The Radical Notion that Women are People
I recently shared a conversation with a woman who told me that when men hit on or harass her, sometimes the only thing she can say to make them stop is that she has a boyfriend. By coincidence, later that day I overheard another woman say that often the only way to make her boyfriend stop petitioning her for sex is to tell him she’s on her period.
To learn something about the invisible logic of patriarchy, simply listen closely to the strategies women deploy in order to refuse men. If “I have a boyfriend” is a tried and proven way of getting men to stop harassing, then boyfriends—i.e., men—are accorded respect, and how a woman is treated does not necessarily hinge on her own wishes.
So whether a boyfriend really exists, women often fly a boyfriend flag high in order to turn away men in public spaces, but for those who return home to an actual boyfriend, the flag is of no use. To navigate this more intimate space, it seems that one way women can turn their boyfriends down without fear of retribution is to declare they’re menstruating, and here again, one can deduce the twisted logic of patriarchy. Women are anatomically dirty and undesirable at least once a month, an idea Hollywood movies regularly reflect and promote.
To recap, not only is it apparent that women are generally less respected than men, judging from the excuses many offer their intimate male partners, their desirability is somewhat contingent and fleeting. Moreover, while a man’s desire is sufficient justification for him to ask a woman for a date or sex, irrespective of whether the space is public or private, a woman’s desire to be left alone needs justification.
In 1986, Marie Shear famously wrote in her review of A Feminist Dictionary that “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people,” and my sense is a good many people read this quote as an inflammatory provocation or an exaggeration born from anger. It is neither. If part of what it means to be a person is to be regarded as the final authority in matters related to one’s own desire, then women are not yet regarded as people.
6/1/2014 11:44:02 am
This raises the question: Should women use their menstruation as an excuse to decline sex>? Or is there a less self-depreciating way of declining sex from a close partner? Cause they probably shouldn't; and there probably is.
6/1/2014 01:40:53 pm
You seem to have missed the point, Taylor. The question it raises is why don't people simply respect what women tell them they want in the first place?
6/1/2014 02:32:02 pm
Well sure that's a fair question too but the answer to that has to do with social history and centuries of oppression.
6/3/2014 02:38:48 am
Taylor - I responded to your comment because it seemed you misunderstood the point I was trying to make. I wanted to clarify. I also responded because I think there is a harmful pattern of allowing men off the hook. Women are using the excuses they feel they need to use in order to navigate their lives. They use these excuses because people aren't accepting their lack of desire as an adequate excuse on its own. We can certainly talk about these excuses and the unanticipated consequences of these excuses, but it should not be at the expense of talking about what seems to me a far more pressing question, which is, why aren't men respecting women in the first place? I responded to you because I wasn't going to let the conversation turn toward (once again) scrutinizing the behavior of women, while men slip out the back entrance.
6/3/2014 03:08:18 am
Lester- definitely a fair point. Feel free to bring the fact up that we shouldn't blame women for the social issues which oppress them, it's a good point and not recognized often enough.
6/3/2014 03:16:47 am
I also want to add that the lessons to be learned from this blog are gendered. I am not focusing on the one for men because to me it seems obvious.
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