Saturday, October 10, 2009

A followup to the "Shower Incident"

I am intrigued by the reaction that this experience has garnered. I am not terribly offended - this is partly my fault for not being more clear about how *I* feel about it and unwittingly making it sound somewhat humorous. But I am not entirely to blame, because there have been two distinct reactions that lend me to think that some people got it.

I actually wrote that post at the coffee shop and ended up relating the experience to some of my friends. I told Juniper about it shortly after it happened. And without fail, the two reactions to this fell solidly along lines of sex. On the one hand, every single woman who heard this initially reacted with a great deal of laughter. Not some - not most - every single one of them. On the other hand, every single guy who heard this was entirely squicked out and empathized with my extreme discomfort at the whole experience. Again, not some - not most - every single one. I am not intentionally singling Dr. Isis out - it is just that she is the only one who reacted in comments - but her response is typical of women who have responded to this. Juniper reacted much the same way.

I am not interested in making anyone feel bad, but I do think it is important to really think about the reactions to this. This was not funny - not in the least. I am extremely secure about my sexuality and in spite of being a little heavier than I would like, I am very comfortable with my body. Not just a little - I am a fairly devout nudist who tends to look at clothing as protection from the elements, a chance to accessorize and mostly to cater to the fear of Teh Naked that is so pervasive. Given all that, I was more than just uncomfortable with what happened - I felt absolutely violated. Not as horrible as I would be feeling if he had shoved me against a wall and raped me - or tried to. But violated none the less. And I really can't help but wonder what someone who is insecure about their sexuality and their body - like a substantial majority of people in our society are.

I know men who would have serious issues with ever going into a communal shower again after something like that.

In the interest of bringing something good out of this horrid experience, I would like the women who read this to consider this in a different light. Imagine you have just finished a fairly intense workout. You're sore, your a bit worn out and you have errands to run, so the only comfort you're going to get for some time, is in the shower. You're one of only two people in the locker room when you go into the communal shower and let the hot water soothe sore muscles. You are just starting to wash, when the other women in the locker room gets into the shower and takes a gander around the corner - then gets to showering herself.

When you happen to glance over, you notice she is washing her vagina and looking at you while doing so - she quickly gets to cleaning other bits. You think little of it as you continue washing. But when you happen to glance over again, you notice she is looking at you and rather furiously washing her vagina again. You can't be 100% certain she is masturbating, but it is exceedingly unlikely she's not - and moreover she's ogling you while doing so.

Mind you, she hasn't made any overt moves on you. The closest she has come to expressing interest could easily be, and in fact was, interpreted as just being friendly - not really flirtatious. Yet there she is, ogling you and pleasuring herself.

Now imagine talking about it and writing about it, only to have the reaction from every guy who hears about this laugh about it.


Ambivalent Academic said...

Interesting. While I did not comment on the original post, my reaction was definitely "squicked". Mostly because I was imagining myself in the same situation (not sure how an older gent would have ended up in the ladies' locker room at my gym, but imaginations are funny like that). Older dude potentially wanking at me in the shower = super creepy.

Now you're asking women to imagine a corollary. If another woman were wanking at me in the that I would find a lot more funny than creepy. I'm also quite comfortable with my sexuality and my body and I have politely turned down invitations from women before and didn't feel in the least squicked about that.

Here's the difference: I do not feel physically threatened by women, and under those circumstances I would by most men. Also, we live in a patriarchal society which, like it or not, communicates to men that women are theirs for the taking. I'm not talking about you specifically as an individual man, but in general there is a subliminal (and sometimes overt) sense of entitlement that men often have in regards to women's bodies. All of these things add up to the squick factor.

I thought to myself about your experience - "I bet he has some idea what it feels like now." Not to say that you had it coming for sporting a penis or anything. Just that it's so infrequent that men get a taste of that sort of violation of their person. I'm sorry that happened to you.

Ambivalent Academic said...

Oh and as far as having men laugh about the woman wanking at me? I'm sad to say that that's precisely the reaction I would expect. And also sad to say that I'd probably just try to let that roll off of me, because I doubt I could effectively communicate that sort of violation in such a way as to change their thinking on it. Good for you for communicating it better than I could. Again, sorry that this happened to you. It sucks to be a sex object.

DuWayne Brayton said...


I really would have felt just as violated, if it had been a women who had done that - though again - not sure how a women would have ended up in the locker room at my school. It wasn't feeling physically threatened - there is a possibility he might have been had strength on me, but it is rather unlikely I could not have successfully defended myself.

It was the total disregard for whether or not I wanted to be part of that experience that made me feel violated. And I have had women do similar things to me and felt just as violated then (actually, I have had worse done by a woman).

It also, unfortunately, is not the first time I have been treated as a sex object to a similar degree by men. I hitchhiked for about two years as a teenager, ending when I was eighteen. I was a pretty boy back then and trust me - I had my share of creepy motherfuckers pick me up.

...but in general there is a subliminal (and sometimes overt) sense of entitlement that men often have in regards to women's bodies.

Honestly, I think that can easily be extended to an entitlement that men often have in regards to the bodies of their object of attraction. I have been quite grotesquely groped by men in certain bars on numerous occasions - though I do give consideration to my being in places where that is at least somewhat to be expected.

It sucks to be a sex object.

You know, I think I have gone full circle. While I am entirely comfortable with my body in certain regards, I am not exactly thrilled to be carrying extra weight. I may write about my attempt to go from pretty boy to uglified - suffice to say that there was a time when I decided I wanted to be attractive for my talents, not for my looks.

Now I am generally respected for my talents, but given my weight issues, I am not entirely averse to being treated as a sex object again.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I used to shower almost every morning in a communal shower, and I never noticed anyone spanking their monkey. If I ever did, and they were ogling me, I don't think I'd feel "violated" at all; I'd just feel pity for the poor fuck for being so pathetic.

RPS77 said...

I would definitely find that creepy as well, although in my case the discomfort would be enhanced by the fact that I have always been very UNcomfortable with my body, and I go well out of my way to avoid communal showers or anything like that.

Lurky Girl said...

It's lovely to hear the word "wank" enter the blogosphere!

I concur with Ambivalent Academic. It's the power thing that moves the creepy to the threatening.
And I admit that my first reaction to hearing the story was a sort of gladness that it happened to a man.....nasty, I know. I wish it wasn't.

Part of it is, though, that if men had to think about this more often perhaps they would be aware of how it affects women. But then again maybe not because as AA points out the sense of social entitlement to women's bodies is what's dangerous. I don't know.

I, too, am sorry it happened to you and that you're so hot.

Ambivalent Academic said...

Hmmm...I think that you're probably right that many men have a sense of entitlement to any object of sexual desire, whatever that may be.

As for the sense of violation being primary, sure, I get that. But I don't think it plays out quite the same for women as it does for men. Here's where it's different for women: 1) when ogled by man, there is the potential that it might go beyond ogling because a) he thinks he's entitled to it and b) he could physically overpower me. But there's also (2), and that is that as a women I *know* and *expect* that I am a participant against my will in other peoples' sexual fantasies all the fucking time. I cannot escape the everyday reminders of this unless I stay at home with the TV and radio off and don't read any newspapers magazines or internet and interact only with my close circle of trusted people. Even then it's no guarantee. So to deal with this, I and many other women (I'd guess), have been desensitized to those non-physical trespasses on my person. Does that make me less aware of it? Of course not, but it doesn't strike me as weird or out of the ordinary. It doesn't make it less wrong, it's just not at all shocking.

None of this is to discount the squickiness of your experience. It's just to say that woman-wanking-to-woman is probably not going to elicit the same response form the victim as man-wanking-to-man or man-wanking-to-woman.

Ambivalent Academic said...

Also, how do you define "sex object"?

Because you were squicked by the experience of being one (by my definition) and then you say:

"I am not entirely averse to being treated as a sex object again."

By which you seem to mean...that you would like to be more socially-approved attractive again?

I'm not trying to be obnoxious here - I'm just wondering if we've just talked past each other because we're defining our terms differently

DuWayne Brayton said...


Honestly, I felt that as well - it was just rather overwhelmed by my extreme discomfort with the situation.

Lurky Girl -

I, too, am sorry it happened to you and that you're so hot.

AHAHAHAHA!!!!! My girlfriend thinks I'm hot, but she's biased. I am not aesthetically displeasing by any means, but I really wouldn't consider myself hot. I just used to be...

AA -

I got very irritated when I was acting in St. Louis and the only reviews I got that weren't just as focused on my looks than my talents, if not more so, were reviews by a couple of lesbians. I actually had a couple of reviews for some performance poetry that still focused on appearance. Same issue with a play that I co-wrote, as well as performed in - though there were extenuating circumstances with that one.

The breaking point came when I was in the midst of possibly getting back together with an ex-girlfriend and moving back to MI. I went out on a date, getting wined and dined after an opening performance. We ended up back at her place because I had gotten more than a little drunk (not uncommon at that point in my life). We made out a bit, until I realized that this was a terrible idea if I was going to get back together with that ex and balked. The woman I was with flipped out - feeling that I had a responsibility to fuck her, after she had taken me out and spent that money on me.

It was at that point that I realized that no matter my talents as a writer and performer, they were overshadowed by my physical appearance. I was very much an object of sexual desire and no matter how much people may respect my talents, I was banking on my value as a sex object.

I quit shaving at that point and I did what I could to take the focus off my appearance and turn it to my abilities as a singer, actor and writer.

Now I am respected for my talents and at my best, my looks just aren't going to overshadow that. Given that, I really wouldn't be so bothered to be a little bit of the sex object. Honestly, I think it is mostly just a case of heading towards middle age and trying to satiate my vanity...

And when I say sex object, I mean being on a continuum between sex symbol and sexual fantasy fodder.

Just not to the extent that that is all anyone sees, overshadowing my actual talents.

And yes, I recognize that this is not terribly consistent - but I accept there are limits to my rationality...

Abby Normal said...

I’ve been trying to imagine myself in that situation and similar ones. I can honestly say I have no idea how I’d feel. I can easily imagine myself being flattered, angry, curious, blasse, amused, embarrassed, frightened, or turned on. There are just too many subtle variables that could potentially have a huge impact for me to nail it down.

Be that as it may, how I might react is not nearly as important how you actually did. So I’ll add my voice to those saying I’m sorry you felt violated.

Juniper Shoemaker said...

Dear darling, I want to publicly say that I'm very sorry that this happened to you and that I laughed when I first heard this account.

I also want to add that I first found it funny in the context of your not infrequently regaling me with dry tales of assorted people who seem to want to sleep with you. (No matter how reserved you are around them.) This doesn't make it okay for me to have laughed, I know. And I am also aware that I probably wouldn't have laughed if a woman had reported this experience to me-- whether she herself found it funny or not. This is also not okay with me. But maybe it's useful to point out exactly what I thought was funny nonetheless? Feel free to tell me if it's not.

At any rate, the material point is that I'm sorry and will be more sensitive and compassionate in the future. The comment thread has also given me things to think about.

scicurious said...

Just wanted to say, that I was pretty squicked out on your behalf, because I did think of how I would feel if it happened to me. And what if he WERE bigger and more powerful than you? Yikes.

Becca said...

For the record, to feel self-righteous, I would like to note I replied before reading this post. I consciously tried my best to make the same suggestions I would for a woman. Of course, if I weren't sexist as all get out I wouldn't have had to put forth any effort to doing that.

That said, I was using empathy a la "older dude potentially wanking at me in the shower = super creepy". A woman doing it wouldn't bug me nearly as much. Plus, some women can do it without touching themselves. I've already thought about that, and decided I'd be more flattered than anything else if some woman (even if unattractive to me) was using me as fantasy fodder.

Interestingly, I think if this had happened to me, I would have not been thinking he was looking around the corner to make sure we were alone. It would probably have flashed through my mind that he had friends back there, and was waiting for me to react so he could call them over and... bad things. I am unusually paranoid about people sometimes.

CyberLizard said...

The bottom line is about consent. You never consented to be a part of his sexual activities. It doesn't matter how comfortable you are with your sexuality, if you didn't agree to participate, it's wrong and very much a violation of your rights. If he had propositioned you or asked if you minded, that would be a different situation since you would have the opportunity to decline. But you weren't offered that opportunity and that's what pisses me off most of all. Regardless of the genders involved, non-consensual sexual activity is morally and ethically wrong. IMHO. YMMV.

Samia said...

"On the one hand, every single woman who heard this initially reacted with a great deal of laughter. Not some - not most - every single one of them."

Not true on my end, unless my comment didn't post correctly.