Sunday, May 07, 2006

But, But....I Was Only Rubbing Your Arm!

Apparently some people are unsure about why one needs permission to touch my breast but not my arm. (hat tip to Pandagon)

Needless, to say, I don't understand why this is so terribly difficult for people to understand.

Maybe it will help these idiots if they realize that the two situations aren't always different, and that, yes, you can get in trouble for simply touching non-sexual parts of my body as well.

For example, I've noticed that guys (even those I barely know) feel perfectly free to put their hand on my back and "guide" me when I'm in their way in a crowded space and they are asking me to move.

Quite frankly, I find this even more offensive than the idiots who order me to smile if I don't happen to be walking around with a silly grin on my face at that exact moment. Even more than that - if it's co-workers that are doing this (and at times it is) it's definitely grounds for a sexual harrassment complaint, even in the absense of my asking them not to (no matter what the stupid policy says about my having to tell them the behavior is wrong first).

Why? Because they'd never think of doing that to their male co-workers, and they never do it to their male co-workers. It's the kind of gesture that you'd make to children, and it's insulting right off the bat. They shouldn't need this to be explained to them. Likewise, letting their hand rest on my shoulder could be considered sexual harrassment (irregardless of if I've complained before) depending on the manner of doing so and who they do (and don't do) it to. Why are these acts considered sexual harrassment? Because it's understood that even if the acts aren't explicitly sexual, they all stem from the attitude that women's bodies exist for men's use. With these gestures, my co-workers are saying that they have as much a right to "handle" me as I have when dealing with a two year-old who is wandering around the store by his or herself. The law, however, says that I have rights and responsibilities the two-year old does not have.

Switching back to sexual touching, one needs to ask permission for sex, but not to address someone or walk by them on the street. Thus, a tap on the shoulder and an accidental bump are not illegal, but touching that mimics or is normally considered a prelude to sex is illegal without permission. Like assault itself, it all has to to with the physical boundaries that we consider inalienable rights. If I can't kill you because I don't have the right to take your life, then I don't have the right to harm your body either. If I can't rape you because I don't have the right to make decisions about your body for you, then I can't touch you in a sexual way without your permission for the same reason. My arousal (or lack therof) is as irrelevant as your arousal (or lack therof).

There now, really, was that so difficult?

Well, apparently so, since Volokh thinks that can't really be the reason because we wouldn't punish someone who forced hugs on another person - despite their protests - as harshly as someone who touches another person sexually without their permission. Which is complete bullshit because most sexual harrassment policies do state that such scenarious are equal. In fact, most sexual harrrassment policies consider the former to be worse than the latter as long as the unwanted sexual touching is minor enough and an isolated incident. Yes, we are generally more pissed about an actual grab than a brush of the hand, and more pissed about unwanted touching of one's genitals than unwanted touching of one's breast. However, we're generally more pissed about murder than assault, and generally more pissed about beating someone up than a single punch, so, again, not getting the confusion here.

As for the other question someone brought up - why its's a separate category from simple assault - for the same damn reason fraud is different than theft - because they are different crimes and it doesn't make sense to pretend they are the same. It doesn't make sense in terms of sentencing and rehabilitation, it doesn't make sense in terms of writing laws to define what is a crime and what isn't.


belledame222 said...


Not that this would or should be the persuasive argument in itself, but as a corollary/observation: your shoulder is a relatively "armored" (armoring?) part of your body. People tap people on the shoulder not because someone wrote down "okay, shoulder-tapping: Not Sexist," but because it instinctively feels (I would argue, for most of us) relatively less invasive than touching a lot of other softer, squishier, more protected parts of the body. It's "outside," it's (relatively) hard and bony, and you can do it without getting too close or getting up in someone's face.

I am trying to imagine an equivalent to shoulder-tapping that would involve tapping someone on the tit, as an attention-getter, nothing more. I am having problems with it. Maybe it's just acculturation (would it be the same in a society that doesn't sexualize breasts quite so much?), but istm that it would be very hard to do this in any way that could be interpreted neutrally.

belledame222 said...

And if Volokh really believes what he's saying, I suggest that he go up to a perfect stranger, smile winningly, and very, very gently wrap his hand around their throat. Preferably in an airport or in front of a police station.

Mickle said...

Yes! which is why I freaked out so much when the guys at work put their hands on my neck. Hello! that's a very vunerable body part, people. (I, of course, was just being oversensitive when I made such a big deal about it - and there was probably something wrong with me as well.)

would it be the same in a society that doesn't sexualize breasts quite so much?

Yes, I think so, because while breasts are sexualized as much as they are because we live in a partiarchy, they are also sexualized to a certain extent simply because a lot of women's breasts are quite sensitive. As I wrote in my insanely long "Why Feminism?" rant one of the worst parts of having to get smushed into cars with my brother during the time he was still trying to spy on me was the fact that his arm would often brush the sensitive sides of my breasts. Ick.

Which I think, is part of what Volokh may be trying to get at, but even so, his argument is still so very stupid. If it were simply a matter of unintentional arousal, I'd just deal with it. It was the threat to my autonomy that scared me. Him accidentaly brushing the sides of my breasts was icky because being reminded of sex while sitting so close to him reminded me of the times he chose to disrespect my right to my own body and how vulnerable and powerless I was. It was not at all that I was embarassed that my body reacts whether I tell it to or not. That part of it was mostly just confusing at the time, and any embarassment that I had about such things was matched by my embarassment for having such feelings, ever - since, being a girl and all, I wasn't really supposed to have them.