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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Object Lessons: On Sexual Harassment and Loretta Smith

Posted by Barbara Holm on Thu, Jun 13, 2013 at 3:44 PM

Last week, Baruti Artharee—policy director for Mayor Charlie Hales—introduced Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith to a crowd like this: "Here's our beautiful commissioner, Loretta Smith—mmm, mmm, mmm—she looks good tonight."

Sometimes I feel like straight men don't understand that sexual harassment at an after-work party or a bar or a (gasp) comedy club still counts as sexual harrassment. That glass of wine in your hands isn't some magical potion that renders your "would look better on the floor of my bedroom" comments any less objectifying.

Smith had to go on stage after this introduction, to command attention and remind people that she was a professional there to do her job. And from what I can tell about commissionering, that job mostly consists of having Batman come in and out of your windows unannounced, which is scary enough already.

One time I saw a male comedian (you've heard of them, yes?) introduce a woman as "really sexy, and she makes my nipples hard." The woman didn't address it and didn't comment on it, because maybe she isn't fueled with the fiery angry temper that keeps my red highlights intact. But that kind of comment as an introduction really taints the audience against a performer, because it sets one up as an object to be viewed, not a human being. If you introduce a woman as a sexual object (or any kind of object, even a magickal object like a wand or cauldron) the audience is less likely to give her the respect that she deserves.

Men often introduce me on stage with compliments about my looks like, "Your next comedian is super cute and adorable," and I'm like listen, nephew you mispronounced the words "hilarious comedy
prodigy." Introducing a woman in a professional setting with comments about her looks strips her of her agency and credentials.

I hate when I complain about this and male comedians are like, "I WISH someone would introduce ME as an object." No, you don't. And even if you did, it would not be the same. It sucks to be identified by your most base bodily attributes when you're trying to assert yourself and deliver a message. One time I got introduced as "a really cute girl" and the first thing that flew out of my smartass mouth was, "Hey, yes, I am a talking head attached to a vagina. So, here are my well written jokes now..."

Women are taking up more space socially, professionally, politically, and emotionally. It is amazing! We should celebrate with a piñata full of hugs! The only reason people try to reduce us to our physical attributes instead of our emotional strength is because they're scared of us, scared that if they allow us to assert our power they will have to compete with us and they will lose. But guess what? We don't need anyone to allow us to take up space. We can take up outer space if we want, because I think it would be otherworldy awesome to hang out on the moon.

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