Friday, April 05, 2013

Still A Long Way To Go

Two very different stories demonstrate that, despite the enormous strides toward social equality in the United States over the past half-century, we still have a very long way to go.  And, no, this isn't about gay marriage. I think, like many others, it is far too early for supporters of marriage equality to fold up their tents and go home.  As the stories make clear, even those victories many thought complete are not.

First is the story out of Georgia about segregated proms.  A group of friends are complaining because they cannot attend the same prom and, because it's 2013, it might be a nice idea to integrate them.  Call me naive, but I was so appalled by the story when I read it, I quite literally was stumped as to how I felt.  I realize that behind the two proms exists a nagging fear of interracial dating, dancing, and because we all agree with Dorothy Parker's observation about dancing, sex.  Still and all, it's a prom.  A rite of passage for most high school students.  Trying to wrap my head around the excuses/rationale/reasons for such a thing made me sad and angry.  It's nice that it's kids at the high school involved who are pushing to get rid of the segregated proms.  It would be far more nice if there was no need to do so.

The other story is more a meta thing.  By now, most folks should be aware that some high school kid managed to get model Kate Upton to agree to attend his prom (speaking of proms . . .) by putting a video on YouTube in which he outlined all the reasons Upton wouldn't go and asking her anyway.  Now, it seems, Upton has managed politely to back out, for which I say, "Yea."  On Good Friday, Amanda Marcotte wrote a piece at Slate in which she made the point, according to the title of her article, that the kid in question wasn't being cute, but rather more than a little creepy.
Instead of applauding Davidson for this, adults should be appalled. All that's been taught here to young men is that they are entitled to women's attention simply because they ask for it. This lesson not only feeds the unjustified grievances of the Reddit users that Stoeffel describes as "tallying up women's socially obligatory acts of kindness." It also helps build the undercurrent of fear that many women, especially younger women, have to live with in their daily lives. This entitlement we teach men crops up all the time for women, and it's rarely as cute as a silly comedy video: When a man demands that you stop on the street to entertain his proposal of going back to his place and then follows you for blocks because you pretended not to hear him. When a rape victim is told that if she didn't want to have sex, she shouldn't have gone to the rapist's hotel room. When a woman files for a restraining order because she's afraid her abusive husband means it when he says that if he can't have her, no one can.
For Ms. Upton, as Marcotte notes in the prior paragraph, the entire situation was more than awkward; being a celebrity she was trapped in a situation with no good end-game.
Davidson's prom video put Upton in a no-win situation. Say yes, and you have to go through with this prom date that will probably be one of the most awkward and embarrassing nights of your life, where you have to socialize with teenagers while being paraded around like a show pony. Laugh at the obvious ridiculousness of this entire situation, and now you're a big old meanie-head. But what Upton chose to do, which is to let him down easy while pretending to be flattered, isn't really much better. Everyone knows she's just saying that. The lesson learned: You may be a rich and famous model, but any random man can, just by making a video, force you to do a little song and dance about how delightful his attentions are.
These things are neither remarkable nor even controversial.  "Don't be creepy," is a rule far too many young men don't learn.  Part of male privilege is assuming it's OK to act creepy because it isn't creepy to men.  This is made worse in a celebrity-mad society in which women, particularly models, are characters rather than people; characters who have to play certain roles including "being nice to not-famous people who can be kind of creepy".

Alas, these rather mundane observations - mundane, yet still important to make - are too much for some on the Perpetually Aggrieved Right.  For some reason, Marcotte's noting that a creepy act is creepy, and an example - yet again - of men believing they have the perpetual right to a woman's attention just because he noticed her is, in this case, wrong-wrong-wrong.  Why?

Like everything else on the right, the answer is the same: Because I say so.

It is with a sad shake of the head that I realize how much further we still have to go.

Virtual Tin Cup

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