The panties made me do it

These people are completely identical and gender-free

Feministing links to an interesting article about sexual harassment of female firefighters in British Columbia. Seems that in order to combat allegations of sexual harassment the city of Richmond decided against tried and true methods like gender sensitivity training and disciplinary action, and opted instead to simply require that all firefighters, male and female, should be required to wear boxer shorts. I wish I were joking.

The troubled Richmond fire department has banned front-line firefighters from wearing their own undies, briefs or boxers while on duty.


The one-style-for-all is part of the city's attempts to make the department gender-neutral and provide an environment in which men and women will feel comfortable, said [Richmond city official Ted] Townsend.

Two obvious problems here, and I'm sure long time readers of this blog already know what I'm going to say: First, the assumption of the city of Richmond is that panties, not people, are responsible for sexual harassment. And by extension, women wearing comfortable, form-fitting panties are tempting men to cat-call and degrade them. Second, why is the gender-neutral option the male option? Why not require men to wear panties, rather than women wearing boxers? And what about the bra problem? Obviously, unless men are required to wear bras, or women required to forgo them, there still exists an undergarment that is most assuredly gendered.

A commenter on Feministing falls into the obvious trap of asking this question:
“I never understood the point of a catcall. Has it ever worked? Seriously. Is there a couple out there where the man yelled obnoxiously at her so she decided to be with him? Give me a break."

I used to ask myself this all the time, whenever I was alone in my car, walking down the street, pumping gas, or doing the millions of things women do everyday that somehow prompt men to whistle and hoot and just be generally obnoxious: what do they expect to get out of it? Do they really think I'm going to abandon my car at the gas station and jump into bed with them? The answer, of course, is no. They might hope that this is the outcome, fantasize about their own Letters to Penthouse moment at the local grocery store, but that isn't the main function that catcalling serves in Patriarchy.

Thirty-six years ago, Meredith Tax wrote, “What catcallers do is impinge on her. They will demand that her thoughts be focused on them. They will use her body with their eyes. They will evaluate her market price. They will comment on her defects, or compare them to those of other passers-by. They will make her a participant in their fantasies without asking if she is willing. They will make her feel ridiculous, or grotesquely sexual or hideously ugly. Above all, they will make her feel like a thing." (emphasis mine)

Men catcall because they can. And anyone who actually thinks this street-harassment is a form of flattery has never been on the other side of it, particularly when my failure to respond favorably turns "hey baby" into "what a bitch/cunt/dyke/whore."

Kerri and I had a conversation a few months ago about this phenomenon: you're at a bar with your girlfriends, drinking some beers, having some laughs, and some douchebag “Nice Guy” feels the need to walk up to you, sometimes even sit down at your table uninvited, and insinuate himself into whatever conversation you happen to be having. The reaction amongst most women I know is to roll your eyes, entertain his sense of entitlement for a minute or two, and then steer the conversation toward something “uncomfortable” (e.g., menstruation, cancer, the deplorable size of some men's dicks) and hope that our douchebag hanger-on gets the hint and leaves of his own volition. But even then, in those moments when you ignore the guy, or alter your conversation to drive him away, he is the focus of your attention, and in a sense, he's won whatever game he was playing at. He may not have walked away with the prize (ostensibly, a cutie to stroke his ego all night), but he did get a group of intelligent, independent, feminist women to drop everything and make him the center of attention.

Forcing women firefighters (who, honestly, are about the toughest women around) to wear boxers isn't going to curb harassment—it's just going to give harassers another excuse to deride and degrade their co-workers. Now, holding men accountable for their actions, that might get us somewhere...


annamaria at 5:28 PM

1 spoke


at Friday, November 03, 2006 10:05:00 PM Blogger Kurt said...

you mean there are actually guys that do that "sit down at the table" thing? no way...
Here was a comment I made that accompanied a painting I saw on another blog that spoke to my experiences in bars...
I never understood the catcall either, and certainly never employed it. My sisters would have kicked my ass. And by the time they weren't there to do it, I had been properly trained.


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