Excerpts from the GLBT Center Lecture on Street Sexual Harassment and the Dyke experience. by Chavisa Woods
In conversations on the subject of gender, sex, sexuality and public interactions, when speaking with some seemingly liberal minded, artistically inclined, gay friendly heterosexual men, I have on more than one occasion come upon these general ideas and specific statements regarding the relationships of gender identity and gender relation.
1. Men’s sexual urges and desires are much stronger than women’s.
2. Testosterone is a sort of drug that affects sexual desire and ego in men in a way that women can never understand.
3. It takes a much larger amount of will power for a man to control his urges than it does for a woman to control hers.
4. Men’s urges are barbaric and primal. (implicitly excluding the primal from the feminine)
5. Most rapes occur because a woman is dressed provocatively. Most women who are raped were dressed provocatively when they were raped.
6. When upset, women cry, men kill.
7. I feel a sort of allegiance to other men and would not try to fuck their girlfriend, would not hit on her in front of her boyfriend. If a woman is with another woman, I see no real reason not to pursue that woman, or both women openly.
8. But you don’t look like a lesbian.
9. “Yeah, sure. My girlfriend likes women too. But it’s not the same thing. My desire for women is stronger than hers.”
10. Men are biologically more sexual than women. It is a scientific fact.
11. I think a lot of women don’t think they like being cat called, but when they get older, and it stops, they miss it.
12. And again. It is a scientific fact that male sexual desire is stronger than female sexual desire, which is a notion that runs through all of the statements.
The notion that it is a scientific fact that a woman’s sexual urges are not as strong as a man’s I find laughable, when taking into a consideration that for hundreds of years it was a scientific fact that women did not have orgasms. It seemed logical; the female orgasm was not needed for reproduction and women on the whole did not openly display strong sexuality, again for socio-psychological reasons. On the subject of scientific facts of biological sexuality I would also like to point out that the discovery of and research into the effects of estrogen began in the 1930’s, while the discovery and research of testosterone began in 1803.
When we approach something as interpersonal, psychological, sociological, and also biological, something as complex as sexual desire, it is inherently ruinous to approach the concept beginning with the question of strength. The question whose sexuality is stronger immediately mars and marks the deconstruction by implying that one side must ultimately take legitimacy over the other.
When using the question of strength, another problem arises. On what do you base the definition of strength when speaking of sexual desire? For too long it has been based on a simple fact of a physical urge, disregarding any notions of strong emotional or intellectual sexuality. A woman’s sexuality is therefore delegitimized as the emotional on the basis that the emotional is not linked to the instinctual, the primal, the physical.
This concept has no logical basis. Emotionality does stem from the instinctual and primal urges as much as the physical, although human emotions, over time have grown much more complex than animal emotion as we have become conscious of our emotions and are able to ask ourselves why we feel what we feel. Animals display a range of emotions too, albeit in a simplistic form; anger, guilt, sadness, playfulness, loyalty attraction, dislike, the need to nurture their young, fight, some species war and of coarse, the urge to reproduce. These all, at their base, are instinctual, simplistic emotional urges. Animals simply do not ask themselves why they feel these “emotions” and their emotions have remained basic, instinctual, less complex.
As the emotional sexual indicators have grown more complex in humans, so have physical sexual indicators. Thinness as a physically attractive concept is a very complex sexual indicator, as primaley, animalisticly, thinness would indicate sickness and weakness and make a female appear not to be a healthy mate or offspring bearer. In humans, typically, the woman is considered more attractive if she dresses colorfully, flamboyantly, showing off her body, wearing bright colors, flowers, make up etc. In most animals we find it is the males who display the flamboyant dress, and coloring, large feathers, bright reds and greens in lizards, birds and fish. Although among mammals the sexes are more homogenous. So even this idea of basic physical attraction in humans as purely primal and simple, does not take into consideration that human physical attraction, however immediate it may seem, is a very complex physiological process influenced by a societal evolution, that is now actually as far divided from animal territory as the emotional sexual response.
Also, I would like not to exclude the possibility that women’s physical sexual desire and enjoyment is as physically strong as a man’s, but that we process it, communicate it and act upon it differently, for biological, and socio- psychological reasons. This possibility cannot be overlooked. But it has been for generations. And that possibility many men still find laughable, and most likely threatening.
I can’t think of any other such marginalizing and outdated concept that is so widely accepted about a group of people in mainstream sociality as the conceit that a man’s sexual urges are overall, inherently, biologically STRONGER than a woman’s.
Again, this simple concept and the use of the idea of stronger is what inherently infects our idea of sexual desires. Exactly how the biology affects an individuals sexual desire is complex, may never be fully determined and shifts depending upon the psychology of the individual. I will say that a man’s biological make up is obviously different from a woman’s. And many studies have shown, or lead to show that a man’s sexuality and ability to enjoy sex is based more on basic physicality than a woman’s. But this idea that that basic physicality is more primal, more animalistic, again excluding or even neutralizing the role of female animal sexuality in nature, gives legitimacy to men over women as sexual creatures and takes a very naive and narrow view of nature, animal female sexuality and sexuality in general.
This concept seems to me to be not so different from the concept that blacks are biologically inclined to have better rhythm, be more sexual, violent or less intellectual due to the effects of melatonin.
Why does all of this matter?
This pervasive idea that a man’s sexuality is stronger, uncontrollable, is what allows men a sort of out, an excuse if you will to sexually harass and assault women on a daily basis with no danger of retribution. If this idea were not accepted, at least subconsciously by most of the population, would it be common place for an onlooker to take no action, to walk by as if nothing were happening, as a woman is being cat called, harassed and harangued? I don’t think so.
I live in Bedstuy Brooklyn. Although I encounter sexual harassment, cat calling etc, in every neighborhood, in this neighborhood, the level of aggression and frequency of cat calling is noticeably higher in my neighborhood. I am not just called out as a dyke and as a woman; I am called out as a white woman. Men have yelled terms like snow bunny, snowflake, white bitch, white trash whore tap that white ass, as I walk by, and when I pass without acknowledging them, I am a white trash bitch, just a white bitch, and all sorts of other things.
On the surface this appears to be a racial and class issue. On some level it is. The subconscious need to subvert one’s own subjugation by subjugating another minority. But at it core it is definitively a sexist issue. These men see a white person as a representation of the former master and/or present oppressor; I have no doubt, and this feeling is not unfounded. But I have walked down these same streets with my white male friends in complete peace, while when I walk down the street with my female friends and my partner, it never fails to occur. Ultimately, I have concluded that these men view white women as white man’s property. Though they dare not “fuck with the master” in a public setting, they have no problem fucking with what is viewed as his property. The problem comes from viewing women, all women as someone’s property.
I do not eman to imply that these men do not also harangue and harass women of color. Of coarse they do. I’ve seen it. This is simply my experience.
The breaker came for me two weeks ago, when the cat calling, which I have always understood not as a sexual act, but a violent act, an act of aggression took on the form of full-blown assault. My girlfriend and I were walking down the street on a Sunday morning, heading to the deli on our block to get a bagel, and a man walked by, without saying a word and punched my partner in her stomach.
He then went into the liquor store, bought a bottle of gin got into his car and sped away. I had my phone out to call the police, bit we were shocked and didn’t get his license number. There were other people on the street who had seen it. They did nothing except continue walking. One homeless man showed some sympathy, saying he had seen what had happened and was sorry. As we were speaking to this man and visibly upset, two other men dressed in their Sunday best walked by us and said flirtatiously, “good morning lovely ladies.” When we didn’t respond they scoffed and glared at us. I felt like was in a war zone, like I was possibly even a initiating the war, just by walking down the sidewalk without a man.
In one of her earlier poems, Adrian rich wrote that walking down the street visibly pregnant, was the first time in her life that she did not feel guilty walking alone as a woman.
That describes the feeling well. What are we guilty of? Of being a woman, alone or without a man. We are still guilty of being women un-owned by a man.
So dykes must be doubly guilty. We are not owned by men, some of us, to play with the term, are owned by and owned other women.
Now comes the issue of the dyke experience of harassment. I have been told by straight women, not to get so upset about cat calling. Some have even looked at me as though I was bragging when I complained about sexual harassment. And again I have heard from str8 men that they believe, while it annoys women, they miss it when they get older and cat calling ceases- That they worry that men no longer find them attractive.
I am not concerned with men finding me attractive. When I am walking down the street holding hands with my girlfriend and a man calls to us and implies that he would like to join us, I feel, not complimented. I feel “emasculated;’ for lack of a better term, humiliated, homicidal.
You know the term can’t live with them, can’t live without them? I can live without them.
It is not only in the street that men invade my relationship, but in everyday conversation, at social functions, gallery openings concerts, etc. Men see no problem flirting with a woman who is in a relationship with another woman in front of the partner, when, If one of those women were male, they would never dare to do so. After being harassed on a beach, I spoke to a man and his wife who had witnessed the harassment and was concerned, but ultimately his concern veered into this mind boggling statement. “Well, you have to be careful, you are three women alone.” I was on the beach with two other female friends. Now I have to ask you, how is it possible for us to have been alone when we were three people together? This implies that all women are alone without men. And it was not the first time I have heard such statements.
Group discussion began
Women were asked
How many have been sexually harassed? All
How many view cat-calling as sexual harassment? All
How many of you have been physically assaulted: over 80%
Sexually assaulted: Over 80%
Raped: Many woman shared stories, one I have heard too often from lesbians, being raped by a casual acquaintance who claimed he was going to “fuck her straight.
One woman spoke of cat calling, ‘” I feel powerless. I shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of aggression every day of my life. I feel like I have my anger under control, and then, I don’t know, I feel like someday I might just freak out, explode and hurt someone, and that one guy is going to pay for every day, of all these years, of all these other men…”
( I looked for statistics outlining the percentage of women raped who identify as lesbian, or percentages of lesbians who have been sexually assaulted. As of yet, i have found no statistics on that. If anyone knows where I might let me know)
· One in 4 girls are sexually assaulted by the age 18
· Of adult American women who are raped, 31.5 percent are physically injured, but only 35.6% of those who are injured received medical care.
· According to a study conducted by the National Victim Center, 1.3 women (age 18 and over) in the United States are forcibly raped each minute. That translates to 78 an hour, 1,871 per day, or 683,000 per year.
· According to the U.S. Department of Justice, an estimated 91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are female and 9% are male.
· Rape or sexual assault was the violent crime least often reported/ Only 16% of rapes are ever reported to the police.
· 7.7% of college men reported perpetrating aggressive behavior which met the legal definition of rape.
· The rate of rapes and sexual assaults against lesbian and gays rose 13% nationally in 1995-1996, approximately twice the 6% rate for all violent crimes.
· 16% of male students surveyed by the Ms. Foundation who had committed rape, and 10% of those who attempted a rape, took part in episodes involving multiple perpetrators.
-1 in 15 rape victims contracts a sexually transmitted disease as a result of being raped. 1 in 15 rape victims becomes pregnant as a result of being raped. (Koss, Woodruff & Koss, 1990, A Criminological Study.)
Discussed means of activism. This recent Trail was brought up. The case of the new Jersey four. (below)
Discussion lead to why this case has not had any real attention. Conclusion, because these were four black women, who were lesbians.
Many women in the room voiced their disappointment with the gay male community for not acting in solidarity with lesbian problems, when many lesbians have devoted much of their time as activists to issues directly affecting gay males. Women are harassed in the street as well, beaten and killed, but more often raped or threatened. They discussed the role of feminism in the lesbian community and the need for a greater understanding of feminist ideas.
Trial case details below:
ATTACK OF THE KILLER LESBIAN GANGS ( as Bill Oreily put it)
“Or they defended themselves so you put them in jail.”
On August 18th, 2006 seven young African American lesbians (ranging from 19-30 years old) from New Jersey were verbally threatened, sexually harassed, and physically attacked by a twenty-nine year old man as they walked down the street in the West Village of New York City (the West Village is “the” gay spot in NYC. It actually pre-dates San Francisco as the ‘gay meca’ & is where queer youth from all over the country come to when they are ostracized from their communities. It is the site of the famous “Stonewall Riots” which sparked the gay rights movement in the late 60′s. And currently, 40% of the homeless people in the West Village are queer youth of color).
The man, Dwayne Buckle, approached the girls/ women saying he wanted to “get some of that” pointing Patreese Johnson’s vagina (Patreese was 19, but she looks 12). She said she was gay & not interested in men, in fact was arm & arm with another girl. He proceeded to tell them he would “fuck them all straight,” he said they were “nasty” and many other sexually assaulting and homophobic slurs.
They responded to him verbally . He flicked his cigarette at them & then spit in Renata Hill’s face. She spit back. He then punched Venice Brown in the face. From there a fight broke out. The girls would try to get him off one person & he would grab another. He pulled dreadlocks straight out of a girl’s scalp, extensions out of two others & chocked two of them until they changed color in the face.
Two men standing by jumped in to defend the girls. One took off his belt & whipped him repeatedly in the head with his belt buckle. The second guy is thought, by some to have stabbed him in the stomach. The attacker was allegedly stabbed in the stomach, and spent five days in the hospital with no long-term wounds. When these two men joined the fight, the women were able to get away. At one point on the surveillance (there were two cameras that caught different parts of the fight on tape) camera you see the girls walking away & the man Buckle waving hair he pulled out of their head at them & following after them for a moment.
The police came to the scene. The women had entered a Mcdonald’s a couple of blocks away. The police arrested the women.
The 7 women were initially charged with attempted murder. Those charges were dropped, but they were all charged and convicted with Gang Assault in the Second Degree and then various degrees of Assault (which are all felony convictions). Three accepted a guilty plea bargain and received six-months & five years probation. The other four, who became known as the NJ4, plead not-guilty and received sentences ranging from 3.5, 5, 8, and 11 years (Terrain Dandridge, Venice Brown, Renata Hill, Patreese Johnson). The two men who jumped into the fight were never looked for nor questioned.
The man who initially harassed them is charging that the girls took part in hate crime against straight men, and has a website and organization which now collects donations to prevent hate crime against straight men.
The media coverage was outrageous. Everyone from the NY Times, Bill O’Reilly, The Daily Post, the Washington Post, etc, had headlines ranging from, “Attack of the Killer lesbians,” “Petit But Ornery Lesbians Stab Admirer,” “Lesbian Gangs are taking over the U.S.” “Growling Lesbians,” “Wolf Pack of Lesbians,” etc. The media was blatantly homophobic, racist, sexist and classist. They used criminalizing language and likened them to animals, using only the picture of one of the butch lesbians in all of the papers. They also questioned “if they could even afford to be in NYC”.
For more info visit http://www.myspace.com/isupportthenj4