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sexual harassment warren farrell

Warren Farrell: Sexual harassment lawsuits are just the latest version of the female mate selection process

By David Futrelle

I‘ve been rereading Warren Farrell’s Myth of Male Power — basically the MRA bible — and boy does my brain hurt.

If you haven’t had the distinct unpleasure of reading any of Farrell’s books, it’s hard to convey just how frustrating and infuriating his writing style is; it’s rambling and convoluted and weirdly evasive. It’s as if he faintly knows that what he’s saying makes no goddamn sense and is trying to do his best to cover up his leaps of illogic with sheer bafflegab.

Let me present you with some of his finest work in this vein, found in his discussion of sexual harassment.

As you might expect, Farrell is not a big fan of sexual harassment legislation, which he feels is discriminatory against men because how are they supposed to know when they’re sexually harassing someone? And also isn’t it unfair that women still get to dress all sexy at work, I mean, it’s like they want you to sexually harass them or something.

That is, as best as I can discern it, his basic argument. But the more closely you read his writing on the subject the weirder it gets. Let’s take this extended disquisition on the evils of miniskirts.

Many women ask, “What’s the big deal with a miniskirt, perfume, and a little flirting in the workplace?” It would not be a big deal for most men if no one were making a big deal of the man’s response.

In other words, it wouldn’t be a big deal if no one cared about men ogling women in the office and saying sexually suggestive things to them about said miniskirts.

But, he thinks, it sends out the wrong sort of signals to men, who see a woman in a miniskirt and think “there’s a woman who wants to get married and quit work.”

It is a big deal, though, for the woman—if her goal is to be treated seriously at work. Here’s why. Her indirect initiatives signal to the man her tendency to avoid direct responsibility. Indirect initiatives signal to him that he is dealing with a woman who is traditional. And traditionally, indirect initiatives were designed to lead to marriage and the end of her involvement in the workplace.

Yeah, maybe if you live inisde a sitcom from the 1960s

So the miniskirt, perfume, and flirting unconsciously tell the man that this woman wants an end to her involvement in the workplace—or, at least, an end to her involvement by obligation.

Because it’s so common for women to marry and quit their jobs. So common that in fact women make up the majority of those in the workforce.

If you were a boss who had to choose between promoting someone who had the option to work versus someone with the obligation to work (e.g., to support a spouse and three children), whom would you take more seriously?

Most women, miniskirted or not, don’t have the option to not work. Only about a quarter of mothers are stay-at-home housewives these days.

Oh, but he’s not done. If you thought wearing miniskirts was bad, consider lipstick. And/or flowers in the hair.

In almost all cultures throughout human history, women’s indirect initiatives were their way of signaling their desire for men to take direct initiatives.

If she smiles at you, it means she wants your dick pics.

A flirtation was an invitation. In some cultures, lipstick was a woman’s way of signaling her willingness to perform fellatio. In the South Sea islands, a fresh flower in a woman’s hair signaled availability. The purpose of the flower, lipstick, or the miniskirt is to put the signal out strongly enough to stimulate every man’s interest. It is only when she has every man’s interest that she has real choice—the choice of the “best” men.

What is it with these guys and lipstick? No, dude, women wearing lipstick aren’t “signaling” anything other than the fact that they think they look good in lipstick.

Also, I want to know exactly which cultures think lipstick means “she wants to give blowjobs.” Farrell has no footnote for that fun factoid; I’m guessing it was pulled directly from his ass.

Farrell then concludes that when women say “no” to the men attracted to them by miniskirts and lipstick and hair-flowers they really mean “keep going.”

What has been the historical importance of her barriers—her “no, noes”? It was her way of selecting a man who could handle life’s rejections and survive, who cared enough for her to take risks, and who would assume total responsibility should anything go awry.

Apparently the ladies are really into guys who do and say things that would get them accused of sexual harassment if they did or said them to someone else?

In a sense, sexual harassment lawsuits are just the latest version of the female selection process—allowing her to select for men who care enough for her to put their career at risk; who have enough finesse to initiate without becoming a jerk and enough guts to initiate despite a potential lawsuit. During this process, she gets a sense of his trustworthiness, his commitment, his ability to overcome barriers, the way he handles rejection.

I’m pretty sure that most women are far more appreciative of men who handle rejection by not hitting on them any more than they are of those who respond to “no” by escalating their “courtship” behavior.

Sexual initiatives by men toward women below them at work is the most frequent definition of sexual harassment. When it works, it’s called courtship. When it doesn’t work, it’s called harassment.

Huh. Maybe men shouldn’t be hitting on women they supervise in the first place. (Or vice versa)

Anyway, enough of that. Does anyone want to hear his defense of dirty jokes at work?

Although both sexes have their own styles of humor, we often heard during the Thomas-Hill confrontation that dirty jokes were the way male bosses exert their power over women. Hardly. Men share dirty jokes with peers, buddies, and with anyone with whom they feel comfortableA dirty joke is often a male boss’s unconscious way of getting his staff to not take him so seriously and therefore not be intimidated; his way of creating an atmosphere of easier feedback, of getting his staff to bond. Men get confused when women say they feel left out when they’re not included, then sue when they are included!

Ah women, those mysterious creatures who for some strange reason don’t want to “bond” with their boss over some joke about a man from Nantucket.

Farrell, for better or worse, is the intellectual godfather of the Men’s Rights movement; his ideas have basically defined the ideology of the movement for nearly three decades. No wonder the Men’s Rights movement is so fucked up.

Send tips to dfutrelle at gmail dot com.

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Kat, ambassador of the feminist government in exile
Kat, ambassador of the feminist government in exile
1 month ago

If you were a boss who had to choose between promoting someone who had the option to work versus someone with the obligation to work (e.g., to support a spouse and three children), whom would you take more seriously?

The one who does a better job.

Oh wait. Wrong answer.

The one with a spouse, three children, and — a boss hopes — a mountain of debt. “Take more seriously” = easier to exploit.

Masse_Mysteria
Masse_Mysteria
1 month ago

@Katherine the Adequate

WTF is “flirting unconsciously”? Sounds like a delusion that creepos have that has no bearing on reality.

I remember this being a point of contention on some asexual forum where I used to hang. There was a discussion on “accidentally flirting”, which was apparently being used for acting in a way that allosexuals see as flirtatious. Some were very opposed to this, saying that flirting is something you can only do on purpose. I didn’t really get it at the time (“accidental flirting” seemed a plausible shorthand for what was being discussed), but the more I think about it, the more sinister it seems to view your own actions through someone else’s lens like that.

@Lumipuna

But then again, our common desire to “look good” isn’t remotely limited to partner seeking situations, or people who are open to dating. It’s not limited to just women either.

There’s also the fact that this whole thing doesn’t seem to work even from the “everything we do, we do to attract a mate” point-of-view. There are all manners of complaints of people (mostly women) not trying hard enough or making themselves ugly with tattoos or whatever, even though that should just signal that if you are not into that, those people are not trying to attract you, but someone else who shares their likes or whatever.

So much of the policing of looks revolves around the idea that we all find the same things attractive.

Ohlmann
Ohlmann
1 month ago

Also, it’s the classic rhetorical trick of showing a situation that seem plausible but don’t actually happen. (here, because people are different so there’s a ton of other factors, not just that one)

When you look closely, a ton of conservative “question” are about situations that don’t happen. Especially when talking about transgenders.

Lumipuna
Lumipuna
1 month ago

Masse Mysteria:

There’s also the fact that this whole thing doesn’t seem to work even from the “everything we do, we do to attract a mate” point-of-view. There are all manners of complaints of people (mostly women) not trying hard enough or making themselves ugly with tattoos or whatever, even though that should just signal that if you are not into that, those people are not trying to attract you, but someone else who shares their likes or whatever.

Indeed, this is something I didn’t bother to write about in my comment.

Naglfar
Naglfar
1 month ago

@Podkayne Lives

I have NEVER seen a source to back this up, and I find it improbable for various reasons.

I looked it up, and while it appears that sex workers, like most women in Ancient Rome, did wear makeup, lipstick was not used.

@Masse_mysteria

So much of the policing of looks revolves around the idea that we all find the same things attractive.

This is especially the case with MRAs and the like, who always seem to assume all men like what they like. They also seem to only like exactly what the dominant culture suggests they should. I’m not sure if that’s because they genuinely like that aesthetic only or if it’s because they are afraid of others’ reactions if they admit to liking other things.

Catalpa
Catalpa
1 month ago

The lipstick thing has been around for a while–I keep finding people claiming that Sumerian sex workers, or Roman sex workers, or Victorian sex workers (it moves around) painted their lips specifically to indicate the availability of fellatio.

How is this relevant for people whose culture treats women’s lipstick and flower hairpieces as simple decoration?

Oh, that’s easy! Everyone knows that socially-constructed methods of communication are instinctive and universal! That means that every woman from every culture means the exact same thing (coincidentally, this is always a willingness to perform sex acts on Warren Farrell).

It’s also why, when you go to visit another country, you automatically just know the entirety of their language and cultural traditions! It’s incredibly convenient! /Sarcasm

Fraser
1 month ago

What drives me nuts about the “why are women looking attractive at work if they’re not out to hook up?” argument — okay, one of many things — is that meeting a minimum level of attractive is, effectively a job requirement. And that includes makeup: most people aren’t going to read “not wearing makeup” as a sign you’re there for business, they’ll wonder what kind of mess doesn’t take even minimum care of her looks.

Naglfar
Naglfar
1 month ago

@Catalpa

It’s also why, when you go to visit another country, you automatically just know the entirety of their language and cultural traditions! It’s incredibly convenient!

And it’s why we are all born speaking fluently and knowing all about culture. Saves time from having to learn.

This reminds me a bit of how in certain countries, for instance Albania, shaking one’s head means “yes” and nodding means “no,” which I imagine can create some unfortunate misunderstandings for visitors.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
1 month ago

Not sure how relevant this is to this thread; but thought people might like to read anyway.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/27/us-rightwing-extremists-attacks-deaths-database-leftwing-antifa

Moon Custafer
Moon Custafer
1 month ago

@Moggie:

I’ve seen people who were sufficiently determined to claim a woman was inappropriately dressed redefine “miniskirt” to include knee-length skirts.

@Lumipuna:

Sex worker at least sounds plausible, as opposed to generic “women”. I mean, how often do women usually need to specifically advertise blowjobs?

If you’re a potential customer, though, wouldn’t somebody with makeup all over the part of their body they’re offering to apply to your genitals be sort of… offputting? Or is that just my squick?

@ Masse_Mysteria:

I didn’t really get it at the time (“accidental flirting” seemed a plausible shorthand for what was being discussed), but the more I think about it, the more sinister it seems to view your own actions through someone else’s lens like that.

It is, but at the same time, on a purely practical level one tends to avoid certain around gestures or terms around people you know are likely to misinterpret them. I try to keep my hands quiet when I’m walking down the street, because I learned shortly after moving to the city that cabs might think I was hailing them for a ride, etc. I know I shouldn’t have to, but to me it’s not worth the embarrassment of having to say “sorry, no thanks” to drivers, convince strangers I wasn’t pointing at them, etc.

Naglfar
Naglfar
1 month ago

@Moon Custafer

If you’re a potential customer, though, wouldn’t somebody with makeup all over the part of their body they’re offering to apply to your genitals be sort of… offputting? Or is that just my squick?

I would imagine Warren has some sort of fetish for it, as he seems very specifically interested in lipstick. Or he’s been watching porn that features it.

Something I would wonder is, in the modern day, do sex workers often wear lipstick? Maybe that’s where he got his idea from.

Threp (formerly Shadowplay)

Or is that just my squick?

Just yours. It’s a common like.

Moon Custafer
Moon Custafer
1 month ago

@Naglfar:

Something I would wonder is, in the modern day, do sex workers often wear lipstick? Maybe that’s where he got his idea from.

(shrugs) Lipstick is a pretty standard part of make-up in present-day N. America, so I’d assume any sex workers wearing makeup probably include some form of lipstick; but then the same could be said of any non-sex-workers who wear makeup. At least until the pandemic when masks made it a bit pointless.

Ohlmann
Ohlmann
1 month ago

Most lipstick use are invisible to a lot of men with only the flashier one being noticed as something special, Warren being probably one.

Incidentally, at least in France, the cliche of a prostitute use a ton of make up, and in a very visible way.

Amtep
Amtep
1 month ago

See, it used to be that a man would show interest in a woman by proclaiming his undying love and offering to eliminate all other suitors. Then the woman would give him an opportunity to prove he was serious by for example plucking an edelweiss from a nearby mountaintop. If the match was deemed unsuitable, her father would send a few henchmen to waylay the man on his way back and make sure he’s never seen again.

This was before feminism ruined everything, of course.

Naglfar
Naglfar
1 month ago

@Ohlmann

Incidentally, at least in France, the cliche of a prostitute use a ton of make up, and in a very visible way.

Maybe that’s where he got the idea that lipstick = will give blowjobs.

Lumipuna
Lumipuna
1 month ago

I can appreciate how makeup looks, but I it must be difficult to keep from getting messy in everyday life. I think I’d generally prefer “shower fresh” for any sex, both for myself and the partner.

If my partner were willing to sometimes pose with a flower in her pubic hair, that’d be a nice treat.

Weird (and tired of trumplings) Eddie
Weird (and tired of trumplings) Eddie
1 month ago

@ Masse:

So much of the policing of looks revolves around the idea that we all find the same things attractive.

Nope… the people policing looks are the ones who all find the same things attraxtive

Catalpa
Catalpa
1 month ago

Nope… the people policing looks are the ones who all find the same things attraxtive

I’m not sure that’s the case. I’m aware of a fair amount of men who are attracted to heavier women, but because of toxic masculinity and our fatphobic society, they engage in body shaming practices anyway, to prove that they are Real Men. Sometimes they are even more aggressive towards people they might be attracted to, in revenge for the person daring to make the men think “degenerate” thoughts by existing.

And similar thing happens to trans women who are attractive to insecure straight men, though this version does unfortunately tend to involve more physical violence.

So, no, it’s not merely a matter of solely the people who prefer conventionally attractive folks being the ones involved in policing other’s looks. (Though it’s definitely them too.)

This cultural pressure and prejudice is also why it’s not helpful for people to come along and go: “Well ackshually I find fat people super hot!” when it comes to discussing fatphobia and other similar body-shaming topics.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
1 month ago

@Fraser:

What drives me nuts about the “why are women looking attractive at work if they’re not out to hook up?” argument — okay, one of many things — is that meeting a minimum level of attractive is, effectively a job requirement.

The underlying misunderstanding here seems to be these guys thinking the women are “looking attractive”.

Where is the attraction? It’s not in the women. It’s in these guys. It therefore says nothing about the women in their workplace. It’s these guys who are “out to hook up”, or at least their bodies/parts of their brains that would like to.

This isn’t to say that women can’t intentionally attempt to attract men. But it does mean that a man being attracted doesn’t necessarily mean she did, let alone did specifically for him.

Naglfar
Naglfar
1 month ago

O/T: TERFs have gone full mask off with their antisemitism and white nationalism:
https://twitter.com/TheOnlySprout/status/1287745643004538880
They are literally talking about “white women of childbearing age.”

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
1 month ago

Link noworky. All I get is a blank page, after 10-15 seconds of the throbber spinning.

Naglfar
Naglfar
1 month ago

@Surplus
It works for me, but I can embed the image from the Twitter post if that helps:
TW: antisemitism
.
.
.
.
comment image

Snowberry
Snowberry
1 month ago

If I’m wearing lipstick, which isn’t often, then it’s because I’m dressed up really fancy, not because I’m expecting or desiring any sort of sexual activity. If by some very unlikely chance it happened anyway, I would probably wipe it off first, to avoid lipstick marks.

If I am expecting or desiring sex, then depending on the environment and/or my mood, I’ll be either doing a sort of tough girl / amazon type of thing with no makeup, or a skimpy outfit with makeup and lip gloss but no lipstick. Neither is anything like my everyday wear, and I only do that for private/special events.

I’ve never had any problems regardless, so I’m not going to conform to any particular “code” that other people made up to justify their beliefs or bad behavior or whatever.

Snowberry
Snowberry
1 month ago

@Naglfar: So when are all the haters going to fuse together in one big mass which hates all races, genders, cultures, religions, ethnicities, lives, universes, and everythings? (Rhetorical question)

Ohlmann
Ohlmann
1 month ago

@Naglfar : what the flying inverted scoubidoo. I mean, I alway considered the TERF to be not-so-well disguised misogynists and white apologist, but that shit is hardcore even by neonazi standard.

@Snowberry : they can be (relatively) united against something, that something being progressive in most case.

That being said, haters tend to all hate the same thing. It’s something I learned by seeing that black racist very often hate other blacks. Once a group is marked as an easy target, bigots tend to find reason to hate it, not the other way around. That’s also why there is little to no anti-white racism.

Naglfar
Naglfar
1 month ago

@Snowberry, Ohlmann
While I don’t think a hate singularity will ever happen, as bigots are very prone to fighting each other over minor things, I think a lot of previously single-issue bigots are becoming more open about how their hate has intersections, for example I’m seeing a lot of TERFs be a lot more open about their racism and homophobia.

For TERFs in particular, I think this is because they’re grasping for straws. Their previous favorite celebrity got himself banned from Twitter and has ruined his reputation, and their next hope, JK Rowling, has been met with condemnation from all directions. The British GRA consult revealed that over 70% of the public supports trans* rights. Instead of seeing more people “peak” (TERF speak for becoming transphobic), they’re realizing that most people don’t agree with them. So they’re throwing in everything they can to try to win, but it really is just revealing what they really are to the public. Hopefully they continue to ruin their own image and drag themselves down.

Lainy
Lainy
1 month ago

This cultural pressure and prejudice is also why it’s not helpful for people to come along and go: “Well ackshually I find fat people super hot!” when it comes to discussing fatphobia and other similar body-shaming topics.

Or people that fetishize it. My roommates were two heavier set black women and they had a lot of problem with finding a guy who like them, were attracted to them as people, vs the guys that fetishized them and were making them into sexual objects. And then they acted like they were heroes for doing so because of course so few people are attracted to fat people (belh).

I am not fat, I have never been fat, I will probably never be fat, but I can sympathizes with this really well because as a smaller, petit person, I deal with the people who fetishize me in the opposite way, but they both come from the same place.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
1 month ago

@Naglfar:

It works for me, but I can embed the image from the Twitter post if that helps:
TW: antisemitism

The original link is working again. Looks like Twitter was malfunctioning for a while and serving blank pages, but has returned to normal.

Ironically, though, your image embed didn’t work.

(You’d think for all their vaunted prowess, the tech zillionaires and their armies of well-paid white-collar techbro coders would have this stuff down to a science by now?)

Naglfar
Naglfar
1 month ago

@Surplus

Ironically, though, your image embed didn’t work.

Huh. I can see it, so I’m not sure what the issue is. Maybe it takes time to load?

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
1 month ago

Browser claims to have fully loaded the page.

What image host did you use? Did the link end with an image file type (.jpg, .gif, .png, etc.)? Was it http or https?

Naglfar
Naglfar
1 month ago

@Surplus
I linked directly to the image on Twitter. It’s a png with https://. I can see it in the comment, so I’m not sure why it isn’t working for you. But if you were able to load Twitter, it shouldn’t be a problem because you can see it there.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
1 month ago

Hmm, odd. Maybe they disrupt hotlinking, but since you already had a copy in your browser cache it works for you?

Catalpa
Catalpa
1 month ago

The image works fine for me. It might be because you’ve got some scripts disabled or something, Surplus.

In any case, it’s no big deal.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
1 month ago

Image embeds shouldn’t be affected by scripts. Indeed I’d be extremely surprised if it was possible to include a script in a comment here. Nearly all forum type sites block that for security reasons.

Podkayne Lives
Podkayne Lives
1 month ago

Something I would wonder is, in the modern day, do sex workers often wear lipstick? Maybe that’s where he got his idea from.

It’s so common a make-up among modern women in general that I’d guess most SWs probably put something on their lips for work, although I guess what depends on locality and the look you’re going for. But I teach eighth grade social studies, and I wear lipstick a lot of the time. Older American or British women frequently make a point not to go out without it. My grandma would never have left her home without swiping on some pink lipstick. There have been times and places when it’s been more shocking, or sexual, but I think that, say, since WWII in the English-speaking world, it’s pretty much just signalled “I present as a woman, and I’m wearing some makeup”.

Snowberry
Snowberry
1 month ago

@Podkayne Lives: I was a sex worker for most of 2004, and some did, some didn’t. Maybe 50-50. I didn’t. I couldn’t speak to current times or any locality other than my own, though.

(Side note – I only started because of financial issues and lack of good options, and only stopped because it was illegal. I did enjoy it, mostly, and probably would have continued a good long while otherwise. That said, it’s definitely not suitable work for most people, just like a lot of other jobs.)

Masse_Mysteria
Masse_Mysteria
1 month ago

@Lumipuna

Indeed, this is something I didn’t bother to write about in my comment.

I atted you because your comment made me think of that. Sorry if I sounded like I was implying it was something you’d overlooked.

@Weird Eddie, Catalpa

Nope… the people policing looks are the ones who all find the same things attraxtive

I also kind of doubt that there are that many people who have such a narrowly defined type as to think that all women (or people in general) have to be from the same cookie-cutter to be attractive. Different people look different, and different people are going to be attractive in different ways because attraction isn’t just looks. Even if someone finds only a certain type of person attractive, it should be obvious that not everyone in the world is somehow obliged to become that person for them. So all the policing is at least partially about who has the power to dictate what is deemed acceptable.

@Fraser

And that includes makeup: most people aren’t going to read “not wearing makeup” as a sign you’re there for business, they’ll wonder what kind of mess doesn’t take even minimum care of her looks.

I guess this has to vary from workplace to workplace (not to mention country to country), because as far as I’ve been able to tell, all the places I’ve worked at, some women have worn makeup (some in a “natural” look, others more pronounced), some haven’t.

Schadrach
Schadrach
1 month ago

“Many women ask, “What’s the big deal with a miniskirt, perfume, and a little flirting in the workplace?” It would not be a big deal for most men if no one were making a big deal of the man’s response.”

I notice a bunch of folks acting as though that question “many women ask” is entirely innocent and totally reasonable. Why shouldn’t women at work be allowed to wear anything they like and openly flirt?

Now, just bear with me for a moment, just imagine the least attractive man at your workplace said “What’s the big deal with a little flirting at the workplace?” What are the odds he wouldn’t get an HR complaint just for saying that, let alone acting on it? I believe the words “creepy” and “uncomfortable working environment” would get used with the quickness.

@Policy of Madness:
“What makes him so confident that sexual harassment always and only swings in the male->female direction?”

He doesn’t have to be, he just has to assume that either no one will care when women sexually harass men, or that the bar for them to care is substantially higher.

That’s probably not an unreasonable assumption. It tends to be in every other similar situation.