Monday, March 27, 2006

Here, kitty kitty kitty...

::begin feminist rant::

Think about the term cat-call. According to the OED, the term has been around since the 18th century, although its early uses referred to calling people in to a meeting or to hooting and hollering at the theater. Nothing in the OED definition references the hissing, whistling, honking and "hey baby" hollering that women experience on a regular basis while walking down the street.

I spent a week in Puerto Rico recently. It was beautiful, and absolutely nothing could have spoiled the good mood that I was in -- least of all the hollering and honking of some impolite, undersexed boys. But it did get me to thinking about the different forms that cat-calling takes and the ways in which it is an attempt to exert power.

Greek men, for the most part, cat-call in a very different way then American (and apparently, Puerto Rican) men. They hiss. There's a particular noise they make that's difficult to put into writing, but it's something like "ps ps ps ps ps". It's quite literally the noise you'd make to call a cat. It was probably the single most difficult thing I dealt with during my first month in Athens. It's a very private form of harassment -- the only people who know it's happening are the harasser and the person being harassed.

In contrast, the kind of harassment that I've experienced in the US and in PR is very public. The person doing the cat-calling has no qualms about making sure everyone knows he is looking at you. Embarassment seems to be one of the main objectives of the game. But to what end?

As a way of exerting power over women, public embarassment seems pretty standard. Calling derisive attention to anyone in public space is likely to make them want to disappear into the pavement, and if you percieve women in public space as a threat (albeit subconsciously), making them disappear is the ultimate goal. Come out of hiding (out of "feminine space" that is), and prepare to be embarassed into oblivion.

The more subtle form of harassment I experienced in Athens is no better. Instead of public embarassment, the hissing is a personal attack. It feels much more as though you've been singled out individually, even though any non-Greek woman walking down the street is likely to encounter the same harassment. There's a subtle difference between feeling embarassed and feeling ashamed, and shame is more closely associated with this more personal cat-calling. If someone insults you loudly and in front of a group of people, it's a lot easier to write it off as their own low self-esteem or insecurity than if someone insults you quietly to your face.

Men who cat-call aren't actually interested in the women they're harassing. At least, I hope they're not, because if they are then they're using the wrong angle. "Hello" works a lot better than "hey baby."

::end feminist rant::

I'd like to appologize to all of the well-intentioned young men whom I've ignored or given dirty looks when they said hello. Sometimes it's difficult to determine who's being genuine and who's being a pig.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

What's Haute Couture and What's Just Hot?

I'm not much of a fashionista. I'm a jeans-and-teeshirt girl most of the time, and Carrie Bradshaw's Sex in the City outfits always mystified me. But I do love some occasional reality TV drama, especially when it involves beautiful women, so last night I headed over to Laine's to watch America's Next Top Model.

The model-wannabes were doing a mock cover-shoot where they basically had to be naked and covered in glittery stuff in a warehouse filled with ice. Not an easy situation to look sexy in, right? Well, it turns out that they aren't supposed to look sexy, at least not in the way that we conventionally think of sexy. They're supposed to look dramatic and, as models so often do, a little pissed off. I'm sure there are other sets on which they'd be expeted to look happy (but without really smiling) or sweet (but without being "doll-like," as one of the judges kept calling it), but neither of those looks would have worked with the whole ice princess theme. In any case, the one look that earned the most scorn was sultry.

The photo that was chosen for one of the wannabes was of her leaning against an ice-wall, looking off to the side and giving the camera "the eye". Her photo earned the judges derision; one of them commented that she looked like she belonged in a men's magazine with utter distaste.

Now to me, this was a revelation. In my head a model is a model is a model, and the only difference between the models in FHM and those on the Fendi runway is that the latter gets paid more. And maybe the former is more likely to have done a porn flick at some point in her past, but that's not entirely relevant. It makes sense now that I think about it, seeing as men's magazines are all about curves and fashion models are usually flat-chested and a little androgynous looking. But it's not as though fashion models are expected to be in any way the opposite of sexy. Their expressions are more subtle, but think about Giselle for example -- she's hot. At least I think she is, and I know plenty of people who would agree.

We live in a society in which sex is considered base and overt sexuality is rather low-brow (unless you're Paris Hilton). So it makes sense that Haute Couture (high fashion, or literally elegant sewing) designers would want to distance themselves from it. On the other hand, sex sells. It sells cigarettes and alcohol, it sells houseware products, it sells tires and it sells fast food, and it sells these things equally to both men and women. Why wouldn't designers want to capitalize on that? Their end goal is to sell products, after all.

Here's the trick: if sex is base, and your models look just as sexy as the models selling fast food, why on earth would anyone pay $1700 for a freaking purse? (okay, I'm not sure why they would anyway, but that's beside the point.) Women with that kind of money don't want to look base. They want to look like they can do whatever they damn well please (I generalize, but you understand). So, instead of selling sex, the world of high fashion sells power.

I'm not really sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, it's better than objectifying women sexually. On the other hand, it's only selling power to those who can afford it... so more or less, if you have money you can be powerful and sexy. Not filthy-stinking-rich? You'll have to settle for just sexy.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

everybody else is doing it...

I think about sex a lot. Sometimes I feel guilty about the amount of time I spend thinking about sex. "Oversexed" is the word that comes to mind.

The thing is, it's not like I sit around watching porn and petting the bunny. I think about sex in an academic sense, and a pop culture sense, and a social justice sense. And, okay, yeah, sometimes I sit around watching porn and petting the bunny.

Lately I've been spending tons of time reading other people's thoughts on sex (from Krafft-Ebing to Rachel Kramer Bussel), and I realized that if I composed all my thoughts, put them down in one place, I might end up having something to show for it instead of a guilty conscience.

So, I blog. I don't plan on writing exclusively about actual "sexual evolution" or the (frequently awful) theories that go along with it, although I'm sure some references to sociobiology will make it in here. The idea is to look at the continuing evolution of sex -- the way we talk about it, think about it, and of course the way we do it -- and to use that to explore the evolution of my own conceptions about sex.

I guess we'll have to wait and see how often I update, since (what with being a second-semester senior and all) I don't have all that much free time. But hey, it's a nice idea.