“Handsy” = The “Cutesy” of Sexual Predation

I’m not sure how I feel about the word “handsy.”

It’s come up in a variety of contexts lately. “He was getting kind of handsy.” “I was warned that he was handsy.” I have only encountered the word “handsy” when describing male people who have touched women’s bodies without consent. I understand that it may be applied in other contexts. But, I wonder about it. I like that there is a word that is easier to use to talk about something that for too long has not been easy to talk about. At the same time, I wonder at the ways that word is so protective of the (often male) offender.

It is a word that does not speak of violation, of sexual violence, of entitlement, abuse, or aggression. It’s a diminutive word. It’s kind of like “cutesy.” It’s the “cutesy” of sexual predation.

“He was getting kind of handsy” makes nice with the offense and the offender in a way that “He assaulted me,” or “He grabbed my breasts,” or “He pressed me between his body and a wall,” or “He put his hands all over me without my consent” does not.

Also, there’s something passive about the word “handsy.” It’s a word like “hungry” or “horny.” Being hungry doesn’t necessarily describe the behavior that was taken when the person was hungry. (i.e., “because he was hungry, he devoured that steak”) or when horny (i.e., “because she was horny, she pulled out her vibrator”). With hungry and horny (for example), there are a variety of options for what to do when one is in those states.

The word handsy implies that sexual violation is some kind involuntary of state of being. On the contrary, I think it corresponds to behavior or to a set of behaviors that a person exerts will and choice to perform. The person wasn’t, just, for example, getting “horny” (a state of being). When the person was, perhaps, horny / turned on / attracted to someone, the person touched someone in an intimate way without consent.

I acknowledge that I kind of liked the term, myself, when I first heard it, but as I heard it applied in more (and more serious) contexts, I felt less good about it. I’m not sure about all of the ways in which it is used, and I understand that there are different kinds and levels of sexual violation. Nevertheless, in each case, I want language that makes it clear that there’s nothing cute about it and that there’s nothing involuntary about it, regardless of the level of violation.

I want the language to indicate that someone actually did something and what they did caused harm.

Prison is for Poor Black Men, Right? Not Educationally Privileged White Women.


I just read this article. It’s quite good. I was glad that I had read it. I also feel conflicted. I, too, am a woman and a I, too, went to graduate school. As a well-educated woman who is not (on the basis of gender and educational privilege, as opposed to, for example, race) a member of the main population targeted by the oppressive system of mass incarceration in this country, I feel very confused about things like “Orange is the New Black” and even this Cosmopolitan magazine article.

It is really helpful that the oppressive prison system is coming more into the attention of the wider culture. In both of these cases, it is through the vehicle of someone female and white and privileged, someone who is not supposed to be in that situation. Prison is for poor Black men, right? Not educationally privileged White women.

So, when educationally privileged White women get swept up into the prison system and they get out and write articles and books about it, people pay attention. However, this situation is going on all the time and our country, in general, turns a blind eye to it. It disproportionately oppresses and disenfranchises Black men. I don’t know if a poor, educationally-under-privileged Black man writing a book about the prison system would turn into a major television program or if a poor, educationally under-privileged Black man writing an article about the prison system would end up in GQ. It feels really complicated.

Yet, this person’s situation is just as deserving of attention (she got a felony conviction for elbowing a man in the face when he had violently grabbed her breast; the man was a police officer) and this person using her situation to draw attention to the incarceration situation in our country is a good thing.