Did I ever tell you about that time a guy followed me in the NYC subway and offered me $40 to touch my leg?

Real talk: Who else is tired of gender/race swapping to make a point about racism/sexism? I know I am, especially about gender swapping. 

I’m not sure it makes much of a point to men about male privilege or male sexual entitlement. As a black, queer, mostly masculine, cisgender, middle-class man, I love it when I’m cat-called, eye-fucked or sexually prepositioned, whether by men or women, lecherous or not. Love. It. It makes me feel like a million and two bucks. At the absolute worst it gives me a great story to tell my friends — like, did I ever tell you about that time a guy followed me from the 6 to the E train in the New York City subway and offered me $40 to touch my leg?

In no way and at no point do I feel dehumanised by these things because at no point have I ever felt (or have ever been in a situation where) my personal safety was not guaranteed. At no point have I wondered whether someone would unilaterally take objectifying me into the physical realm without my consent, because these things are governed by social codes that prescribe whose sexual autonomy may, and whose sexual autonomy may not, be snatched away. I happen to fall among the group whose sexual autonomy — generally speaking — is seldom in question.

Having never experienced (over and over again) someone else’s feeling of entitlement to my body in synchronous combination with that person having the power/privilege to act unilaterally on that entitlement makes me think, when I watch the litany of gender-swap videos out there: What’s so bad about that?

I have to make the conscious choice to disconnect from my own experiences to understand what’s so bad about it.

And I imagine what I feel is a fraction of what those with fewer oppressions and more privilege must feel when they experience or watch the same things.

Now I could have just missed the point entirely or I could just be a shameless sex fiend, both of which are distinct possibilities, or it could be that a gender swap does little to make men understand what it’s like for women in the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

Image: Sean Jacobs



T.O. Molefe

T.O.Molefe is an essayist based in Cape Town, South Africa. His book 'For Blacks Only and Other Ways Of Being Black' will soon come.

  1. What about racist cops trying to “search and frisk”? or stop while “driving while black”? White jocks walking in middle of sidewalk pushing others off? Does racism ever interfere literally with your your physical self?

    Thanks for sharing what you did, but I see so much racism in New York City it is hard to imagine you being coated with so much Teflon!

    1. I definitely experienced racism in New York … my light-skinned ex having to be the one to hail an uptown cab anywhere north of 56th because none would stop for me … being followed around department stores … my white friend reminding to “act cool! act cool!” during a traffic stop because he knew what Long Island cops are like … and, yes, even search and frisk.

      This wasn’t a denial of racism in NYC. I’m not sure how you might have read it as that.

  2. I like that you admit that your own positionality interferes with your ability to see the point of the videos. I’ve seen a couple recently, women who are posting them with lots of comments. Mostly that seeing the video makes them/me realise the extent to which they/I have accepted the norm of being subject to this stuff, and when they see the switcharound it makes them/me think.

    1. That is true, and very many are meant for women. Mine was a response to those that overtly express their intention as being opening up men’s eyes to the oppressiveness of male sexual entitlement. There are many of these, too. The one that set off this rant was ‘Oppressed Majority’, a short film by Eléonore Pourriat.

      She told the Guardian recently that the idea for the film came from the difficulty she had in explaining to her husband why the cat-calls she got everyday in the street were an assault.

      Pourrait said: “Sometimes men – it’s not their fault – they don’t imagine that women are assaulted even with words every day, with small, slight words. They can’t imagine that because they are not confronted with that themselves.”

      So she made the short film to help him (and other men) imagine this.

      My point is that merely swapping genders won’t necessarily make men see this everyday sexism as assault. The way power and privilege is distributed unequally across gender lines (and how this has played out throughout history and into today) prevents this message from getting through because few men would perceive the words and actions in a society where “women act like men” as a threatening or violent.

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