The Vagenda

Would You Really Though? Why I Hate It When Guys Say ‘I Would’


The Would Not Bang Meme mocks those who over-scrutinise women’s bodies, but the ‘would’/'wouldn’t’ language plays into the same narrative

Wouldn’t this be an odd scenario?

It’s summer. You’re dining, alfresco. The waiter brings out your deep fried calamari, or whatever it is you might find on an alfresco menu. Whatever it is, it looks pretty damn tasty. At that moment, three men pass by, one after another, on the adjacent pavement.

The first, you imagine works in law or finance, judging by his two-piece and white collar. His goofy Simpsons tie screams Father’s Day. He clocks your calamari, its succulent tentacles dripping in blubbery goodness. Its suckers are undulating just too provocatively for him to withstand. In fact, a stiffy is already erupting in the crotch his well-to-do trousers. It’s too much. He wants a piece of that calamari so bad, that he has to shout it loud for all to hear.

‘I would!’

The second man is scruffier than the first. His trainers look like they’ve done some kilometres, he’s holding a fat notebook, and there’s a pencil jammed behind his ear. He turns his head with interest towards your table, and there is the calamari. It must be something about the way it’s served in such a hot, figure-hugging dressing, because this guy can’t take it either! He wants a taste of those perky suckers, and everyone needs to hear!

‘I definitely would!’

When this man is done ejaculating his disposition all over your quiet afternoon, a third passes by. He’s younger than the other two and a walking advertisement for Topman. By now, you anticipate a comment. But nothing prepares you for the aggression with which it is uttered.

‘I would fucking have that.’

In another world, the public appropriation of women’s bodies, by men from all walks of life, would require no metaphor to explain why it is not natural, and not acceptable. Comments towards women of the, ‘I would,’ phraseology are defended by the argument that it is natural for a man to find a woman physically attractive, and it is natural for him to feel that he would, given the opportunity, put his penis in her vagina. Yes, of course those things are natural, and perfectly human.

What is not natural, is the public vocalisation of that attraction in terms that totally disregard a woman’s right to choose whether or not she finds him sexually attractive, and whether or not she would have his penis poking about in her vagina, given the opportunity. The verb used is ‘would,’ which indicates a disposition of absolute certainty. It’s not, I might, or, I may have sex with this woman, if I asked her permission and she agreed. It is, ‘I would.’

There are hundreds of scenarios anybody may walk into in a day that bring about a feeling of bodily desire. We are, after all, beings attached to a body that has needs, and the desire to fulfil those needs keep us alive. As per the opening analogy, when we are hungry, and we see a juicy cut of steak on somebody else’s plate at a restaurant, our bodies respond. It would be odd however, a faux pas even, to openly express that desire by leering at somebody else’s meal, slathering and drooling all over their personal space, and aggressively communicating our desire to take what was theirs, right from their plate. After all, we’re polite people who wouldn’t like to make anyone feel uncomfortable. This begs the question, why do some men feel the need to publicly and violently express their sexual attraction to women in a manner that makes her, and those around her, feel uncomfortable?

Is it because men can’t control themselves around good-looking women? Of course not. If I were a man, I would be downright insulted at what this oft-used argument suggests: that men are basic, gormless creatures, controlled solely by carnal mechanisms. If they can control themselves in the presence of a beautiful rib-eye, they can control themselves in the presence of beautiful woman. Now we have swiftly shut down this embarrassing excuse for an argument, is there any justifying remarks like, ‘I would?’

In short, no. They cannot be justified. But they can be explained to a degree.

Many men believe themselves to have more of a right to women’s bodies than women themselves, and publicly communicating this through the means of aggressive language continually strengthens this belief, again and again, so much so that it becomes a cold, hard fact. Of course, there are those who will scoff, and declare this statement overblown, or even fictional.

Is it fictional then, that approximately 85,000 women are raped on average in England and Wales every year? Or that 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year? Or that 1 in 5 women, aged 16 – 59, has experienced some form of sexual violence? Or that I could spin a globe and choose any country at random, and the statistics would be proportionally similar, and often higher?

Every time a man says ‘I would,’ whether it’s out of peer pressure, or nastiness or even if he doesn’t know why he said it, he is reinforcing the attitudes to women that lead to sexual violence. Hopefully, in drawing attention to the apparently microscopic, the apparently trivial, men and women who read this will think more carefully about their behaviour in these scenarios. Here are my suggestions:

Men, how about, don’t be so revolting?

And women, make sure you are the one to tell him that no, no he fucking would not.

46 thoughts on “Would You Really Though? Why I Hate It When Guys Say ‘I Would’

  1. Absolutely agree, keep it to yourself. The answer is, as you say, “yeah, but she wouldn’t” I also think this of the scantily-clad nightclub babe scenario – yes she’s “asking for it” but she’s not asking me, an out-of-shape, balding late forties bloke whose face only his mother could ever have described as handsome. So I’ll try not to look, and I’ll definitely not say anything. I’m certainly not judging, either.

    Maybe they should teach boys this stuff from early in primary school. Unfortunately we are the ‘ugly sex’, and have to accept it. I reckon a full 10% of women between 18-30 will turn at least one head as they walk into a bar. The proportion of men who have that effect has got to be less than 1%, perhaps 0.1%. And most of those guys are jerks, anyway (or at least I like to think so).

    • ‘I also think this of the scantily-clad nightclub babe scenario – yes she’s “asking for it” but she’s not asking me’

      Considering you say you agree with this post, I’m not sure how you can justify the view that girls who dress a certain way deserve to be sexually assaulted. I’ve worked in the promotions team for various nightclubs and the uniform is often a tight dress or a crop top and shorts – I don’t see how showing up to my minimum-wage job wearing my uniform equates to ‘asking for it’.

      • You have a minimum wage job, and you cannot understand simple prose; I wonder if those two facts are related. Read what I have written again and see if you can see where I suggested that girls who dress a certain way deserve to be sexually assualted.

        • Lindsey, please accept my abject apologies – I started regretting that awful personal attach the moment I pressed send. I was annoyed that you would think I’m suggesting that any woman ever deserves to be sexually assaulted and in a fit of pique I lashed out. I feel extremely ashamed of myself; I was so busy thinking of that that I completely blanked how horrible it must have looked to you that I was defending rape.

          The point I was trying to make is this: women should be free to advertise themselves sexually, because they want to, because they have a sexy uniform, or just because they want to feel good about themselves. I think it is perfectly acceptable for a young woman to go out looking for sex “asking for it” or not – just as she pleases. However, men should realise that even a woman actively seeking a sexual encounter is not seeking just *any* encounter, but one of her choosing. So it doesn’t matter how sexually available she makes herself, that availability is entirely at her discretion. I hope that is more clear, and also why I agree with the article that even saying something like “i would” is threatening.

          Once again, please accept my apologies for being a total bastard in my previous comment, and I completely understand if you don’t feel like doing so. Sorry.

    • Yes, that small % of head-turning dudes DO tend to be jerks. I’ll hang out with the awkward guy in the corner who wants to talk about Doctor Who any day.

  2. I totally agree that men who go around saying “I would” – and who therefore blithely assume that anyone actually gives a shit – are simply reproducing the cultural assumption that women’s bodies are there to be judged, and are that women are thus substantially (if not primarily) valuable for their physical attractiveness. I’m less sure that the correlation you identify between cultural tropes and rape is the same thing as causation, but without robust evidence I don’t think anyone can make a particularly meaningful statement in this regard.

    More problematically, though, I want to take issue with your claim that:

    The verb used is ‘would,’ which indicates a disposition of absolute certainty. It’s not, I might, or, I may have sex with this woman, if I asked her permission and she agreed. It is, ‘I would.’

    The verb here – “would have” – is the conditional past tense form of “will”, and therefore by definition it IS conditional on women’s consent. I would (only) do something if I COULD do it. Now, I’m not trying to provide a petulant defence of sexism here, let alone suggest that this is a form of respect. The reason I think this IS important, though, is that the men who engage in “I would” thinking are much more unaware of how unpleasant their assumptions are than your article would suggest. It isn’t that they haven’t considered how women think about them at all – on the contrary, the exclamations of “would!” I hear most often are in regards to people on the TV (who are as remote as can be) or women who might be expected to be purely unattainable. In other words, I interpret the “would” phenomenon to be precisely the conditional I set out above, a kind of forlorn “if only”. [Now, the idea that there are three different classes of "would" is interesting here; perhaps I am speaking mostly about the first, since they are the kind of people I meet.]

    This is significant because it leads to a rather more nuanced understanding of the problem. The problem I’m getting at is less brazen than the sexual aggression you refer to; it’s rather that in the current environment it is culturally acceptable, if not expected, that women’s bodies are there to be appraised by men. Many women therefore respond by trying to meet men’s tastes, while others are revoltingly criticised for failing to do so. The immediate problem, then, is one of objectification and false, gender-specific cultural standards and the anxiety these standards cause.

    But, to repeat, it is not clear how this immediate problem is causally linked to sexual violence. To my mind, sexual violence is largely about power, rather than sex, while the “would” phenomenon is about sexual attractiveness. To conflate these two things could be rather dangerous, in so far as it might take our eyes off of the particular causes of rape. And, if what we’re concerned about here is objectification (since rape is a separate problem which requires separate solutions), conflation may be overkill. After all, very, very ordinary chaps say (or think) “I would!” all the time, so if efforts to combat their sexism are conflated with claims that said sexism leads to rape, they’ll be all too wont to ignore it (after all, they’ll say, they’re not rapists!). If objectification and its horrible effects are treated as an individual problem, then they may not get out of their own responsibilities so easily.

    Having said this, if there is robust evidence that shows that the “I would” phenomenon directly causes rape then everything said above is wrong. I’m simply sceptical that such evidence exists.

    • I think the author makes a perfectly meaningful statement – that she finds the statement redolent of sexual violence and therefore utterly distasteful.

      If you think she’s overreacting, I suggest you ponder how you would feel if a passing stranger opined to his mates that he could ‘have you’.

      • I’m a little confused by this – I wasn’t doubting the meaningfulness of this article at all (it’s well-written and insightful. But note how condescending it seems to say that; that’s why I generally avoid what can often look like empty praise). I hear this a lot, but have not discussed it with anyone, so I’m very interested in the author’s take on the matter.

        Neither do I accuse her of over-reacting. That implies that I’m trying to silence her (and, indeed, to silence her in a way heavily associated with sexist condescension). In fact, I’m doing the opposite; in seriously engaging with the argument she makes, because I think it’s an argument worth taking seriously. I can only hope that the author sees the respect implied by this.

        Lastly, I think the last point you make, about whether a chap might walk past and loudly say he could “have me” (which usually has a rather different meaning when men say it about one another) hits the nail on the head – of my point at least. Namely, the author is suggesting that men do indeed mean that they COULD, when they are in fact saying they WOULD. Many men may use the term in a nasty and aggressive way (that would implies could), but my contention is that many men use it unthinkingly as an impulsive vocalisation of their attraction to women. These men are not implying a will to violence, but are rather forgetting/ignoring the fact that women do not exist for their titillation and appraisal.

        Now, the number of men who fall into my latter category is an open question. Perhaps, in the whole world, only the men I know who use the phrase do (I haven’t done any research on the topic, so I can’t say). Moreover, we can also challenge whether the meaning I’m getting at matters. Surely what matters is how women feel when they experience it? To this latter question; yes, of course it is women’s experiences here that matter. But I think focusing on these experiences may take us rather far from the real, underlying social causes of rape. It may not, of course, which is why I express quite clearly that I might be wrong. But surely it’s at least a fair enough topic for discussion?

        • What are, in your opinion ‘the real, underlying social causes of rape’? I would say a significant contributory cause is the social acceptability of the objectification of women.

          • Why does it matter what my opinion is? Surely what matters is what the evidence suggests. Imagine I said that, in my opinion, sexual violence its the result of blue cheese. Some men react badly to blue cheese and commit crimes against women. You’d rightly say that’s ridiculous, because it contradicts our common experience-based common-sense understandings of how humans function. So, what matters is these experiences and understandings are formed and interpreted.

            On this, I’d day two things. 1) Our more accurate claims are those of that arise through personal experiences.

            2) out more questionable claims are those which rely on wider, mediated experiences. I cant experience first hand the link between the idea of ‘I would’ and violence (though I may feel threatened). Therefore, I get that idea from elsewhere (s feminist blog, say). But then how do I know that it’s correct? I can’t test it against my own experiences, so i have to take the other’s word on it.

            So, if that’s how you think sexual violence works, good for you. Unless you have any evidence though, I’m not sure what the implication is, nor why it’s relevant to those who disagree with you.

    • Paul, your comment suggests you are making several assumptions which are problematic.
      1: that “ordinary chaps” are never also rapists
      2: that objectification is not linked to rape.
      You seem to be genuinely attempting to be a feminist ally and that’s great, but these views are unlikely to help you in that quest. Could I suggest you have a read of this ? It should give you a lot to think about and improve your understanding of why those views are not going to be popular in debates about gender issues (apart from some MRA blogs but that doesn’t seem to be the level on which you’re trying to engage).

      • For a short comment, there’re a whole bunch of issues in there, which I unfortunately don’t have the ability to fully respond to now. So, being more than usually succinct:

        1. I don’t make either of those assumptions. I’ve discussed my view on “normal guys” and sexual violence elsewhere on this blog, but I’ll sum it up: rape is not normal, so rapists aren’t normal. This isn’t a definitional point; rather, it’s to point out that when we talk of normal rapists, we mean they are normal in some respects but not others (and that we make significant but clearly inaccurate judgements based on these seemingly important criteria). For the purposes of my point above, I am simply concerned with those men using the ‘would’ terminology, who I postulate to be normal in the sense of not being sexually violent. We may squabble about how big this number is, but it’s a social scientific question and not one that can be answered here.

        2a. Following point 1., I think it is an open question what causal links exist between objectification and rape. I’m afraid that all of the evidence on social mechanisms and causation suggests that horribly complex problems such as sexual violence have unstable causal mechanisms (sexual violence is a product of power inequality and feelings of emasculation rather than sex – but neither power nor self-worth are well-understood). These problems, that is, are complicated, and don’t admit of easy ‘x leads to y’ statements. That’s why governments fail to solve them. So, I’m very sceptical of statements made from ideology, but not because I think they’re inaccurate (actually, I think pretty much everything humans say about society is inaccurate to some degree), but because they seem so certain. Their providers are often blinkered to other equally plausible interpretations of the evidence.

        In short, the point above is: maybe they are causally linked. I don’t know. Thus, my challenge to the author is to provide better reasoning to justify the quite strong claim she makes.

        2b. Which leads me to your suggestions that I’m a (not quite successful) ‘ally’ of feminism who might benefit from feminism 101. Actually, it’s here that I’ve the most to say, but let me just suggest that the claim that I agree that my views might be unpopular. In all seriousness, I simply don’t care. I think if we moderate our views according to whether we think they’ll be popular, just as if we close off dissent, we’re on very dangerous ground. I’m here not to be vexatious, nor because I have a ‘problem’ with feminism (and I certainly resent any implication that I might be better off on men’s rights forums). On the contrary, I’m fascinated by sociological questions of all stripes. I simply think – and there is nothing on fem101 that refutes this – that the world is very complicated, and out political positions can often lead us to make statements that are simply inaccurate, or that at least need lots of further research before they can be rendered meaningful and/or useful.

        • This blog often speaks to my direct lived experience. There’s a reason why I read this blog, as opposed to say, reading academic papers which do in depth social studies to concretely “prove” that one fearful situation triggering the fear of something worse happening to me is the correct interpretation and there I am “allowed” (derailing opportunity: please note you didn’t actually say that word exactly) that interpretation.

          My lived experience does not involve men eating blue cheese and becoming rape threats, which is a silly example as there’s not even a correlation (derailing opportunity: refute point by referring to lack of literature and studies, then note this is not something you’ve read about OR point out you actually said it was a silly example and imply there’s something “wrong” with me if I don’t like blue cheese being equated with sexual violence which women ACTUALLY EXPERIENCE). However there’s definitely a correlation (derailing opportunity, deny my lived experience and ask for actual scientific studies – is there any minimum sample size by the way?) between a man vocally expressing his desire to do something to me, the entitlement he feels to my body and acting on said entitlement, in my very real lived experience. I personally do not have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for scientific studies to be done which concretely relate the public and vocal expressions of “I would” to a whatever-percent-chance of me experiencing sexual violence at the hands of Mr “I would” before I say something about it. The “danger” of making “this kind of expression to be more-or-less acceptable” (derailing opportunity: probably I’m quoting out of context) is for me, on the scale of “dangers” about negative ten, on a scale of zero to +10 (derailing opportunity: talk about how incorrect assumptions could misinform the shaping of public policy and which may then result in issues of sexual violence not being addressed). I’m actually more interesting in the actual dangers the author alludes to like, men getting in my face and in my space (nice steak analogy!) and me feeling at a greater risk of sexual violence that a man’s actions being WRONGLY MISINTERPRETED! OMG!

          What I read about in the article is one woman’s lived experience which I relate to because it is clear, accessible and speaks to my actual real life experience. What I see in the comments is a discussion which should be speaking to our experiences as women (derailing opportunity: it’s not all about women’s spaces men can come here too and take up space) being displaced and the discussion being derailed such that the conversation is centred around a bunch of academise, grammar, tone policing (compliment = condescending? p.s. another derailing opportunity: discuss compliments and when they are and are not condescending) etc. I also see a lot of space being taken up by a man systematically dismantling a woman’s lived experience by asking for studies, questioning subtle links and repackaging the message into something he’s happy with (derailing opportunity, repeat how all of the small details you mention are actually factually correct).

          I’m on here to hear what women experience and how they interpret their experiences. Much as I can appreciate the logical flow of Paul’s arguments, the attention to detail, and the relevant points made, I’m actually not interested in seeing a woman’s self expression of her lived experiences repackaged and picked at by a man so that the final message is something he’s happy with, or mansplaining rape, what he really means, how things should be said so they’re “correct” or in line with scientific evidence and studies.

          We don’t all have the privilege of emotionally distancing ourselves from discussions and being educated enough to express ourselves with a water tight arguments to ensure “dangerous” assumptions about men aren’t being made and so on.

          I look forward to reading the lived experiences of women and how they feel this article relates to their actual lived experience in a space made for our voices… but anyways, looking forward to be called names, called out, having the logical structure of this critiqued, big words thrown at me, being told I’m not nice for not reacting logically only (yes I’ll admit it, I’ve responded emotionally) and all kinds of other shit that have fuck all, absolutely fuck all impact on my actual LIVED EXPERIENCE.

          • I’m a little confused by this. Are the “derailing opportunities” you point out things I’ve done, or things you suspect that I will do? In any case, I’m not here to close down discussion, let alone to “repackage” what others are saying until I feel happy about it. I am genuinely sorry if my sincere attempts at engaging with posts that include men’s perspectives (because including suppositions about men’s intentions etc.) have the impression of being haughty or condescending.

            Still, I’m not going to shrink away from so engaging, because while your view of what this blog is and what you get out of it is valid, it is not the only valid view. It’s one thing to have a post that is all about one’s inner experiences, and quite another to have a post which makes external claims, which are to some extent fact-sensitive. There’s not much I can (or want) to say about a woman’s experience with make-up, say, or how she feels about taking another’s name. But I think there is something I can say about what men mean by saying “I would” or how a public campaign trying to minimise sexual violence works (or doesn’t). Like it or not, these are contested public political issues which are simply not exhausted by one’s own particular opinion. And it’s a good thing that they are public in this way, since it is through democratic discussion that we may find solutions to our problems.

            Still, my response to Sophie’s challenge does seem to bear a misinterpretation (that I think feminist discourses should buckle under the weight of science). So, I think it worth repeating that I don’t wish to close any of the discussions down (or “derail” them). I only want to see how the public political views people express bear up under reasonable (and quite sympathetic!) scrutiny. Is this particularly objectionable? It would be if all one wanted to do was validate one’s own beliefs, but surely you’ll agree that on factual matters belief-validation is less important than belief-accuracy. When we discuss sexual violence, for instance, we do so surely because we want to eradicate it. So, having good beliefs so we can act upon good beliefs (so we can solve the problem) is more important than internally thinking “Yeah, they agree with me, yeah!!”. If I’m wrong, fair enough – I should indeed take my views elsewhere. But I’ve read enough on here to think that most people do indeed care about good real-world outcomes for my points to have at least some utility.

    • “Men who go around saying “I would” … are simply reproducing the cultural assumption that women’s bodies are there to be judged, and are that women are thus substantially (if not primarily) valuable for their physical attractiveness.”

      It’s not a cultural assumption. It’s an evolutionary fact that both males and females are in part valued for their attractiveness (where attractiveness means adherence to certain physical proportions and ratios), because it’s a highly accurate marker of genetic health. From rodents to regents, it’s all the same.

      • Regardless of how we define them, there IS a difference between our genetically driven behaviour and our social behaviour. My body makes me hungry towards the late morning, but if I’m at work I wait until lunch to eat. Similarly, I may struggle not to notice a sexually attractive person, but whether I say “WOULD!!!!” or not depends on how I think I can or should act.

        Claims about our “nature” are almost always political, in the sense that they’re claims about how things “have to be” (closing down discussion on how they COULD be), and this is no exception. Some men, some women, and much of the media comment on women’s bodies not because they have an uncontrollable urge, but because they think it’s OK to – they think women’s bodies are there to be appraised and criticised. I think that’s wrong because it’s unfair, sexist and disempowering, and no amount of telling me that I’m an animal refutes my case.

  3. ‘I would’ is not about sexual attraction though? That’s the point of the whole article? It is definitely about power.

    • No its actually not about power. If it were one would expect the distribution of (broadly speaking) sexually harassing events to be uniform across all groups of relatively vulnerable individuals. E,g, middle aged women, older people of either sex, younger males as well as young women.

      This is not the case, however. By far the most cases of sexual inappropriateness (from minor harassment to out and out rape) occur in the population of young women. This clearly suggests that something else is at work and the most likely candidate is obviously male sexual desire.

      Moreover, generalizations from one’s own case which the author makes with respect to sexual psychology is at best naive and at worst simply stupid. Both sexes actually routinely do this so it is not just the exclusive domain of women :)

      Women such as the author of the article, who seems to lack any ability to reason in a Bayesian way (if they could, they would have come up with a different hypothesis), have no more idea about what it is like to have a male sexual psychology than they do a dog’s.

      It is not like a female’s only with worse self control – which appears to be the model favored by many women and most women influenced by certain strains of feminism. Men in fact (although I’m sure it sounds like a good joke!) are not defective women.

      I will not bore you with an attempt to characterize the influence of sex drive on male psychology. Suffice it to say that it is pervasive, powerful, uninterrupted and requires more or less continuous background management (and sometimes great willpower) to control.

      Boors will have problems with this just as they have problems with courtesy and consideration in many aspects of their lives. Power is for the most part, irrelevant.

      • Why is it necessary to know Bayesian updating to make claims about sexual violence and harassment? As the criticism of my own position on this above suggests, the internal interpretation of male behaviour matters as much as the legal “facts” of the matter. This is why sexual harassment is defined subjectively in law – it couldn’t be any other way.

        What I think you are trying to dismiss is the plausibility of the case that men’s expression of their sexuality is an expression of power, rather than simple sexuality. You think this (I presume), because the power-account of sexual aggression rests upon a female characterisation of sexuality. But this seems to me to be plainly incorrect. Sexual aggression IS experienced by all manner of “vulnerable” groups – from older women to young men. But even if the data are skewed towards young women (whom you controversially assume to be the most sexually attractive), that doesn’t prove anything. Young women may be those most likely to make angry men even angrier – witness Elliott Rodger’s anger towards those women he felt should have been giving him sex. Moreover, society in general seems to reward conventionally attractive women with a lot of power whilst simultaneously giving them an air of exclusivity. Whether or not they experience their lives in this way, those who are angry or feel excluded may very plausibly focus on these women as a focal point of their exclusion/perceived mistreatment. Even if ALL sexual aggression was aimed at these women, it is perfectly plausible that sexual aggression is therefore an issue of power and violence, rather than sex.

        As it happens, I think you’re right, though, that many cases of sexual harassment (though NOT sexual violence) arise out of simple expressions of sexuality. Many of the “I would” cases discussed above may fall into this camp. But even here, note that there is a social element – one that requires women’s subjective participation to resolve. Your plausible statement of male sexuality says nothing about its expression; whether men feel entitled or obliged to say every time they see a sexually attractive person is all about how they feel they should act in any given situation. So it’s a failure of public institutions that it is so often acceptable for men to be judging others’ (mostly women’s) bodies. Without women pointing this out, it would be difficult to see it changing.

        • Another mistake: instead of “You think this (I presume), because the power-account of sexual aggression rests upon a female characterisation of sexuality”

          it should be “You think this (I presume), because you think the power-account of sexual aggression rests upon a female characterisation of sexuality”

      • It’s absolutely about power. No one has ever shamed men for overt expressions of their heterosexuality.

        Can the same ever be any other group?

  4. I am a woman (and a strident feminist) and I have always interpreted the “I would” as meaning “if I had the chance” as Paul describes in his comment. That doesn’t mean I don’t find it annoying and sexist, because it’s a classic example of a dude exercising the privilege to express his opinion on a woman’s body without being asked. As such it is part of a system of entitlement that also contributes to some men feeling that they have the right to a woman’s body without consent, and that’s what I understood the OP to be saying when she made the connection between “I would” and rape statistics.

    • “That doesn’t mean I don’t find it annoying and sexist, because it’s a classic example of a dude exercising the privilege to express his opinion on a woman’s body without being asked. ”

      It seems you aren’t aware, but in a liberal democracy like the UK, you are allowed to voice your opinion on things without being asked. You can even do it if it offends other people! This applies to both men and women equally. It’s not a male privilege.

      You see, no on asked you for your opinion on these men’s behaviour did they? It works both ways. Let them be boorish fools and get on with your life. Don’t try to make it about male privilege because it’s just not and it utterly devalues the term.

      • It is about privilege and power.

        Heterosexual men are in the position of any group they are most overt in their expressions of their sexuality in public spaces with no repercussions.

        No other group in society is able to overtly express their sexuality with anywhere near the freedom of straight men.

        This right of straight men is so ingrained into our culture it even asks questions of straight men who don’t participate. Homophobic slurs are thrown at men who don’t conform or perpetuate.

        And lastly, listen to the synonyms men often use instead of “I would”

        In a mens toilet I overheard a conversation that started with: “I would destroy Miley Cyrus”

        Tell me thats not about power?

      • Rob, you are so wrong it might be a waste of my time to explain to you exactly how wrong you are. You are a prime example of structural misogyny. You may be so blinded by societal views of gender and sexuality that what I say may just bounce off your thick head.

        Yes, I have the freedom to say whatever the hell I want. But, women do not feel they have the right to say aggressively sexual things such as “I would/wouldn’t” because they see that women are shamed for those things. Men, however, give each other pats on the back and, like you said, have a laugh with their buddies.

        Every time a man says something sexually violent or powerful it reinforces the idea that it is OK. Rapists (they are normal blokes, you can’t just know a rapist by sight) who hear these jokes are then justified. They are reassured that it is a normal to think this way, as a man.

        You’re right. The men in question did not ask for my opinion. But I did not ask for theirs, either. And they are openly laughing, pointing, sneering, making lewd gestures, etc. It is humiliating. If I were to take action of some sort, it would be equally humiliating, as women are supposed to be demure and non-confrontational. I would just be labeled a “no fun stuck up bitch”. And who wants that when they’re at a bar?

        Get on with my life? No. I refuse. You suggesting that as an option is absolutely male privilege. You are pretty much suggesting that the author of this article is in the “no fun stuck up bitch” category. You know; lighten up, get over it, don’t be such a…feminist!

        It can only be one of two ways for women: fun and sexually available, or no fun stuck up bitch. Men are privileged in that they can act aggressively without social stigmatization, are not in fear for their lives when leaving a bar in front of a large group of intoxicated men, and can stand up for themselves without being unfairly labeled or cast out.

        As my mother says: Rob, “this is why we can’t have nice things”. Kindly do some more research if you want to label yourself a feminist. You are doing us no favors here.

  5. Thank you for this article. I thought the steak analogy was spot on.
    Whenever I have been at the receiving end of such ‘vocalizations’ I have felt threatened – if a complete stranger is able to tell me that they basically want to fuck me then I can only deduce they have no respect for me as a thinking feeling human being and no sense of boundaries so I fear they are capable of anything. To me, the ‘I would’s and the like are therefore an act of violence whether or not it is committed consciously.

  6. ‘It’s not, I might, or, I may have sex with this woman, if I asked her permission and she agreed. It is, ‘I would.’

    …. actually, if we were talking about complete certainty, it would be ‘I will’. The ‘would’ is conditional and therefore does imply some doubt/condition, a long the lines of ‘if she let me or if i got the chance’, which shows that neither are definite. Still, it’s not a very nice thing to shout at people.

  7. Uhh, ‘would’ is a conditional modal, and does not express absolute certainty.

    Not saying it’s not offensive to see women in the street and announce whether they meet your selective criteria, and I’m totally with you on men being perfectly capable of not articulating their desire for any attractive woman they see eating calamari. But yeah, I’m not on board with ‘would’ being particularly objectionable; the unspoken condition is presumably ‘if she would’.

    • Yeah, that’s pretty much how I see it – an abbreviation of “I totally would say yes if that person asked me and circumstances allowed”. That’s certainly what it means when used by my female friends. It’s the public judgement of attractiveness by strangers that’s nasty whatever specific words are used, not necessarily this particular phrase, IMO.

  8. “many men use it unthinkingly as an impulsive vocalisation of their attraction to women. These men are not implying a will to violence, but are rather forgetting/ignoring the fact that women do not exist for their titillation and appraisal.” — I think that forgetting this is precisely the issue. THis is a very small scale example of the kind of attitude that, when much more extreme, can enable the behaviour of rapists. Essentially the comfort, personal sense of security or dignity of the woman is less important than his sexual feelings or aspirations. Respecting her sense of safety and personal dignity comes second to his satisfaction in vocalising his opinion because he sees her as an object of appraisal and titillation. Essentially, she is not that important compared to his sexuality and status/preferred public image.

  9. Despite what has been said about the conditionality of the word ‘would’, I have to say I generally agree with the author that there is something very unpleasantly aggressive and unsettling (aside from issues of the scrutiny of women’s appearances) about this kind of saying. I think there is something fundamentally un-consensual about the ‘I would’, because the obvious reaction (at least mine) to this is ‘who even asked you?’. What is disturbing I think (sticking with the food metaphors) is how much this kind of saying recalls some sort of imaginary buffet of consumables, presented for the viewer’s evaluation, delectation and choice.

    To me the ‘I would’ sounds like something which has grown out of a particular kind of infantile game played in groups on street corners or park benches, and is a response to an imaginary question of ‘Would you sleep with her?’ (hence bestowed as a some sort of favour to the woman in question). For this reason precisely it seems to me that it crosses the line from expression of desire into expression of choice and power. I think the point of the article is to highlight that even if individual people saying ‘I would’ might not do so out of aggression, the assumptions that allow for this kind of expression to be more-or-less acceptable might be dangerous ones and need calling attention to.

  10. I interpret “I would!” as “I would, if I could…but I can’t”. I don’t hear “I will”, I hear “Given the opportunity, yes, I would have sex with her”. The opportunity could easily be consensual and it does not necessarily imply a forced assault.

    ‘I’m gonna have that’ and variants thereof are, to me, far more intimidating and laden with intent than ‘I would’.

    I do think thoughts like this should be kept to oneself, much like I would not bark “I would!” at one of the many actors I lust over if I were to encounter them in person, even though I say it to them on screen.

    One woman could react to a guy saying ‘I would’ with nothing more than a sense of triumph that her new dress really does make her look incredibly hot even though her new boyfriend did not think to say this to her, the wanker, while her friend could already be shouting ‘PRICK!’ at him as he carries on down the road.

    So I guess it comes down to semantics. Actions speak louder than words, to me, so to make the leap from ‘I would’ to rape is potentially a leap to far in my eyes. But for damage limitation, boys and girls, please keep thoughts about whether you would or not to yourself.

  11. Fiona, Paul.

    Whilst I agree with that the author’s interpretation of “I would” as “I would, regardless of her consent” may be a bit of a stretch, I am still convinced by the main thrust of her argument. I doubt whether most men uttering “I would” are thinking of deliberately expressing themselves using a conditional modal – they are just lacking impulse control. The problem is, as I think the author convincingly expresses, the apparent social acceptability of this lack of impulse control — and the correlation to the social problem of seeing women as sex objects.

    Imagine a man saying something like “What a beautiful young woman” to his friends, apparently to his friends, but (probably deliberately) loudly enough for the woman to overhear. This may well be inappropriate, but it doesn’t seem to carry quite the same threat. Why not?

    I said earlier that us men have to accept we are the ugly sex. By making a comment that suggests I even think a coupling is a possibility, I am proposing myself as a match, when the likelihood is that such a coupling can only happen by force. That, I think, is why the threat of sexual violence is implicit.

  12. Usually my reply is “my body has nothing to do with you”. In reply to negative comments as well as superficial positive comments on my body/ weight, in reply to the person who asked me out for a drink and wouldn’t take no for an answer and so started talking about my body as though it was something to be won.

  13. What have I said that causes my comments to be ‘in moderation’ for days? It effectively prevents me from engaging in the discussion; if you want me to go away, please just say. (although I’ll remain an avid reader of the blog).

  14. I think semantics is beside the point.
    Objectification is present whether men (or women) comment amongst themselves the attractiveness of someone else.
    But like catcalls, when you say it out loud, you’re not really trying to charm or impress anyone. You’re trying to intimidate. It’s about power.
    It’s aggression (that if taken to extremes will likely result in things like rape and battery) and has nothing whatsoever to do with an actual desire to have sex with someone else.
    I usually go out alone. In my hometown in Portugal, summer nights fill the streets with boys and girls in their teens and twenties roving in packs.
    I’ve been the target of everything from whistles to our local version of “I’d have that”.
    It usually derives from groups and is totally unrelated to any actual attempt at seduction.
    It’s an attempt to intimidate, top make you lose your cool.
    I don’t know about the UK, but groups of guys here will do that to a girl or woman in the company of her boyfriend. In this context (in our culture), she’s not even the target, it’s him. What they are saying is -”your gilrlriend is sexually attractive and we can insult and intimidate you and her and there’s nothing you (as a man and obvious protector – mind I’m expressing general latin culture views, not mine own) can do about it.

    Sure, when idiot males do it, in extreme situations and circumstances it will almost always end badly or tragically, but women do it as well and more and more often these days.

    It’s not about sex, attraction or seduction, even in a twisted sort of way. It’s about power and intimidation.
    It’s about exercising that power.

    I work in a factory and men will comment amongst themselves in the rudest terms the sexual attractiveness of ANY female who walks by (and were it not for a zero tolerance policy on harassment it would be impossible to have female engineers as our superiors or as colleagues by our side).

    That being said, I hate it when they say shit like that and look at me looking for approval/validation of their comments, throwing me into the men-bucket along with the rest of them.
    I hate the phrase “Men, how about, don’t be so revolting” for the very same reasons.

    Do the Vagenda team really think most men who come here and read your articles need to be thrown in automatically with the rest?

    Is that not also a bit short-sighted and even insulting?
    Have you not commented on a guys looks (or just his buttocks) on a night out with your ladybros?

    I mean, really…. I believe that even if most of us men here can always learn a thing or two, so can you.
    Objectification is a two way street these days.
    In spite of the fact that our side is a double or triple lane due to history and patriarchy, I’m sure there’s plenty of girls and women who could use a bit of manners regarding the exact same issue and you missed a good opportunity to also do just that.

    • “Have you not commented on a guys looks (or just his buttocks) on a night out with your ladybros?

      I mean, really…. I believe that even if most of us men here can always learn a thing or two, so can you.
      Objectification is a two way street these days.”

      You’re so sure in your mind that women have commented on mens bodies, so lets me ask you this, did they comment loud enough to for the men to hear? Did the comment with the weight of their tone heavily expressing their desire to have sex. Did they have the security of knowing their overt expression of sexuality wouldn’t be challenged or countered. Did they know they always had the threat of violence on their side to silence anyone who tried to challenge them for their comment. Did their comment come with the potential of sexual assault. Does that sexual assault have a shockingly low conviction rate.

      Was their comment back up by a society which perpetuates the notion that mens bodies are there for womens consumption and scrutiny?

      If you genuinely believe that women and men are equal in the way they objectify each other, you are either being willfully ignorant to derail any conversation, or you are not educated enough to meaningfully participate

      • “did they comment loud enough to for the men to hear ”


        “Did the comment with the weight of their tone heavily expressing their desire to have sex ”


        Did they have the security of knowing their overt expression of sexuality wouldn’t be challenged or countered”

        Yes, and as far as I am concerned, that is really all I need to comment on objectification of bodies.
        The extremes to which these situations might go will obviously differ for the reasons you subsequently mentioned. But I was in no way trying to comment in the style of “men suffer the same thing and are subject to the same threat and are therefore equal” or other such bullshit.

        All am saying and that I will repeat is that objectification is a 2 way street these days, obviously adapted to the culture we live in. And that catcalls regardless of the gender or sexual preference are always a question of power over someone and exercise of that power.

        It’s 2014. It’s still a patriarchy, but we’re all meat on display nowadays.

        Yes, the consequences for women are a lot more serious, scarring and life-threatening, but that should not in any way blind us to the fact that the culture that brings about this sort of behaviour is present and has permeated young(er) people regardless of gender or sexual preference.

        As for example I have lesbian friends who are regularly harassed by straight men in the hope of “curing” them, I have straight female friends who’ve been harassed and stalked by lesbian women.
        This could go on and on.

        Disgusting behaviour is disgusting behaviour. the consequences in each case may vary, but disgusting or revolting behaviour isn’t exclusive to men, and the article made it so, if only in the very last phrase. To point it out isn’t an attempt to derail or troll anything, or to try and equate the plight of women vs men.

        So no, I’m not being willfully ignorant, or turning a blind eye to reality. As for educated enough to participate in this discussion, as far as I am concerned, if I am not, more the reason to participate and learn and grow.
        I believe you should only look down on someone if you’re going to try to help them up. Not your case, it seems.

        Educational differences, I gather.

  15. Thank you for this article,
    Not long ago, I was stuck on a crowded train with a group of men who, after I tried to ignore their advances, proceeded to give my body parts marks out of 10. Although I agree that not all men are like this, it does not take away the fact that prejudice towards women happens and can be a frightening experience.

  16. paul i must say this, as a man, you disgust me.
    You are quibbling about semantics for no real reason. I also find your attitudes to other men weird, to say the least.

    • Wow – usually people have to see my phantom-esque visage before they become disgusted. I must be moving up in the world.

      I’m not quibbling about semantics at all. I’m saying that there is a substantive difference between routine, ignorant sexism and sexual violence. If you could read, you’d have seen this.

      And I must say I couldn’t give two hoots what you find weird or not. Until you learn to give reasons for your childish pronouncements, no one’s going to take anything you say seriously.

      • Way to go Paul, you’ve made a discussion about harassment and made it entirely about you.

        You hold your right to be part of a discussion and make a point other posters have made (whether “would” denotes certainty), above women’s rights to have a discussion about the harassment they face without it exhaustingly being made about men. This is the essence of privilege

  17. I say ‘I would’ when talking about guys. I definitely don’t ever expect that to be reciprocated, just because I want to doesn’t mean they do. I have no power over there choice to sleep or not to sleep with me and I don’t think the phrase intimates that the speaker (man or woman) thinks they do.

    • BUT i agree with any kind of cat call, body comment, sex reference in public being totally disrespectful and intimidating!!

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