before you roll your eyes, keep reading.
street harassment is nothing new. but recently my Facebook feed looks like a nightly news report, with video after video of women speaking up about and out against harassment. i hesitantly click on these videos. i cringe as i watch these stories unfold from weary mouths and tired hearts.
as women, we’re sick of this shit. it’s old. it’s annoying. it’s not fun and never was. feeling stripped of personal power and safety in one’s own body on a daily basis is not okay. or right. of course it is natural to look at the people around you. but there is a difference between simply looking and obviously eye fucking the body in front of you. there is a difference, and we see it, clearly.
men of all ages, of all ethnicities, started cat calling me at age twelve. i developed early and, while adults around me taught me how to care for my changing body, no one taught me how to deal with the leering eyes, the comments, the car horns. i learned how to be scared of my body before i went into high school. i internalized deep, deep shame for my body and disassociated with it for many years. i covered my breasts with sweaters and high necked shits. i wore my hair up. i never felt comfortable in clothes that might show me off in anyway. i hid from who i was and buried feelings of sexuality all because i wanted to avoid attention i shouldn’t have gotten in the first place.
in high school i took an english class called women in literature. it was filled with mostly girls, with the exception of four boys, who, ironically enough, sat together in a four person cluster. one day we talked about the details women put on themselves, specifically nail polish. this boy, who i respected and was friends with, said, “i just don’t get it. why do you paint your nails for us? it’s not like we care.”
general murmur filled the room. a girl who did her nails frequently crossed her arms and said, “we don’t do it for you. we do it for us. we do it because it’s fun. we like the way our nails look. it’s not about you.”
that shut up my male friend good and fast.
and i think now, how do men, how do boys, not understand that? how do they not understand that what we wear, do and say is not about them, unless clearly stated? how do they not understand that our bodies are not theirs to have? and, furthermore, how has it gotten that way?
now, you might say #notallmen. but it’s enough men for me to comment. because:
a body is a body. it isn’t inherently sexual by nature. we made it that way.
my chest is not here to be ogled. neither is my body, in general. it does not exist for eyes or hands. i’ve had strangers talk to me and stare at my chest the entire time. i’ve had men try and reach out to touch me on the street, like i was a carnival attraction or a museum piece. on the dance floor, apparently any movement at all means you can grab me roughly from behind like i asked for it when, in all actuality, you didn’t ask and i didn’t ever ask you to. in case you forgot: i’m a human who deserves to be treated as such, not a doll you can pick up and play with at your convenience.
there is a hugely noticeable lack of communication between men and women. why do we not talk about this? why do so many men shrug off this issue as not theirs to own? why do so many women block men out of the conversation simply because they are men? where are we getting here?
i talk back to people now. i’m not ashamed like i used to be. my body is mine, no one else’s. i dress how i like but i still find myself scared at night, when i walk alone down abandoned sidewalks. i find myself looking over my shoulder, waiting. once, at night as i walked to the BART station in the middle of the mission, two men on bicycles shouted at me. “HEY!” one shouted. “want to race?” i felt like throwing up from shock. i was scared, afraid of what he meant, what he wanted. i am nearly twenty five but i felt small and powerless like i was six.
i encourage you to start talking back to your harassers. i don’t think most men are consciously aware of their behavior. nor do i think women realize they are allowed to talk back. open your mouth for the purpose of education. maybe no one has ever told them it’s not okay. start the process. without it, there will never be change.