Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An Open Letter to the Men of Greeting People with a Kiss

Hey Stuart and Andrew,

I watched your YouTube video and I have to say I don't think it was nearly as funny as you seem to think it was. I kind of feel like you shouldn't need me to tell you this since several of the people you "greeted" with a kiss were obviously less than comfortable. The thing is that what you call "Greeting People with a Kiss" many others (and the law) call sexual assault.

Sexual Assault is defined as: a statutory offense that provides that it is a crime to knowingly cause another person to engage in an unwanted sexual act by force or threat.

Now, let me say first that I really like a lot of your videos. The "Can I have a bite of your food" one... hilarious! As are many other videos. I'm also pretty sure you guys probably didn't feel like you were forcing people to engage in kissing with you, but you were. First of all, you completely ignored the body language and protests from several people who tried to pull or lean away. It was completely obvious to me, and to you, that many people did not want you to kiss them and you did anyway. I know you didn't have bad intentions, but that doesn't negate the harm you could have (and very probably did) cause.

The very first woman in the video was very obviously confused and upset. But Andrew just stood there making the woman feel even more uncomfortable about the fact that she hadn't let him kiss her. He didn't leave her alone until she said that she was married (which is typical, since many men only respect a woman's right to body autonomy when she "belongs" to another man).

The second clip of the video is of you two explaining that in many cultures a kiss on the cheek or lips is an appropriate greeting. That's true, and I understand that other cultural norms, which are different than ours in the USA, can be funny when inserted into our social situations. That being said, this was most definitely the wrong custom to choose. Here's the biggest reason why:
In Utah, 1 out of every 4 women on your campus (that's right 25% of those UVU women) have been or will be sexually assaulted during their time at the University. 1 of 5 those women will be raped during their life. What does that have to do with a little prank? A lot.

I am a survivor of rape , I work with survivors and have many friends who are survivors. I can conclusively state that a random person forcing a kiss on a survivor in the hallway at school would be a horrifically scary and triggering experience for many women. There were 12 women in your video which means that, statistically, up to 3 of them were sexual assault survivors that could have been really negatively affected by this experiment of yours.

Although I think that reason alone should be enough, there's more.
The main reason sexual assaults and rapes are so common is that we live in a culture which excuses perpetrators and blames victims. It's easy to fall into the myths our culture perpetrates about female sexuality and male dominance because we're also constantly surrounded by images, and other media, which dehumanize women. It's what makes men think it's okay to kiss a random woman in the hallway. We don't consider that a woman has just as much right to decide who she kisses as a man does. Now, I know that other men where involved too, and I'll get to that, I just want you to know that what you did to these women further cemented their sub-conscious belief that they are less valuable than you are, that they have less ability to make decisions. It also shows other men (at least 2% of whom are rapists) that it doesn't matter if a woman doesn't want sexual contact to happen, if the man wants it, he can keep trying until he gets it.

But let's move on.
The next woman in the video makes it clear 4 TIMES that she doesn't want to be kissed. She's laughing, but it's nervous laughter and she's also pulling away, if you hadn't had a hold of her hand she certainly would have retreated out of your reach. Is there any other way to describe this other thank non-consensual sexual activity?

The woman after that seems fine with being kissed on the cheeks (she's the first one btw) but when you go in for the lips she pulls away and tells you that she's seen your other videos. The way she said it sounded, to me, like an excuse to not have to participate (the fact that she felt she had to make up an excuse instead of just saying "no" is just more evidence of our culture's oppressive nature toward women). The fact that she made clear she didn't want to participate makes me think that she probably didn't want you kissing her cheeks either, but she knew you were recording and she didn't want to be "that girl" on the finished video. You know, the one who stands up for herself and then gets mercilessly ridiculed for being an irrational, crazy, angry, prude, bitch with no sense of fun. Of course, I'm making an assumption, but as a woman who's been in similar situations, I feel like I have the experience to back it up.

The next few women either say "no" or make some kind of negative statement like "I don't..." The woman in the leg brace was even pushing Andrew away as he pulled her entire body into his. That would be terrifying for me.
And then, you don't come clean about the fact that you're making a video that's supposed to be funny, you tell them that this is a part of YOUR culture, making them feel unjustified and invalidated about their reactions.

Many of the women you encountered were willing to laugh it off. The woman who suggested a high-five instead of a kiss was a good sport, trying to provide a boundary without making you feel stupid. But the video continues, despite the clear boundary setting by this woman and the attempt to establish boundaries by every single other woman in the video up to this point.

Now, this is the part where you kiss some men as well. The first thing I noticed about these men is that they weren't pulling back trying to get away, at least not like the women were. The were clearly confused and were trying to figure out why some random person would be kissing them but there was a clear difference in the levels of fear and discomfort between the men and women you targeted.
The second thing I noticed is that you didn't try to kiss the men on the lips, just the cheeks. You didn't even try for the lips which makes it clear, to me, that at least part of the reason you were kissing women on the lips is because of the sexual meaning behind kissing on the mouth. If it was really only about cultural differences or humor you would have tried to kiss the men too.

One of the next clips Stuart says, "Look at that grip, she's like, 'Get away!'" and then you laugh, still holding onto her hand. So, you know that she wants you to "get away" and still, you continue exploiting her for you YouTube channel.

One last thing before I conclude this letter: At the end you ask for people to comment about whether or not it's okay to kiss people on the cheeks or lips in their cultures. I think that you two might do well to remember that in OUR culture it isn't okay to kiss random people on the lips and there are reasons for that.

Okay, I know that I've just been really critical and I've made a lot of assumptions about what other people, and you two, may or may not have been feeling and/or thinking. I just want to put out there that I don't know what other people think and feel and I could be totally, dead wrong about some things.
The point of this letter isn't to claim that I know more about kissing strangers than you do. This letter is about hoping you will see a new perspective. The perspective that only a woman living in an oppressive society, surrounded by rape culture, can give you.


Jenna Rae Rudolph - A Feminist Slut


  1. I am so glad you wrote on this video! I actually am in this video, and I was really uncomfortable with it. The people walking past me when it happened actually stopped when they realized I was upset and asked if I was okay, which I thought was super awesome. But I feel like if these strangers around me not involved with what was going on could tell I was so uncomfortable and upset, then why couldn't these two guys? And yes, afterwards they did tell me that it was for a video, but I don't feel like it was a way to apologize, it was more just like 'okay, so I am using this video of you being so uncomfortable to prove this point okay?' And I came home feeling really embarrassed about the whole situation. So thank you for putting my feelings that day into words. While I cannot speak for the other girls, I can promise you that the above is exactly how I felt.

  2. Wow Emily! Thanks so much for speaking out! I really hate the idea that they didn't really even apologize. I'm really sorry this happened to you. I think people forget, sometimes, that their intentions don't matter nearly as much as the harm they cause.
    Again, thanks for speaking up! You are brave and wonderful and it means a lot to know that I'm on the right track with this blog.

  3. Even in other cultures, I bet someone in wouldn't persist on kissing someone they meet after that person showed any hesitation. If it feels wrong, it is wrong.