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July 09, 2005

Trash talkin' at the aquarium

A while ago, someone asked what male privilege is. Sometimes, examples speak louder than definitions.

At first, I couldn't figure out why there were so many old geezers on the Stairmasters, or why everyone else in the gym was clustered down at the other end. About a minute into my workout, it became obvious. The fitness center is directly opposite the swimming pool, separated by a pane of glass. Olympic synchronized swimmers on one side, old geezers on the other.

As far as they were concerned, it was like being at the aquarium.

In between wheezes, four old, fat, bald stair climbers felt entitled to keep up a (very loud) running commentary about the bodies of the Canadian Olympic B team.

"I...(pant, pant) the other coach better."
"Her tits are too small."
"Yeah, but she's got a nice ass."
"She'd be pretty if she smiled more."

I was tempted to tell them that I preferred to see men without guts and back hair, like the guys on the elliptical trainers. Luckily I didn't, because the ring leader turned out to be married to someone from my mom's water aerobics class.

Turns out, trash talkin' at the aquarium is a trend.


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IMHO, it's a mistake to focus on how ugly the men were ("old, fat and bald") -- as if this compounded the offense. doing so implies that the men's actions wouldn't have been as bad if only they'd been better looking.

as if this compounded the offense.

Well, it does -- it's extra-pathetic and hypocritical for a bunch of out-of-shape geezers to talk smack about the bodies of Olympic athletes.

I guess I read this and wonder what is supposed to be done. What would end this?

WRT fat, at least they're doing something about it (they're on the stairmasters). On behalf of the old and the bald, thanks for telling us we're lesser beings than you youngsters. As the saying goes, a cat may look at a King.

I'd agree that that sort of vulgar public ogling is unattractive at any age.

Sorry, but explain a little slower here. Yes, these guys were being jerks, but what exactly is the "male privilege" here? Are women somehow prohibited from being jerks? Do women never notice men's bodies, or if noticing, not comment among themselves? Is the problem that they didn't care that someone was there to hear them? Or what?

Have pity on the poor insensate clowns.

They don't seem to be able to perceive that all persons of the female persuasion are beautiful by the virtue of being female.

Are women somehow prohibited from being jerks?

WEll, yeah, basically. When women behave in an overtly sexual manner, they get labeled sluts, and in general feel a level of social backlash that these guys will not.

That said, I think the main problem is the contemptuous attitude of the ogglers that is the problem, rather than simply oggling per se.

Even a cat can look at a queen, but the cat is in trouble if he says "the queen would be prettier if she smiled more."

Don't compound the offense by calling the hypocrites on their hypocrisy! Honor the male privilege not to be called on one's shit, for god's sake.

Are women somehow prohibited from being jerks?

Yes. I was informed today on my blog that I was completely unfuckable because I was angry about something infuriating. They are wrong, but they are using male privilege to intimidate me--my emotions should only confine to what men want to see.

Do women never notice men's bodies, or if noticing, not comment among themselves?

This is a huge taboo that makes most men freak out and most women too. So no, women are not allowed to portray ourselves as sexual beings, just objects.

Is the problem that they didn't care that someone was there to hear them?

Yes. Women can rest assured that criticizing a man for being an imperfect sex object will be met with criticism whereas a man will be so surprised to be criticized for it, he'll probably pass out.

Get it now?

WRT fat, at least they're doing something about it (they're on the stairmasters). On behalf of the old and the bald, thanks for telling us we're lesser beings than you youngsters.

Way to miss the point. God forbid someone point out the hypocrisy of a bunch of fat old hairy dudes commenting on the bodies of competitive swimmers.

God this is a peeve of mine. Below is an excerpt from The Hot Librarian that illustrates this pretty well. As a guy who lifts several times a week, and has done so for years, I have seen this type of scene countless times. "being at the aquarium" is exactly how guys at the gym act. And it's not just a couple bad apples. A LOT of men just seem to think this is acceptable. (Hence the term "male privilege" for all of you guys who aren't getting it) It's a fucking gym you retards, not a strip club. Knock it off. It's the worst when it's some poor high school girl. Being fifteen is awkward enough. She doesn't need a bunch of creepy bastards gluing their eyes to her tits the entire time she exercises.

And no, I have never seen the women in the gym act this way. Ever. A woman might glance at a guy, but that's it. Never the open staring, and I've yet to overhear any conversation between women about the men's bodies.

I didn't realize the classes would be held in this newly constructed classroom with glass walls on two sides so everyone in the gym would be able to watch the class in progress. And watch they did. Actually, I believe the correct terminology for what passersby did is "slack-jawed gaping."

As I was rocking my pelvis back and forth to the lilting vocal stylings of Loreena McKinnit, I began to second guess the wisdom of joining a class held in a glass room directly across from the powerlifters section of the gym. There were times when I thought the eyes of the 'roid freaks were going to break through the glass and physically violate us all. I've never been so vigorously eye-raped before in my life.

So, let me see if I have this straight.

Some men make lascivious comments in a gym, and are criticized for it.

Women, we are told, might do the same, except for fear of being criticized.

This, then, is "male privilege".

I submit that if you believe this behavior is improper, then these men are boors, but not privileged. If you believe this behavior is proper, and you engage in it and such a man is offended, then he is a hyprocrite, but not privileged. If, on the other hand, you hold your tongue only because you fear the reaction you'll get, then the only "privilege" these men have is being granted by none other than you yourself!

In other words, no, I still don't get it.

priv·i·lege   n.

    1. A special advantage, immunity, permission,
      right, or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual, class, or

So you see Eric, when males, and society at large, judge the objectification of women by men by a
different standard than the objectification of men by women, men can be said to
have "A special advantage, immunity, permission, right, or benefit" not afforded
to women. Or more succinctly,MALE PRIVILEGE.

Or, to put it another way...

The boys were being jackasses. Nobody called them on it. If they had been girls acting the same way, they would have gotten shit for it. That's male privilege in action.

It's not that boys get to do this cool thing that girls are socially forbidden from doing, it's that boys get to be assholes and get away with it. Which is a bloody common sort of privilege, so you really ought to learn to recognize it.

It is certainly not that 'Some men make lascivious comments in a gym, and are criticized for it'. Nobody criticized them for it until it showed up here. And this sort of thing is bloody common, it happens all the time, and almost never does anything more happen except the girls feel creeped out and don't say anything about it because... oops, if they bitch about it, they get people wondering why they're making a scene, as if it were somehow not normal to feel violated because some asshole took your excercise routine as his little soft-core porn experience.

I think I can understand the male privilege thing here. The part I am stumbling over is why the fact that the men were old, fat and bald has anything to do with it. Yes, it is hypocritical for unattractive men to make derogatory comments about the appearance of women, but if these men were slim, young and hairy would it be any less of a crime?

OK, I think I understand--being old, fat and bald has nothing to do with it, it is just turning the tables to make the point more vivid. But if that's not it, I'm lost.

The old, fat, and ugly thing is another example of male privilege in action, in so far as they feel free to appoint themselves beauty pagent judges knowing full well that they don't have to live up the standards they set on women.

It seems to me men might feel even more free to act like asses at the gym because the assumption is that women work out in order to please them. So they think that as we are engaged in a man-pleasing pasttime, that opens us up to being evaluated to see if we're doing a good job. Which of course, is ridiculous, since there a myriad of reasons women work out, and their sexual appeal to men is only one of them.

But I will say that even if you are engaging in an activity that is clearly a man-pleasing activity and nothing more (sexy clothes on date w/ boyfriend comes to mind), that doesn't mean that you are suddenly public property. Of course, men actually know this, because few will have the balls to gawk at or harass a woman who is accompanied by a man.

An old boyfriend made the astute observation once that men who gawk or make comments or otherwise make women feel uncomfortable are stone cold idiots from a behavioralist point of view, because they are punishing women for being sexy to them. If they like to see women dress hot or work out with abandon, their best bet is not to make women feel uncomfortable and less likely to do those things. Duh. But that just shows that this is an issue of privilege over sex, because the urge to feel superior overrules this commonsensical view of things.

"The boys were being jackasses. Nobody called them on it. If they had been girls acting the same way, they would have gotten shit for it. That's male privilege in action."

I'm dubious about women getting shit for it, at least in some circumstances.

Suppose a group of fat, old women on one side of the glass was talking about the butts and baskets of the men's water polo team on the other side. I think people would react with, at most, amusement.

Suppose a group of athletic young women was making crude comments about the fat, balding old men doing laps. I think people would believe the women were simply being unkind.

At least a few things seem to be interacting here:

The men's sexuality in the original example is taken seriously, in a way that the old women's (or very old men's) would likely not be.

The men's sexuality is taken to be threatening, in a way that the women's sexuality would not be.

The men's sexuality is seen as repulsive and inappropriate, because the men were unattractive, in a way that most women's would not be.

Again, the men were being jerks, because they are involving people around them in their sexual reactions, and similarly intruding on the privacy of the women. But none of this suggests their behavior as a clear example of something called "male privilege". (Maybe joking that Ginger looks like she likes the "money shot" would be a better example.)

I feel the need to comment on this issue, since for many years I was one of those girls being ogled...

The thing that always bothered me the most about that group of older gentlemen who toil in the fitness room, objectifying the athletes is this: When training for water sports, tight, revealing apparel is necessary. Just because those girls have to put on garments that leave little to the imagination doesn't give male observers the right to objectify them.

Having said that, there are many opportunities for ogling that go on at the gym. By both sexes. I believe that the male oglers are probably more frequent and vocal than their female counterparts, but the objectification surely goes both ways. However, the other thing I know about the gym is that if you are working really hard, you don't have much time to comment on your surroundings.

I currently train at a facility that works with a number of college level athletes and other serious sports enthusiasts. There are some women at my gym who do wear revealing clothing, and I will certainly admit that sometimes I am one of them (it's bloody hot when you're training really hard!). Bearing this in mind, I would certainly never get upset about a few looks my way, and a few looks is usually exactly what I get. The men at my gym, like myself, are all so focused on their own training that they don't have the time or energy to waste checking out their counterparts and commenting on their physical pros and cons.

Some might wonder what it is that I see as different between the men at 'the aquarium' and those at my gym. The athlete oglers at the public pool are objectifying women that are in training for a sport, and have no option when it comes to attire. The men who ogle at my gym are doing it with my knowledge and permission. I say permission because I do have choice in my gym attire. If I wear a low cut or tight fitting sports top, that is my choice, and I will therefore endure whatever objectification goes on. I can put on a baggy shirt and shorts if I choose, while the synchro girls cannot, and therein lies the difference.

On a more personal note, there is a second level to my disgust with men like the ones that Lindsay observed during her recent gym visit, and it has a lot to do with the hypocrisy that was already touched upon by others' comments. If these men have the time to leer at the athletes, they aren't working very hard (Perhaps we were offered a physical description of the culprits to better illustrate some similar point?). This leads me to believe that their intentions are less than commendable in regards to what motivates their gym visits. When I was a swimmer, the thing that drove me the most crazy about such men was that while they trifled around, lounging in the hot tub, dawdling in the lap lanes, and taking up machines that others could be putting to better use, I was working my ass off!

Gswift's comment that this was a gym and not a strip club brings up another way in which this is clearly about establishing dominion, and not simple sexual attraction.

These guys could have sought their pleasure any number of other places, strip clubs, magazines. There is a whole internet full of naked people. Plenty of women are willing to be oggled for very reasonable prices.

So why leer at the gym? Because it is a place where people think they won't be, or shouldn't be, subject to harassment. It's like those snowmobilers who can ride their contraptions almost anywhere else in the country but demand the right to do it in the great national, simply so they can say "yes, this is my territory."

Whenever I teach the Ring of Gyges story from Plato, someone makes a crack about turning invisible to visit women's locker rooms. I always ask "is there some shortage of ways to look at naked people I was unaware of?" That generally the last I hear of that joke.

I feel that I should address the notion of male privilege in this situation as well, since it seems to be the hot topic for debate this morning. I believe the privilege lies in the fact that society lets men get away with such behaviour. Most women in the same position, would likely not comment at all, and if they did, would not be so blatant about it. It is the societal acceptance of such overtly sexualized commentary and behaviour that makes this incident an example of male privilege. Gswift summarized it nicely above:

So you see Eric, when males, and society at large, judge the objectification of women by men by a different standard than the objectification of men by women, men can be said to have "A special advantage, immunity, permission, right, or benefit" not afforded to women. Or more succinctly,MALE PRIVILEGE

The fat, bald, and hairy description speaks to male privilege. It wouldn't have been any more acceptable for handsome men to make those comments.

My point is that these guys thought they were entitled to have this discussion out loud and in public.

It's astonishingly arrogant to draw attention to yourself by criticizing other people who are objectively much better than you are in the the domain of interest.

The gym geezers felt entitled to do exactly that. Why? Because they were a pack of guys who were accustomed to a certain level of deference or indulgence.

That's where the privilege came in.

Let's put ourselves in the position of these fat old men. They are not unlike waiters at an expensive dinner party. They are there but they're not invited. They can see but they can't touch. Doesn't sound like a position of privilege to me. In fact it sounds like a position of weakness, and they resort to the favorite weapon of the weak, commentary. They are not challenged for the same reason that it's awkward to tell someone their fly is open. It's embarrassing for everyone involved.

Ken, I dare you to be a woman for a day and then speak that nonsense about how male sexuality is demonized. It is threatening, yes, but that's a choice men make--a man is allowed not to be a threat if he chooses and women are trained to be kind and accomodating. Thus the "nice guys" syndrome of men who aren't vile rapists and expect to get fucked by supermodels as a show of gratitude from the entire female sex. But the ugly truth is that it's men, many if not most men, who choose to create a model of male sexuality that is threatening to women by haranguing, harassing, dominating, or standing by men who do all of the above.

I've said it one million times but it bears repeating--I cannot walk the 100 yards from my house to the corner store and back without getting yelled at by men who are "appreciating" my body. Since I refuse to curtail my freedom unduly, I have been harassed in a threatening way 5 times today. My crime was purchasing batteries and a 12 pack of beer because friends were coming over. I am not going to drive and I shouldn't have to. But not only is it a male privilege to threaten me by hanging out the window and yelling at me, it is the male privilege to downplay the fear that attends a woman's life when I come home and complain to male friends about my treatment. Male sexuality is threatening because men choose to scare women with it, day in and day out without relief.

As for the men being fat and feeling free to judge women by standards they won't hold themselves to, I have a good example. My boyfriend works in an all male blue collar enviroment where they spend a lot of time looking at pictures of women in magazines to kill time. One coworker of his is hugely fat and looked at a picture of Jennifer Lopez and declared that she had too big an ass. This guy is nicknamed Elk Ass because he is so big. His male privilege to pass judgement on a woman who is tiny and incredibly beautiful for not living up to a standard that is beyond anything he even dare hold himself to was so astounding that even his coworkers, used to taking advantage of the fact that they can demand that women be thin, hairless, and pulled together even as they are sorta stinky and hairy, were pissed off and told him to grow a brain.

A male friend of mine and I were talking about the Brazilian wax earlier, since a female friend of mine has started to do it and the whole humor of my story to him was how she does this like once a week but was astonished that I admit to owning a vibrator. This friend would never call himself a feminist but he immediately picked on why it's "bad" to buy a vibrator but not porn, lingerie, or get a Brazilian wax--the former are aimed at flattering or pleasing men. That is male privilege. If you don't see it at this point, you are being deliberately obtuse. If you need help, go to your bathroom and start counting how many bath products your wife/girlfriend uses compared to you.

Let's put ourselves in the position of these fat old men. They are not unlike waiters at an expensive dinner party. They are there but they're not invited.

The right to treat sexual activity involving women as a commodity that women cruelly withhold or generously give out, like it was cheese or beer or something, is male privilege. No one talks about the cock this way.

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