Ah, Gropetown. Once a mere settlement at the border of Sexual Assault City and the Rape Culture territories, it is now a thriving tourist destination, populated by thousands of happy citizens! Thousands of happy citizens who want to grab your ass for no reason while you’re on your way home, that is.
My incomparable colleague Amanda Hess of the Washington City Paper’s The Sexist, of course, is the premier scholar of Gropetown and its mores, having published many a finding recently. Whereas I, myself, am but a person who has encountered the occasional grope! Together, in this very special edition of Sexist Beatdown, we shall endeavor to find some workable explanation for the widespread existence – and really rather appalling acceptance of – gropery in the public square. This week’s line-up of suspects? Law and Order: SVU, dudes with sexual-assault-tolerant dating insecurities, nice ladies who are scared to throw a punch like a nice lady sometimes oughtta, and a culture that not so long ago was cranking out lyrics like this to explain the complex female psyche:
When I hear the compliment’ry whistle
That greets my bikini by the sea,
I turn and I glower and I bristle,
But I’m happy to know the whistle’s meant for me!
Or, you know, there’s this gem:
My favorite part is when she talks about her job goals! But, yes, she is also thrilled about the boys whistling. THRILLED, I SAY! AS SHOULD YOU BE! PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN! ALTHOUGH HE IS CURRENTLY REACHING FOR YOUR BOOB!
Yes, everybody, it’s Musical-Theater-Inflicted Trauma Week at the Tiger Beatdown, for some reason. So, sing along, and we shall discuss!
SADY: well, HI! I am so excited to join you on the Train to Gropetown this evening!
AMANDA: Hi! The Train to Gropetown departs now.
SADY: Perhaps we should note that many ACTUAL gropings take place on trains, which is a bummer?Truly, Gropetown is a destination of the spirit, and not one of mere place and time.
AMANDA: Right. And that on these trains, and subway cars, and buses are dozens of other people who are not gropers or groping victims, but really just witnesses who are standing but feet away from a sexual assault. One thing I hear all the time is that sexual assault is so difficult to “prove” and to “deal with” because it happens in private, tucked away behind doors and in intimate relationships. But really, it happens all the time in front of people’s faces, too! And most people still don’t really give a shit about it.
SADY: Yes. Oddly, I think people have a problem conceptualizing public gropings as sexual assault – the same way they don’t think of street harassment as sexual harassment. It’s just supposed to be one of the many things that, as Ann-Margret would say, help you to Enjoy Being A Girl. [NOTE: This is incorrect. Doris Day FUCK! A combination of ladies who are both TOTALLY NOT DORIS DAY (although she did a fairly well-known version of the song) (also, would you mind checking out the above-linked YouTube video next to the other please, as they may help you to resolve the question of PRECISELY HOW SIMILAR two musical numbers can get?) would tell you to Enjoy Being a Girl. Ann-Margret would tell you that It's Lovely to Be a Woman. Both cite harassment as one of the more enjoyable perks of ladybeing, and are consequently wrong as all fuck. - Ed.] Like, there is a “Special Victims Unit” concept of sexual assault that most people have, the kind done by scary dudes for dark and wacky purposes – and then there’s getting your ass grabbed on the subway, which, CALM DOWN, sweetheart!
AMANDA: I, too, have noticed a big resistance to considering groping on the spectrum of sexual assault. Of course, I have all sorts of feminist conspiracy theories as to why that’s the case.
SADY: Ha. The BEST kind of conspiracy theories! But I honestly think it’s the same blanket denial of assault as reality that you find everywhere. Sexual assault is rare; therefore, if it’s common, it’s not sexual assault. I don’t know anyone who would sexually assault someone; therefore, if I know someone who would do this – or if I MYSELF would do this – it’s not sexual assault. I’ve never been sexually assaulted; therefore, if it happens to me, it’s not sexual assault. It’s a wonderful loop of logic that keeps anything from ever changing EVER!
AMANDA: Your arguments appear sound, forcing me to discredit you as a man-hating feminist. But seriously folks. One of the most interesting things I’ve discovered in doing this series is that a lot of women respond to being sexually assaulted by freezing and shutting up. But if you look at your other options—like, say, screaming—you find women who report being stared at like she’s an annoying bitch for screaming for no reason, in public.
SADY: Allow me to submit to you some anecdote as data, in lieu of an explanation for why this might be the case!
SADY: So: picture, if you will, Sady, a burly man-friend, and a not-at-all-burly lady friend walking up the stairs of the subway. The lady friend occupying the stair level in front of me, the gentleman and I behind. Lo and behold, I see before me a hand! And the hand is most definitely reaching out to grab – and subsequently grabbing – my friend’s ass. I freeze. The lady freezes. The dude who is with us keeps on a-walkin’ like it’s no big thing, but, whatever. After about 2 seconds, I grab the butt-fondling dude’s arm and shove him into the side of the stairs and yell at him, because, WHAT THE FUCK. But for a second there, nobody was prepared to deal with what was happening. And as soon as I took action, the first thing that came to my mind was, “Am I going to get in trouble for this?” Honestly, I think people are worried about getting in TROUBLE if they respond. I think that is part of the deal.
AMANDA: I actually have a request out to the D.C. police department addressing this very issue. I haven’t heard back from them yet. But my question was basically, “So, women want to know, if men touch them on the genitals, may they respond by punching the men in the face?” And they’ve been working on it for, like, a week. SO, surprise ending to that conundrum to be revealed later!
SADY: Hahaha. Well! I imagine it would take some time to think that one over! Except that is the thing. When you get grabbed, or someone is masturbating in your general direction on the subway, there’s no time to rifle through the bylaws. And I think you just freeze up because, what are you supposed to do?! There is no chapter in Miss Manners that tells you how to politely request that someone put his boner away! And there’s the possibility of retaliation, too. Like, I can’t tell you HOW many times a dude has gotten up in my face to be a dickhole, just if I ask him not to compliment my astounding jugs while I am WALKING, or whatever.
SADY: I KNOW. I am a total bitch; many a person on the streets of New York has confirmed this. Also, I am not in fact all that, and although they once thought I was attractive, further study has revealed that I am not so fucking hot as was once supposed.
AMANDA: And the scary thing is that real people—people who are not the scary dude who just yelled at you on the street—would probably agree with that sentiment.
SADY: Exactly. It’s the culture of tolerance around it that is the real psychedelic freakout bad trip of terror. Like, people seem to believe the phenomenon of groping to be HIGHLY COMICAL.
AMANDA: Or that grabbing a guy’s arm for touching your butt is such an overreaction! Silly, emotional women.
SADY: Or, for example, you can be telling a story about a guy who grabbed your boob in a bar, and male onlookers will weigh in to tell you that you have no idea how hard it is for the men, what with their having to initiate sexual encounters!
AMANDA: HAH. That one I haven’t heard! “You don’t understand—if I can’t just reach out and touch your butt, what am I supposed to do? Talk to you?”
SADY: I KNOW. Perhaps they feel that the ladies will appreciate their forthright natures! And I’m not entirely sure that this is all coming from guys who grab butt, either. I think these are non-grabbing guys who are just, like, “oh my God, if ladies are talking about how OTHER behavior is inappropriate, perhaps someday they might interpret MY PRESUMABLY DIFFERENT BEHAVIOR as inappropriate as well! And then I will not get laid! When clearly the priority here is for ladies to make it easier for me to get laid.”
AMANDA: By any means necessary. But if you end up not being able to get laid, hey—there are butts everywhere up for the grabbing.
SADY: Like, I don’t think we’re long past the stage when casually smacking a strange girl’s butt was considered a cute and roguish flirting maneuver, rather than a reason for that girl to methodically snap off your hand like the head on a Barbie doll. And I think that people for some reason still conceive of gropers as people trying to “flirt” who are awkward and inappropriate and Go Too Far. At least, some people. So for a girl to respond with anger rather than, I guess… sympathy? Dating tips? A welcoming smile? That is just SO CRUEL.
AMANDA: That’s the real crime. I mean, the other thing that has been striking to me is how open victims of groping are to consider how their groper feels. I’ve spoken with women at length about what they think was going on in that guy’s head when he rubbed his erect penis against her back, or whatever. You know—maybe it was an accident! Maybe he didn’t mean to, maybe he was abused, maybe he can’t connect with women, maybe they learned it from their dad, maybe they don’t have any other sort of social power and so they want to get it this way. Because they want to know why this happened to them. I seriously doubt that these poor, lost souls are giving the targets of their erections the same courtesy.
SADY: Yeah. I mean, the point at which you casually assault someone is the point at which we can determine, objectively, that you do not give a fuck about how that person feels. That’s kind of the rationale: “I want this, she has no right not to give me this, I will therefore have it without her permission. And who gives a fuck about consequences! I’m getting off at the next stop!” But that’s part of women being expected to bear the burden of empathy; the last thing you should do is be a person who doesn’t TRY to care, so even when people act in an uncaring way, you try to figure out motivations or whatever instead of just dealing with their actions. And that’s not necessarily a bad way to be, unless you’re in the presence of someone who takes advantage of it.
AMANDA: I’m not sure I have anything else to say about groping right now. I’ve been kind of hitting the groping sauce pretty hard lately.
SADY: Lay off the sauce! Perhaps you can get on the Job Discrimination Wagon! Or enroll in a program for Pick-Up-Artist Methadone! Truly, I think we have delved far enough into groping. And for this, and for your excellent coverage, I thank you.
AMANDA: Does the Train to Gropetown stop anywhere near my house?
SADY: Let us hope not. I am less than fond of their preferred local entertainment.