Freedom to Annoy


How often it happens that social attitudes swing like a pendulum from one extreme to another.  The child who was spanked, chooses not to spank their offspring — making a statement against their parents.  An industry that produces miniskirts one year puts out maxi-dresses the next.  Mens suits favor wide lapels one year and narrow lapels the next. The child who lived in a home with scant resources is want to live as extravagant a life as possible. Trends do keep us on our toes.

From time to time I have chosen to write about male/female relations.  I seems bizarre to me that men treat 1/2 of the human population as if they were some kind of undesirable minority to be victimized and taken advantage of.  For those of you who don’t know, I spend the better part of 5 years in my photo studio shooting discreet nudes. Surely, if there is a circumstance where the possibility of treating another human insensitively exists, it’s going to be while one party is fully clothed and the other party isn’t wearing a stitch. To say that I was extremely careful about how I dealt with my models — male and female — would be an understatement.

Consequently, the question: “how do you treat other people sensitively” has great meaning to me. I took extraordinary steps to make sure that the women & men I was working with felt comfortable in what could be a very uncomfortable situation. I think I succeeded because I’m still friends with most of my former models. But I have to say that after having been in that situation I am befuddled by some of the things I see and hear in public discourse.

At the end of this blog I am reposting a letter was published January 9, 2018 in Le Monde.  I apologize for the translation, it’s by Google and there are some choppy bits — but I wanted to use it to illustrate a point.  I should mention as well,that Catherine Deneuve — who was a signatory to the original letter has since apologized to women who have suffered the humiliation and violation of rape.  In her apology she was quick to note that her apology was to women who had been through these things — and not to anyone else. I think that is a point well made.

Subsequent to Deneuve’s apology none other than Brigitte Bardot has called out the #METOO movement:

“Veteran French actress Brigitte Bardot has dismissed actresses who have commented on sexual harassment via the #MeToo movement as “hypocritical”. The star was asked in an interview with French magazine Paris Match what she thought of actresses denouncing harassment in the film industry. “In the vast majority of cases they are being hypocritical, ridiculous, uninteresting,” the 83-year-old said. “There are many actresses who flirt with producers in order to get a role.” She added: “Then, in order to be talked about, they will say they have been harassed. In reality, rather than benefiting them, it harms them.” “

— BBC News January 18, 2018

The fact that there is disagreement among women — particularly women who are in an industry that is particularly prone to harassment makes the point I want to think about this morning.

I suppose it was predictable the letter would produce a violent reaction — both supporters of #metoo and opponents of #metoo — because the “thing” about trending movements is that too often people don’t listen to what is being said, or even have an idea of what the movement is really all about.

Instead they react from their gut to snippets out of context.  Or to their imagination of what they think the another party is saying — never having actually listened to an opposing point of view and given it some thought. On a fundamental level huge public statements aren’t what it takes to make lasting change. They are soundbites.  And too many people make their public statements to gain a little notoriety for themselves that has nothing to do with the topic on which they are commenting — no more than flirting to get a role is seen as anything wrong when that is just sort of the inverse of sexual harassment.

But what bothers me is that the real problem is ignored because of all the public posturing.  Sexual harassment in the workplace is but the tip of the mistreatment-of-women iceberg.

There are a lot of marriages (and affairs) that begin in the workplace. I’m not sure there will ever be a way of stopping flirting in the workplace.  Drawing a proscribed line around clumsy flirtation in the name of stopping sexual harassment is doomed to failure. The instinct to procreate isn’t going to be stifled that easily. We tried (in this country) to ban alcohol and we all know how that turned out.  Banning behavior aimed at the propagation of the species isn’t going to be any more successful.  Men and women can be very clumsy about flirtation;  I know I was for most of my life — probably still am.

But it’s abuse we are talking about, right? Stepping over the line. It ought to be obvious that you don’t go around putting your hands on people — I would never touch a model in the studio — and yet in a social setting, among people I’ve known for years a hug,  or a pat on the shoulder/hand are so much a part of the culture I have been part of that I wonder what I would do if I was 20 instead of 68.  Of course you can ask.  Or you can watch the other person’s eyes and demeanor for clues as to whether your friendliness is welcome or not. I’ve been in enough situations to know that women can telegraph the fact that you’re overstepping their comfort zone without saying a word.

Personally, I have no idea why a woman would choose to wear something to work that exposes most of her cleavage, or a dress with a hem that’s nearly up to her hoo-ha.  I’m a guy, I was accustomed to going to work in long trousers, a long sleeve shirt, a tie, dress shoes, socks and a suit coat or sport coat.  To me that was “business dress.”  For my gender.  I never paid a lot of attention to other men — they too were covered to the hilt, as it were, with clothing.  Women, not so much.

Most of my working life I was not in an office setting.  For a few years I did spend my working hours in an office, and I can guarantee that all the men, myself included, spent more time looking at women than men. Typically they offered more interesting viewing:  to be blunt — they showed off more.  And no one on this earth can tell me that women are not aware of the fact that regardless of what they say about who they dress for men, they are aware of the reaction they produce. Much of the time they are glad to reap the results:  after all, it’s always ladies night at the bar, not gentleman’ night, now isn’t it?  Often, women aren’t afraid to use their looks to their advantage.  So innocent protests about whether it should matter what someone is wearing are blatantly dishonest.  If you know people are going to treat you differently because of how you dress, then dressing that way isn’t as irrelevant as you’d like to make it sound.  You can’t both garner the benefits and complain about the consequences at the same time.

My point is simply this.  You can go ahead and do whatever you want whenever you want.  That’s your free choice.  And people — men and women — are supposed to behave in a respectful manner and not to abuse you — male or female, young or old, rich or poor.  But I’ll bet that many women will be careful to park in a well lit part of the parking structure; and that there are parts of town they may not frequent; they will avoid certain employees in the company who freak them out…. and yet they truly believe that it’s a good idea to wear things that they can predict will draw attention to themselves.  If in fact drawing attention to themselves is not the reason.  It seems to me that’s not a very smart move because not everyone is always going to do what they are supposed to.  Doesn’t it make a little bit of sense to be prudent in one’s decisions?

The Le Monde letter makes the point that you can’t outlaw the right to annoy someone.  Human behavior is not always logical/rational/well thought out.  We all do things that we ought not, from time to time.  From speeding in an automobile to skipping ahead in a queue, failing to own up to the incorrect change a cashier gave you, or shoplifting something for kicks — humans just do stupid stuff from time to time. Guys are going to annoy women; just as women are going to annoy guys — often for very different reasons but the fact is the net result is the same.  Yeah — it’s wrong.  But does anyone really think that they are going to push public behavior to the point that an occasional annoyance doesn’t occur?  Or to think that every annoyance deserves legal punishment?

I should not have to say this, but you realize I am not talking about illegal activity. I’m not encouraging sexual harassment — that is wrong, all the time, every time.  But I do think there’s a difference between harassment and stupid behavior.  As a guy who grew up as the odd duck in his social group I’m here to say that embarrassing oneself in public isn’t all that hard to do.  I have long said I am Socially Obtuse.  I don’t alway see the social cues others seem to be aware of.  So I can understand how people make mistakes that they certainly don’t intend the way they are taken; in many areas of life — not just how you treat men or women.

One point I thought the letter made was that everything that happens does not make a person a victim.  Most of the time we have no problem recognizing the difference between playful interchange and sexual harassment.  Sometimes it doesn’t even reach the level of flirting — sometimes people are just being clever or witty — not everything is the world relates to your genitals.

I wish there were more public discussion about what people want in the workplace. Censored stories about events from years ago aren’t particularly helpful.  Yes, equal pay in the workplace is a real goal.  Fair treatment is a fair goal.  But I’m not sure that the person who calls everyone of the opposite sex sweetie is “harassing” anyone — they are being inappropriate.  And as someone who has been socially obtuse all my lifetime I understand that inappropriate happens.  Some inappropriate behavior you’re going to effectively change; but I doubt very much you’ll ever wipe it out — no more than you’ll wipe out idioms from the English Language or dialects.  A part of our behavior IS idiom. We all say and do things that don’t mean the dictionary definition of the words we use.

We have been retired for 6 years now.  For 20 years before that I was either self-employed or working outside an office setting with any significant number of women.  At the time Peggy would come home with information from her place of employment about sensitivity training, and equal rights in the workplace and on more than one occasion we talked about the difficulty in knowing what is expected or forbidden.  It seemed as if the metaphorical goalposts kept moving — and that was as an outside observer who was not in the situation.  Would I have understood better if I was in the situation?  I have no idea.  But it’s not a new situation and it’s not going to go away any time soon.

I’m glad people are talking about the proverbial elephants in the room.  It helps to acknowledge them.  How to deal with the elephant once you have acknowledged it’s existence may not be easy, but you’ll never accomplish anything until you say, “Oh Look — there’s an elephant!”


Here is the article/letter:

“We defend the freedom to annoy, essential to sexual freedom”

In an article in “World”, a group of 100 women, Catherine Millet, Ingrid Caven and Catherine Deneuve, affirms its rejection of a feminism that expresses “hatred of men.”

Rape is a crime. But insistent or awkward flirting is not a crime, nor is gallantry macho aggression.

Following the Weinstein case a legitimate awareness of sexual violence exerted on women occurred, especially in the workplace, where some men abuse their power. It was necessary. But this speech today release turns into its opposite: we are talking intimate as it should, to silence the angry, and those who refuse to comply with such injunctions are regarded as traitors and accomplices!

Now this is the own of Puritanism than to borrow, on behalf of an alleged general good, the arguments of women’s protection and empowerment for better chain them to an eternal status of victims, poor little things under the influence of demons male chauvinists, like old times of witchcraft.

Accusations and indictments

Indeed, #metoo resulted in the press and on social networks accusations a campaign and put in charge of public individuals that unintentionally leaves them the option or respond or defend themselves, have been exactly on the same plane as sex offenders. This summary justice already has its victims, men punished in the exercise of their profession, forced to resign, etc., while they were only fault that he hit one knee, tried to steal a kiss, spoke of things “intimate” during a business dinner or to have sent messages of a sexual nature to a woman for whom the attraction was not mutual.

This fever to send the “pigs” to slaughter, far from helping women empower themselves, actually serves the interests of the enemies of sexual freedom, religious extremists, the worst reactionaries and those who believe in the name of a substantial conception of good and Victorian morality that goes with it, that women are beings “apart”, children in adult face, demanding to be protected.

In front, the men were ordered to beat their breasts and find, deep in their retrospective consciousness, “inappropriate behavior” they could have had here are ten, twenty or thirty years, and they should repent. The public confession, the incursion of self-appointed attorneys in the private sphere, that which installs as a climate of totalitarian society.

The wave of purification seems to know no limits. Here we censor a nude by Egon Schiele on a poster; here called the withdrawal of a painting by Balthus museum on the grounds that it would be an apology for pedophilia; in the confusion of the man and the work, asked the prohibition of retrospective Roman Polanski at the Cinematheque and obtain the postponement of that devoted to Jean-Claude Brisseau. A university considers the film Blow Up, Michelangelo Antonioni, “misogynist” and “unacceptable.” In light of this revisionism, John Ford ( The Searchers ) and even Nicolas Poussin ( The Rape of the Sabine women ) do not lead off.

Already, publishers are asking some of us to make our male characters less “sexist”, talking about sex and love with less excess or to ensure that the “trauma of the female characters” are more apparent! At the edge of ridiculous is legislation in Sweden that wants to impose an explicit notification by any party for sexual consent! Another effort and two adults who will want to sleep together should first check via an “app” on their phone a document in which practices they accept and reject those they will be properly listed.

Indispensable freedom to offend

The philosopher Ruwen Ogien defended freedom of offending essential to artistic creation. Similarly, we defend freedom to annoy, essential to sexual freedom. Today we are sufficiently informed to admit that the sexual drive is inherently offensive and wild, but we are also clear-sighted enough not to confuse awkward flirting and sexual assault.

Especially, we are aware that the human person is not monolithic: a woman can, in one day, lead a professional team and enjoy being sexual object of a man without being a “slut” or a vile accomplice of patriarchy. It can ensure that her salary is equal to that of a man, but does not feel traumatized forever by a shoe in the subway. A single incident can be considered either an expression of great sexual misery or as a non-event.

As women, we do not identify with this brand of feminism, beyond denouncing abuse of power, which takes the face of a hatred of men and sexuality. We believe that the freedom to say “ no” to sexual proposal does not go without the freedom to annoy. And we think you need to know to answer this freedom to annoy other than retreating into the role of prey.

For those of us who choose to have children, we feel it is better to raise our girls so that they are sufficiently informed and aware in order to live full lives without being intimidated or guilty.

An accidental touch to a woman’s body does not necessarily offend their dignity and should not, if they are hard sometimes necessarily make her a perpetual victim. For we are not reducible to our body. Our inner freedom is inviolable. And this freedom we cherish is not without risks and without responsibilities.

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