So it’s summertime again and it’s hot in the city, but what do I wear for the weather? As a woman it isn’t all about colours, accessories and styles – sometimes its basic safety I’m thinking about. Will I have to walk home later in that skirt? Will my armpit hair attract unwelcome attention wearing a vest? Can I run in flip-flops if I need to?
Maybe its paranoia, because it isn’t modesty – frankly I don’t care who sees what, but some men seem to regard my summer attire as a display just for them. Obviously a female body is packaged up with them in mind, just hoping to please their senses in passing. As if I wore that just to titillate or revile someone I don’t know who just happened to be somewhere I didn’t know I was going!
Uninvited commentary on womens bodies is considered innocuous by some men, especially if they perceive it to be complimentary. The thought that it could be unwelcome, offensive or even intimidating and add to the hassle of getting around simply hasn’t occurred to them. Running a gauntlet of judgements on your physical traits isn’t pleasant – I didn’t join a beauty pageant, I was just popping out to the shops.
And if your body doesn’t conform to the plasticised, sanitised, homogenised standards of the make-believe image of modern womanhood what then? There are those people, of all genders, willing to tell you that you are letting the side down, failing to meet their expectations – or worse not even prepared to try! You didn’t shave, you didn’t wash and set your hair, you didn’t think about that outfit, you wore something unflattering, you showed the wrong bulge… direct and overheard criticisms abound.
Meanwhile we have men wandering around in nothing but a pair of shorts; arms, legs and torsos of whatever shape, size and consistency bared to the sun soaking up rays. Can I do that? Not if I want to get home without incident; it’s a male privilege. So I cover my breasts and hide my thighs to feel safer (and hotter), but why should I have to dress defensively because your attitude is offensive?
My body isn’t public property. I don’t package it for anyone elses excitement. I also don’t want to sweat under layers of clothing when the temperature’s up. So that little skirt and strappy top aren’t there to amuse you, they happen to be practical right now, just like your shorts. Objectifying and judging women is dehumanising which is the first step towards violence and violation, lets recognise and address it for what it is.
Addressing it is exactly where other men are needed to help, discriminatory behaviour can only continue where it is participatory, tolerated or ignored amongst a peer group. Letting it slide because its low-level crappy attitude rather than direct threat might seem like an easy option but for the many sisters/daughters/mothers/lovers/friends in your life please consider challenging it where you see it.
This article apperared in Freedom Vol 71 no 13.