Ask A Feminist #2: No, I don't want you to watch

by Laura // 19 January 2012, 13:29

Tags: ask a feminist, bisexuality, homophobia, sex, sexism

In this week's Ask A Feminist, reader Jenny is looking for ways to challenge people who think her bisexuality is all about them...

yellow question mark chalked on a tarmac roadDear Laura,

I'd *love* some suggestions for both snappy comebacks and reasoned explanations of The Wrong for when people say "hurr hurr hurr lesbians can I watch". I'm pretty sure I'm bi, but haven't actually had a girlfriend. When I've mentioned this in the past, I've had the above response and been so full of "I can't believe you said that" that my capacity for speech has shut down and I've been reduced to goldfish impressions and walking away.

Some of the people in question are still good friends of mine, on the grounds that when I *have* explained stuff to them they've listened, thought and changed, hence wanting something a bit more productive than "Only if I can watch you and RandomOtherMaleFriend".

Thanks! I feel I should have sorted out all this sort of thing years ago...

- Jenny, Kitten Wrangler, Cambridge

Now this IS annoying. It does seem that for certain guys, usually the kind of men that keep a stack of Nuts and Zoo in the downstairs loo, "bisexual" is short for "will shag anything that moves, preferably all at once". So why wouldn't you want them to get involved?

For those times when you just don't have the patience to get into exactly why this reaction is so full of wrong, I'd suggest throwing it back in his face with an expression of disgust and a quick one-liner:

"I may be bisexual, but I do have standards"
"Thanks, but you'd only ruin the fun"
*insert pun involving not being interested in dick here*

I'm sure Team F-Word can come up with more in comments. You can ladle on the disgusted sarcasm or keep it light, depending on how much you like the person. Playful banter tends to be a good way to make a serious point, because funny people gain respect and attention in social groups and, as I'm sure you'll know, Angry Feminist does not go down well in non-feminist circles.

When it comes to really challenging their reaction (and it's great that you have friends who are willing to listen and change), personally I'd tell them the following. Firstly, my sexuality is not about you. Women having sex with women is not about you; it's not about men at all. The idea that women who are into each other must automatically want or be willing for a guy to get involved if they're bisexual is sexist and homophobic. It implies that women cannot satisfy each other, that a man (read a penis) is required for women to really have fun, and that the straight portion of bisexuality is stronger and more important than the gay part. This is also the kind of thinking beneath the popular idea that bisexual women only kiss each other to get men's attention (and more widely that women should kiss each other to get men's attention, but that's another issue...).

It's also a rather disrespectful and condescending view of bisexuality - your sexuality - this idea that bisexuality is about being hypersexual, out of control, constantly up for it, that bisexual women are easy and undiscerning targets for horny dudes. We may have a bigger pool to choose from, but that doesn't mean we don't have the same range of tastes and preferences as hetero- or homosexual people. Assuming that we'd be any more interested in adding another person to the mix (not that there's anything wrong with three, four or moresomes!) is therefore presumptuous and rude: certainly not the kind of attitude you'd expect from a friend.

Hope that gives you some starting points; anyone else want to chip in?

Want to Ask A Feminist? Email laura[at]thefword.org.uk.

Comments From You

Laurel // Posted 19 January 2012 at 15:33

to be honest, the fact that non-heterosexualities are automatically linked to their sexualities (partially due to the term i suppose) is annoying enough. when you say that youre bisexual, or in fact lesbian they suddenly think about your sex life. not you as a person who might be whatever sexuality, or you as someone who might like to hold hands with women, game with women, cuddle women, and go to the theme park with women, kisses women, and finds women sexually attractive... you know, SOME women SOME times... but instead just someone who has sexual contact with women. of course that is a part of it, but its the part of it which isnt any of their business in the first place. sexuality can be a big part of someones identity, esp if you dont fit the normal boxes, but its not always desirable. being a woman is unfortunately a big part of my life. i dont much identify as one and would rather it wasnt part of my life further than how i piss or have sex, but sadly when people know you are a woman they see that part of you first, and it seems like this carries over to sexuality an very much intertwines for bi/les/pansexual/other women/woman identified/genderqueer and probably some trans men.

garicgymro // Posted 19 January 2012 at 17:25

I disagree with including a pun about not being interested in dick, since I think that would just help confirm another very annoying and stupid assumption about bisexual people: that they're actually just gay. The point about bisexuality is that you're potentially attracted to people with dicks, regardless of your own sex or gender.

I'd also be wary of even responding with a one-liner here. Given that the man in question probably thinks what he's just said is hilarious, then any sort of verbal response can be seen as entering into banter, and thus justifying the ignorance and immense boringness of his line.

I would suggest responding simply with silence, accompanied by the face you would use if the man in question had just suggested you and your girlfriend might like to watch him defecate, or the face you'd use if he'd just got his penis out in public. No need to *say* anything at all.

Holly Combe // Posted 19 January 2012 at 17:48

It's literal rather than witty but one quick response to a guy saying it could be "Funnily enough, I think men would be the last thing on my mind in that particular situation." True, it doesn't cover multiple gender group sex but it seems to me that the kind of person who sniggers and asks to watch as a matter of course is perhaps not quite ready to negotiate a scenario like that anyway!

Laura // Posted 19 January 2012 at 18:22

@garicgymro - I was thinking in that specific situation she wouldn't be interested in dick, but I hadn't thought of it from that perspective - thanks.

Quip from Nicola on facebook: ‎"you couldn't handle the inferiority complex it would give you"

Ania Ostrowska // Posted 19 January 2012 at 19:47

It may sound a bit too radical, but in "My Friends" department a mature approach to my bisexuality is a must; you don't deal with it well, you're not in. I've never regretted having this filter on and people I call my friends are, i think, an amazing bunch :)
Quick on-demand responses to strangers or semi-strangers? I alternate between rolling my eyes AND staring in silence, heavy eyelids, at them after they ask permission to watch.

Amanda McIndoe // Posted 19 January 2012 at 21:09

I feel you, I'm bisexual too and I've heard all the incredibly stupid remarks you could possibly hear. It's good that you have friends that understand you a little better, I know how valuable that is. I personally wouldn't waste my breath on people who come away with the oh-so-witty "can I watch?" line. If they are saying something so ignorant in the first place they are unlikely to want to listen to explainations of what Bisexuality actually is. But thats just me.
In my experiance a lot of men really don't WANT to hear the truth about what is is to be a bisexual woman because it ruins the little happy porno fantasy land they live in half the time. The one where women always need dick to finish them off. That's why I generally wouldn't want to enter into any sort of banter with these people. But then again, I never did have a witty one liner waiting in the wings, though reading some of the ones above, I really wish I had.
Its encouraging that you do seem to have friends who are willing to learn and understand, I would focus my energies on them, since they seem able to be educated. Hope this is helpful.

Jenny A // Posted 20 January 2012 at 10:22

Thank you! (I'm the Jenny who asked this).

Reading the post and replies has been useful, definitely. I hadn't thought about the men in question thinking (or assuming) they'd get to join in - though I'm not sure whether it's better or worse to be asked for a threesome by a platonic friend than it is being treated like a 3-D wank mag.

The men in question are definitely friends; I would, and have, trusted them with my safety in such situations as having had my drink spiked on a night out. I get the feeling the "Can I watch" from them is a knee-jerk reaction rather than a genuine request; I've been tempted, in hindsight, to agree just for the embarrassment it would cause them. It's very handy to have replies for less-trusted acquaintances, though, and I'm definitely going to practise the inferiority complex and watching him defecate ideas!

I'll keep watching the post - it's very much appreciated :)

Vicky // Posted 21 January 2012 at 11:47

Reply "Only if I get to watch you with another man first". This allegedly plays with their homophobia (if they are straight). I like to do that stuff to remind people that they ARE homophobic. Their physical reaction to the idea sort of brings it home. And it's helpful to get them to understand what YOUR physical reaction to being watched could be. An alternative would be "Only if I get to watch you with a girl/your girlfriend first" or "Only if I get to tape you with someone first!".

I love the one about the inferiority complex, though!

bidyke // Posted 21 January 2012 at 11:53

I think there's something to be said about biphobia here - a word which was painfully missing from the response above. As it comes to bisexual women, bisexuality is systematically co-opted by the heterosexual male gaze and mainstream pornographic culture, generating sexual violence directed at bisexual women.

It really upsets me that instead of naming this as sexual violence and talking about rape culture, the bisexual movement has generally responded to this by desexualizing bisexual women (by way of slut shaming). This is painfully visible in the response above, with suggested come-backs like: "I may be bisexual, but I do have standards" (go sexually harass those "other" bisexuals?), or with phrases like: "that bisexual women are easy and undiscerning targets for horny dudes" (what's wrong with being sexually active with multiple partners?) and talking about the idea that "bisexual women only kiss each other to get men's attention" (some do, and that's totally legitimate).

How about instead of trying to prove that "We're not like that", we start critically discussion sexual violence against bisexual women and assert our right to be as slutty as we want without getting assaulted?

On a side note - I was also upset by Laura's assertion that this is homophobia rather than biphobia, reverting to speaking about "straight sides" and "gay sides". Lesbophobia (not homophobia) certainly has a part in all that, but the underlying mechanism here is monosexism, and the presumption that bisexual women are "actually straight".

evie // Posted 21 January 2012 at 12:49

Hi Jenny, definitely digging your question - this is sooooo common.

- Is it possible that they're "just" trying to be funny? This doesn't give them a get-out-jail-free card by any means, but people do say all kinds of bigoted things, even if they recognise it's bigoted, because they think it's ok if it's funny. In which case maybe a good response would be seomthing along the lines of, "Actually that's not funny because everyone says that and it's really creepy and biphobic and..." and then go into the explanations various people have suggested. Which if they're the listening and tearning type, as you've said, hopefully they'll react well to. (This does of course rely on your resisting the urge to goldfish at them, which is diffiult!)

- Small point for Laura: I want to argue with "The idea that women who are into each other must automatically want or be willing for a guy to get involved if they're bisexual is sexist and homophobic." This is a specific prejudice about bisexuals, so I'd use the word biphobic instead of homophobic. Learning and using that word has been really important for me in understanding my and other's reactions to my bisexuality. Recognising and naming the prejudice and bigotry against us, rather than always having to hang on gay and lesbian coattails, is crucial. For more on that front I highly recommend the awesome blog radical bi, e.g. this post: http://radicalbi.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/snippet-4-the-bisexual-invisibility-report/

evie // Posted 21 January 2012 at 13:00

P.S. On the 'naming oppression helps us fight it' idea, I want to add that I think these kinds of responses are a form of sexual harassment. That's what unwanted 'offers' of sexual activity are, right? I'm not suggesting that naming it as such to your friends would be useful: it might well horribly backfire. I don't know exactly what they said, how they said it etc, so I'm not offereing 'sexual harassment' as a definitive label in this specific case, only that it might be worth thinking about whether the label fits. And I'm not suggesting that they are creepy monsters or harass you in any other way - sexual harassment, especially stand-alone acts, is often committed by normal friendly blokes. But I find it useful to put my similar experiences in that box - it helps me understand why it feels so creepy and gross, and why goldfishing is the only response I can muster.

Laura // Posted 21 January 2012 at 14:17

@ bidyke: Thanks for your comments. I did specifically say there's nothing wrong with having sex with multiple people, and I agree there's nothing wrong with kissing a woman to get a man's attention (as long as she's OK with that!), I just wanted to focus on this idea that ALL bisexual women are by default up for having sex with anyone and everyone, as this leads to the kind of unwanted come ons Jenny referred to.

On the "I may be bisexual, but I do have standards" comment, I didn't mean to imply that other bisexual people don't have standards and that the guy should look for other bisexuals. My thinking was that this would remind the man that being bisexual DOESN'T mean that you'll shag anything (or be happy with just anyone watching you have sex, i.e. guys who make offensive comments about your sexuality). But of course it's impossible to sum up the wrong in a few words, and quick retorts can be interpreted in different ways, as we've seen here, so probably aren't that useful. It's just nice to be able to say something sometimes, rather than being left speechless and irritated.

I don't personally think or feel that being bi is about having a straight and a gay side (for me it's about fancying people regardless of gender), but I used that language as I thought it would be easier to understand for the kind of people Jenny wanted to engage with. However, you and Evie are right in that I should have used the word "biphobia" in my post.

Carolyn Bahm // Posted 13 February 2012 at 20:19

As a straight gal, I hadn't thought about just how often a bi woman would hear such a pathetic comment. Here's my two cents' worth: Humor works if you can work it in, but sometimes a mild, straightforward reproach is called for. If a friend said something as rude as "Can I watch," I would just raise my eyebrows and say, "Way to be creepy, dude." And then let him/her writhe in the awkwardness of the moment a bit.

If it came from a stranger, I would just raise the brow or curl my lip and say, "Really," in the most disdainful way possible. If he persisted, I would add, "Maybe we could talk about something that's actually (a) remotely likely or (b) any of your business."

If I think the person is just an innocent clod, I'd count to 10 and tell him/her, "Hey, a person's sex life is private. Comments like that are too personal, they are uninvited, and they are not funny or cool. OK?"

Might get me the "what a prickly bitch" look sometimes, but people tend to know where I stand.

Laura // Posted 29 September 2012 at 10:57

At my previous work (at a pub) I always received this kind of comments from some of my colleagues. Reported to the management (it was a part of a large company) but was told they can only investigate this if I can show them the proof of that. How was I meant to show them the proofs? By carrying a voice recorder while at work? Silly company. I left the job without thinking twice.

JericaLily // Posted 07 December 2012 at 15:51

How about, "I don't recall inviting you."

"I'm also a realtor -- are you also going to watch me sell houses?"

"You must be mistaken in thinking other people's sexual lives include you."

"You seem to have a difficult time making a distinction between real life and movies."

Have Your say

Latest Comments

Reclaiming The F-Word

Founder of The F-Word, Catherine Redfern, has co-authored a new book with Kristin Aune. Find out more at the Reclaiming The F-Word website.

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word Feeds
  • #
  • #