In The Company Of Men

Posted: August 10, 2010 in Masculinities, Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

This lecture/essay was first delivered via the medium of twitter, and anger at the messages delivered by this website: , and more general feelings of frustration with how ‘street harassment’ is presented as systematic verbal and physical attacks by men against women.

Ladies, there’s one thing you might want to know about men. When in groups they tend to be much more interested in each other than in you.

Thus, street harassment of women has a lot to do with men’s various versions of proving their masculinity to each other in homosocial groups

So, constantly writing about street harassment as individual men’s verbal and physical attacks on women, really misses the analytical point.

The point of their ‘attacks’ is to do with differentiating themselves from ‘feminine’ or ‘gay’ identities, and being one of the hetero boys.

In my humble, yet a little bit arrogant, but definitely well-researched opinion.

Case study of masculinity reinforcement in homosocial context #1:

(Clip from Your Friends and Neighbours by Neil Labute)

The problem is, women can never be in an all-male environment. Therefore they don’t know exactly what goes on In The Company Of Men.

So therefore we have to listen to men. Even ones who might say things we don’t want to hear. I do. I find men fascinating. As do most men!

(An uncomfortable aspect of men proving their ‘heterosexual’ masculinity in an all-male group, is it can be through ‘homosexual’ activity!)


  1. Jackart says:

    Isn’t 101 wankers more about the assholery of motorists towards cyclists than men towards women?

  2. well she makes it clear (esp on the blog itself) that it is all about men motorists harassing her, a woman cyclist. she makes it clear it is about men harassing women…

  3. Amelia Jane says:

    So individual men who harrass women are doing it so they can go back to their groups later and tell them about it?
    Have you, or are you going to, write further about your assesment of this subject? I’d like to read more about your ideas on this. Are you saying that the way to prevent this sort of behaviour is to break down gender sterotypes, and so forth, and remove the need to reinforce masculine behaviours and identities?

  4. Hi Amelia
    I will write more on it, yes. It is complicated. Most harassment I think takes place when men are already in groups. Motorists are not always alone though I admit some are, and still can harass anyone who gets in their way. There are gendered issues around driving/cycling. But my points are more to do with masculine identity in general. But if you take a building site for example, most of those catcalls etc seem to be done for the benefit of their colleagues…

  5. JenniferRuth says:

    I was walking to the post office to collect a parcel on Saturday morning when a guy whizzed past me on a bike and yelled “Slut!”
    “What was all that about?” I wondered.

    A couple of weeks ago I was walking to a friends house when a group of men began following me and asking if I was a virgin. I didn’t think I looked *that* young…also, it was threatening since there were 3 of them and only 1 of me and they followed for quite a while.

    The second case was definitely, as you describe, a case of harassing women for the benefit of homosocial bonding. I’ve read a lot about this and it is something that tends to come up quite a bit on feminist websites, especially when discussing masculinity. However, what about the men who harass solo? Personally, I think they get off on humiliating women, unlike the group harassing which is, as you say, differentiating themselves from ‘feminine’ or ‘gay’ identities.

    I think it is a good thing to say something back to the individual harassers – maybe take away a little bit of the kick they are looking for. Unfortunately, the dude on the bike was gone before I had even thought of a witty comeback!

  6. I think individual men still perceive themselves as being in the view of other men. They are not in private but in the public sphere. If you call a woman a ‘slut’ cycling by, it asserts your masculinity/ your heterosexuality/some kind of relation of ‘man’ to ‘woman’ that is required of you as a hetero man.

    I haven’t talked to gay men about this so I don’t know how they see it.

    I don’t know about reacting. sometimes I do. Often I don’t. What I am saying is it is not about the relationship however fleeting, however upsetting, between the man and the woman in question. it is more about men and masculinity and how they see themselves. This in my view is what is worth examining further.

  7. I am not saying we shouldn’t talk about our experiences. But the endless listing of harassment that seems to be occurring, as if that will stop it, I think is misguided. Sure we get it off our chests. But we don’t address the problem.

    I had one funny incident though when I was walking in heels in the dark. I heard a (drunken) voice, shout ‘clop clop clop, slut’. Then I approached and the guy who’d impersonated my walk said ‘Oh, sorry love’. As if faced with me he realised I wasn’t the kind of girl he should call a ‘slut’. I kind of felt more offended by the apology. as if I was too old /respectable to be called a slut. I think age-ing affects how we feel about harassment of this kind in a number of ways. Do women really want to be ‘invisible’ to men? Like some older women say they are?

  8. JenniferRuth says:

    Even if it is all about men and masculinity when the harasser is on their own as well as in groups, it doesn’t make much difference to the people they harass. Of course it is going to be all about them in that moment since they are the ones being harassed. Personally, I think the biggest problems with dealing with street harassment is even though most of it is “harmless” there is no way to tell which man is going to carry on his way after yelling at you and which man is not. For example, I’ll never forget the one man who tried to come onto me at a bus stop and then would not leave me alone. He proceeded to follow me through the streets when I tried to leave, threatening to rape me and calling me all sorts. I was only 19 at the time so I was pretty scared. Obviously, this doesn’t happen as much as “regular” street harassment – but it started in the same way. I agree that it is probably NOT about the woman all of the time. But sometimes it is. So, you kinda have to be on the defensive every time, which majorly sucks.

    I always thought of lone harassers a bit more like flashers. You don’t often get them in groups. I think the motivation is more based around feeling a sense of power over women. Whether that be by frightening her or embarrassing her matters not. I think that they get off on it, a little bit at least. I don’t think that is the case when you get the groups of men who shout “nice tits!” at you or whatever.

    I suppose motivations are complex though and can’t be boiled down as easily as we would like.

    Of course, a man can be doing both at once. He can be asserting his masculinity AND getting off on humiliating a woman at the same time. These things are probably linked in the social construction of masculinity.

    I remember reading a really long essay about street harassment and homosocial bonding but I can’t think for the life of me where I read it. If I remember I’ll leave you a link, if you like!

  9. OOh thanks I hope you remember. I have developed this theory in complete isolation so I could be wrong about some things.

    I am not saying it is harmless at all. It can be very scary and can involve actual violence. I am critiquing how we analyse and deal with it. the feminist line seems to be: document harassment and tell men to ‘stop it’. I don’t think that works.

  10. JenniferRuth says:

    “Do women really want to be ‘invisible’ to men? Like some older women say they are?”

    I think I would like to neither be invisible, nor have men use me as prop for their masculinity as I’m going about my general business. Wishful thinking!

    I don’t think women list their experiences in order to stop street harassment. I think they just want to get if off their chests. Sometimes people needs a space for that.

  11. the campaigns I have seen suggest they think they are going to stop it. eg ‘Stop Street Harassment’!

  12. JenniferRuth says:

    I thought it was all a bit more like “My Fault. I’m Female” – a sort of venting. Perhaps that was me projecting onto them?

    I don’t know about Stop Street Harassment. I was thinking more about the Hollaback websites, which I always felt was about raising awareness and venting. Men (including a lot I know!) often don’t realise the extent to which street harassment happens to women. Usually, it doesn’t tend to occur when they are around and if they don’t participate themselves…well, they don’t see it. So I suppose list resources are also good for illustrating the extent of the problem.

    I definitely agree with you that listing alone is not going to stop anything!

  13. but what I am saying is men won’t just stop it because they know it happens and is bad. They are under pressure to behave in certain ways, from other men. to do with being men. we as women can’t stop it by telling men to stop it! we need to all try and understand more about what it is like to be a man. In my opinion!

  14. JenniferRuth says:

    Oh yeah, definitely agree with you!

    I probably wasn’t very clear. I meant that there are men who don’t engage in this sort of behaviour and the lists can be a good resource to illustrate the problem to THEM. Sometimes you can get guys who just don’t understand the extent to which street harassment occurs. I was only talking in terms of “raising awareness” (ugh, I hate that saying!). It was just a little side-point.

  15. well if we want them to understand our woes at getting harassed we should try and understand their issues with having to be men amongst men. I believe.

  16. Kimboosan says:

    As you and Jennifer hash out, this is a huge issue with many interconnected points between an individual man’s personality and ‘group think’. What I love is that you are bringing this up for discussion, because I totally agree that the method of “we shall expose their rudeness and shame them into quitting!” is best used for venting only. If just pointing out someone’s bad behavior could fix the world, we would not be having these discussions.

    (I am still looking for that theory on human male penile evolution, as it correlated the relatively over-large development of the human penis (in comparison to, say, chimpanzees or gorillas) to male homosocial behaviors, as opposed to female mate selection. The idea being that MEN are the ones who are impressed by size — which honestly fits in perfectly with the mindset of every man I know, queer or straight.)

  17. haha brilliant piece of intertextuality there..KimBoo! Hope you find the Cocks piece…

    Yes it is complex. I have provided a bit of a simplistic introduction to the discussion. But hopefully one that steers us away from this ‘down with this sort of thing’ argument.

    Thanks Jennifer for getting the talking going! I really appreciate your contributions to this. It is an ongoing conversation about gender/power/sex/sexuality. I am so glad other people want to have it.


  18. also, men get harassed on the street too. in fact, not just men but trans women, trans men, gender queer people, people who look a bit ‘odd’ , disabled people…. this whole ‘women as victims of harassment’ line just doesn’t go with me. people with learning disabilities… old people… etc etc….

  19. black people, asian people, ethnic minorities especially in certain areas where certain conflicts and pressures exist….

  20. JenniferRuth says:

    Kimboosan – I have read so many theories on the evolution of the male penis (from the “semen displacement theory” to a tie in with the fact we began walking upright) that I’m pretty sure it must be a combination of many factors – as are most things in evolution!

    QuietRiotGirl – yes, you are right about the harassment ethnic minorities face. Great point. I was once walking with a friend of mine who is from Wales but has Indian heritage when a bunch of white dudes yelled “Paki!” as they sped by in their car. I was shocked and angry (I am white!) but he said to forget about it because it happens all the time. All the time. Once again, harassment is ubiquitous but usually only visible to the ones that face the harassment.

    I really like this blog and I like the conversations here 🙂 I just hope that I don’t abuse the comment box too much!

  21. True, street harassment happens all the time and to a variety of people. I went to high school in a rather small town and my best friend at the time was gay and long after high school when we were visiting our home town we’d walk down the street and pass a group of guys walking together and they would invariably call out something like “faggot”. Not cool. The same idiots would always ask me if I was sleeping with him…

    Anyway, fighting to stop one form of harassment doesn’t deny the existence of another form. If every civil rights or feminist group tried to take on every single kind of harassment they wouldn’t be able to focus long enough to broach the subject in depth. We always react more strongly or defend the things that affects us the most. So it makes sense that women/feminists would be more interested in stopping the kind of harassment directed towards women, because that’s what they have experience with.

    However the idea that one group’s targeted offense if more important than another’s or more valid doesn’t sit well with me and I’m thankful that there are people out there who will point out the shortcomings…err…the fact that other people (not just woman) have to deal with this kind of shit.

    On another note, holy hell that clip!! I never saw that movie and I definitely want to see it now. That’s one hell of a troubling scene. The dialogue was incredible and moving in an upsetting kind of way.

    • My point is that street harassment of women won’t be stopped unless we explore homosocial reinforcement of masculinities amongst men. ie by talking to men, not alienating them by making blogs about ‘wankers’ who harass women!

  22. Holy hell indeed! But this may trouble you too: I found that scene very hot. 🙂

    • Yes, so did I, which is one of the reasons why it is troubling. The scene is both erotic, with an undercurrent of violence and somehow sweet in tone. He’s essentially revealing that he participated in a gang rape when he was a teenager, but the fact that his best sexual experience was with another guy almost sweeps that fact under the table and manages to reveal something about the character that is neither “monster rapist” nor is it a revelation about his sexual orientation. It’s something altogether different, that I can’t quite define, but that is both sad and beautiful all at once.

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