Not really free

The case I was recently called in for jury duty on can be viewed on at least a couple levels. First, there is the simple matter of sexual abuse, an unwanted touching of the accusers. But feminists sometimes argue that such episodes are symptomatic of something much more seriously wrong in our society. Let me offer a couple examples:

1) A man walks into a coffee shop everyday, and orders breakfast. He is nice to the waitress, and the waitress is nice to him. But after a while, the man begins to wonder. Does the waitress really like him, or is she simply being nice, because he is the customer?

2) A pretty woman walks down the street alone. Men smile at her, and she smiles back. Does she smile because she appreciates the attention, or because the men are a threat and she is displaying submission?

Power relationships are pervasive in our society, and the question is, how such power relationships introduce ambiguity into communication. Some feminists argue against heterosexual relationships simply they view them as inherently hierarchical. Yet as the first example illustrates, not all power relationships are gender-based. To cut off all power relationships might require one literally to live in the wilderness as a hermit.

But for a man who has met a woman who works in a grocery store, the problem is more profound. Because she isn’t really free, he isn’t really free.

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