A youtube video sparks a discussion about gender inequality, and I’m reminded that only women know what it’s like to be a woman
One evening, a group of three women and four men found ourselves drinking at my friend’s apartment in Chelsea after having enjoyed a pleasant dinner in the Lower East Side. Many of us were meeting one other for the first time– we were a relative pell-mell group, of different ages, professions, and ethnic backgrounds–yet we were having a terrific time.
Ron happened to be going on about a New Orleanean band whose hit solo was titled “Asses Everywhere”, and he pulled up a video of the band’s performance on his laptop. The video showed a large black man singing the aforementioned song while several large to medium sized women were gyrating their rears at the audience. So bent over were they that you couldn’t even see their backs, let alone their faces. The men, Ron, Brian, Saj and Paul chuckled with amusement. I, who had gotten up from the couch to see the video, had a visceral reaction of disgust: “Ugh,” I said, “that kind of crap makes me angry.” I resumed my seat on the couch. That might have been the end of that discussion. Ron might have muttered an apology and closed the laptop so as to not be offensive. But the alcohol facilitated free speech and Ron asked:
“Why does it make you angry?”
Because it’s wrong all over! I exclaimed- black people as over-sexual beings, women whose main assets are their asses, a song whose entire premise is a body part up for exploitation.
“Yes but why does it make you angry?” Ron insisted. “Its entertainment. The women are not dancing against their will. So what’s the problem?”
Then Saj asked: “Are you one of those women who are against porn and think it’s detrimental to society?”
There’s nothing like that question if you want to put someone on the spot.
“Listen, it’s not about whether they’re dancing up their against their will. It’s more about what prompts them to do it. Let’s just remember that men set the standard in our society for what’s considered sexy. So albeit they don’t have a gun to their heads forcing them to bend over in mini shorts, or forcing them to have on-camera sex wherein the male’s climax is the ultimate goal, they might be persuaded to do this because our male governed culture encourages them to behave this way in order to be liked.”
The men protested. Women don’t enjoy being sexy because men say they should, they enjoy it because it’s enjoyable. These women are liberated because they can go on stage and express their sexuality whereas they once didn’t have that kind of freedom.
Us women protested back: female liberation is about the right to vote, the right to have equal career opportunities, the right to choose her partner and to be intimate when she desires. It’s not about the right to be dancing on stage to a crowd of whooping men. And though there is sexual component to anyone’s freedom, let’s not make women’s liberation and independence an erotic fantasy of promiscuity please- you men have already reduced us into nothing but walking vaginas as it is.
We were not seeing eye to eye. Clearly they were not getting it– or perhaps we were not getting it?
“Is there any question that women are objectified?” Kate asked them, desperately seeking some common ground or clarification. No, but so are men, they argued, and they referenced posters that advertise men’s half naked, thin but toned bodies. There are a lot of them in NYC.
I almost threw my vodka-orange juice across the room.
“Let’s be clear about the difference between female and male directed antagonism. They are incomparable. Having the burden of an unrealistic body type ideal is not the same as being constantly conscientious–whether at a bar, on a date, on the street, in a park, in an open window apartment–that rape is a realistic and present threat. And more than just rape, women are at an exponentially higher risk of dying at the hand of male aggressor.” I didn’t tell them that this was coming from a girl who always preferred wearing sneakers or flats since she was little ‘just in case I have to run.’
How many times have I witnessed unsolicited and unwelcome remarks by men to women on the street, at a bus stop, in the subway–one man fondled himself in front of a female passenger and she ran away screaming. In Japan, they have an entire subway car for females only because the groping issue is so bad there. All that seems minor compared with cultures that approve genital mutilation, child brides, etc. Misogyny is not an abstract threat. It’s reality.
Yet the men we were with were offended that we women were offended with the video. They kept asking that just because they watched the video they are now potential rapists or condone violence against women? Ron, Raj and Paul are doctors. Brian is a television producer. All were either married or in serious relationships with women and though I was grateful that they felt comfortable enough to air their true opinions, I was upset. Forget the video–did even educated, cosmopolitain men believe that gender inequality had been eradicated, that a 21st woman has finally reached the station of a man, even it comes to basic personal safety?
“Well,” Ron said. “They’re performing tonight in Alphabet City. Shall we go see what it’s like for ourselves if we’re going to sit here and make a judgement?”
Kate, Alexandra and myself reluctantly agreed. We hopped in several cabs and made our way to see the infamous “Asses Everywhere” performance. We navigated through a colorful crowd on the sidewalk before heading down a dark stairway into a clammy brick building. Inside the club, we were surrounded by all sorts of men in sailor outfits, short shorts, dresses, belly shirts, wigs. It was drag night, and everyone there but us was gay. Then the New Orleanean quartet came pouncing on-stage.
“Asses everywhere! Asses, asses everywhere! Asses over here, asses over there!”
Despite the overload of asses, there was little sexual appeal to it at all. Ron, Saj, Paul and Brian were unexpectedly turned off, and you could see it in their faces; Kate, Alexandra and I found it mildly funny. Two of the dancers were men; one of them was rather large with daisy-dukes on. Although it wasn’t entirely devoid of sexuality, it wasn’t anything that you would equate with the act. It was a bit like watching an attractive person doing something gross. You kind of look, but don’t really want to. And you definitely don’t think about sex.
Had I misjudged the “Asses Everywhere” dance? Was I over-reacting? Should I admit that in fact, I can’t imagine anyone in the audience later using the images of those gyrating asses as a subconscious, subliminal justification for female mistreatment?
It was time to go. We all broke off to go to our respective dwelling places after heartfelt goodbyes. But Alexandra and myself, who live in Brooklyn, decided to accompany each other the subway. We even thought, maybe we should take a cab? And this proved my point: When all is said and done, Ron, Saj, Paul and Brian walked home by themselves devoid of fear, slightly tipsy, into the middle of the night. Us women do not have that luxury. We have our safety to think about.