My Genderal Interest column today looks at the risible claim made by many men’s rights activists that scantily-clad women are sexually harassing men. See Your Cleavage Is Guilty of ‘Biological Sexual Harassment,’ and Other Dumb Ideas. Excerpt:
The traditional arguments for women’s modesty have been that concealing dress was necessary to protect men from lustful thoughts and to protect women from being raped. But Arndt and the MRAs have a different rationale. They’re not offended by skimpy clothing on religious grounds, nor do they all buy into the myth of male weakness that says that bare female skin invariably causes otherwise nice guys to commit sexual assault. Rather, they seem to be arguing that by tempting all straight men while only being willing to sleep with a few, flirtatious or scantily-clad women are engaged in a particularly cruel form of sexualized discrimination. That, the MRAs insist, ought to be seen as sexual harassment.
For Arndt and her ideological fellow travelers, it’s sexually unsuccessful straight men (“betas”) that suffer the most from a culture in which women are free to display their bodies. Asking women to cover up isn’t about protecting purity; for the MRAs it’s about protecting betas from humiliation and from self-esteem-destroying reminders that they can look but never touch the bodies for which they long. All of that pent-up male resentment is women’s fault, Arndt implies, and it is women’s responsibility to consider the soul-scarring cost of the mixed messages their revealing clothing sends.
The kind of particularly male pain that Arndt and her allies describe isn’t rooted in women’s flirtatiousness, sexy clothing, or presumed preference for “alpha” males. Whether they’re genuinely hurting or just petulantly sulking, the confusion and hurt with which men cope is based largely on their own sense of entitlement. The calculus of entitlement works like this: if women don’t want to turn men on, they need to cover up. If they don’t cover up, they’ll turn men on. If they turn men on, women are obligated to do something to assuage that lust. Having turned them on, if women don’t give men what they want, then women are cruel teases who have no right to complain if men lash out in justified rage at being denied what they’ve been taught is rightfully theirs.