Women bearing cleavage accused of “biological sexual harassment”

Every once in a while, we get these asinine assertions from folks that women and our mixed signals are to blame for  unwanted male attention. The latest in this installment came from an opinion published on Feb. 11 in the Sydney Morning Herald. The piece features long-winded, unnecessary analysis as well as interviews with women who play the game, but apparently don’t want to suffer the consequences of said game.

Everywhere you look, women are stepping out dressed provocatively but bristling if the wrong man shows he enjoys the display. And men – well, they are in a total state of confusion. There are cocky, attractive, successful men, alpha males, revelling in this unexpected bounty, boldly eyeing off the assets of women they fancy as their prey.

Sensitive males are wary, not knowing where to look. Afraid of causing offence. And there are angry men, the beta males who lack the looks, the trappings of success to tick these women’s boxes. They know the goodies on display are not for them. These are the men most likely to behave badly, blatantly leering, grabbing and sneering. For them, the whole thing is a tease. They know it and resent it.

The state of play was neatly summed up during the recent SlutWalks, where scantily dressed women took to the streets, proudly proclaiming their right to dress as they wish, in protest over a Canadian cop, who suggested women shouldn’t dress like sluts if they don’t want to be raped.

Jamie Lauren Keiles, an organiser of SlutWalk Chicago, explained that a half-naked woman as a form of protest is different from a half-naked lady pandering to the male gaze. It’s about ”a woman putting herself out there as a ‘f— you’ as opposed to a ‘f— me’,” Keiles explained. That may be fine in the context of protesting that scantily dressed women aren’t asking to be raped. Of course, there’s never an excuse for sexual violence or for men to paw or harass women.

But when young women stand in front of mirrors on a Saturday night, adjusting their cleavage, seeking ever greater exposure, maybe they need to think more about what they are doing. While there are women who claim they dress sluttishly just to make themselves feel good, the fact remains that, like the protesters, the main message sent is about flaunting women’s sexual power.

When did flaunting a woman’s sexual power become synonymous with teasing men?

Jean (named changed) is a 33-year-old, extremely attractive Sydney divorcee completing her PhD in physics. She has a fit body and large breasts, which she likes showing off in revealing clothes. When she ”gets the girls out”, she enjoys the subtle looks, even a discreet compliment about her body from the right man.

”A quick glance from them, a little moment of recognition, and then back to the conversation. It’s part of the dance, hinting at a possible connection,” she says.

Are some allowed to look and others not?

”Well, I think there’s a sort of sexual food chain and I prefer to engage with people on a similar level as me. Sometimes it feels sleazy when I’m way out of the observer’s league, like if they’re really old or fat or ugly.”

That’s the problem. She’s advertising her wares to the world, not just her target audience, and somehow men are expected to know when they are not on her page. Jean describes at length the subtle dance, based largely on non-verbal behaviour, that she uses to show men when attention is welcome. But as we all know, many men are lousy at that stuff – the language totally escapes them.

Rob Tiller is a Perth psychotherapist and men’s advocate who has run more than 200 men’s workshops on communication skills, sex and intimacy. He believes many men are confused about what’s going on.

”In one of my workshops, I remember a guy describing women flaunting their bodies as a form of ‘biological sexual harassment‘ towards men, to which most of the group gave a collective nod,” Tiller says. ”The self-assured, cocky blokes seem to see bare flesh as a green light and often express a ‘bring-it-on’ attitude but others find it difficult to handle. I think it’s a real catch-22 for most men. We really do want to be respectful but that’s not always easy with a neon pink G-string staring up at us.”

The internet is bristling with men writing about what they regard as women’s sexual arrogance. Provocative female attire is an assault against men, writes Giovanni Dannato for In Mala Fide, an online magazine of heretical ideas. He argues women exposing themselves without intending to reciprocate the attention they attract is impolite and inconsiderate – which, he bizarrely suggests, is rather like schoolchildren who bring something tasty to class that they are not prepared to share. It amounts to ”an act of aggression in which they use the power of their sex as a weapon”, he writes.

Dannato may be on to something when he proposes that some of the catcalling these women attract is a ”defence mechanism used by low-status men against women flaunting themselves publicly”. There certainly are a bunch of men writing about the plight of the beta males – unattractive, low-status guys who don’t get to first base with women.

F. Roger Devlin, a political philosopher who writes challenging material on gender issues for The Occidental Quarterly, points out these beta males have long been tearing their hair out trying to discover what on earth they have to do to make themselves acceptable to the girl next door. They get the message that what women instinctively want is ”for 99 per cent of the men they run into to leave them alone, buzz off, drop dead, while the one to whom they feel attracted makes all their dreams come true”.

Of course, there is no excuse for gross behaviour when beta males are told to buzz off, told that the titillation isn’t meant for them – plenty of men do manage to control themselves in these circumstances.

But surely men have a right to show what it’s like to be on the receiving end. There’s a great scene in the animated television comedy Family Guy, where Peter Griffin, the overweight, ugly, blue-collar dad, lets fly about Lindsay Lohan putting on her little outfits and jumping around on stage throwing ”those things” in front of his face. ”What am I supposed to do? What do you want from me?” he asks plaintively. But he knows the answer all too well: ”I’ll tell you what you want. You want NOTHING. We all know no woman anywhere wants to have sex with anyone and to titillate us with any thoughts otherwise is just bogus.”

Griffin’s howl of protest is based on the simple truth that some men spend their lives in a state of sexual deprivation, dealing with constant rejection. Roy F. Baumeister is a psychology professor at Florida State University who has extensively researched gender difference in sex drive. ”Sexual frustration is almost inevitable for the majority of men and not just occasionally. They won’t have enough partners or even enough sex with one partner to satisfy their wishes,” Baumeister writes, concluding, ”the tragedy of the male sex drive” is men’s state of perpetual readiness, which so rarely meets its match.

I’m not even sure where to begin with this convoluted mess…

Let me start by stating this basic, innate right some folks in this world refuse to accept: women have a right to dress and show off any part of their body without the threat of verbal, physical or sexual assault from others. If a woman wants to show off her cleavage, thighs and ass while club hopping, no man or woman has the right to touch, demean or gawk in a way to make that woman feel uncomfortable.

Second, a woman can wear as much cleavage as she wants and it’s not her fault if a man is somehow confused by the fact that he doesn’t have a right to gawk or reach out to touch a woman’s body. A woman should be allowed to dress as she please without having a fear that her body and sexual agency will be violated by men who are supposedly hardwired to not understand that they can’t touch or gawk at a woman against her will.

A sighting of bare flesh is not a green light for men, whether they are alpha or beta males, to readily enter into a woman’s space without permission and do as he pleases. Furthermore, it’s really not hard to be respectful when a woman is shaking her ass in your face while wearing a G-string. It’s not a catch 22 for men at all. It’s actually pretty fucking simple: don’t touch what’s yours and you don’t have the right to violate a woman’s agency and space, despite what the bullshit excuse of biology wants you to do. Period.

A woman flaunting her body is not an act of aggression against men. A woman who wants to show off her tits in a night on the town has nothing to do with her wanting to use her sexual prowess as an act of war against the males species. Believe it or not, a woman’s body and her desire to show it off doesn’t have a goddamn thing to do with men and teasing their poor, confused brains.

The catcalling these so-called “low status” men isn’t a defense mechanism and that explanation is yet another shitty excuse rape culture apologists use to dismiss the violent, offensive nature of these predators. It’s a result of these men not being raised to respect and see women as equal. It’s not a result of them feeling inadequate or unable to measure up to the standards of women. It stems from them resenting women and being conditioned to believe that our agency, our sexuality and our body is there for him to violate and degrade at his own will.

If a man has sexual frustration, it’s not a direct result of being bombarded with images of women teasing him and his desires. If he is unable to have sex with a woman or man, he is more than capable of falling back on the tired and true method of releasing sexual tension: masturbation and self-pleasure.

This opinion piece seems to dictate to women that we do not have the right to show cleavage for the fear of teasing men who are always confused by our mixed messages. This type of misogynistic, resentment-laden opinion once again lays the blame of violent, sexual-based aggression towards women at our feet and conveniently ignores the fact that violence and resentment towards women doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It ignores the fact that male power and privilege emboldens men to believe they have an inherent right to access a woman’s body at will and any woman defying that standard is seen as a threat to the status quo.

5 comments on “Women bearing cleavage accused of “biological sexual harassment”

  1. Your patience and tolerance to read and break down that nasty article for us is to be applauded! Thanks! I have to admit, I started skipping paragraphs just to read the bolded parts. Too much ‘WTF stupid’ happening in there. Your analysis was the perfect catharsis for that blood-pressure raising garbage. Thanks lady.

  2. Holly Pervocracy had a good post a while back about wearing sexy outfits to attract men, but not meaning that she had to take all comers, here: http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2010/08/yes-i-do-but-not-with-you.html My favourite part “If they invented a short skirt that could only be seen by attractive, available, acceptable-smelling, personable, respectful dominant men and butch women (and appeared as baggy sweatpants to everyone else), I’d wear that. Until then, I’m stuck with omnidirectional short skirts” There’s so much wrong with the article you’re quoting that I don’t even know where to start.

  3. This topic oddly came to me today while watching The Colbert Report. I wonder should a woman really get mad at a man for looking at her cleavage if she’s wearing a low cut top that shows her cleavage? What is the purpose of showing cleavage if not for someone to see?

    Just an honest thought . . .

  4. Y’all beat me! I “There are cocky, attractive, successful men, alpha males, revelling in this unexpected bounty, boldly eyeing off the assets of women they fancy as their prey.”

    ‘Looking’ is not gawking, and the majority of my encounters with strange men on the street end with WAY more than looking. And Lord help you if you’ve got a mouth to tell them they’re out of line. Kristal, you’re spot on as usual. This is machismo attitude combined with blaming any women who doesn’t  wear a burka for sexual harassment (and let’s face it, much more.) 

    Two word: self control. Action – reaction arguments are bullshit in human beings, we have conscious choice f our behavior, and personal responsibility for them. Real men, grown men understand to control themselves and not act like a animal when a woman with cleavage walks by. Grown men understand an outfit is not an open invitation, and rejection may be because you’re acting like an asshole pervert. 

Leave a Reply