“Perks”

September 24, 2009

Charity is hard when one is in the grip of a burning fury. When the fury is justified, perhaps charity isn’t even a virtue. I will suppress my revulsion at Terence Kealey’s reprehensible and revolting comments long enough to over-charitably say that at least he said that lecturers shouldn’t touch (i.e., have sex with) their (female!!) students.

(Suppressing a stream of colorful invective right now.)

I won’t delve into the rich feminist literature about the male gaze at the moment, but instead report on what female colleagues have told me about the experience of being a visual perk: It sucks. Even putting aside the probability of escalation, it’s not like “lookers” are y’know, subtle. If you stare at someone’s breasts or legs…if you stare at enough of them, the staree’s going to notice. If you think that they typically feel happy, flattered, or even merely indifferent to your stare, then you really need to rethink your understanding of the world. At the very least, you should recognized that of course you are going to think it’s harmless…it benefits you. You are a highly interested party working in a sexist tradition that shapes and rewards your sexist behavior.

It’s one thing to acknowledge that it may not be easy to avoid staring at someone you find attractive. It’s another thing to sanction and encourage such staring. (Note, we don’t need to flip over into absurd measures like putting blindfolds on horndog lecturers.)

And, of course, this kind of talk from an official makes it much harder for us to get to a point where the odd stare, by anyone, is an idiosyncratic, but hopefully minor, embarrassment instead of a serious, and systemic, problem.

Oh, yeah. Kealey: You’re a total ass. Resign and move on.

4 Responses to ““Perks””

  1. mstocker Says:

    The first time I was truly confronted with the “It sucks” was during my stay in the US when an American friend shared her thoughts and emotions on this with me. Your post is interesting and reminded me of what has since never left me; her “It sucks.” I spent most of my life in Europe more precisely Switzerland, Finland and the UK (order by desc(numofyears)). Something I have no clear answer for, yet, is why in those countries (especially Switzerland and Finland) I have never encountered strong sentiments. Of course, my experience is no statistic though, I wonder, who much is this cultural? different between countries?

  2. Bijan Parsia Says:

    I don’t know how to explain your particular observations: After all, they might be idiosyncratic to you. They might reflect differences in actual equity in those countries (either positive or negative; positive, if women are systematically better off then male gaze may be less substantively oppressive; negative, if the sexism is more pervasive women may not be as comfortable talking about it with you).

    I can’t say that I’d be thrilled by my instructor treating me as eye candy, esp. if it affected where they looked at me.

  3. mstocker Says:

    Agreed and I suggest a third option: (male) gaze and sexism are less pervasive (and, thus, people negatively affected by it better off). Maybe on the thought level it is equal but it translates less often into an action (e.g., gaze or comments). Some people in some countries hardly talk to “strangers,” walk always looking straight ahead, don’t even greet if they are greeted (in fact, they even walk on sidewalks adopting similar rules as with cars on streets, e.g. walking on the right side, leaving, thus, a maximized distance between each other). It feels to me opposed to what I, e.g., experienced in Washington DC. Is gaze & sexism (whether male or female) positively correlated with how outspoken, “touch-friendly,” in average the individuals of a population are? No worries if you have no answer, I don’t either🙂

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      I have no answers😉

      It might be that sexism is less pervasive.

      It might be that this form of sexism is as pervasive but because other conditions are better it’s less of an issue.

      Someone should tell me the answer!


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