Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Who owns women's bodies?

I've been having an interesting - I was going to call it discussion - but I think sniping match sums it up better - with A J Chasswess on a post about women being responsible for men's sexual response.

A J Chasswess said many things, including implying that I was a prostitute for wearing a singlet. But this was what I wanted to respond to:

This is the same attitude you display in refusing to help men in their battle against their animality [by not wearing a singlet], purely for the sake of ego.
Now like many feminists I roll my eyes when all too many discussions about the oppression of women get quickly turned into discussion about how Patriarchy Hurts Men To. But I do think the view that women as objects for men, always ends up limiting and insulting men. A J's comment makes that startlingly clear. The idea that the sight of women's bodies will turn a man into an animal would restrict women's lives hideously, but it's also extremely degrading to men.

I believe that men can choose to treat women as people. I don't believe that there is anything inside themselves that men have to battle, but the world that they are born into and the power that world gives them.


  1. AJ's won't like this but he is echoeing Muslim attitudes to women. The traditional Christian attitude was that women are evil temptresses like Eve. Muslims think that men are unable to control their lust, so women must cover themselves to avoid inflaming the problem. Either way, both attitudes demean women and men.

    I saw a t-shirt a couple of days ago: "Feminism is the crazy notion that women are people."

  2. Speaking as a man who suffers horribly from raging hormones coursing uncontrollably through my body, I find it doesn't matter what the woman is wearing. - After hitting puberty, it is fairly obvious to me that whether societally conditioned or evolutionarily hardwired, a sizeable part of my brain runs a sub-program that visually evaluates people I meet sexually - both women and men, and I had to learn to control my expression of that in order to be accepted within society (something that at times was both tremendously embarrassing and tremendously fun). It can be anything - If she's wearing a brazilian thong bikini, then its obvious that I can see and respond sexually to her entire body. If she's wearing full victorian or edwardian costume, then it's the shape of a briefly exposed ankle and wrist and hand, or the implied shapes that such carefully structured clothing emphasizes. If she's wearing a full burqa and veil, then its going to be the hints you get of the eyes or the hands or whenever the shape of her body brushes against the concealing cloth.

    Regardless of what a woman chooses to wear, I find the average human male is capable of mentally extrapolating large amounts of information from the tiniest hints, whether real imaginary. Therefore it is obvious to me that the dress of the woman and her choices have little impact on the sexual response of the man - he will extrapolate whatever he's interested in at the time, in whatever way he wants - she cannot get into his mind. Male sexual response is a male responsibility, and male actions based on that are a male responsibility. To suggest otherwise is a complete cop-out and abdication of rationality and control. To suggest that women must cover up to save men from lusting after them is silly - have you ever met a man who _couldn't_ mentally undress a woman? (Are not many of our sexual fetishes based on the amazing detail that the human imagination can supply from the merest hint?)

    So while we can choose to reveal or conceal our bodies, and choose the situations in which we do so, to demand that one sex curtail their freedom of dress merely so that the other can avoid learning to control their urges is laughable. Yes we all have 'animal urges', but learning to control them is what makes us human, and knowing when to let them loose and with whom is a very delicate thing.

  3. "The idea that the sight of women's bodies will turn a man into an animal would restrict women's lives hideously, but it's also extremely degrading to men."

    Honey, as Mr Viking has shared, it's not just an idea, it's a reality. But also, as Viking says, men do have the ability to control their thought life; but as I've said IT TAKES EFFORT, and sometimes it takes a lot of effort.

    Your original post was mocking women who would dress modestly to prevent themselves being a distraction to men AT CHURCH. You'd think that women would be humble enough to realise church is the one place that it's definitely not all about them. But no, planty of females are quite happy to turn up looking like skanks.

    Church is a place where one would hope to be free from distractions, a place where the sole purpose of everything around them to bring glory and attention to God. To challlenge this ideal, and to make it harder for men to meditate on the Lord, is nothing short of evil, or at least pathetic.

  4. It takes Effort? Really? Bollocks, it takes so little effort that most of us learn to control our arousal before we leave school. Good god, man, I'm a sex maniac atheist hedonist, and I haven't been distracted in public by a provocatively dressed woman since I was a callow teenager.

    In case you didn't notice, what I said was that _it doesn't matter_ how much of the woman's body is exposed, she can be covered from head to foot and men will _still_ invent in their own heads an image of what she might look like in order to distract themselves. Projecting your lack of self control and prejudice onto women is so _weak_ that I am somewhat flabbergasted.

  5. What Weekend_Viking said. I'm living in a Moslem society right now (Kuwait), where the men are all followers of A.J's theories regarding women being responsible for men's sexual responses. Lots of the women here (especially outside the central city, which is where I am), cover themselves head to foot, including a veil. Lots of them even wear gloves, despite the fact that it's 45-55 Celsius outside in the summer. And you know what? Even though they're pretty much just a black silhouette with an eye-slit, I'm still looking at them thinking stuff like "too fat", "big tits", "nice walk", "beautiful eyes", "looks grumpy". Even with that tent on them, you get a good idea of how slender or tubby they are, how well they move, how self-confident they are, all kinds of things that tell you whether they're attractive or not. This isn't something I'm particularly proud of, and certainly none of these women can in any sense whatsoever be seen as potential sexual partners because I prefer living to dying, but at the same time I'm not particularly ashamed either, because that's just how we're built. The fact that I and most other hetero men are biologically incapable of walking around not thinking this stuff about the women we see, no matter how they cover themselves up, is an excellent example of why it's a really, really, really good thing that we can't read each others' minds.

  6. I speak from personal experience. I never "undress a woman with my eyes", and if she's dressed modestly she doesn't inspire me to look at and think more intently about her sexual features. But if she's bringing attention to those features I'll immediately have to expend mental and spiritual energy on controlling my thought life.

    Remember weekend_viking, I am a sexually frustrated 25 year old Christian VIRGIN. Perhaps you're never distracted because you've given up on the idea that chastity and faithfulness are achievable virtues. They'd certainly be a hell of a lot more achievable if certain women understood the virtue of modesty.

  7. Once again, AJ not reading.

    I hope if I ever meet you AJ, that you are wearing a long sleeved shirt with collar done up, long trousers, and covered in shoes.

    Or that when out swimming you will wear an Ian Thorpe style swimming costume.

    It's YOUR responsibility to control yourself, no one else's.

    Stop blaming other people for YOUR failings AJ.

  8. I am reading. I accept I have a responsibility to control my thoughts and actions.

    I'm just saying women can do a lot to help and make it a lot easier on men. I've accepted your argument men have to take responsibility, but no-one will accept my argument that women can make it a whole lot easier for men. Furthermore no-one's given me a good reason why a woman should dress like a skank (i.e. low low cut tops, short skirts, tight tops).

  9. If the pursuit of chastity is so draining on your mental and spiritual energy that it leaves you unable to resist distraction by practical summer clothing, perhaps you should reconsider how important a virtue it is? Surely good will towards women is also a virtue, which you're currently neglecting in favour of chastity.

  10. AJ: people who live in Auckland will understand: humidity.

  11. A good reason why women(or anybody else, for that matter) should dress in "low low cut tops, short skirts, tight tops"?

    Um, because they want to?

    Now as to chastity and faithfullness not being achievable virtues for myself, I've found that honesty, consent, forgiveness and freedom have been far more useful in my relationships. Mind you, given that my relationships may involve more than two people at a time (with everybody's knowledge), the latter set of qualities are far more useful.

    I'm just not sure how you would modify all women in society to your required standard of modesty? Some form of Sex Police, perhaps? How is any given woman to know whether her dress standard will offend/distract, given that some men are far easier to distract than others? Telepathy? Or the Sex Police, again?

    Must there be sumptuary laws regulating hem length, level of lycra content in cloth, tightness of fabric, minimum/maximum cleavage exposure, acceptable nipple show-through grades, etc, etc?

  12. A.J, when you walk past a shop window full of cool stuff and you're not carrying any money, does it require mental effort on your part not to smash the window and take what you want? Or are you saying it requires mental and spiritual effort not to think "how'd you like those for earmuffs?" when a good-looking woman comes into view? If it's the latter, you're wasting your effort. As long as you're not saying it out loud or standing there staring with your mouth open and drool running down your chin, people will generally make allowances. And yes, no doubt some women are dressing with exactly that effect in mind. Given that they don't share your belief in what God is going to have to say to them about that after they're dead (they will after all, be dead after they're dead and therefore unlikely to be accounting for themselves to anybody), why shouldn't they?

  13. I've made a new post on the topic at my blog.