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Acknowledging public sex changed how walkers interacted with Paris (laphamsquarterly.org)
66 points by Thevet 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments



I wonder how likely one was to get mugged walking the streets at night as opposed to being propositioned. It's not clear that night-time streets are a "public space" at all. I'd buy his notion of "public sex" if it happened during the day and prostitutes were mixed in with the vegetable stands, but the examples seem very weak.


It's a very short piece - perhaps he includes more in his book > Public City/Public Sex: Homosexuality, Prostitution, and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris.


I looked through the Amazon preview and couldn't find anything interesting. The whole book seems to be discussion of historical sources within the decency vs pleasure kind of framing. If he does discuss the fact that prostitution happened mostly in the evening when there weren't many people around I expect it would be a few paragraphs at most, and quickly forgotten in the course of the book, since his focus is mostly on male prostitutes / pederasts.


A very tangential point. I would not translate "violenté" by "violated". It simply means being the target of violence, getting harmed. The author states that it doesn't imply a sexual assault yet reads a bit too much into the original text.

Edit : actually, the French language has evolved since then and back when the letter was written, "violenté" could indeed mean (sexually) violated, like our modern "violé". My bad.


If you just admire the historical imagery for what it is, it's an amazing article.

Really, how can you resist this: "the boulevards are currently a veritable court of miracles planted in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah, and soon all promenades on them will be forbidden not only to honest women who have not been able to show themselves for a long time, but also for men who should not have to be at odds with rascals."


> “an honest man can no longer walk […] without being accosted by women who engage in revolting touches

Sounds like sexual assault. The author's take:

> the unwilling participation in a public sexual culture threatened the urban experience as imagined by privileged male pedestrians.

…? Freedom from sexual assault is an "urban experience as imagined by privileged male pedestrians"?

Maybe I'm missing something but the author's several tangents about patriarchy come across as totally non-sequitur in this article. Sure, male privilege is a thing, but what does it have to do with not wanting to be insulted/assaulted while out walking for the evening? What is the author's point?

I'm sure there's a point to be made about "women have had to endure such indignities, look at how men react when they are forced to too" but if that's what the author is trying to say, they're sure doing it in a ham-handed manner.

EDIT: After re-reading a few times I think the point the author is trying to make is that even privileged males, who typically could control the public space, were forced to reckon with the change in culture?


The whole thing is pretentiously written blather.

> This is not to say that all women who appeared in public were assumed to be sexually available, nor that middle-class women were forbidden from the streets. The streets enabled a wide variety of encounters, dependent on the particular circumstances in which they occurred.

Such insight!


Wow. Yeah, what a convoluted way to say "many things happen in the streets".


Sounds like sexual assault

Given the author's lack of concern, I think they are very opaquely alluding that the man must have secretly enjoyed it, therefore not sexual assault.

That these encounters bothered him enough to write, that they stayed with him after he moved on, highlights the ways sexual solicitation created new feelings and emotions that were anything but momentary.


A lot of these comments sound like the way men dismiss sexual assault of women. "She secretly wanted it" / "She was asking for it" / "She changed her mind later".


Or it could be he was just disgusted by being propositioned by whores.

The author shouldn't be making up just-so stories about how people in history really think about social issues.


It’s not rape if they were aroused by it, right?

(Once upon a time I wouldn’t have needed to put a /s here.)


That's arguably one of the worst things about rape. Your body can betray you.


I thought that the authors point is a description of an interesting change in social behavior in 1850's Paris, focused on the change as experienced by people walking along public streets.


Yes, I think this is the core of the piece, or at least the most interesting part (along with the later bit about how all women were put under suspicion):

« The “violation” felt by these two men at the attention of female prostitutes disrupted their ability to move about the city as they so chose, but it did not necessarily put into question their status as potential clients. Insofar as these “assaults” may have elicited a sexual response, they may have heightened their awareness of their status as sexual beings even as it challenged their gender privilege. »

It sounds like "violation" includes being propositioned.


The author has an axe of gargantuan proportions to grind. The whole piece is trash and incredibly sanctimoniously written. A huge shame given that it contains many historical and linguistic nuggets.


The point is about a change in expectations, norms, and public awareness that occurred at a certain time and place.


It's not sexual assault if the man is playing along and only mocking outrage or later on reflection outraged in the comfort of his study at his writing desk. Its about playing with boundaries at a time when culture change is shifting them.

If you think this kind of writing is about making a single point, you won't get it. It's about putting you in a time and place and giving you something to think (for yourself) about not telling you what to think, and making an airtight case.


>he was accosted by two young men with cheeks painted with makeup, who claimed to know him and who asked him to buy them some drinks. Langangne refused, which led the two men to launch a series of insults at him.

>As an employee within the Ministry of Finance, Langangne seemed to expect that the streets were in some ways “his.”

Ross' reaction is quite bizarre. If a woman wrote a letter complaining about being catcalled and verbally abused in public, would you accuse her of "expecting that the streets are in some way hers"?


Ya I don't understand the author's thesis either. Is he trying to claim that the aggressive/invasive "public sex" culture depicted is just a different urban culture that is perfectly acceptable and valid but for some privileged males' self-centered ideas? Like, "suck it up dude, you're in gropingville now, get woke and deal with it"?

Maybe the author is going for some sort of meta thing. Like, "let's apply feminist theory reductio ad absurdum to show that groping is OK!" If he is, I'm not smart enough to understand it.


That piece is an excellent example that sometimes meaning is lost in too flowery language. I genuinely don’t know what he was trying to get across. I’m also not interested.p in blather.


You got it. The flâneur is knowingly intruding into the space of the street workers, but bringing his bourgeoise morality with him.

He also says (without evidence) that the complainant is likely a customer of the male prostitutes rather than an observer, who happens to have had a bad encounter. I really don't know where he gets this from.


> The flâneur is knowingly intruding into the space of the street workers, but bringing his bourgeoise morality with him.

Right. I think it's the implication that not wanting to be groped in public is somehow unique to the morality of privileged males that confuses me. It's as if he's trying to make a point about hypocrisy but doesn't follow it up.


> but doesn't follow it up

The whole article is such follow up including the outrage of privileged women.. The claim is that a flâneur may be trying to witness outrages to their norms between people of a lower social class and may have been outraged by virtually anything if it was directed at them, so it is hard to determine what precisely occurred from their testimony.


His evidence is quoted directly from the letter where the letter writer says the men who accosted him might have confused him with someone they knew.

It’s as good as analysis of a single stand-alone 1850s letter gets. That is to say, it’s a narrative based on a massive string of assumptions and contextual clues.


That’s not what the quote said. It was “that he might have something in common with a friend or brother of the crowd,” which I took to mean that “they thought he might share their sexual proclivities.”


Well that isn't evidence, that can barely be called conjecture. If it had been buttressed with references to other contemporary documents (arrest records, diary entries etc) it would have some weight.


Hence my second paragraph?


Whatever the merits of the author's scholarship, which I am fortunately unqualified to assess, I "feel" that the "English" "language" has been "violated" by the excessive "quotation marks". I can almost hear the author talk with air quotes.


There's nothing fortunate about being unqualified. The quotes are not air quotes, they are actual quotes (in translation) from the letters he is discussing.

Edit: there are some exceptions to this around paragraph 7. Anyway, discussing the finer points of the writing style doesn't seem worthwhile.


To meaningfully quote text you need to include enough context to support what your saying, thus “accosted” and “his“ are not a meaningful quotes.


Quoting single words in literature and in the media is absolutely commonplace. I can also clearly see that in the two very cases you cite, there was plenty of context, and very specific reasons to quote the single words that were quoted. They are meaningful because they’re demonstrating the character of the framing that the speaker was using, and by quoting it, the author is explicitly suggesting there are other possible framings. This kind of one word quote, for example, is used all the time to convey the sense that the speaker is exaggerating something. And please forgive me, but if we pick nits at this level, it’s invited, right? s/support what your saying/support what you’re saying/


I suspect being qualified would in this case involve doing an MA in an esoteric field like gender studies in post revolutionary France, having a large education debt and poor writing skills, but at least being in-group.

The author isn't quoting to reference that the words are verbatim (which they are often not eg [1]), but because he wants to identify as someone who disagrees with the subject's world view, to diminish and mock them.

I comment on the writing style because it is jarringly poor and detracts from the argument. I thinks we are allowed to make such observations, but you are free to refrain from spending your time on counter arguments.

Ugh rate limiting is killing me. Is it like 3 posts per hour or something?

[1] >> The “violation” felt by thee two men at the attention of female prostitutes disrupted their ability to move about the city as they so chose, but it did not necessarily put into question their status as potential clients. Insofar as these “assaults” may have elicited a sexual response, they may have heightened their awareness of their status as sexual beings even as it challenged their gender privilege.


> I suspect being qualified would in this case involve doing an MA in an esoteric field like gender studies in post revolutionary France, having a large education debt and poor writing skills, but at least being in-group.

The author of the article has a PhD in history and is a professor of history at Loyola, which took less time to Google than commenting. Your comment feels like it crosses a line, your speculation doesn’t make your argument more right. Justifying your opinion with imagined reasons makes it less likely to be valid, and reflects poorly on you.

> I think we are allowed to make such observations, but you are free to refrain from spending your time on counter arguments.

You are equally free to refrain from posting negative, subjective, and somewhat off-topic opinion. You can also expect such opinions to find valid disagreement. Your suggestion that you are making “observations” suggests you believe your opinion to be true, and I don’t doubt you think you’re right, but from over here it looks to me like either the subject or the author’s style is bothering you, not that the writing has any quality problems.

While you are “allowed” to make any observations you like, others are allowed to disagree. The guidelines here at HN do ask that you stay on-topic, and more importantly ask commenters to not speculate or to make ad-hominem arguments against other people. So, your comment is not exactly following the suggestions of what should be allowed.

Here are the specific guidelines that I believe the first sentence of your above comment crosses:

Be kind. Don't be snarky. Comments should get more thoughtful and substantive, not less, as a topic gets more divisive.

Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith.

Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents.

Please don't post shallow dismissals, especially of other people's work. A good critical comment teaches us something.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


> "violation"

This is literally a direct reference to the use of violenté and implications discussed in the immediately preceding paragraph.

> diminish and mock them

I didn't read it that way at all. Interesting to see how people bring their own interpretations though.


“ many Parisians began to see sex everywhere they looked. Encounters premised on these forms of sexual knowledge created a new sexual public.”

Oh my, another reverse sexist propaganda piece written by a sophomore at Wellesley.


"Please don't post shallow dismissals, especially of other people's work. A good critical comment teaches us something."

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Since I'm seeing this comment at the top:

> Andrew Israel Ross is an assistant professor of history at Loyola University Maryland and the author of Public City/Public Sex: Homosexuality, Prostitution, and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris.


This is a title that raises an idea: What’s the possibility that Hacker News might ignore limited punctuation to improve titles?


Title and punctuation department here. I don't quite apprehend your concern; can you elaborate?


Semi-related question: Do you still take the "original title" rule seriously, and if yes, what's a good way to refer articles that don't follow it? For example this popular post from yesterday doesn't have the original title or anything close to (or better than) it: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21082757


For sure we take it seriously. The best way is to email hn@ycombinator.com if you see a problem.

In the case of that post, the submitter had emailed about it and we suggested that title as more informative than the original. Happy to hear feedback if we got that wrong!


"ImageNet for Code" is not a good title, I think, because I was mostly thinking of ImageNet of a dataset, not as an ongoing contest. Removing the "challenge" from the original title was not useful IMHO.


Good point. I've put the challenge back in the title. It's a bit of a monster now, but oh well.




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