A Straight Man's World?

Hijabscott_barbourgetty

A reader writes:

I'm fascinated by this passage from your recent e-mailer:

"Any sexual pleasure derived from the women's naked bodies is a violation in the sense that there is no consent on the part of the lesbians."

Is this really what the problem is? The belief that arousal requires consent on the part of the ... let's call it the 'stimulating party' ... or else it's a 'violation'? That's astounding. How could I possibly consent to being arousing? Is there some signal I could use to indicate which people I will permit to be aroused by me and thus avoid this violation?

I wonder if this really is the heart of the problem. People like Tim Hardaway may not care, per se, that you're gay. What they care about is that gay people could be aroused by their bodies. I am a hetero male, but personally I couldn't care less if gay men found me arousing. Honestly, I'd take it as a compliment.

Me too in the equivalent situation. If I were showering among straight women, would they be violating me by checking out my body? I find the idea preposterous. I'd be flattered. If a woman were to watch me "with lust in her heart" on a beach, would I find that invasive? Nah. Ironic, maybe. Threatening? Are you kidding me? (Now, of course, men's mere visual "violation" of women can be more threatening, because it raises the specter of male physical domination over women, i.e. rape or abuse. But among straight men and gay men, the threat of physical force is less salient.)

I wonder whether this phenomenon isn't connected in some way to Islam's insistence on veiling women? Isn't the point of public veiling a means to prevent the kind of "violation' of which my previous reader wrote? Here is the Koran on the religious duty of women not to provide occasion for men to "violate" them with their eyes:

[O Prophet!] tell believing men to restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. And Allah is well aware of what you do. And tell the believing women to restrain their eyes and to guard their private parts and to display of their ornaments only those [which are worn on limbs] which are normally revealed and to draw their khumr over their bosoms. They should not reveal their ornaments to anyone save their husbands or their fathers or their husbands’ fathers or their sons or their husbands’ sons or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or their sisters’ sons or other women of acquaintance or their slaves or the subservient male servants who are not attracted to women or children who have no awareness of the hidden aspects of women.

My italics. The Koran is saying exactly what my reader was expressing. The Koran is saying that it's ok for women to reveal their bodies to men who are gay, because no "violation" can take place. In contrast, I find the whole idea of "violating" someone by looking at them to be a function of sexual and emotional immaturity - regardless of the specific matrix of gender or sexual orientation. Hence my problem with some of the sexual ethics and gender absolutism of Islam.

Some Islamists defend the veil as a way to protect women from the violation of men's eyes. Others - more plausibly, I think - consider the veil as a way for men to control women: for fathers to control daughters' sexuality before they are married; and subsequently, for husbands to control their wives' sexuality. But the question asks itself: why should men control women this way? And why should straight men dictate the terms to gay men in the same way? The mindset behind this thinking is that it's a straight man's world and the rest of us just rent space from them. If we don't respect their authority on this, there are consequences. Don't get me wrong: most straight men in the West don't think this way at all. But some do, as Tim Hardaway revealed. And it's certainly a core feature of Islam.

(Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images)