I totally hear Bitch Magazine’s frustration with GQ for belittling the threat of street harassment by making it seem funny. And at first, I agreed with their indignation. But then, I reconsidered.
Street harassment is, no doubt, a serious issue. It can range from an innocuous catcall (“Oh man, God bless you”) to a threatening and invasive attack (last spring, a total stranger actually grabbed and squeezed my crotch as he walked by). When it starts to feel dangerous, it really isn’t funny.
But this photo doesn’t feel dangerous, and I think it exposes a more (ahem) private part of our mating rituals. Let’s take a closer look:
Bitch Mag makes a good point that men seem to be the only ones who get to go pantless on Saturdays. But somehow, that seems fitting.
I’m a nature documentary enthusiast and I notice a striking resemblance between this photo and animal mating rituals, where the males expose themselves before the females—posturing, posing, and strutting—in an effort to win their favor. Sadly for this trio, their failure to woo (shown here by the women’s total inattention) is just as funny as the bird of paradise that hops and squawks to absolutely no avail.
Notably, the two women in the photo are walking with their arms around each other. For me, this highlights that female companionship can be a protective bond, ensuring that we are not vulnerable to unwanted male attention, and can instead choose when to approach.
Even though the men are objectifying the two women, the women are still in power. They are closer to the camera (visually dominant), fully clothed (unexposed), and leaving the men in the dust.
Just for kicks, imagine the same situation in reverse: Tina Fey, Amy Sedaris, and Amy Poehler are sitting on a bench, pantless, with their legs spread open, gawking at two gorgeous men, walking by with their arms around each other. Now that changes things.
Here, the relationship between the two men suggests that they’re batting for a different team. The impenetrability of the couple, mirrored by the women in the original image, shows us the futility of the gawkers’ attention-seeking efforts. Further, the women sitting in the background with their legs spread open seem rather pathetic and decidedly male—such hubris!
But perhaps men need that hubris to get the courage to approach women who frequently reject them. And maybe they need the comraderie and social support of ogling together (hence the strange habit of watching porn in packs)—a habit that seems ludicrous when the roles are reversed. The incongruity highlights that women’s social networks usually serve a sexually protective purpose, while men’s are sexually enabling.
In the animal kingdom, females are raped, attacked, and threatened, just like females of our own species. That imbalance of power often taints otherwise harmless mating rituals, but perhaps we’d do well to remember that violence is not synonymous with strutting.
By rejecting the humor of this picture, are we in fact allowing natural mating rituals to become scarier and more powerful than they actually are?
It’s funny. It’s okay to laugh.