It's Not Just Teasing

by Fazia Rizvi
02/04/2000


I like watching the show 'Politically Incorrect, with Bill Maher'. The topics of discussion usually get me all fired up, and the opinions of the guests often reflect very vividly the conflicts in our society today and the way we're all talking about them now. The one on February 3rd, 1998 really struck a nerve, especially since the topic was so quickly dismissed and hardly really covered in depth. When I brought it up with the rest of the 3rd WWWave women, we all found that it needed to be talked about.


The Setup

The February 3rd, 1998 episode of 'Politically Incorrect, with Bill Maher' had guest hosts, Bobcat Goldthwait, Bernie Taupin, Jim Cramer, Gloria Allred. (Listed in exactly that order on the transcript of the episode.)

The gist of the first half of the show was a large bit of continued sniggering about the Presidential sex scandal. But the second half of the show covered a related topic that touched a nerve.

Bill: All right, if I can return for a moment to the subject of sexual
     harassment.
     And just to show how far awry this has gone, you know, it is a subject in
     the schools now.
     And there was a front page story here for weeks about a little girl, 10
     years old, who in her classroom stuck her head in a dollhouse.
     And a boy in the class, who was also 10, made a crude comment that she
     was doing something with a Ken doll. 

     [ Laughter ] 

     Something that the President is also accused of engaging in if that would
     help you. 

     Bobcat: With a Ken doll? 

     Bill: Yeah, with a Ken doll, right. 

     Bobcat: Now I am interested. 

     [ Laughter ] 

     Gloria: It's not Ken Starr, don't worry. 

     Bill: So she is -- Gloria -- 

     Jim: Oh, yeah. 

     Bill: So she is -- now the little boy is being sued.
     Sued, Gloria.
     You're bailiwick here.
     They're suing the boy, the principal, the school, everybody involved in
     the case.
     Is this not madness?
     Is this not political correctness gone amok? 

     Bobcat: When I was growing up, my sister didn't have a lawyer.
     She had an older brother. 

     Bill: Exactly. 

     Bobcat: And there wouldn't have been an attorney involved in this.
     My brother Tommy would have taken the kid out back with the baseball
     bat.
He would have put that Ken doll where the kid -- Gloria: Where the sun doesn't shine, right? Bobcat: Well, I was thinking about when he goes to the bathroom. But either one would work. Gloria: I think it's a great idea. But I'm glad that she's suing if that's the only alternative that she has. Bill: A 10-year-old is suing, you're glad? Gloria: Absolutely. Bill: Because of a comment made by another 10-year-old. You think that's the place this should be, in the courts? Bobcat: I don't want to make a general sweeping statement here, but you're nuts. [ Laughter ] [ Cheers and applause ] You're nuts. And to make it worse, consider the source. Gloria: I don't want to make a general, sweeping statement.
But do you have a hole on your knees, because you've been on your knees too long? But in any event -- [ Scattered boos ] Bill: Tell me why this is a justified. Bobcat: I'm going to sue you for sexual harassment, man. [ Cheers and applause ] You know, Gloria's making all these -- Gloria: That would be politically incorrect. But let me just say, that I think that the reason I think it is important is that I don't think that our children, that our daughters in elementary school or our granddaughters ought to be subjected to crude remarks, to lewd remarks. To be calling a child a rapist, to be calling, to be called a child molester. To be called anything else, that's lewd or crude -- Bill: It's by a 10-year-old. A 10-year-old made the remark. Gloria: Because I think the principal and I think the school district should create an environment at the school. Bill: An environment? He's 10. He's 10. How can you teach, or control a 10-year-old? Gloria: Well, because you can teach a 10-year-old how to have respect for girls. Bill: Well, if he doesn't, you sue the 10-year-old? Gloria: You have the school district teach these young boys how to relate to girls and respect them. That's where they should start. Bill: Teaching doesn't me they'll do it, Gloria. Bernie: The fact that she understood to complain in the first place is kind of obscene to me. Bill: Yeah. Gloria: Oh, no. I think it's great. Bernie: But it happens every single day in every classroom. Bill: Of course. Bernie: Where do you draw the line? Gloria: Why should our daughters have to suffer that kind of lewd -- Bill: Because it's called life, Gloria. Because they're growing up Because life includes pain and bad remarks. We all lived through it as a kid. We didn't go to court about it. Gloria: Well, you know what? We didn't have rights then. But now -- Bill: What do you mean, we didn't have rights, then? Oh, you're right. I grew up in Russia, Gloria. That's right. I grew up in the Soviet Union. Gloria: They were wrong. But we didn't have Title Nine, so that girls could sue for sexual harassment. Bill: A 10-year-old. Gloria: Yeah, it doesn't matter that -- Bill: You're right. She's nuts. [ Scattered cheers ] I'm sorry. I tried to give you a chance, but you're insane. We have to take a break. [ Applause ] Announcer: Join us tomorrow when our guests will be Sugar Rautbord, Pam Tillis, Robert Reich and Kevin Nealon. [ Applause ] Bill: All right. We're talking about the little girl who had the -- Bobcat: Grudge match. Gloria and I are going to be in a cage match later on. No holds barred.

The Reaction

All the men (well, most of them - the business man stayed out of the match) thought it was 'madness', 'political correctness run amok', and 'insane' that a little ten year old girl would sue because of another ten year old's crude, rude, and sexually harassing remarks. Only Gloria thought it was a good idea.

True to form, Bill Maher played the 'I'm tired of Political Correctness' advocate, making sure to make comments on the mental stability of the women defending the little girl. The male comedian turned the whole event into one big joke, and the important and influential businessman stayed utterly silent. And when you ask other men what they think about this situation, the response is an amazed, ' But it's only teasing!'

And of course, the lone woman, a second wave feminist, tries her best to defend her position, but never actually justifies the girl's actions sufficiently to give these men some female perspective on the problem. She just goes on about 'Our daughters and granddaughters should not be subjected to crude and rude language....'

And of course, I'm yelling at the screen - in my Generation-X way - 'It's not crude and rude language that's the problem! It's sexual harassment! If she feels like she's being threatened, she probably IS! It's not the same world that y'all were once living in anymore. The school environment is not the SAME as back then! Think about it! The Guns! The drugs! The pregnancies! For crying outloud people, mention the fact that today you can find TEN YEAR OLD BOYS (who 'tease' ten year old girls) running heroin and cocaine in the school-yard and in gangs and as participants in drive-by shootings!!! 'TEASING', my ASS! Don't any of y'all pay any attention to the AGES of those being incarcerated for brutal murders?!? Ten year old girls have to start taking those ten year old boy's 'teasing' a damn site more SERIOUSLY than the 40-somethings had to in their day, damnit! 14 year old girls are gang-raped and killed by 14 year old boys, even when those girls are walking home together in the 'buddy system' through the woods. PAY ATTENTION! WAKE UP! This isn't 'character building', or just simple 'growing up' or 'pain and bad remarks' or 'just teasing' anymore!! Welcome to the latter half of the twentieth century guys!

Aigh.

Destroying the Girl

The world tells us to pay attention better to our surroundings and know when we are in threatening situations so that we don't 'put ourselves in danger'. But all the experiences we have through our girlhoods teach and train us to ignore those instincts of what has the potential to be a bad situation. What kind of schizophrenic situation is this?

I'm sorry, but the comments I got during my girlhood were most decidedly not 'just teasing' and bad remarks. They were direct comments on how that particular boy could do something about my virginity, and usually from a proximity that was an extremely uncomfortable invasion of my personal space. At age 25, if a 25 year old man did that, people would tell me I should get some pepper spray for protection, avoid the man if possible, and sue for sexual harassment if it's in the workplace. Since I was just 12 or 13, it was 'harmless'. I remember to, the boy who sat behind me in ninth grade English class who spent one class period trying to unhook my bra while the teacher was out of the room. Boys learn that they can get away with this, since while they're still cute little boys, it's just 'teasing' and 'playground antics' to the adults.

Suing probably won't work in all cases, and it certainly isn't the answer. But for once, some little girl is standing up and saying she won't take this shit, and is doing so in our time-honored American way. She's suing. What else can she do? She's not allowed to get angry at him, since that's 'not nice'. She can't beat him up because noone teaches little girls to defend themselves physically from the bullies (like they do teach little boys in all those family movies...) And she can't get the stupid adults to do anything about it because they don't see the problem. So I say, 'You GO girl! Sue the pants off his parents and wake 'em up!'

Hey, money talks. Apparently louder than 'do the right thing' sometimes.

The Discussion ...

Janis:

But, Faz, it's just some unimportant GIRL whose personal sexuality is being totally stunted and destroyed. Girls have no sexual feelings, so who cares?

Besides, cringing shivering women whose sexuality has been twisted beyond salvage are so much *more attractive* than the other ones, who are autonomously sexual. These assholes like it when we're nervous and need therapy -- it's a rapist mentality. It turns them on. The more women who are scared of men and scared of sex and have been screwed over about it, the harder they beat off thinking about it.

Fazia:

Something's going to have to give - our education system is under enough scrutiny because it fails to teach (overall) well enough for this era. But more and more books and studies are coming out about how many girls are almost destroyed during adolescence in school...

And you know, I feel more *myself* nowadays than I have in a loong, long time. I used to be a fairly open, not-shy, opinionated, curious little 5 year old. I can now look back and point out the very incidents in each and every grade level where that personality was slowly destroyed and a shy, bored, unsure young women came out of the process. I had to spend all of my twenties learning to undo those changes so that I could function properly in this society - and I can even remember and point out each and every step it took.

BUT WHY DID I HAVE TO DO IT?! Shouldn't I have been raised to be confident, secure, opinionated to begin with? All that wasted time ....

Kim:

Goddess, Faz, you are sending shivers down my spine. I did all this too. I *still* haven't recovered (it must have something to do with still living in it...), but in the past year-and-a-half or so it's gotten MUCH better. Right around the time Janis moved out here, I think... :-)

Anyway, we all have this schizophrenic problem: we want to be achieving, satisfied, confident *people*, but that role is one that only *men* are prepared for. Women must find it themselves, which means they get there later (and some never get there because they get married and have kids before they realize what's happened to them during adolescence). So we identify with traits that are 'male' even though we are female. But the traits aren't INHERENTLY male, they have just been constructed to be that way. Hence the (false) schizophrenia.

I was telling Janis the other night... one of the hardest lessons for me to learn-- and I'm still learning it-- is that no matter what, I *can't* be one of the guys at work. It doesn't matter that I joke with them, wear gender-neutral clothes, have the ability to act nonchalant (although this one *is* acting), don't care about getting dirty/sweaty (all things that come naturally to me, so it's not like I'm deliberately trying to do all this!). None of that matters when it comes right down to it. It's all a woman acting like a man. Why can't we all be people acting as normal adults, each with their own personality traits and style? I'm talking about at work, not in a sexual relationship.

All the positive characteristics like confidence and leadership have been co-opted by men, so that women can (1) be called imitation men, (2) be accused of the negative forms of these words, like 'bitch', or (3) fulfill their own stereotype and be dependent/cutesy/wimpy. What a fabulous set of choices!

All of the above may sound off-topic because we were talking about sexual 'teasing' and the destruction of adolescent girls' sexuality. But it's not. All this stuff is related. The squelching of women's sexual confidence is directly related to her entire social role, where she is forever unsure, needing to 'ask permission,' and waiting for fulfillment from without. Because we are taught that girls will be conquered sexually, we never learn to see ourselves as *conquerers*, in ANY aspect of life. (The other choice, of course, is lifelong virginity-- oh joy-- which basically amounts to marking time. Again, not a conquering role).

Although it's nice to see more coverage of the problems adolescent girls have, I am increasingly annoyed by the tone of the articles and books I've glanced at recently ('Reviving Ophelia' is a notable exception-- it is excellent). Again and again, these psychologists, school counselors, and social workers scratch their collective head and say, 'Hmmmmm, whatever *could* be happening to these poor girls? It's such a *puzzle* how they lose self-confidence in everything from school to relationships to sports.'

A puzzle, my ASS! How friggin' BLIND do you have to be not to notice what's going on????? Isn't it *obvious* that we are sending these girls toward an adult role that is NOT adult? They aren't stupid; they pick that up. Not consciously, which is why it is manifested in these indirect, self-destructive ways. But it's there. The realization that in order to be an adult, the happy child must die. (For boys, of course, the happy child is supposed to persist well into retirement).

Bleah!!!

Alana:

Hmm.... If I was ever open and not-shy, it stopped well before I was five. I can't remember ever being a people person. I do remember first grade, when the boys pretended that girls had 'girl spray' which would do evil things to them, and they had to have 'boy spray' to repel it. Even as a six-year-old, I thought it was a stupid and irrational idea. (Interesting how clearly I realized this, even so young....) I occasionally thought about bringing in a spray-bottle of perfume (you want girl spray? you gonna GET girl spray!), but it remained a fantasy. I did write a story about it, though ;-).

But somewhere I did get the idea before I was in high school that I could have a career or a family but couldn't have both. Somewhere I learned that women are supposed to yield to the men they love (isn't it impressive how the message so often preached in Christian churches to think of others before yourself gets absorbed by women so much more easily than by men?). And I know exactly where I learned that I shouldn't express my anger -- my parents got on me any time I yelled or pounded on things and told me to can it.

Janis:

You're bringing stuff out in my own head. I was also the outgoing gabby curious, opinionated little kid in kindergarten. Didn't last long before I wouldn't say a word in class, cringed any time anyone came near me, and barely slept nights.
BUT WHY DID I HAVE TO DO IT?! Shouldn't I have been raised to be confident, secure, opinionated to begin with? All that wasted time ....
I think that's part of why few women are in positions of power. We're starting from -100 instead of zero, and we lose time. It's a goddamned good thing we outlive the fucks by 10 years, because we lose 15 recovering from all the bullshit.

The thing I really get snarked over is that, 'But WHY do you NEED for other people to see you in a certain way?' *smug smirk*

How about because homo sapiens are SOCIAL PRIMATES, no one is an island, and if anyone can kid themselves that they can live totally independently of anyone else's regard, they should take out lease time in Ted Kaczynski's shack?! I am not a fucking WIMP because it matters to me how my role is perceived in society, godDAMN it.

And it's always these totally round pegs who never think a single independent thought who say that, and who have never once questioned a damned thing about their roles.

Other Comments about the PI bit ...

Alana:

>     Bill: An environment?
>     He's 10.
>     He's 10.
>     How can you teach, or control a 10-year-old? 
Somebody _please_ tell me that this man has been sterilized.

Good gods, if a ten-year-old can't be taught, then what the hell are they doing in school? What the hell have their parents been doing? Would you say the same thing if the ten-year-old had pulled a knife on a student? 'Oh, he's ten, you can't control him.'

And re: the older brother bit -- what does that guarantee? Bert was the older brother. Bert's sister regularly rescued _him_ from bullies when they were in school.

I didn't have an older brother. Does that mean it would have been okay for kids to say lewd things to me?

>     Bobcat: And there wouldn't have been an attorney involved in this.
>     My brother Tommy would have taken the kid out back with the baseball
>     bat.
>     He would have put that Ken doll where the kid -- 
Did he actually ever do something like that in defense of his younger siblings, or is this just macho posturing?
>     Gloria: I think it's a great idea.
>     But I'm glad that she's suing if that's the only alternative that she
>     has. 
>
>     Bill: A 10-year-old is suing, you're glad? 
>
>     Gloria: Absolutely. 
>
>     Bill: Because of a comment made by another 10-year-old.
>     You think that's the place this should be, in the courts? 
Bill is clearly a yahoo who can't understand English.

'I'm glad IF THAT'S THE ONLY ALTERNATIVE THAT SHE HAS.'

Billy-boy, you wouldn't know how to do a serious debate if one came and spread its legs and said 'do me, baby.' If you'd really wanted a convincing discussion, you'd have brought up other alternatives the girl or her parents could have taken. Since you ignored this, I'm inclined to believe that the girl did go through the appropriate channels and didn't get help.

And if there aren't alternatives, then she's supposed to live with it?

>     Bernie: The fact that she understood to complain in the first place
>     is kind of obscene to me. 
In other words, if she were really virtuous, she wouldn't have known what was being talked about. Blame the victim. Right.

News flash: It takes only a minimal knowledge of human anatomy to understand what 'she's sucking his dick' means. How about this one: 'Hey Bernie, I'm gonna kick your miserable shrivelled up worthless testicles so hard they're gonna dangle under your chin, cuntsniffer.'

Bernie: 'Hey, who the hell do you think you are talking to me like that?!'

*WHAAAAAM!*

'Well, he knew what I was talking about, didn't he? That's pretty obscene.'

>     Bernie: But it happens every single day in every classroom. 
Boys are telling girls that they're cocksuckers every day in every classroom?
>     Bill: Because it's called life, Gloria.
>     Because they're growing up.
>     Because life includes pain and bad remarks.
>     We all lived through it as a kid.
>     We didn't go to court about it. 
Bill, Bill, Bill. I was teased a lot as a kid, and I lived with it. But there's an enormous difference between someone teasing you about your name or your hair or your reading habits, and someone making sexually explicit comments about you.

Would you really feel this way if that ten-year-old was your daughter? Would you tell her 'that's life, deal with it', or would you try to stop it?

What if it were your son? If someone were saying 'hey, Fred's giving Ken a blow job!', would you laugh it off?

>     Bill: A 10-year-old. 
>
>     Gloria: Yeah, it doesn't matter that -- 
>
>     Bill: You're right.
>     She's nuts. 
Ten-year-olds can kill people. Ten-year-olds use drugs. Ten-year-olds can become parents.

And if we don't teach him that he shouldn't act like this now, when will we teach him? When he's fourteen? Eighteen? Thirty?

Believe me, if it were my son doing this, my husband and I would make it damn clear to our son that no, this is not acceptable behavior. (We'd wonder 'where did we go wrong earlier?' later.) If it were our daughter, and the school refused to do anything, I'd be inclined to pull her from the school and homeschool her. She'll likely have siblings; she can learn from them how to tolerate mild teasing. She doesn't have to put up with the big stuff.

One of the tough lessons of life is to tell between something that's worth throwing fits about, something that's worth responding to coolly, and something that should just be ignored. The trouble is, females are taught that just about everything should be ignored. Someone calling you rude names? Ignore it. Someone groping your breasts in the halls? Ignore it. Someone forcing you to have sex? Someone beating you? Someone stealing your money? Someone browbeating you into giving up all your time and energy to them? Ignore it. We aren't taught a reasonable range of responses -- ignore someone who calls you a bitch, make a calm but firm statement to someone who tells you to suck his dick, set your fists flying if someone tries to molest you. We're taught that we should tolerate everything.

To truly be able to ignore something trivial, you have to be willing to confront something major. You shouldn't ignore something because you're scared to deal with it; you should ignore it because you know it's trivial and you're too strong a person to be bothered by it. But first you have to know that you will deal with it if it gets to the point where it's needed.

Kim:

Alana makes a good point-- that women don't learn the proper range of responses to personal affronts. Since we are told to ignore everything (something we learn all too well-- I know I did), we never 'practice' early in life with handling confrontations well.

There ARE times when you do better to just ignore whatever crap it is-- you just make yourself look bad by getting fired up. But when we realize how MUCH crap we have put up with for so long, we tend to overreact and never ignore anything again. It's become a trademark of the second wave that they will point out every teensy tinesy inequity to the point of ridiculousness (of course, men and women have different thresholds of ridiculousness, but even I have been annoyed by some second wave feminists. 'Pick your battles,' as they say).

And so boys grow up in a world where it's OK and even desirable to scrap about personal space, honor, and whatnot-- they learn all through childhood to deal with confrontations. Not that they do it all that WELL, with the macho crap they pull, but at least they DO it. We're just supposed to sit there looking cute.

And so we bubble over with resentment in our teens or even later, and find ourselves in the adult world where we are expected to know how to pick our battles, except that we don't. I can think of all too many occasions that I *really* should have handled differently-- I feel like I'm behind on 'standing up for myself training.' I didn't get to practice, so I'm a bit clumsy!

Is this making any sense?

So Bravo to the little girl for starting early. If she decides she went too far, I hope it's a lesson that learns without simply retreating back into her shell forever. Boys learn these lessons too-- the hard way, for the most part-- and girls need to do so earlier. Dealing with people who are mean to you is part of life, and it's high time we stood up for ourselves a little *earlier* in life.

Personally, I would teach my daughter to fistfight. I don't like fighting, but darned if she's not going to know. All the boys do, after all.

Cindy:

Kimberly J Allen writes:
 >Alana makes a good point-- that women don't learn the proper range of
 >responses to personal affronts.  Since we are told to ignore everything
 >(something we learn all too well-- I know I did), we never 'practice'
 >early in life with handling confrontations well.
And not only that, women are so expected to ignore everything that when we stop ignoring everything -- no matter how mild our response or minor the thing we're protesting -- it's WHY ARE YOU OVERREACTING????

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Copyright © 2000 by Fazia Rizvi

05/24/07 at 7:54