Salon has an article up about a popular (because it’s still largely legal) form of sexual harassment/assault known by its wannabe rapist fans as “upskirting”. It’s interesting—Tracy Clark-Flory dances around the words “assault” and “harassment”, probably because she doesn’t want the inevitable deluge of men who are defensive of their declining rights to force themselves on women.
But here’s the thing—from a purely prurient standpoint, surreptitious pictures of women’s panties taken in public are not sexy or particularly interesting. Not compared to photos of completely naked women or people engaging in sex. You’re seeing less in an upskirt shot than you would just flipping through Victoria’s Secret or watching “Baywatch”. Or, if “real” women that aren’t photoshopped is your thing, you can just go to Flickr and look at pictures of people at the beach. You’re one “beach” search away from pictures that show more. No, upskirt shots are about appealing to something else, and there’s no other way to state this, but it’s the desire to force yourself on a woman. Without coercion, the upskirt shot means nothing. Fans not only admit this, but in the company of what they assume are only men who share their loathing of women (and women’s autonomy), they revel in it.
One user writes: “Personally I love the unsuspecting one’s [sic], but being a fan of upskirts I enjoy all of them.” Another responds: “Yeah the unsuspecting ones are my favourites as well!!!” And another: “Its [sic] all so very sexy getting a flash of that forbidden public zone.” Yet another: “I like either unsuspecting ones or accidental ones, not posed ones.” And so on, and so on.
As the article states, the more ordinary-seeming the location of the picture, the more excited it gets the assholes. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the appeal of this form of porn—it’s for guys who see women in ordinary settings, and because of loathing and probably as revenge for some imagined slight (being hot but not being his possession), wish they could sexually assault these women, but are restrained by the twin fears of an ass-kicking and of law enforcement. So they either look at these pictures (and reinforce their misogyny by masturbating to it) or go take them themselves, after reading tips on how not to get caught.
It’s interesting, too, because the debate over porn is often, “Is it about lust or control/sadism?”, and obviously there’s a spectrum. There’s some (though not that much) non-misogynist porn, maybe even feminist porn out there. And then there’s stuff like this, where the appeal is 99% sadism, where the lack of nudity means that the entire point is the lack of consent. And then there’s the big, hazy spectrum in between.
Unfortunately, because this is intended as sexual assault, it feels like sexual assault to the victims.
It wasn’t just a creepy encounter — like a lewd comment made on the street — that she could shake off. “I had to have my fiancé for about a whole year walk me in and out of our house,” she said. “I have had a loaded gun next to my bed ever since. I constantly think someone is following me.” She says she’ll stare at a small sliver of her bedroom window that isn’t covered by the blinds and become convinced that “someone is watching me, someone is looking.”
What people don’t get about the trauma of sexual assault is that it isn’t about “touch this part and you get 15 trauma points”. It’s psychological—for women who get assaulted, it’s a peek into the heart of darkness, a violent reminder of how much many men just hate you. For being female. For being alive. For owning your own body. For thinking you can just exist without asking their permission. That’s why you have such a range of reactions to it, because different people absorb that information in different ways.
Of course, the problem is that upskirting isn’t covered by sexual assault or harassment laws, and it isn’t covered by privacy laws, either, because the victims are generally in public, where you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Which strikes me as odd—you’d think a lawyer could argue that parts of your body you deliberately conceal with a skirt are rendered private, but apparently not. It seems the only thing to do is rethink law enforcement’s approach to the problem, and expand sexual assault laws to cover upskirting. As I’ve argued, the phenomenon exists precisely because the wannabe rapists are afraid of law enforcement, and so getting law enforcement on the case should help.
As you can imagine, many of the vile commenters at Salon blame the victims. It’s your fault for not kicking the guy in the head, or for wearing a skirt, or whatever. This guy all but suggests that women deserve this for being just so deliciously assaultable:
No one is saying that women who put on a blouse or a skirt consciously intend to be gawked at. On the contrary, it is not a matter of individual choice precisely because these clothes are the norm. But isn’t their revealing nature part of their very design? Isn’t the whole intent behind low-cut tops and miniskirts not only to reveal as much as possible, but also in that process to make a suggestion of and arouse the desire for those very parts that it conceals?….
Clearly the underlying issue is the same one we’ve rehashed over and over within this comments section, which is the imbalance of power and desire between the sexes, and we can’t expect that nothing be done in concrete cases until this paradox is resolved.
I like that he called it a “paradox”. A lot more revealing of a word that he’d like it to be. It is indeed a paradox from the point of view of a sexist monster—men have so much power over women, and yet it’s illegal to just declare any woman you see as your property and have sex with her whether she likes it or not. The world would be a lot less confusing indeed if women had no human rights at all.