...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Inquiring minds want to know

Last night around 9:30pm I was walking towards Ground Kontrol in Old Town, where my boyfriend's band was playing. As I crossed from Burnside to Couch, a man standing on the corner diagonal across the street attracted my attention. He spoke in a slow, heavily-lidded, stoned-sounding drawl, with audible ellipses between each word: "Hey...what do you think of...hardcore...radical....casual...sex?"

"Not into it," I responded cooly and continued walking.

"Yeah...not many people are..." he replied, in the exact same tone of voice, without missing a beat. "But when it works out...it's pretty cool."

I told Daniel about the encounter when I saw him later that night and we laughed about it. The funny thing was that the man's delivery was so strange and droll that his question came across as less of a proposition, and more a straightforward request for information: am I into hardcore...radical...casual...sex? "Maybe he was trying to proposition you, but because he was stoned it came across as just a regular question," Daniel suggested.

The distinction got me thinking about the different kinds of public comments men make about the bodies and sexualities of women. Like all women living in a misogynist society that objectifies women and commodifies women's bodies, I've experienced a range of different comments while walking around downtown Portland: the straight proposition ("I'd fuck you so hard"); the request for prurient information (above, but also the annoying and unsettling "So, are you married or what?" asked of me most recently by a middle-aged man on the bus after a few minutes of polite small talk); the sexual compliment paid without a proposition attached (a few weeks ago an African-American man asked if he could pay me a compliment, then told me, in slightly different language, that my ass compared favorably to that of most Caucuasion women). And, like all women living in misogynist societies, I've also been publically reprimanded by male strangers for failing to appear attractive and/or fuckable according to their exacting standards--part and parcel of living in a society that considers the bodies of women to be public property, and the sexual and personal habits of women open to public interrogation and judgment.

That said, I can't get too upset about the man's question: ""Hey...what do you think of...hardcore...radical....casual...sex?" Don't get me wrong: the fact that he would ask is absolutely antifeminist, and part of the overarching tradition of men as a class (note: not all men!) naming, commenting on, and judging the bodies and lives of women as a class. It's impossible to proposition a female stranger on the street without objectifying her, and I believe that objectification to be rooted in misogyny. At the same time, mostly I just find the exchange funny, and an amusing anecdote. And you know, maybe it's indicative of my innocence, or a failure of my imagination, but I don't really get the inclusion of "radical" in his question: the "casual" and the "hardcore" I understand, but what exactly is "radical" sex? (When I think of the words "radical" and "sex" together, the first name that comes to mind is Andrea Dworkin--and somehow, I don't think that man meant to reference her work.)