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It’s The Ears

January 12, 2010

Older guys, usually fathers themselves, tell the joke a lot, usually with the assumption that I either see the world the way they do, or that when I’m older I will. The joke is, “why are sons easier to raise than daughters? Because when you have a son, you only have to worry about one penis. When you have a daughter, you have to worry about all of them.”

Ha, ha. Like the jokes about meeting the boyfriend while cleaning shotguns, the stated or unstated premise of this entire family of humor is that I want to, and should take action to, prevent boys from having sex with my daughter.

I reject this premise. My daugher will one day be an adult. I want her to figure out for herself if she wants men, or women, or both, or nobody as her sex partners. I want her to decide who her partners will be, and when. I want to teach her to know what she’s ready for and when; and to have the self-knowledge and assertiveness not to do anything she’s not ready for. Except as stupid oversimplification, keeping boys from having sex with her doesn’t really enter into what I see as my job.

I don’t like to laugh along with shit that I disagree with. That perpetuates people’s belief that their views are generally accepted. When I disagree, I want to note my disagreement. So after hearing the same stupid joke a few times, I’ve developed a response that I’ve used repeatedly. It either starts the conversation I want, or it ends the one I don’t want, but either way, it works like a charm.

“It’s not the penises I worry about, it’s the ears.”
“What do you mean the ears?”
“They have to hear ‘NO.’ As long as they can hear when she says no, I’m not worried.”

It’s slightly more complicated than that, but it’s close enough for a one-liner.

[Updated to add, as Shiva pointed out in comments and as I’m ashamed to say I didn’t realize when I wrote this, using ears and hearing as a blanket term for accepting communication is frightfully ablist. Utterly and completely my bad. Must rethink.]

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2010 5:54 am

    That’s such a brilliant response. I’m submitting this for next month’s carnival, if you don’t mind?

    • January 13, 2010 6:51 am

      I would be proud to have this in the Carnival. Thanks.

  2. Jaleesa permalink
    January 13, 2010 9:51 am

    I’ve been lurking this blog for a month or two now, but had to break my silence just to comment on how awesome this post is.

    This is an awesome post.

    Nothing more to really say other than that.

  3. January 13, 2010 12:21 pm

    ““It’s not the penises I worry about, it’s the ears.”
    “What do you mean the ears?”
    “They have to hear ‘NO.’ As long as they can hear when she says no, I’m not worried.””

    Um. So, i’m going to be the awkward person who finds this problematic. I know that “ears” is being used metonymically(sp?) here, and that the reason for that is that “penises” was likewise used metonymically in the “joke” that it’s a reply to, but still… if taken literally, it’s sort of implying that consensual sex is impossible for Deaf or hearing-impaired people. It *could* be taken literally – especially if said to the sort of person who deals in the kind of assumptions inherent in the original “joke” – as saying that Deaf/hearing-impaired men/boys still need to be treated as a threat, even though “normally”-hearing men/boys don’t.

    By using the phrase “can hear” (rather than, say, something like “will accept”) it also places men’s willingness to accept women’s bodily autonomy in the realm of physical ability rather than in that of attitude or inclination, which is implicitly disablist on deeper levels.

    (Part of me feels like this is me being petty and trivial, but part of me is also seriously pissed off with it, enough to dare to say this. I do want to make it clear that i’m not attributing disablist *intent* to you, just pointing out that there are (probably unconsciously) disablist implications to your use of language.).

    • January 13, 2010 12:46 pm

      Not trivial at all. I’m smacking myself for being completely blind to how ablist this is. I’m a schmuck. I’m sorry. Thank you.

      • Zippa permalink
        January 16, 2010 1:16 pm


        (90% sure you just didn’t notice. We’re all guilty of it sometimes. Just pointing it out)

      • January 16, 2010 8:37 pm

        sigh. Yes, I totally missed that, too. Back to Ableism 101 for me. I’ll keep messing up, I’ll keep trying not to repeat my last mistake.

    • January 13, 2010 2:30 pm

      I had a similar response when I read this piece, although I still think evoking the topic of consent is a great way to steer this type of conversation. In addition to moving away from the ablist sentiment, it may also be advantageous to transition from the “I’m worried about [body part]” structure and start describing healthy sexuality as the communication it accompanies.

      So, maybe, “I’m not so worried about the penises, but rather that the people they’re attached to can accept ‘NO’ as an answer.” There are more graceful ways to express this, I’m sure, but I feel the sentiment conveyed by that kind of statement is important to bring up.

    • January 19, 2010 2:45 pm

      Don’t you think you’re being kind of uber PC here?

      Honestly, “using your ears” is a quick and easy metaphor for LISTENING.

      Yes, many hearing impaired folks use a different way of communicating – but most reasonably intelligent people know that.

      “Using your ears” or “hearing what he/she said” are Figures Of Speech – just like the phrase “I see” as a way of telling people you understand, not insulting the blind and visually impaired.

      Bottom line, what’s more important here – having our actually quite radical ideas understood by the average mainstream person, or being super ultra Politically Correct and not ever offending anybody?

      • January 19, 2010 3:30 pm

        Now I can cross “It’s political correctness gone MAAAAD!” off my bingo card…

      • January 19, 2010 3:40 pm

        Say whatever you want – my point is still valid.

        Bottom line, I’m a hell of a lot more worried about dealing with and correcting real world injustice than engaging in all of this PC police nonsense.

  4. January 16, 2010 8:50 pm

    “I’m not so worried about the penises, but rather that the people they’re attached to can accept ‘NO’ as an answer.”

    I like this phrasing.

    (Also… calling something problematic and then being responded to straight away with an unqualified apology is actually quite disconcerting, especially when i was a bit uncertain of my case in the first place. Not quite sure if i like it or feel worried about someone accepting anything i say so uncritically. Could be the kind of debating culture i’m used to…)

    • Zippa permalink
      January 17, 2010 12:22 pm

      No, I think you were absolutely right to call it out–it IS problematic, especially for someone trying to move away from hurtful language. In the quest to say what we mean without using unnecessary allusions to other human beings, having our mistakes called out and responding in a productive way is very important. Defensiveness is unproductive in a lot of situations.

      It wasn’t really a subject for debate. You were correct. We shouldn’t be exclusionary.

      • January 19, 2010 2:51 pm

        Actually, I think Shiva was wrong here – and the original formulation “It’s not the penises I worry about, it’s the ears” was better written, puncyhier and more popular in style than the hypersensitive PC version “I’m not so worried about the penises, but rather that the people they’re attached to can accept ‘NO’ as an answer.”

        Look, not everybody goes around all the time looking for stuff to be offended about.

        Quite frankly, I’m way too busy worrying about how hard it is for people to get on disability, how measly the benefits are and the subpar medical services that disabled people get – that’s 10,000 times more important than somebody using the phraase “use your ears” as a way of expressing the concept that men should listen to women who don’t want to have sex and honor their wishes.

        We’re not going to change the world by being petty, thin skinned and going around searching for petty minor stuff to get offended about!

  5. January 19, 2010 3:34 pm

    Ben Franklin said “if we don’t hang together then we surely will all hang separately.” The price of coalition is watching for the interactions between our boots and other folks’ toes, and if I have to apologize for messing up a million times it won’t cost me much. If I find I’ve pissed off everyone else because I never thought their issues were important, that will cost me everything.

    • January 19, 2010 3:42 pm


      How about demanding higher SSI benefit checks for the hearing impaired, or free hearing aids and coclear implants for the deaf, or free scarlet fever vaccinations for children in Third World countries – or other things that would actually help the hearing impaired?

      All this PC police nonsense does NOTHING to correct real world injustice, and just makes fighters for social change look silly and marginal.

      • January 20, 2010 1:32 pm

        I definitely understand the point you’re making, MOVIE, and it is certainly valid to argue that our tangible contributions and actions as radical people outweigh the language that we use. But this blog is a forum for radical language and inclusive politics, and as such it’s important to ensure that what is said corresponds precisely with what is meant. In conversation, figures of speech are used because we don’t often have the opportunity to revise our thoughts before we express them. When writing, however, we definitely have that opportunity, and in the context of this blog (which is, among other things, how people’s words and actions affect each other) it is imperative to consider the impact of language.

        Furthermore, it’s one’s own prerogative whether expressing a thought a certain way is reasonable. By bringing it up and discussing it, we are developing the ability to communicate more clearly with each other and to express our own thoughts.

        And it’s not hypersensitive to evoke that penises are attached to people, it’s… uh… anatomy?

      • January 20, 2010 1:45 pm


        In real life, I’m a published author, so I understand very well the impact of words.

        And, as both a writer and a longtime political activist, I understand the importance of being understood by the general public.

        There will be no social change unless 10’s of millions of people want it and are willing to fight and die for it.

        And if those of us who want social change are off in isolated hermetically sealed spaces coming up with Politically Correct phrases and practicing the politics of being offended over every little thing, we will NOT reach those people!

        I’m a labor writer, and most of my readers are blue collar workers who, thanks to neglect by the school system in their childhood, do not read or write that well.

        Yet and still, I manage to explain very complex political ideas to my readers, using the same simplified vocabulary used in the “New York Daily News” [but with my radical ideas wrapped up inside those words]

        Unfortunately, far too many leftists and progressives don’t do that – they use a dense vocabulary of post graduate radical jargon, incomprehensible to most folks in the real world.

        I think it’s far more important to correct real world injustice than to come up with the most politically correct way to talk about that injustice – in a way, you are covering up for and prettifying that injustice, rather than fighting it.

        Like in this case, refusing to make any references to “ears” or “hearing” really does NOT do a damned thing to make life better for hearing impaired people!

        They are still discriminated against in the job market, insurance companies, Medicaid and Medicare still refuse to pay for many treatments, they still get pathetically small benefits from SSI and, consequently, most deaf people in this country live in poverty.

        And for the deaf in other nations, it’s even worse!

        If there was a mass movement focused around fighting to end injustices against the hearing impaired, I would be a vocal supporter of it.

        But, in the absence of that mass movement, it’s pretty damned pointless to worry about offending deaf people by talking about hearing!

        And that’s assuming that the hearing impaired would even be offended by those references!

        All in all, it’s a silly exercise in political correctness that does nothing to end real world injustice, and I refuse to go along with it.

  6. February 16, 2010 10:21 am

    I really like this post, really like the comment by shiva, really like the way that Thomas responded to shiva, etc.

    In terms of “punchiness”, might I suggest: “it isn’t the penises I worry about but the brains”… “They have to understand and accept ‘No’ As long as they can understand and accept when she says no, I’m not worried” (Since it is in our brains that we process language, regardless of where it comes from, is verbal, non-verbal or body-language)

    Though perhaps, with the way “brains” with “intelligence” are considered to be synonyms this could be problematic as well. What do other people think?

    Also, MOVIE, you’re sounding more and more like a disingenuous able-splainer every time you say that being inclusive is some horrible negative, no good “Politically Correct”ness. In case you’re wondering, actual hearing-impaired and Deaf people do indeed find exclusive language exclusive, imagine that!? They are also able to focus on multiple fronts of oppression, as am I (and I would hope most people on this blog).

  7. Dollyroux permalink
    February 22, 2010 6:09 am

    Can I suggest ‘it’s not the penises I worry about, but the listening’? Listening equates to communication more then hearing for me…but as a hearing person this may be an incorrect assumption.


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