Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Nice ass!

by Emily Sullivan

In Sidewalk, Mitchell Duneier’s* book about the lives of book vendors on 6th Avenue, he devotes a chapter to interactional vandalism—the intentional breaking of social cues to undermine a system of inequality. He’s talking about the kinds of social entanglements we all—especially women—find ourselves in. Duneier’s point is that it is a power play—a way for men on the street to assert the only source of social power they have—their maleness. As a result, the women must face harassment and the resulting “white liberal guilt” of having to be rude to the men in return.

This led to a discussion about cat calling. While training as a runner in Phoenix, cat calls were a daily occurrence for my teammates and me. Many of the girls would scoff, but I never saw the problem. I appreciated the compliment, and didn’t give it a second thought—I wonder how many of the girls would smile if the rote reaction /isn’t /to scoff. This seems to be an attitude shared by my male friends—many of them said that if a woman yells out at him, he would be delightfully surprised. Does it expose men as seeing women as sex objects, and reinforce this view? Maybe. But reacting against cat calling does nothing to solve that issue. Men look at women, and women look at men—the difference between the licit and the illicit is spoken compliments. Given the number of terrible things men say to the women in their lives, and vice versa, a little bit of positivity never hurt anybody.

This is not to say that vulgarity or disrespect should be accepted by anyone. However, I like to think women have better things to do than worry about some guy on the street. Hell, the government wants to take power over our bodies, and our bosses still don’t care to pay us as much as a man. Given how hard so many of us work to get such nice asses, we should take those compliments in stride. And honestly, a man selling books on the street isn’t trying to undermine your status or assert his power as a man—he’s trying to get you to stop and buy his books.


*Mitchell Duneier is Department Representative for the Princeton Sociology Department, and co-teaches SOC 101.

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