Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Women will always, tragically, be seen as meat

Published:Sunday | August 10, 2014 | 8:00 AM

Ian Boyne, Columnist

Karen Lloyd's In Focus article last week, 'My vagina isn't public property', provoked an unprecedented number of responses to any article in this section.

She recounts a man's groping her breast, to which she responded with a slap across his face, with his retorting in apparent surprise at her ingratitude for his expression of interest: "My girl, yu serious, eeh? A ramp me a ramp wid yuh 'cause yuh body look so good!" Lloyd says, "This is not only a personal issue ... . The vast majority of Jamaican women are harassed daily on the street by men who believe they have some inherent right to women's bodies. All my female friends share similar experiences on a regular basis."

Lloyd says, "Even more frightening is the fact that we hardly take street and sexual harassment seriously. Men will continue to grab and grope women in public because it is not a 'big deal' and is usually met with impunity at best and a 'forward' at worse by onlookers."

Lloyd has a big wish: "Perhaps I am asking too much, but one day I would like to be able to go through my day freely without being treated like a piece of meat to be positioned, handled and devoured." I doubt she or her children will live to see that day. Even if she is never touched or even spoken to suggestively, it is likely that men will still view her as a commodity to be positioned, handled and devoured, even if evolved social norms frown on it.

The sexual revolution did not liberate women from objectification and commodification. Women are seen in Western society as consumable meat. We, men, are the primary beneficiaries of the sexual revolution.

Men are socialised to see women as objects of their sexual gratification. And especially in our macho culture, which sees itself as threatened by 'growing homosexuality', some men are becoming even more aggressive in asserting their heterosexuality. Well, what one person calls sexism, others would celebrate as liberation. For London School of Economics Sociology Professor Catherine Hakim in her thought-provoking book, Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom (2011), even feminists have unwittingly sold out to patriarchal ideas about what is proper for women, and have ignored the power of erotic capital.

She says quite openly that women should exploit their sexual appeal, their charm and their erotic potential to gain advantage the same way people harness intellectual, economic and social capital. Sexual exchange for money is okay. Men should not get it free, she asserts boldly: "It is the male sex right ideology that leads some men to ague that the dancer at the strip club shouldn't need a fee to dance for them, that bar girls who genuinely like them should not expect a fee for their time, and that women who expect tips, gifts or fees for their companionship or sexual favours are dishonest and corrupt sluts. Young men often refuse to acknowledge that fair exchange of money (economic capital) for erotic capital. The male sex right ideology leads them to feel they should get what they want for free."

Hakim develops a scholarly and rigorously practical line of defence for women's use of erotic capital to get ahead. If people can get paid for their brains, why shouldn't they get paid for their bodies? In Hakim's view, women who choose to use erotic capital to marry rich men as a means of accumulating wealth or those who choose commercial sex work are no less honourable than those who go for PhDs. It is a form of patriarchy, paradoxically, she maintains, that looks down and demeans women who use their sexual appeal to get ahead. That shaming benefits men who feel they have a sense of entitlement to women's bodies - for which they should not pay.

That's not exactly what Karen Lloyd was talking about when she was protesting that her vagina was not public property, of course! The fact of the matter is that unequal relations between men and women are embedded in Western society. Indeed, Western culture proclaims the sovereignty of sex. Sexual desire trumps everything. One of the major philosophical planks of pro-homosexual ideology is the view that it would be cruel and inhumane for a person to suppress his sexual desire, even out of deference to some ethical norms. For many, that view is inherently, transparently flawed.

In a highly thoughtful section of the Pilling Report on Homosexuality to the Church of England (issued in November last year), the Rev Dr Jessica Martin says, "The last half a century or so has seen the growth of a perception of sexuality as the ultimate place of freedom and gift. In its purest and crudest form, such a philosophy argues that there are no other conditions attached to sexual encounter apart from those of the shared delight of the moment; that the experience of desire is its own sufficient reason for sexual encounter and that sexual intercourse is always fully private and has no necessary social outworkings."

This is a "seductive vision," she asserts. "The idolisation of desire is intimately connected to abuse because an overriding desire tends to be selfish rather than generous." Paedophiles who have an overwhelming desire for children - even their own - feel compelled, driven to fulfil that desire. I am amazed at the number of women I am meeting who tell of some experience with a trusted relative or family friend who sexually molested them while they were children.

It is this sovereignty of desire that leads some men to think that if they see a woman whom they want, they have a right to her, whether she wants them or not. Some rape, some seduce, many exploit. We live in a society that exploits women's bodies to make money. Our advertising and entertainment industries are built on a foundation of the objectification of women. Dancehall music is only one, though the most potent, feature here. But it's not just dancehall. It's soca, it's hip hop - it's soul.

Rarely are women seen as more than body parts.
Men will even use certain words to describe women's rear, breasts and
vagina in describing them. Rarely are women seen as persons with brains
and personalities. That's why many hold that it is not possible for men
and women to be just good friends without men eventually wanting to take
it further. We are socialised into seeing women as objects of sexual
desire.

Throwing out Christianity and prudishness is
one thing. Laughing at the Christian requirement of no sex before
marriage and none outside of it - a most difficult ethic to follow, I
confess - is one thing. But when sex becomes unhinged to commitment or
any kind of ethical moorings, where do we draw the
line?

Most people with very liberal views on sex still
expect their partners — even unmarried partners - to be faithful to
them. Atheists are incensed if their mates 'cheat' on them. Secular,
worldly women throw and smash things when they find out that their men
are cheating.

But why be shocked? It's just sex. If a
woman gives her man 'bun', what's stunning about her breaking free of
cultural norms about what is ladylike behaviour? Shouldn't her
liberation be celebrated? Feminists, atheists and anti-religious
progressives want their partners to resist sexual temptations and
control their desires. But why should those partners do so — out of some
outdated notion of monogamy, which is unnatural and imposed by
religious dogma?

Why should women expect that their
men, whom they might have stolen from other women, would not want to
have consensual sex with those women's 18-year-old daughters who grew up
with the men? They are breaking no law. Why shouldn't the man get some
reward for his investment (as he sees it)?

Sexual
harassment on our streets is just one aspect of a much larger
problem.

Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working
with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to
columns@gleanerjm.com and ianboyne1@yahoo.com.