I don't live in a country where I am considered property or a transaction. I work in a field where my options are limited due to my gender, but I still have more opportunities than millions of women all around the world. Even in these great circumstances though, it still sucks to be a woman. Today an acquaintance called me sexy,no one else was around, it was not a good friend, not my husband, just someone I see from time to time, and it creeped me out. It came with a hug, that involved a hand partially on my butt too, and it left me feeling bad for being creeped out by it.
This is something most women can identify with, and I have been struggling with for a long time. As a young girl I looked anything but young. I was five feet ten inches in middle school with curves in all the right place, as Meghan Trainor says, after I grew out of my skinny twig phase. This made me appear much older and more available to guys. So I dealt with a lot of comments, got groped on the school bus by adolescent boys and even dealt with more than a few dirty old men at church. There were comments about how I was built like a brick sh#t house, how I was sexy, how developed I was, there were hugs that lasted a long time. I was objectified often and so I started thinking of myself that way. There was an older boyfriend who asked a much too young girl if she was ready, and I didn't have the sense or understanding that my body didn't need to be that objectified sexual thing, so I didn't say no. Thankfully, my experiences were tame, I wasn't raped (I did consent), I wasn't molested, but these things were uncomfortable and they weren't things I felt like I could or should speak out about. All of these experiences formed me into this person that had a lot of my identity tied into being that sex object. Later, I learned a lot about who I was and where my value was and thankfully things did not get out of control, I have great parents, a faith that is not shame based and met good guys, so I was able to shed most of that, but not all.
It was hard and still is at 36 to understand what is and is not okay when it comes to comments from guys, and sometimes even the way they touch. Is that hug, where your hand is probably technically not on my back, and a bit on my butt, just a fluke, or an intentional inappropriate touch. Is telling me I am sexy, just your old man unfiltered inappropriateness, or is it really not okay?
You are probably reading this going, "Duh Heather, that's not okay!" But my brain doesn't do that. My brain says that grope on the bus in junior high was not great, but it wasn't that big a deal, and it didn't happen again. And that older boyfriend, that was my fault because even as a fourteen year old, I still should have just said no. These things just happen right? The one that really gets me, really makes me uncomfortable, and feel bad is the older guys. They are sweet and nice, and these comments are only a small part of what they say, right? And their hands slip right? They are just from a different generation, and they don't mean any harm when they say I am sexy. I don't want to hurt their feelings and tell them it makes me feel uncomfortable.
But then my brain says what if it happened to one of my girls, my students, or as someone pointed out, my daughter. Would it be okay? Then my brain says hell no! I would want them to be able to say, hey, that's not okay, and not make excuses. I would want them to have a voice, and feel totally okay using that voice and not worry about hurting someone's feelings.
I don't want my daughter to grow up thinking it's okay for guys that she is not in a relationship with to tell her she is sexy and she has to just accept that. Sexy isn't an okay compliment. Even if it's tossed around in the media and silkscreened on t-shirts. It is a loaded word. I don't want her to feel like someone touching her and it making her uncomfortable can just be swept under the rug. I want her to have the power to say no, to feel like her body is not a sex object and her value is not in any way tied to her sexual attractiveness.
So I am writing an email, I am letting one "sweet" older man aquaintance, know that he cannot call me sexy anymore. It is hard, and I worry about hurting his feelings, but I am not going to let my feelings be messed with just because I have boobs and a butt. If it makes me uncomfortable I can say that.
If I can't stand up in these smaller situations, how can I expect girls to stand up to the big ones?
Why, why is it still like this? Why do we as women have to deal with cat calls and inappropriate comments and just take them as "compliments"? Why do guys feel like they can do that? And why do we feel guilty when we call them on it? It's so messed up.
Why do I have to worry about what I wear and how it affects men? They don't have to worry about me. Why is it still hard to get equal pay as a woman? Why can't I preach or lead in everyone's church? Why does my anatomy define my role in society and the way it can treat me?
We may have it better than most women around the world, but ladies, it still sucks sometimes to be a lady.