindictive, nasty, and crazy enough to destroy his dreams based on a break-up? (I’ve seen lots of sane people go crazy because of love, so I wouldn’t be too surprised!)

Personally, I doubt that ‘crazed ex-lover’ explanation, as melodramatically satisfying as it sounds. What seems more likely to me is that there was a miscommunication between the alleged victim and the accused while they were dating, something that led the girlfriend to believe she had been sexually abused when her boyfriend didn’t see anything wrong with his actions. Maybe he persuaded her to do something she didn’t want to do in bed, but didn’t realize he had pushed her too far. Or maybe he did something he thought would excite her but actually frightened her. These possibilities seem quite likely to me.

I don’t want to assume that he’s a villain, and I also don’t want to assume he did ‘nothing’ wrong– because if I had to guess, I would put my money behind the ‘miscommunication’ scenario.

But again, this post of mine is not about guilt. The bottom line is, I tentatively agree with him that the policy is (read: appears to be) unbalanced and very flawed. I’d love to read the arguments for and against these kinds of policies to get a better understanding of them.

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I’m Sorry about Foxy Shazam

I f’ing love Foxy Shazam.

That being said, I have to ask a question: Does that change how people think about me? I mean, sure, every detail you learn about someone is bound to alter your perception of them slightly. But don’t be a smart aleck. I’m not talking about “slightly”– I’m wondering if it makes a big difference in whether someone thinks I am fundamentally good, or bad!

Why does it matter to me? Really, why should I care about someone who marks me as “no-good” just because Foxy Shazam, that ridiculous beautiful glittering loud mess of rock and roll, is one of my favorite bands? Anyone who really knows me either also likes the band, or they don’t hold my tastes against me. Because we’re all adults. Right? Yeah!

… But Foxy Shazam has a problem, and I want to apologize for it. The problem sounds like this:

That’s the biggest black ass I’ve ever seen, and I like it!

… That’s a quote from their single “I Like It“. A real slice of poetry, for sure. (/sarcasm, of course)

Now, I’ve met two other Foxy Shazam fans (plus a couple hundred more at their New Years Eve show last year :D), and they know this song, but it’s not their favorite. On the other hand, I’ve met people who only know Foxy Shazam by one song, and it’s not the melodramatic rock’n’roll rush of a love song “Holy Touch” or the freaky jam “Dangerous Man“, and it’s not the trumpet-pumped fight song “Unstoppable” or even the cheesy American ballad “Freedom.”

Nope. The song they know is the one about black booty, “I Like It.”

I cringe when I hear this song, which isn’t often since I took it off of my iPod. I get it that Foxy Shazam is an all-man band, and I get it that objectifying women and minorities is a piece of rock and roll. But, fuck, I don’t have to be okay with it. I try to forget about this song because, even though I love most of their others and I don’t think their themes are as cringe-worthy, I know that if I think about it too much, I won’t be able to listen to them anymore. It happened with Jack White, when his first solo album pushed me out of denial that he might be kind of a woman-hater...

Look, at the end of the day, I think rock and roll music is about feeling, not thinking. Not every band that falls under the “rock” umbrella is like that, but I think when you add the “roll,” you’re in the territory of wild stage shows, silly lyrics, and beautiful genderbending bastards like Eric Nally who blow you away with their powerful pipes. Queen is like that too, right? “Fat-bottomed girls, you make the rockin’ world go round!” Good old Freddie Mercury– what’s not to love? Even the homophobic manly-man dads from my hometown love Queen. (That’s a testament to the “feel, not think” nature of rock and roll, too!)

Still, I can’t let go of the fear that when I gush about Foxy Shazam, someone who only knows “I Like It” will think I’m all about black asses, or at least that I encourage white men to belt about them over some sexy guitar riffs. The truth is, I am not the best-versed in gender and race issues, so I don’t know how well I can articulate why I think this song warrants an apology. (You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t actually addressed the issue much, I just acknowledged it.) But I believe it all the same. And I’m apologizing. And I’m hoping that no one thinks I’m a racist, feminist-hypocrite when I say I just really like dancing and singing along to their other awesome songs.

A catcall here and there

For me, the interesting thing about catcalling is that it feels the same as being bullied– just like the verbal abuse I heard in middle school.

Of course, the comments are different. They used to be:

Do you own a different belt? Are you even a girl? Hey, nice tights.
You’re too big here and too small there, etc. etc. etc.

Now that I’ve graduated from taunts to catcalls, the comments sound like:

Heeeeey girl. I know what you want. Okay, just ac’ like you don’t see me! etc. etc. etc.

So, acknowledging these differences, I ask: why do the two situations feel identical? Here are 3 similarities between being bullied and catcalled, as I’ve experienced them:

1. In both situations, I feel vulnerable.

Whether I am twelve years old wearing my favorite, worn-out old belt, or twenty years old wearing my favorite dress, being called out in public makes me uncomfortable, especially among strangers. These comments draw attention to my body, and that attention doesn’t feel like respect or admiration. It feels like the desire of an outsider or a group to dominate me with invasive words and prying eyes.

2. In both situations, I feel afraid and I don’t know how to react.

I am unsafe. Should I respond at all? If so, should it be with a snarky comment, a scornful scolding, a glare, or a politely-worded objection? There are so many options and only a few seconds in which to respond… And what if my aggressor follows me? What then? How long can I continue to ignore the comments? How long will it take for the person to get bored, or for me to find a safe place?

3. In both situations, I feel embarrassed.

The thing is, I don’t hold any illusions about my beauty: I am average at best, but I am okay with it. What is not okay, is when someone catcalls me and I feel ashamed of my body because I perceive sarcasm in their words. What a funny joke: call the frumpy little nerd “sexy” and see how she reacts. Will she believe it, or will she catch the irony?

You could say that this is a self-esteem issue on my part, but I wouldn’t be convinced. Anyway, some women just don’t want to be called whatever names you’re shouting at them. A quick example: Have you ever met a petite person who hated being called ‘cute’?

For my middle-school bullies, dim-witted sarcasm was the tool of the trade, and I definitely see parallel behaviors in catcallers. They hurt my pride just as much as taunts did when I was a kid. As always, it only hurts more when I feel afraid to stand up for myself, lest I attract more unwanted attention or anger the person who’s aggravating me.

My purpose in writing all this is to explain to people (boys and men, generally) why I am afraid of catcalling, even though I’ve never been assaulted, followed, or faced any dangerous consequences.

And as a side note, all of this is also related to my sour reaction to my male friends and boyfriends who have (at some point) called me hot or sexy. I don’t believe that any of them said what they said with the intention of hurting, upsetting, or dominating me, but the impact was the same: The sentiment expressed in these comments doesn’t feel like respect or admiration. Unless we are very intimate, it sounds to me like a catcall, and a catcall feels just like an attack from a bully.

Thanks for reading. I’d really like to hear some feedback about this; I know fear and vulnerability are common reactions to this kind of attention, but I’m curious about what others think of my feelings of embarrassment.

love, caprice cake