Thursday, July 9, 2009

From Lux: Heckle-raising

This is a post from Lux, who keeps a political blog with her partner and tends to write insightful articles about gender theory.

"I recently bought a copy of Glamour magazine (yeah shut up they were giving away my favourite brand of mascara) and, among all the body snarking, unflattering clothes and general feminist-baiting nonsense, I noticed this golden nugget-

Hey, it's OK... secretly enjoy a construction worker's wolf-whistle, but give him the death stare anyway.

Heh, yeah. You know what else I secretly love, ladies? When an old guy is chasing me around the park when I'm in my underwear and we disappear behind a bush and when we come out the other side, I'm chasing him! So funny.

But something interesting happened yesterday. I was out in my short shorts and boots and my route took me past a building site. I braced myself for the usual nonsense when I got looked over, but then this builder did something different- he smiled at me. And, partly out of surprise, I smiled back. Obviously the guy only thought I was attractive; having never layed eyes on me before he clearly wasn't interested in my sparkling personality. But instead of reducing me to parts, he chose to treat me like a human being. I'm always going to respond better to a smile than a hurled comment like "Show us your beaver" (tragically genuine).

I've had a lot of nasty, abusive supposed come-ones hurled at me and I'm not sure how anyone expects me to respond positively to "Nice legs love, you want to wrap em around me." It took me a disturbingly long time to realise that these weren't supposed to work like that. These men didn't want to get me into bed, they wanted me to know my place. They wanted me to know that I didn't have the freedom to just walk down the street in an outfit I look good in and expect not to get hassled.

That said, I do believe that it is possible to come on to a stranger without completely objectifying them. The "humourless feminist" trope is often used to label women who resist objectification as anti-fun and anti-sex, but I know the difference between being hit on and dehumanised. The builder who smiled at me, or the man in Boston who yelled "Girl, you're looking good! Are you feeling good", were making an effort to engage with me as a person rather than just tits and ass for their viewing pleasure. And I check people out, I think many of us do. We all know where to draw the line, it's just that some of us choose not to. Like I keep saying, men are not animals. Men have control and the ability to make decisions. We just need to kick away this frame-work that allows many to make bad ones.*

There is still a problem with even the most well-intentioned heckles, though. We are so used to being accused of leading men on and this being used to defend crimes against our minds and bodies that it shouldn't be a surprise when we don't smile back. I have had pleasant conversations turn unexpectedly to forceful demands for my number, or coffee, or insistent offers of a ride, so I stopped conversing with strangers. I guy on a bus leered at me hitching my tights and after I expressed my disinterest, he loudly conversed at a girl who clearly didn't speak English well, shouting about how "nice" it was to meet a "nice girl" on a bus for once. Why should we be game and giggly when the fact of "being nice" may be taken down and used as evidence against us?

Obviously, a lot needs to change and so much of it is out of our power. The pick-up culture needs to go, the culture of disrespect, the culture of expectation and objectification. It's so ingrained and needs to be whittled down over generations as we teach our children to respect their minds and bodies and the minds and bodies of others. In the short term, we have to try to be less afraid of being called boring or frigid or no fun. Smile back or don't smile back, but don't be scared.

*There is a thought provoking comment about this article- which suggests that, if men are such uncontrollable primal creatures, then why the hell do they have all the global positions of power? You can't have it both ways, Berlusconi. I recommend this article, and indeed the site, if you like science and hate misuse of it to further unpleasant personal aims. Thanks to Paul for the link."

1 comment:

  1. This post is thought-provoking, delightful to read, and so true. Just for the record.