Pulling Pigtails

So, my beard is now long enough that I can fork and braid it if I wish. I did so at the Highland Games, to the great pleasure of apparently everyone. Men who expressed this pleasure did so through a brotherly nod, or some encouraging words. (One fellow, whose beard was much longer than mine, said: "It's not a competition, it's a brotherhood.") Women who did so almost invariably came up and grabbed one of the forks, stroking and cooing over it.

Now of course this was all very pleasant. It did occur to the philosophical side of me that, were a strange man to grab a woman's plaited hair without first seeking permission, we would now consider it sexual assault. I conferred with a feminist friend of mine about this, and she explained that it's all about a power dynamic in which men have the power and women don't. I could of course stop being handled if I wished, so it's a display of my power that women should handle me if they want to. But women can't necessarily stop me, so it would be a display of my power if I were to do the same thing. She pointed out that women often fondle her plaits at work, whereas a man would never do so because it would be inappropriate as a display of power.

I'm wondering if the assumptions about power aren't baked in, though:

1) A man fondles a woman's hair: this shows male power, as the male is using his power to disregard the woman's wishes.

2) A man doesn't fondle the woman's hair: this shows male power, as the male is tacitly recognizing the inappropriateness of displaying his power over the woman.

3) A woman fondles a woman's hair: this shows male power, as it proves the tacit assumption that men have power over women in such a way that a woman's fondling is inoffensive whereas a man's would not be.

4) A woman fondles a man's hair: This shows male power, as he could stop them if he wanted to do so.

5) A woman doesn't fondle the man's hair: This shows male power, as he is too intimidating to be approached.

6) A woman doesn't fondle a woman's hair: Presumably, she just doesn't want to do so.

Couldn't it be that there is a corresponding female power, one that gives them license to touch others without permission in ways that men are simply forbidden to do? Or are we obligated to cash this out as five-out-of-six expressions of male oppression of women, even though four-out-of-six appear to be choices made by a woman?

Maybe we could even go so far as to suggest that the women who engage in this behavior are doing almost the same thing as the men who do so, and are neither morally better nor worse. That might be too uncomfortable to ponder.


E Hines said...

I wonder about the feminist underlying premise. Displays of power are not, of necessity, bad or good.

Eric Hines

jaed said...

I think it's simpler than that: men are generally physically stronger than women, and generally more physically aggressive, so there is at least the shadow of an implicit threat in a man touching a woman unasked, that is not present when a woman touches a man unasked: if the man decided to, he could do more than that and she could not necessarily stop him.

It's not that men or women are doing something morally different, but it may be symbolically different, at least if the two people don't know each other and therefore can't evaluate whether there actually might be any implicit threat.

I do think that framing this whole dynamic in terms of oppression is tendentious, and framing it as sexual assault is just silly. Women are more likely to be afraid of a strange man coming too close, or at least spooked by him, than vice versa, that's all.

Grim said...

So, what you're calling an implicit threat is countered, isn't it, by the implicit threat of police action? Isn't that the whole point of these laws re-framing the male touch as sexual assault? It's to use the state to provide women with a counter to a male capacity. It's to create a kind of equality over against a natural inequality. (Ironically, of course, it creates that kind of equality through another kind of inequality -- a completely unequally-enforced standard on physical touching.)

Now, again, in no way was I put off by all the attention -- it was pleasant and enjoyable. It's just so striking how different the standard is: what everyone takes as pleasant and fun (including me) in this case, is taken as quite plausibly criminal in the other case.

jaed said...

That may be the intent—to counter that shadow of a threat with a legal threat.

But what I'm talking about is subtle. The vast majority of such interactions, of course, include no actual threat at all because most men won't harm a woman. And law is a very crude tool; using it in this situation is going to make everyone uneasy and do a lot of social damage to the natural, friendly interactions between men and women. (Look at what hug-bans have done in primary schools. Bah.)

Courtesy is a much better solution here: men understand that a woman might feel a little spooked by such a touch, and therefore look for ways to ameliorate any such unpleasant feeling (not being too sudden, smiling and asking permission first. etc), and women understand this and look for ways to show they appreciate such courtesies. Subtle problems are met with subtle solutions, and everyone is reassured without having to close the door on simple pleasantries like stroking a man's interesting beard. But of course that takes good will on all sides, and it doesn't take many defectors to spoil it.

(Sigh. Now I've depressed myself.)

Anonymous said...

Assault is "harmful or offensive touching," or credible threat to do the same. It seems to me that some of our SJWs want to argue for different per se rules, based on a person's genetic makeup. This makes no sense to me, especially in a society that purports to treat all individual adults as equal before the law. It also reduces the amount of spontaneous touching, and we are all the poorer for it.

My preference is for women to learn how to say "No," and make it stick. That way, men have a very easy time telling what a given woman would find pleasant or offensive.

In my experience, there are very few men that have even a little interest in crossing a given woman's line. The few do exist, just as in any population, there will be a few criminals.

Courtesy is a wonderful tool in these social situations, because it provides so very many signals that people can use to make themselves agreeable, or soften a potential disagreement.


Grim said...

"This makes no sense to me, especially in a society that purports to treat all individual adults as equal before the law."

Good point. What strikes me about this case is that it seems like a kind of equality is being created by the inequality 'before the law,' though. I think it's one of those things that our society has contrived not to discuss honestly: this is what a lot of people really want, rather than a formal equality that permits an informal (but real) inequality of threat.

"It also reduces the amount of spontaneous touching, and we are all the poorer for it."

That's very true. A group of people that doesn't touch each other isn't really a community in an important way. We have some formalized touching that's considered appropriate -- handshakes and such -- but you are really at home with the people whose touch you welcome.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think jaed has it about right. The male assertion of power is based on biology. I do think it would get less clear with a larger or stronger woman who physically intruded on a man. This is done publicly for comic effect at times, but the shaming of the man, shy or young, can be real. The cultural assumption is that a man should want this attention. Not all do, for a half-dozen reasons. The return threat from the woman of legal sanction is real, but it is also somewhat of a nuclear option which she might hesitate to invoke. Her choices are less subtle. A man might read a woman's gesture of "That is a bit too much" and back off, clearly - but not obviously to others, with no loss of face for either. The artful sending and receiving of such signals is a sort of testing, not only for courtship but for intelligence, awareness, and character, and thus serves some purpose. Yet only for some. For those who are clumsier, they simply offend, or even frighten.

I tend to the social signalling of The Rules Are The Rules - unless you (male or female) are tuned in to when the rules might be broken.

raven said...

"It also reduces the amount of spontaneous touching, and we are all the poorer for it."

Given the hardware some are carrying, sometimes spontaneous hugging is a worry, depending on time and place....! It can really alter peoples viewpoints rapidly.

douglas said...

I don't think it odd, necessarily, that there is a desire to balance the power imbalance of physical power (however wrong headed I think using the law as the tool do so is). What gets me is that then the very same folks want to tell us women are the physical equal of men and should be allowed in the infantry... For instance.

Texan99 said...

The details may get confused, but the overall context is one of implicit physical threat. I might playfully cuff a man larger than myself, but I would never, ever think of doing so to a slight, ill, elderly man. It's just etiquette: not sending a message you don't want to send. In our culture, the gross assumption is that men are always up to a sexual encounter and women are always reluctant. A woman's flirting may be unwelcome or inappropriate, but will never trigger quite the intense unpleasant social dynamic that a man's unwelcome physical advances might. Men don't give 5 seconds thought in a lifetime to the danger of rape; women organize their lives around it.

Consider the social dynamics of picking up a check. In a group of rough-and-tumble power-hungry lawyers, the little contest that erupts is understand by all to be a game of oneupmanship, maybe friendly and maybe quite aggressive. They might all get quite ribald about it without causing any serious social dislocation. I would never engage in such a drama with someone I knew to be on a tight fixed income, because the message would be "I am powerful enough to do this but you aren't." Instead I would use indirection and wait for signs of consent; lacking consent I would drop my initiative and back off clearly and courteously.

Grim said...

"Men don't give 5 seconds thought in a lifetime to the danger of rape; women organize their lives around it."

I'm sure that's true, although I often think it's a fact that lacks context: while I never worry about being raped, I do organize my life around potential violence from other men to a greater degree than most women (e.g., to the degree of carrying physical objects about my person at all times in order to be prepared to repel such violence). It's also true, though, that I don't worry about women attacking me. Not that they have never; I've been physically attacked by women (especially drunken women) several times in my life. But I'm not worried about the possibility, and don't carry arms for the purpose of repelling them.

Still, given that all these facts are real and important, doesn't it call into question whether "equality before the law" is really the right standard? It seems as if the realities are so different that the inequality really is what is wanted, especially by the women. That being the case, why not just say so? "The law should recognize, as it often does practically, that men and women are quite different and have very different experiences of the world; the standards of law need to address those differences, such that equality of outcome in terms of reducing the threat men pose to women is more important than a formal equality of men and women such as you would get with a sex-blind law." That seems like what we really want, so why don't we just say that?

Texan99 said...

I have no idea what people often mean by equality before the law. It all depends on what the law says, doesn't it? If a law is written to apply to both men and women, it should apply to both of them; the woman shouldn't find, for instance, that she can't get a hearing but a man can (just as a poor person should be able to get a hearing as readily as a rich person). There may be a good reason to write a law so that it distinguishes between men and women--such as to take the risk of pregnancy into account. In that case, I'd like the distinction that's made to be based in something fair and rational, not someone's untested internal notions of what women probably are like, or what we think they should be like. It's a messy business of sorting that out, but the general principle is clear enough: reality testing instead of rigid a priori categories that prove immune to experience.

Ymar Sakar said...

The Japanese point of view is as detailed or logical as the feminist one, but more of a reconstructed 1950s US pov.

They have regulated and orthodox permission requests and providence, but the relationship is only verbal between two parties. The government or feminist power hierarchies, aren't one of those parties.

There may be a good reason to write a law so that it distinguishes between men and women--such as to take the risk of pregnancy into account.

The infamous used example, alimony payment.

There's no such thing as an individual being equal to the law or to society or the gov. There is such a thing as two parties treating each other as equals, or two parties under a powerful absolute leader and thus equal to each other under the leader.

The Japanese seem to treat power relationships as more like any personal relationship between two people. How close they are or what special privileges they give each other, is unique to their relationship. As an outsider, you are not given equal privileges or access.

But personally this kind of political evil Leftist conspiracy stuff, makes me prefer the simpler more direct solution to resolving conflict. Take a sword and chop down the problem, as Alexander did to the Gordian Knot. Problem solved.

If the issue is a lack of power or weakness, then the weak merely must become strong. That's all there is to. And no, you don't get strong by declaring yourself a victim or a vassal of the Leftist alliance.

Ymar Sakar said...

That seems like what we really want, so why don't we just say that?

Lucifer prefers deception and the righteous prefer honesty. One guess which one Leftists are with.

Power to dominate humans, requires deception to carry out and maintain. If they honest about why they sought power, it wouldn't matter what they said about gender laws.