At last weekend’s PaleyFest, Cuba Gooding Jr. took it upon himself to play the annoying kid on the playground and lift up his co-star Sarah Paulson’s dress. Like most women who are forced to “laugh it off” and “not make such a big deal” out of similar behavior, Paulson appeared to take his violation of her privacy and space in stride. Still, the Twittersphere was quick to wonder why a grown man in 2017 thought pulling such a stale move would be cute.
While others have pointed out that Paulson’s reaction is “proof” that this was simply a playful moment between good friends, it’s crucial to remember that his actions veer more on the side of dangerous than it does funny. This is the kind of behavior that would be shut down in an office and be treated as fodder for a sexual harassment report. The fact that Gooding is a celebrity or that Paulson played along (which is understandable, given the fact they were on a public stage) cannot excuse poor judgment away. Why? Because exposing a woman's body without her consent is more than just inappropriate. It feeds into the notion that men can do whatever they want to women’s bodies.
Gooding’s recent behavior doesn’t equate to rape, but it is akin to sexual assault and it is harassment. Both are certainly symptoms of rape culture and the stripping away of a woman’s right to be treated as a human being. If Gooding’s decision to lift up Paulson’s skirt is just “fun and games,' then where do we draw the line of what should be condoned as harassment and play? Far too many men make the assumption that they can touch women without their consent, and that their “innocent” intentions ought to be inherently considered in how we interpret them. In turn, women are put in the position of having to laugh off situations that might make them feel uncomfortable, shamed, and assaulted.
No woman should ever be forced to minimize their feelings on a situation that was forced upon them for a culprit’s sake. That applies to all types of nonconsensual touching under the rainbow. Including lifting a skirt, stealing a kiss, feeling a butt cheek, and “pussy grabbing.'
The notion that just because a man didn’t “mean” to do anything wrong it's okay isn’t enough. Especially because this is a problem that generates the same “blurred lined” concept that permeates the rape culture on college campuses, workplaces and even in intimate relationships. Men and women have to drop the concept “boys will be boys” as acceptable. We have to demand that men rise to our expectations instead of constantly lowering the bar for them. Common decency should always prevail over a good ol' boys joke. So let’s start with our sense of humor, shall we boys?
Top photo: People VS. OJ
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Alex Portee comes from the exotic lands of Orlando, Florida. She writes on politics, entertainment, marketing, identity and everything in between. Check out her writing on BUST and Women.com. If she's not at the kid's table she's by the desserts. Follow her on alexandriaportee.com.