Because Sometimes the Only Appropriate Response is a Feminist Rant
A really unfortunate and yucky incident happened to me the other day.
The kind of yucky that persistently runs around in your brain, over and over again, until you're forced to spew it out on paper (or screen), even if you should be attending to more pressing matters, like packing for the 3 month trip to India you're leaving for... in 3 days.
And so I'm gonna share my yucky story with you.
I had gone into a store to buy myself some late afternoon chocolate (not an uncommon occurrence). Coming out of the store, I took off my sweater. I was feeling uncomfortably hot, as I had been cycling around, and it was sunny and warm outside. At this point, I should probably mention (for any potential misogynists in the audience) that, having removed my sweater, I was now clad in a pair of skinny jeans, and a very fitted spaghetti strap tank top. Therefore, clearly looking for "the wrong kind" of attention.
I hope can you see where this is going.
No sooner had I put my sweater in my backpack and looked up again, a man crosses my path, stops to look me up and down, and says, "Bella..." (Draw out the "ahh" and add a slow head nod for full creep effect).
Me: Confused, thinking he's calling me someone else's name, "Pardon?"
-insert quizzical look here-
Him: Turning around now, to face me, giving me a full up-and-down-undressing-and-then-non-consentually-fucking-you-with-my-eyes-look, reinterates, "Bella (ahhh....). You look good." (Adds another up-and-down eye-fuck for good measure).
Me: Quizzical look quickly shifting to utter disbelief and astonishment, "I find it very strange that you think it's appropriate to stop me in the street and comment on how I look."
I had kept an even tone, definitely more questioning than accusatory, but my new friend was unimpressed.
Enough to start swearing.
Enough to tell me I needed to "fucking get over myself" for thinking I'm "all that".
Enough to continue to follow me down the block, even after I crossed the street to get away from him, yelling demeaning comments at me. Most of which I tried to ignore.
It's harder to ignore the feelings.
The shame at having drawn attention to myself, at having provoked someone's anger.
The fear, which had me looking back over my shoulder to make sure he hadn't followed me to my destination.
And the nausea, which is coming back again as I record this story.
Cause it's fucking sickening.
Sickening that I felt objectified, victimized and attacked for nothing other than the fact that I am a woman, and that I attempted to stand up for myself.
Sickening that I've been made to feel this way before, not once, but many times.
And sickening that EVERY WOMAN I tell this story to will have a similar tale to share.
Any disbelieving dudes? Google #yesallwomen. Read some stories. Or you know, ask a woman. Any woman. To tell you about a time when she felt unsafe, in danger, or insecure, just because of her gender.
I'm sad. I'm angry. And I'm fucking tired of it.
Tired of boys being raised to think that all a girl wants to be told is how good she looks.
Tired of girls thinking that this is the only valid way to get male attention.
Tired of men assuming that unless you have a boyfriend or husband (read: another man has already staked his claim and must be deferred to), you're fair game for catcalls, unsolicited attention and obnoxious comments.
I'm tired of going out with my gorgeous girlfriends because I want to listen to music and dance, and having to fend off Slurry McDrunkAss asking me, "Sooo, whatdyadobeshides?"
(True story. When I finally determined that he wanted to know, "What I did besides" -"besides" being going to shows and dancing, presumably. I informed him that we were in a bar, and that most of my time was, in fact, spent ANYWHERE BUT in a bar, and that therefore I did lots of things - MOST of the things - besides this. And please fuck off with your lecherous slurring.)
And so for him, and Mister Bella, and the millions like them, I compose this letter:
Dear Dudes and "Bro"s and Ignorant Men,
Unless you know enough about a woman to compliment her on her brains/humour/quick wit/mad skills, DO NOT compliment her on the way she looks. Surprisingly, women are more than just objects placed on this earth to please your creepy, possessive eyes. Another fun fact: a woman is not your REWARD for succeeding at life/school/work/preferred team sport. Women are PEOPLE too (whoa- mind blown!!!).
If you don't know enough about a woman of interest to say something of relevance to her, and would like to talk to her anyway, try asking her a question about herself. Attempt to come up with something unique, preferably which proves that some portion of your brain isn't actually ruled by what's in your pants. Avoid questions such as:
-Do you have a boyfriend?
-Do you want to go back to my place for a drink and/or some sex?
...And anything so affected by drunken slurring that it requires a linguistics degree to make sense of. You're drunk. No girl wants to go home with you. You should leave now, drink six glasses of water, and go to bed before you do something even stupider.
You can trust that every woman you see walking about is PAINSTAKINGLY aware of EXACTLY what she looks like. You don't have to tell her she is "Bella". She has just spent 45 minutes in front of a mirror achieving that effect. Or she hasn't and places her self-worth on things other than her makeup application. Either way, you don't need to reinforce the societal message that woman are only as worthwhile as their esthetic appeal.
From the time we hit puberty, girls are told that we are not enough. We are told to remove most of our body hair, and then colour and cut and style what remains of it. We push up our breasts, trim up our waists, tone our thighs and bums, enhance our eyes, plump our lips and bat our lashes.
We're taught to be friendly and flirty, (even when being approached by clueless douchebags). We're supposed to be sexual objects, but not sexual beings, and heaven forbid she's actually sexually empowered, that filthy SLUT!
Be smart, but not as smart as the boys. Successful, but not as successful as a man (cause then, you know, they'll all be threatened by you and you'll never find a husband and become a valid member of society).
And above all, BE NICE. And don't cause a scene. Or upset anyone. Or have feelings that are too messy. Or hopes that are too huge. Or dreams that are too challenging.
After my "Bella" run-in that afternoon, I told my story to a friend and said, "Sometimes I hate being a woman."
Being me is awesome. And I am a woman. Being a woman is awesome.
It's being made to feel guilty for being me that really blows.
Feeling like I need to stay small, to keep from drawing attention to myself, in order to stay safe - that really sucks!
We have immense power as women. But no one is going to give it to us. We have to take it.
We have to be brave. Be ballsy. Demand respect.
Speak up to ignorant assholes.
Be vocal about domestic abuse. About rape. About slut-shaming.
We have to recognize, own, and fight for our power.
A far more eloquent woman than I, Marianne Williamson, has an amazing quote about owning our power. And it isn't specific to women, by the way - she's addressing all of the humans! And she has a tendency to use far fewer curse words than I do:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? [...] Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. [...] And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ― Marianne Williamson, "A Return to Love"
Damn, she's good.
And now, to close, the always necessary feminist footnote:
No, I don't hate men. I love men. I just surround myself with humans who respect me and treat me like I'm a person, not an object. I don't tolerate those who treat me otherwise.