Dear Average Dudes: No, Conventionally Attractive Men Don’t Get a Pass When It Comes to Harassment or Assault
In the wake of all the recent sexual harassment and assault allegations in Hollywood and beyond, there’s been one disturbing idea lingering in the conversation. Some men have gotten it into their heads that the only reason women are coming out with these allegations is that the perpetrators aren’t hot. That if it were more attractive dudes doing the molesting, these women would be singing a different tune. Here’s why that’s a pile of horse shit.
Someone in my personal circle began a Facebook post regarding the sexual harassment allegations against Louis C.K. with this a couple of days ago: “I’m not saying Louie CK’s actions aren’t disgusting.. I’m just saying, if this were Channing Tatum, they wouldn’t be so angry about it.. Case in point, Louis was not asked to be in Magic Mike for obvious reasons. If Mr. Tatum were as creepy, I doubt anyone would complain.”
This line of thinking followed me into today, when I read something by John Ziegler over at Mediaite about “media’s new standards” following the Harvey Weinstein expose in The New York Times that recently opened the floodgates of women coming forward.
In an opinion piece that cares way more about male careers that have “been ruined” (passive voice, because men never ruin their careers through their own actions) than about female victims of confirmed sexual harassment and assault, Ziegler feels the need to mention that “Literally dozens of high-profile, almost exclusively unattractive white-male members of the Hollywood/Media elite, have been accused of various forms of heinous sexual abuse.”
Why does it matter that these men are “almost exclusively unattractive,” at least, according to the average-looking straight men describing them? Because seriously, it’s not women who are pointing out that these men are unattractive, it’s other men.
I have a theory: average-looking men see these men being accused as extensions of themselves. Just as, when anyone brings up sexism, there’s a contingent of men that will insist #NotAllMen, there are some men who see these serial harassers going down and think There, but for the grace of God, go I. Because they’re not seeing the behavior of these harassers and assaulters as very different from what they might do.
It’s why you’re hearing a lot of men asking lately “how are we supposed to flirt now?” Or, “should I just never tell any woman I’m attracted to her?” They genuinely see no difference between flirting and whipping your dick out to masturbate in front of someone while making it difficult for them to leave. If they did see the difference, there wouldn’t be so much confusion about what they should do right now.
The ever-brilliant Laurie Penny tackles this in a piece she wrote on Longreads recently called “The Unforgiving Minute,” about how men are going to have to get used to being uncomfortable for a little while, because they’re finally being forced to reckon with the consequences of behavior that was never okay, but that they’ve simply never been punished for in the past.
“Sex is not the problem, but for some people sexism itself has become eroticized, and that, yes, is a problem. ‘It’s not flirtation that any of us take issue with,’ said my best friend, late one night after another round of exhausting emotional work trying to shore up the shuddering self-image of the men we know so they don’t collapse on top of us. ‘It’s entitlement. Projection. Objectification. We know when we’re being dehumanized. Good flirting is the kind where they see us. They won’t know how to flirt the right way until they start unlearning how to look at us.’
“Many of the men I have talked to about this have begun of their own volition to speak about ‘no longer objectifying women.’ To wonder whether they should just stop looking at pretty women at all, if the act of desiring another person is itself violent. It’s very sad that that confusion has arisen; it should be possible to want someone without dehumanizing them. But we have apparently created a world where it is incredibly difficult for a man to desire a woman and treat her as a human being at the same time.
“So no, we are not trying to outlaw sexuality. We are trying to liberate it. You ask how the species is going to survive if we have to constantly check for consent before we get to the means of reproduction, but I promise you that the species has more pressing problems than that.”
I think this line bears repeating: We have apparently created a world where it is incredibly difficult for a man to desire a woman and treat her as a human being at the same time.
We raise boys and encourage men to value The Hunt. If a woman pursues him, or offers up sex, she’s desperate, ‘crazy,’ or immoral. But if you’re a man, feel free to be persistent and badger and push a woman into sex, That’s totally cool.
I’ve experienced both. I’ve flirted with dudes in bars and been like “hey, wanna get to it on the couch back there?” or some equivalent, and the dudes are like Whoa, no. They get all nervous and don’t know what to do with themselves. But when they want sex, when I’m minding my own business, they won’t leave me alone. My interest or desire, or that of any woman, doesn’t really factor into the equation. Obviously, they eventually want a woman to be interested, but they want the game first.
Men value what “doesn’t come easy” and that’s the ultimate problem. We teach men to treat women like prey. It’s all about conquest and power. They’re taught not to desire consent. Women are taught not to give it too easily. And then we wonder why we’re hearing so many stories about sexual assault and why we’re living with rape culture.
Men are very, very confused, because they see far too much of themselves in those accused. Which is why, when they see men like Weinstein or Louis C.K. being confronted with allegations of sexual misconduct that have been corroborated by several other victims and sources, to them it looks like “a witch hunt,” whereas to anyone else, and under any other circumstances, this kind of a tipping point confirms evidence of a serious, systemic problem.
To straight men, the worst thing in the world is women not wanting to sleep with them. To women, the worst thing in the world is being sexually harassed, assaulted, or abused by men. Hardly a fair or equal trade.
But no man wants to be seen as a harasser or rapist, and so they need an excuse to justify why these men, who are not really doing anything “that bad” are being persecuted so hard right now. And since most men are of average attractiveness (which is why it’s called ‘average’), it’s very easy for them to look at more attractive men and wallow in their own insecurities:
If I were THAT guy, I’d have it much easier. I mean THEY would. I mean, WEINSTEIN and C.K. would have it easier. Because we’re totally not talking about me. We’re talking about THOSE guys. But I’m just saying if
I they looked like Channing Tatum, the ladies would totally WANT me to masturbate in front of them at the office, or not let them leave the room while I tell them my sexual fantasies, or ask them to give me a massage while I’m naked during a business lunch.
Here’s the thing all you average-looking men out there need to understand about women who are attracted to men (oh yeah, and you need to remember that there are plenty of women who aren’t). Ready? Being desired by attractive men does not trump our desire to be treated like human beings. Being desired by men, period, is not the be-all and end-all of our existence, and hotness is not the free pass you think it is.
Because it isn’t just old, white men who have been accused of sexual harassment or assault: Casey Affleck, Kobe Bryant, Ben Affleck, R. Kelly, (any more Afflecks? No, but there’s a) Nate Parker, Ed Westwick. These are all men who are younger than Weinstein and C.K, and all have been considered “attractive” by women. Yet, we’re equally enraged and disgusted by their treatment of women. Go ahead and search their names in the search bar above. We’ve written several articles on most of them talking about how horrible, disgusting, and criminal they are for the things they’ve done.
Consider appropriateness. Are you at work, or at a social gathering? Do you have authority over her in her job or otherwise? Have you already asked her out once, and she said she wasn’t interested, but you’re having the sudden urge to try again? Not every situation is great for flirting, women don’t want to be flirted with in every moment, and there are some women that you should just leave alone entirely.
You are not entitled to women’s sexual attention. It is ours to give or not give, just as your sexual attention is yours to give or not give. You may ask (preferably in a way that doesn’t imply a negative outcome for us if we say no), but you need to respect whatever our answer is as legitimate, because we are human beings who have a right to our own desires and feelings.
It’s that very sense of entitlement, fueled by very similar feelings of insecurity, multiplied by a powerful position that has made these men do what they’ve done. Because as my Facebook friend said, “Louis was not asked to be in Magic Mike for obvious reasons.” True. He’s built his entire comedy career on the fact that he’s a schlub. But he hates it. He hates it so much that he needed to exert sexual dominance over as many women as possible to make himself feel better.
Mens’ desire is not more important than a woman’s safety or autonomy. As we continue to shine a light on sexual misconduct that has, for too long, been hidden, men should take this opportunity to figure out how else to handle their feelings of insecurity and fear. Because guess what? Women have them too, but we handle our shit.
We are not collectively responsible for being the receptacles for mens’ feelings. Women don’t exist for you.
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