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We’re all complicit: I was a reckless young woman too

With the exception of the Golden Globes broadcast, the press and the public have gone fairly silent about sexual harassment after three credible women, in a press conference and subsequent interviews, recounted personal stories of Donald Trump’s shocking, predatory behaviour.

After more than a dozen others have came forth, after Trump bragged to an Access Hollywood host (who lost his job when the recorded 2005 incident became public in 2016) that he could grab women by the pussy and he kissed them against their will…he’s still looming in the hallways of the White House, shoveling Big Macs into his lying pie hole. But Al Franken is gone, as are Garrison Keillor and Leonard Lopate. I feel safer now.

I also feel a bit disappointed and sad about the Globes show. Overall, I was gratified at the air of dignity the show had, from the red carpet on, in comparison to the frat-boy shit shows of the past. I fell even more under the spell of Michelle Williams, who I watched on the red carpet as she spoke so warmly about her Globes date, Tarana Burke, who created the Me Too movement over ten years ago. I loved that the Hollywood ladies brought activist companions.

However not one woman thanked Rose McGowan on the broadcast, and in retrospect I’m sad that so many women of colour who’ve been fighting for years to be seen and heard needed to be accompanied to the event by white women. I also wonder if Time’s Up has a bit of “we’ve got it from here, don’t worry” in it. I hope women of all races — and ages — will truly embrace each other and move forward together. It’s not easy work. It takes a fearless moral inventory.

A few months back, when the sexual harassment exposé was in full swing (and before Franken’s woes), I was at the wedding of a good friend, sitting next to a woman around my age. A lifelong military wife and medical professional, she was really wise, earthy and funny, and not a Trump supporter. We were seated across from an earnest younger woman in her 30s who became enraged when the Army gal mentioned that sometimes she felt that women had to take some responsibility for harassment. She hadn’t said “take responsibility for getting raped or sexually abused.” Actually, she didn’t get a chance to explain herself at all because the young woman started yelling at her — again, at a wedding of friends:

How dare you blame the victim! How dare you!

The Army gal, possessed of mid-20th-century manners, decided to need more chicken from the buffet to defuse the situation. I followed her casually, and as we both rolled our eyes, I knew what she meant:

Things aren’t always black and white, and she’ll figure that out.

This incident started me thinking about accusations of witch-hunts and what I think of as sexual harassment. I also thought a lot about what I was like as a young 20-something living in NYC and travelling solo around the US, first as a sales rep, then as an entertainer.

Then I read Katelyn Simon’s post on The Clyde Fitch Report about the intriguing classical virtuoso Yuja Wang, and the relative importance of wardrobe in that rarified world. “It’s impossible to deny the power of image in any performance,” wrote Simon. Indeed it is. According to sources, Wang wears what makes her “comfortable,” and apparently her choices, which can be as flamboyant and brief as those of a pop star, make some others uncomfortable. Modern women have always had the advantage of wearing interesting and colorful clothing, or whatever they damn well please, unlike men. We can “work it” to support whatever our process or end goal is. In Simon’s article she includes a question posed by The Washington Post’s Anne Midgette: Should critics review the dress? My answer is, yes! Of course. It’s part of the act, believe me.

womenWhile Simon’s article didn’t deal directly with sexual harassment, it provoked me. It made me think: some people wear clothing that makes them comfortable; some people wear clothing they feel makes them attractive. They’re looking to attract. Some take it further, and are provocative, and then they successfully provoke. I think women should take some responsibility for inciting certain behaviors, just like white women (like me, for instance) need to take responsibility for their passive racism. To pretend we’re not part of the problem is disingenuous. That doesn’t mean men or women should take a sexy wardrobe as an invitation for sexual abuse. And, in fact, the myth that a sexy wardrobe causes rape has been busted over and over again.

I was a reckless young woman for reasons I’m currently working out in therapy. I often dressed provocatively, not only on stage, but in my off-stage life. This frequently got me more than I bargained for. Or did it? What was I thinking when I wore translucent gauze skirts with flimsy underwear, and see-through tops with no bra? What did I expect would happen when I wore an unlined black lace dress with a nude body stocking to the theatre? The entire balcony nearly fell out of their seats when I walked down the aisle in that ensemble. I was thinking I was sexy and I wanted to look that way, that it would be titillating. It was. If I put my boobs out nearly naked, why should it surprise me if someone tries to touch them? Why should I be so shocked and offended when many people were probably also offended by my bouncing breasts? Of course, none of this explains the good ol’ boy in Alabama who followed me to my hotel room after breakfast because he wanted to get some from a young woman in a very conservative suit.

If one perceives that they’re being threatened, or their livelihood is threatened because they won’t submit to unpleasant or abusive behavior, that’s a very different thing than flirtatious games. I would never dream of narc-ing on someone who put his “hand on my back” (the stated reason that Keillor was fired, which must be bullshit), or who had a picture taken of me while pretending to touch my breasts while I was (supposedly) sleeping in a parachute rig on a comedy tour. I’m familiar with dressing room banter and ass-grabs, which I both received and gave — just like what we saw with Leeann Tweeden, Franken’s original accuser. I don’t think she’s a slut because she played those games; I think she’s a liar. I also don’t think Franken is a sexual predator; I merely think he didn’t consider that he’d be in politics and certain behaviors wouldn’t be deemed acceptable and would come back to bite him on the ass (Trump, ahem). If behavior like that really bugs you when it happens, you tell someone to stop.

As I move on in 2018, I’ll continue delivering on the pledge I made on November 9, 2017 to become a better citizen. This requires honesty, fairness and looking inward with humility, because we are so deeply fucked.

So, young woman at the wedding, I hope you sort things out, too, and that you don’t pay a very painful price for any of it.

This article first appeared on The Clyde Fitch Report, Daily Review’s American partner

12 responses to “We’re all complicit: I was a reckless young woman too

  1. I’ve always been cognizant of how much power I yield over men when I’m dressed semi-provocatively. Confidence and curves are a very intoxicating combination to heterosexual men and I like having the upper hand. Who doesn’t??

    I might choose to use everything I’ve got to be a powerful player in the room – just as a man might use his Armani suit and Rolex – but I am never ‘asking’ for ‘it’ or anything else. Is the Armani suited man ‘asking’ to be mugged? No, he is not.

    So far, I haven’t met anyone stupid (or brave) enough to lay a finger on me without asking but, if I did I’d be deeply f**king insulted and offended. It’s pretty simple people… look but don’t touch until you’re invited to. If any touching (or groping or raping) occurs without consent, the only person responsible is the one who didn’t ask to do so.

    1. Yes, Sam you’re right. However, if the man with the Rolex and Armani suit went for an unnecessary late night stroll alone through an area known for high rates of assault and mugging, you’d probably consider him unwise. One could say that he had unnecessarily exposed himself to those risks.

      If the worst happened, after he’d recovered, he might say “How dare they mug me? I had every right to walk through there unmolested. I’m deeply f**king offended!”. He would be completely correct to be so of course, but awfully naive.

      The question reminds me of a cartoon that I saw some time ago. Some mafia goons were moving a man whose feet had been encased in cement into a boat. The intended victim’s comment was “You realise of course chaps, that the law is on my side”. The mafia goons were smirking.

      I lock my door at night as well Sam.

  2. I finished a gig one night and the band went for drink afterwards , we took a couple of bar staff with us (females) one in particular was quite outgoing ,great fun ,she was hanging off me and telling me stuff about her life , I was listening and commenting etc , we were not involved just worked at the same place . One of the other guys said to me when she went to powder her nose ” You’ll be right tonight Mate ,can see she really wants it” So it’s in the eye of the beholder all happy smiling and talking women WANT SEX .! We went home separately later both in our own cars ,both back at work the next night. Just have to know the line, if she wanted anything more than just a good drink and banter she would have made it obvious , I didn’t feel that ,but he thought he saw it and she was’n’t talking to him, I am still friends with her and we both have our own partners.

  3. If you put your boobs out there almost naked, you ask, why should I be surprised if someone wants to touch them? Not only should you be surprised, you should be shocked, annoyed, outraged and highly offended. The way you dress is NOT an invitation for anyone, man or woman, to invade your personal space and humiliate you by touching any part of your body without your permission. When is this idea that men are entitled to grab any part of any woman if she is not ‘conventionally’ dressed going to be eliminated??? How many women do you see jumping on mens’ parts because they look sexy, under-dressed, e.g. on a beach? You may see admiring glances, even a few soft lewd comments but no touching or grabbing. We know it is not the right thing to do so why can’t men understand this simple concept? And why do so many women still see it as their fault if their clothing makes a man grab at them? Sometimes I despair and wonder when this lop-sided nonsense will ever stop.

    1. Well, Catherine, you’re quite right. You should be able to dress the way you want. However, I have an observation about the real world that I thought might be pertinent.

      Young women have a great deal of sexual power (as opposed to young men). An underdressed man on a beach would probably attract derision in comparison to an attractive young woman.

      When this sexual power is overtly displayed (some would say “flaunted”) there will be a range of responses from frank admiration, to boredom and (for some) resentment. Some of the resulting behaviours often include the “tall poppy” response. That is, the resentful will attempt to publicly humiliate the woman making the sexual display to take her sexual power away through humiliation or intimidation. These (male) behaviours might include catcalling and touching. Resentful women will use different tactics.

      It shouldn’t happen Catherine, I agree.

  4. Yes, a common sense article. The current argument is that young women should be completely free to dress and behave as they want to without consequence (or at least without assuming any responsibility for the actions of others). In principle, that’s true and desirable. In the real world however, these ideals are often not even remotely realistic. As an example, I shouldn’t have to lock my door when I leave my home. My home, and its possessions should be inviolate. However, my insurance company would certainly beg to differ if I lodged a burglary claim in those circumstances.

    The sad reality is that everyone has some responsibility for managing their own exposures to significant risks (just as I lock my doors, refrain from smoking and wear a seat-belt in my car). If a young woman dresses provocatively then she shouldn’t be surprised if she succeeds in provoking a response. She has some responsibility to manage the extent to which she is exposed to the more extreme risks such as sexual assault.

    It is always better to avoid a severe risk exposure (on sensibly manage it) then have to remediate its outcomes if it eventuates.

    1. Maybe you should re-read this article?
      The author isn’t saying sexual assault is justified as a response to sexual “provocation”.

      Your response is exactly what stops this kind of nuanced article being written very often, because it’s immediately taken as justification of unjustifiable behaviour.

      1. No Bob, I didn’t imply that. Perhaps you should re-read what I’m saying. For further clarity, what I’m saying is that everyone is exposed to the risk of sexual assault (some more than others) just as we all exposed to range of other risks. We all have a responsibility to sensibly manage these exposures. You’re completely correct to say that certain behaviours are unjustifiable under any circumstances ( e.g. sexual assault, and murder) and the criminal law is formal recognition of that position; however, these events do occur and we should be mindful of them. Sadly, the mad, the bad, the immature, the drunk and the simply psychotic will always be with us.

        Managing a risk exposure (like sexual assault) doesn’t imply that the behaviour being addressed is justifiable (far from it). Managing the risk however, simply recognises the risk and responds to its undeniable existence.

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