Saturday, May 17, 2014

Reconsidering Justin Bieber: Recognizing Unwanted Touch

The Biebs is in a train wreck moment of his life, ya’ll.  There’s no doubt about that.  He’s been showing a bad attitude all over the place, and seems to have forgotten that he is a Canadian. Which is a shame because Canadians are the best.   

But the other day I saw a short clip of video on one of the entertainment news shows that made me take another think about Justin Bieber, about his entitlement issues, about the motivations for his behavior, and about what might should be done about it. 

The short clip of video, in just a few seconds, showed an experience Justin was having that felt awfully familiar to me, although I am a poor, unknown, grown woman, and he is a very wealthy (comparatively), famous, man-child.  I saw something that provoked my empathy, rather than just sympathy, because empathy = sympathy + understanding born out of shared experience.

What might be my shared experience with Justin Bieber? 

The video clip showed Justin in a passenger seat of a massive, black SUV.  No shared experience there.  He had the window down and a throng of young girls was clamoring to reach him for an autograph. No shared experience there, either.

But then one of the girls leaned in, cell phone in hand, to take a picture of her face smashed up next to Justin’s, and just before she snapped the shot, she kissed Justin’s cheek. 

And that’s when I saw it.  I saw the look on Justin’s face.  And I recognized that look.

It lasted just a few seconds before the still very young, let’s not forget that point, pop star recovered his composure and went on about the business of being Justin Bieber, Inc. 

I don’t know if anyone else noticed the look – not the screaming fan girls, not the girl who took the picture, not the bodyguards or the person taking the video of the girl taking the picture, or the entertainment news reporters who didn’t mention it in their assessment of the clip, or of Justin Bieber.

But I saw the look, and like I said, I recognized it. 

What Justin Bieber’s face revealed, for just a few seconds, was the look of someone who has received an unwanted touch. 

When someone crosses your personal boundaries, it is a violation.  When someone touches you, hugs you, wraps their arm around you, kisses you, without your engagement or permission for the act to occur, it is a violation of your space, your body.  This is regardless of whether you are an unknown child or a famous young man. 

As a woman, I have experienced countless of these violations over my lifetime, large and small.  There are countless ways to feel violated, and there are countless ways to violate.  I’ve even experienced a long gaze as a violation.  Not all of these violations are assaults, obviously not all of them reach the level of criminal act, or even close to it, and not all of them, or even many of them, are conducted with the awareness that the other person feels violated by what they are doing.

But when you’ve had your boundaries violated, you sure as hell know it, and it sure as hell doesn’t feel good.   

I’m sure the young girl who kissed Justin Bieber’s cheek didn’t stop to consider that what she was doing might be a violation of his space, then decide to maliciously proceed forward anyway.

She simply didn’t think.  She assumed it was okay.

Why?  Because he’s famous? 

Because he should expect it, even be grateful for it?  Because it’s just a kiss, no big deal?  Because it’s a compliment?  Because if he didn’t want it, he shouldn’t put himself out there? Because he should lighten up?  Because it’s not like she was raping him?

Wow.  All that sure sounds familiar.  Yes?  Ladies?

Personal violations can be hard to define universally because boundaries are so personal, and are subject to change given the situation, as well as many other factors.  Some people are generally more touchy-feely than others, and a kiss from a fan, or a friend, or a Frenchman wouldn’t bother them – they’d kiss them on the cheek right back.  That doesn’t make it okay to kiss All The Celebrities, or All The People, or All the Frenchmen..  The idea that some people are hug-o-matics DOES NOT MAKE IT OKAY TO HUG EVERY-DAMN-ONE.  You gotta check about that shit.

But back to Bieber.

What I realized was that this was just one small violation in what I can only imagine is a stream of them that he experiences every day.  Every day regardless of his mood, or how open he is to receiving kisses that day, or being famous that day, or hugging that day, or signing autographs that day.

And this has been going on ever since he was an even younger man than he is now.

And there are so many ways that we could say that he asked for it.  Just like we do with women who wear short skirts.  And there are so many ways that we could say it’s okay because it’s at least not as bad as some other stuff.  Just like we do with women who weren’t “raped-raped,” but “just fondled" against their will.

Let me explain to you what a violation does, large or small, to your soul.   It steals it.  It steals your power, your well-being, your sense of safety in this world.

And it makes you angry.

A particular kind of festering anger. 

So, maybe that’s part of Justin’s problem.  Maybe that’s part of the bad attitude and the showing out and the fuck-itedness of his actions lately.

Maybe he’s doing what you see a lot of young girls doing when they’ve been violated, in small ways, in large ways, in many ways.  They get angry, but they don’t know how to show it.  They want power, but they don’t know how to get it.

Power, personal power, where you rule your own life, and make it truly what you want it to be in every facet, is difficult to come by, even for a hugely famous pop star, or maybe especially for a hugely famous pop star.

I saw a bit of Justin Bieber’s power robbed when I watched him steel his face after the kiss from the overly eager fan, when I watched him let Justin Beiber, Inc. overrule and wash over what Justin Bieber, the human being, felt.  I saw him know that he couldn’t push the girl away, that he couldn’t express discomfort, that he couldn’t express his personal boundaries.  And it made me feel a large measure of sudden understanding and empathy for him.

I mean, then again, it may’ve just been a bit of corn beef hash coming up on him the wrong way that caused his face to subtly sour for just a few seconds.

But regardless, the fact that he is probably touched and kissed and hugged when he doesn’t want to be, and that this has been going on from a very young age and now for most of his life, still stands, and I think it’s something we should look at, as people, as humans, and especially as feminists, as women, who I think are the very people best positioned to consider the potentialities, problems, and solutions for someone who has their space violated on a near constant basis. 

It’s just another way to look at Justin Bieber, and to consider the mold that made, is still making, the man. 

It also got me thinking about the other ways Justin Bieber is treated, and how those are very similar to the damning, confining, maddening ways we treat women and girls, as a whole, in our society.  I'm talking about the constant focus on and criticism of his looks - both the physical attributes of his face and body that he was born with, as well as his fashion and style choices, again happening from a very young age, and in a way that doesn't happen to grown men who enter the industry as grown men, as well as the questioning of his sexuality based solely on fear-based, stereotypical notions of human sexuality. 

Justin Bieber, a young man who entered the entertainment industry as a young boy, is just yet another example of how we treat young people, women, and/or members of the LGBTQ community - groups that are, purportedly, of strong interest to the striving of feminists, as well as any group that claims to defend members of our society who, due to the current power structure, are most vulnerable. 

I’m not saying that we should feel sorry for him to the point of not holding him accountable for his behavior, but that our summation of his actions should be tempered by an awareness and study of what has shaped him into his current manifestation, and what we as a society can do to change, if not Justin Bieber's life, then the life of future young men like him - namely, by addressing the concept of unwanted touch that affects not just women and girls but also boys, men, even celebrities, as well as the harmful results of negative focus on physical attributes and style, in short, bullying that affects not just women and girls but also boys, men, even celebrities, and the wrongness of stereotyping and making conclusions about another person's sexuality instead of allowing them to define it for them, and for you, themselves. 

Feminism's tenants and concerns are of benefit to all, not just one sex.  When we see that and use it, feminism will succeed.

Feminism could help Justin Bieber. 

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