Earlier this year, an interesting article was published: “The Feminist Guide to Non-Creepy Flirting”. In it author Jarune Uwajaren argued that men need to know the cues and ticks and general body language that separates respectable flirting from creepy behavior. Some hints: if a woman is in a coffee shop wearing headphones, her head buried in her computer, not making eye contact and facing away from people, odds are good that she doesn’t want to be bothered. Uwajaren: “Read her body language.”
This is good advice and just plain common sense, but I’ve always been struck by how a lot of feminists, and a lot of liberals, never follow this concept through to sexual activity itself. That is to say, feminists argue that no means no, and that men need to understand that. And Jarune Uwajaren’s addition is crucial. A lot of men have been in situations where a woman said yes to sex, but it was because she was feeling hurt or angry or vulnerable. A gentleman who has been raised properly, or just a decent human being, will be attentive to those signals and do the right thing.
But here’s what I don’t get: if there is a female (and human) body language that gives out cues to someone’s mood, temperament, and level of sexual interest, does the body also have a language during sexual activity itself? And does that mean that some sexual activity is harmful, degrading and perverse, no matter what our Dan Savage culture says?
In her article, Uwajaren tells men, “don’t stare at or follow” a woman you are interested in. Obviously. But think about that – staring is a creepy form of expressive human behavior. But if a woman does something in a porn movie that signals that her body is something to be abused and violated in violent ways, that’s just her choice – suddenly her body language is completely irrelevant and “it’s just porn” – or even, lie of lies, “empowering.” And what about SlutWalk, the organization that fights rape but has marches where scantily dressed women protest that what a woman is wearing is never an excuse for rape?
Of course there is never any excuse to rape someone. But it’s possible to have two seemingly contradictory thoughts to be both equally true. There’s never any excuse to rape, a crime that I think is almost akin to murder because the rapist kills a part of the human soul. And yet what women wear and their body language also send signals about their sexuality. If a woman at her computer in Starbucks is, as Jarune Uwajaren argues, sending out several signals simply by the way she is sitting, then women who dress like prostitutes are also sending out signals. The signal is not that they should be raped. But if a posture while drinking coffee is indicative of the soul and personality within, than so is marching down the street in your underwear. The former says that you are not interested in conversation or love. The latter says you can’t articulate an argument without using your body for cheap theatrics. It says that your body, down to the eyelash – which if flickering a certain way means back off – suddenly has no inherent, subtle, and even sacred meaning or language, but is only the political message you are choosing to send at that particular moment. To read anything else into it is patriarchal.
A few years ago when I was working on a book I came across some writing on human sexuality by Father Paul Quay, a brilliant Jesuit priest. In his book The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality, Father Quay made a simple observation that struck me as deeply profound. He observed that during the sexual act the woman “opens herself up to the man,” and the man “penetrates the woman with his essence.” The act itself is one of mutual submission. The woman offers her beauty, tenderness and love to the man, and the man puts his physical strength, courage and love into the service of the woman. In other words, the bodies themselves have powerful symbolism. In fact, the body language during sex has a theological meaning that’s even more powerful than a vibe given off at Starbucks.
Sexual “progressives” have to make up their minds. As it stands now, they hold that if a heterosexual man is going to approach a strange woman, he damn well better have his social and psychic antennae tuned in the right frequencies of her movements. No eye contact? A turned shoulder? Leave it alone, bro. To do otherwise is to violate the privacy, personal space, perhaps even very essence of the woman. And yet women assuming all kinds of degrading positions in pornography – having been sold on the idea that it’s “empowering” – or taking to the streets in their bras has no spiritual or psychological meaning whatsoever. And anyone who claims otherwise is a shaming patriarchal frat boy jerk. Which is it?