This was another interesting lesson from Druid Camp: The value of friendly lechery. Druid Camp is a friendly place where people can take their clothes off. Amongst people who know each other, there can be a fair amount of playful, friendly flirtation and lechery. It’s important to note that this is something that can flow in any direction regardless of gender, and with scant reference to preferences sometimes. It does not exist to demean, exert control over, objectify or otherwise mistreat the participants.
In most contexts, I would be likely to find innuendos threatening because I am damaged by experience. I know that sometimes innuendo is a veiled threat of physical violence. Often it is designed to humiliate and objectify. That’s what you get when it’s perpetrated by strangers as an act of expressing power. But then, rape is all about power, it’s not about lust or desire. If what you’re dealing with is all about lust, desire, or even just liking and fondness, it’s a whole other game and not about hurting the recipient.
What sets friendly lechery apart is that for a start, it is inherently friendly. It would not continue if it made the recipient unhappy. It is supposed to elicit playful banter in return, not cowering and running away. If someone said ‘no’ or ‘this makes me uncomfortable’ it would stop, because the friendliness matters. Forcing unwanted sexual attention isn’t friendly. Making people uncomfortable isn’t friendly and if you have any care or respect for another person, making them miserable is just not an acceptable outcome.
We live in a culture that prizes sexual attractiveness. It’s also not enough in our wider culture that we are attractive to a life partner. The vibe is that we must be more widely attractive than that. We’re all regularly fed unattainable, photoshopped images of desirability. At the same time, our society is entirely crap about giving us positive messages about how we look and seem. That’s not going to get us to buy products, after all! We’re having our sexuality constructed for us by people who want to undermine our confidence in ourselves, while making us feel we must be universally appealing, in order to make us buy stuff.
One of the gifts of friendly lechery is that it allows us to affirm attractiveness to each other without consuming anything. With flirtation and innuendo, we affirm each other’s acceptability, and when that’s done well, it is a cheering experience. We should not automatically feel degraded by another person’s appreciation, we also shouldn’t need to feel like everyone fancies us, but we’re all under a lot of pressure over this one.
There’s an interesting parallel with Steampunk culture here. In Steampunk, clothes dominate, and it is not just normal, but expected that you will approach other people to compliment them on hats, clothes, accessories and style. In this context it is fine for anyone to pay a compliment to anyone else, because it is understood as part of how the culture works. Other places, that same behaviour might be interpreted as creepy or threatening. A big part of what makes the difference here, and in Druid circles, is the understanding that respect can be assumed. When you know you are respected, any comment about appearance and attractiveness is heard differently. It’s not a prelude to assault.
In most situations with people we do not know well, respect is not a given. Physical safety is not a given. Acceptance of your sexuality is not a given. Making jokes at the expense of others is normal.
If the people around us are not objects, then the lechery is personal. It exists in a context, as part of an exchange, and if that’s not ok, then the flirting, the play and suggestion stops. To expose attraction is, in this context, to be vulnerable. Only when we objectify people can we express unsolicited lust without feeling vulnerable. Only if we are also laughing at the recipient can we feel relaxed about desiring someone who might say no. And of course if we keep laughing, we might not bother to hear the ‘no’ anyway. In objectifying another person in order to be lecherous at them, we might feel sexually powerful, and as though we have turned attention away from the issue of our own desirability. Friendly lechery, by contrast, allows us all to be a bit more real, human and gentle with each other.