[cw: sexual harassment, specific narrative]
Roz wrote in:
I am trying to understand the psychology of male arousal i.e what causes a man to get aroused at the sight of a fully dressed woman they see at work/on the street and their subsequent response to this.
The reason for this question is because I repeatedly encounter this issue in the workplace which I would like your insights on. Men come near me & breathe heavily or click their fingers or make groaning noises and then this is picked up by other men who do the same. It happens outside the workplace as well but I can ignore that and walk away.
Any ideas as to why men do this? I am guessing that they are getting aroused at the sight of me and for some reason think I should know that? why? (Note that I dress very modestly). Do men get angry when they get aroused and there is no outlet? Does the fact that I am not beautiful but probably just sexy/sensual have something to do with this response?
Well, I’m just a blogger on the internet, so I’m not sure why you’re asking me, but I can tell you what I think.
It’s because men are bastards.
Here’s the longer version. Even if there weren’t (and I don’t believe there is) anything negative inherent to being “male” (I’m using male here as a catchall for boys/men of any age; trans men are included in my definition of male), our culture still raises men in a way that’s in direct conversation with how it raises women, and that conversation frequently takes the shape of hierarchy. As a result, men develop a sense of entitlement where women develop insecurity. I won’t get into the whole rigamaroll on proving this, but you can see it in everything ranging from men interrupting women (more often than vice versa) to spreading their knees unnecessarily wide on the subway (in contrast to women trying to take up less space) to murdering their wives when they try to leave them (among many other statistical discrepancies). They’re taught that they deserve more power than women, and a lot of them embrace that teaching without a second thought.
That’s what their behavior is about. Not what you’re wearing, or what you look like, or anything to do with you as an individual. They recognize that you’re a woman, and with some of them that’s all it takes, because in our culture women are coded as both objects to be acted upon (as opposed to subjects, agents, decision-makers with a will to enact on the world) and as sites of sex, basically. To men who are attracted to women, women are where sex happens. Doesn’t matter how you’re dressed or what context it is — it’s a staple of straight male fantasy to turn any situation involving a woman into a sexual opportunity, especially if that situation wasn’t sexual or potentially-sexual in the first place (this explains why men would connect sexual arousal and expression to a modestly-dressed woman in the workplace: because taking a woman out of that nonsexual context and into a sexual one is a pretty well-known porn trope/seduction fantasy in media… and you are what you eat, as they say).
The behavior you described experiencing from men at your workplace is disgusting, and you don’t deserve to put up with it. From what you described, it’s pretty clear what they’re doing.
As for why they might want to make their sexual thoughts known to you — I doubt they’re thinking about your response anymore than they’d think about that while viewing an animal at a zoo, but to the extent that they might have that in mind at all, the reason, I figure, is to make you uncomfortable. It’s to exert power over you that you can’t effectively wield back. It’s a reminder, essentially. They have power that you don’t. And they’re reveling in that.
Sexual harassment (which this falls under the umbrella of) is illegal, but unfortunately that doesn’t always mean much. Depending on the atmosphere of your workplace and your relationship with your supervisor, you might be able to file a claim against them. Or, if you judge that would be unwise (or useless) due to potential backlash or apathy, you might investigate the possibility of being transferred to another area or have them dissuaded from/disciplined for “goofing off” and wasting company time. Framing the issue as if your concerns are about something other than sexual harassment might make it easier to be taken seriously.
Readers, any input?