Blog Post from our Men’s Initiative Intern, Cody Tracey

Read a post from our Men's Initiative Intern, Cody Tracey, as he reflects upon his time at the MVP training he attended last week.

“But really,” our MVP facilitator asked, “do any of us ever really feel harassed?” The room full of men paused, and perhaps one or two defensively nodded their heads yes, but stopped after a moment. “Do you ever do much to keep yourself from getting harassed?” There was some awkward consideration, and sure enough, most of us had never really considered the question. After a few “I suppose not’s,” we begged our own next question: “do you all do much on a daily basis to keep from being harassed?” With a few shrugs, the value of segregating discussion by gender was clear.

It had been established in our male-discussion-space that most of the men in the room at least somewhat appreciated compliments from unknown women or men regarding his body image or clothes. When we came back together as a whole group, it was clear that any stranger bodily appreciation is not universally defined in fact, it was pretty split by gender and for many women, there was sincere distaste for random physical compliments. What’s the difference? Let’s think about an example:

“Hey you’ve really got some firm glutes!” means lots of entirely different things depending on who you’re talking to.

Body builder Bob's response, maybe, is one of true validation: All those flexes are fiiinally paying off! Bob's case is probably a little unusual, and I certainly wouldn't bank on that response from most individuals.

To many women (and men), perhaps, whose bodies have been sexualized and objectified in all kinds of contemporary and popular film, television, magazines, pornography, and more, that sort of statement probably wouldn’t be as welcomed. I think we’ve been taught via those forms of media that women in particular do really genuinely enjoy receiving that kind of sexual attention, the same sexual attention that many men personally claim to enjoy. But have you ever heard a woman really claim that she enjoys that type of sexual attention? More than just one time? By someone who isn’t on TV or posing for a photo shoot? Probably not, and I think that contributes a lot to the mostly male notion of “just take the compliment already! I like your butt!”

Let’s consider this example for a moment more. My first summer as a sleepaway counselor at a camp in Western Maryland, I was seventeen years old, and the oldest campers were fourteen. For a "Secret Santa" one summer, a fourteen year old female camper decided to compliment my booty by crafting me a pair of buttpants with the word "hot" on the back. Most people got a big kick out of it, including me, even though I was pretty uncomfortable--laughing was mostly the only response I could muster. I certainly didn't model the pants, as silly as they might have been: in that case, I would have welcomed in front of the entire camp that a camper's objectification of my body was okay, and even more so, that it was funny.

Imagine if the genders were switched: what if a male camper had done the same to a female counselor? What if a younger male camper designed a tank top for an older female counselor upon which big black arrows pointed right at the chest? Imagine the disciplinary conversations the young man would have to have with in-camp staff and his counselors. Imagine the dialogue of sexual harassment and boundaries that would take place throughout the entire camp, at staff meetings, in cabins with campers, with parents. The point here is certainly not to say that the female camper should have gotten in trouble, but rather to suggest that while I was slightly uncomfortable, the level of “harassment” that was inherent in those buttpants would be exponentially more serious if I were a woman. And to me, that feels like a pretty privileged aspect of being the gender that I am.

So do I ever really feel harassed? Well, that one time that I can remember, it was okay to laugh it off, throw the pants and discomfort away, and never really worry that it would happen again.