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1 ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ Introduction DURING THE LAST FIFTEEN YEARS I have listened with increasing concern and attention to young women’s struggles to make sense of their relationships and sexualities. I have seen how an awareness of male aggression filters through young women’s experiences and understandings of their own hetero-relational lives. Scenes such as the following have been common in my experience: Scene 1 The classroom is buzzing with animated conversation about women’s experience of street harassment. I am teaching an introductory course in Psychology and Women, and the students, almost all undergraduate women, are discussing the objectification and anxiety they feel when men make comments about their body, their attire, or their mood. Without exception, the comments are about how terrible that feels. After extended discussion, a male student comments that he too has been whistled at by females on the street, and he, for one, has always taken it as a compliment. “Don’t women really see it that way too?” Discomfort fills the room—women students squirm, some nod their heads with embarrassment. Yes, some women acknowledge reluctantly, even if they’re not proud of it, sometimes it does feel good. Finally a woman names an important distinction: “It may feel good for both of us. I can even find it a turn-on. But as a man, you never have to wonder if that ‘compliment’ is going to lead to you getting into trouble. As a man, you can play up the compliment or reject their attention. But you don’t have the anxiety of making sure you don’t either lead them on, getting you into trouble, or get them pissed off, getting you into trouble. Women always have to straddle that fine line. . . . Still, though, I guess I’d have to admit . . . there is something exciting about flirting with danger—and about straddling those fine lines.” Scene 2 I am in a battered women’s shelter, interviewing a battered woman who has left her abusive husband. She is responding to my question of when and how her husband first began to be violent: “You know, they say hindsight is 20/20, and that’s the truth. They [the shelter] have these posters hanging on the walls here that say the warning signs, you know, of if a man may be somebody who’s going to be a batterer. Don’t you know, my man had all of the symptoms—all of the warning signs were right there. But I didn’t see them as that. When he was always in control, control over me, it just looked pretty normal, like what do you expect? It’s not to say I liked it. In fact if you had asked me, I would have said with a straight face that I would never put up with being dominated or abused by a man. But I would never have considered what I got as abuse or as even leading up to abuse. Looking back on it now, I can see where he was going over the lines, but at the time, all I can tell you is that it didn’t look that way. What I can see now as me being set up to be victimized, at the time just looked like normal marriage.” Scene 3 I am walking through an urban park with two undergraduate women. We have just left a workshop on sexism in which they voiced both their anger about men’s objectification of women and their constant fear, as women, of male aggression . A man, whom none of us knows, walks toward us. As his eyes scan us in an exaggerated way from head to toe and back again, he says, “Well hello there girls, you sure are looking fine tonight—my, my, my.” I say to my companions , “I can’t believe he just said that” (read: I’m annoyed by the intrusion , by his presumption that his assessment of our appearance has value for 2 ❙ Introduction us, by his calling us girls, etc.). The woman next to me replies, “I know, me either . I wasn’t thinking I looked that good.” I suddenly realize that we are having two different conversations, based on two very different experiences of the interaction. Both women tell me that they find such attention affirming and exciting, and that they sometimes consciously solicit it. Asked if they ever worry that a man’s attention could “go too far,” the second woman...


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