Although my posts are usually written in a humorous vein, it is near impossible to do so for this post. I hate the words “trigger warning” however this is a post about sensitive subjects: Sexual assault, the navigation of feminine body, and what I learned about the male gaze. It is also posted in The Feminine Section.
My experience and memory of being a girl growing up and becoming a young woman, was one of gender-role navigation.
I was ripe with curiosity about where I fit into the world as a female, and what my fitting in meant to other people. My experiences were shaped by my observations; Media portrayals, other girlfriends in relationships, the school yard. They were learned by performing the way I was expected to; listen, adjust, act, be rewarded.
I watched for cues from those that were older. I watched those that I respected. I became involved in relationships where I listened to the monologues of rhetoric from assertive males. It was here I figured out what being a woman should look like, feel like, and sound like. I said yes. I said no. I fought, I gave up. I accepted agenda as fact, and dismissed the internal dialogue that suggested there was a better way of being.
I was forming a version of myself that I thought was acceptable as feminine.
It became apparent to me from a young age that some men (I stress, not all men) saw me as an object; it was their prerogative to mould me into an acceptable and compliant woman. Someone to be really proud of. I imagine they thought once I figured out how to wear this label, I wouldn’t want to challenge it.
I have collated a list of the things I have learned. I know that many women in my life have learned these things too. In no particular order:
You are what you wear:
Respectful wives or girlfriends dress modestly. It’s not fair to expose too much skin because men are visual. It’s not fair to dance around in a short skirt, because it will turn them on, and if you aren’t willing to sleep with them it will make them frustrated. Don’t tease boys. Definitely don’t tease men. If anything DOES ‘happen’ to you, you kind of don’t really have a comeback.
Yeah, men are gross like that *shrug it off*:
It’s just how men are. It’s always been this way, just ignore it when you are:
Being yelled at from the top of a building site. Being told when you are walking with your son that ‘that better be your brother’. Passing a man in a car who looks you in the eye, makes a V with his fingers and flicks his tongue through it; Walking out of a mall and a van-load of construction workers request you to ‘come and sit their face,and they’ll eat their way to your heart (to my daughter, 16). Being followed after getting off the bus, walking through a park and being grabbed in the crotch by a stranger (daughter, 12) Being whistled at while you walk down the street (age 11,12,13,14,15,16…34). Having men yell from car windows that you should suck their cock.
P.S See notes on ‘you are what you wear’ and if you have breached these, it’s probably your fault.
Women are ill suited for jobs in the corporate world
Too emotional, too menstruation-y, too much a mother, too soft (or if standing up for their rights and beliefs, too aggressive) not intelligent enough, not forward thinking, too good looking, not good looking enough, too sexually experienced, too not a fucking man.
If they are drunk, it’s not really fair to blame them
You shouldn’t drink with guys, they often get too wasted and it makes it too easy for them to misinterpret your saying ‘no, get off me’ as ‘I like it when you pin me down’ Plus, if you are drunk too, you are more likely to do something stupid because being drunk means you want to have sex. Right?
It’s not fair to say yes, then no.
Don’t sleep with someone then decide the next time they visit, you don’t want to. He came all that way to see you, what else do you think he was there for? Don’t worry, he’ll say all the right things, and you’ll feel much better for it. Plus, he needs it.
If you are married, you shouldn’t neglect having sex with your husband. They might cheat on you.
Don’t hold out. It’s not fair. Men need sex. If you are tired all the time, just adjust something. It’s vital. They need it. They might leave and find it somewhere else, and really, we can’t blame them at that point. (And even if you do all the adjusting in the world, it still may not help. But that’s probably your fault too, you can be kind of a bitch sometimes).
If you are in a relationship (length of time irrelevant) it’s not really rape.
I have learned a lot.
As I reach my mid thirties, understandably, I am having to unlearn a lot. I am thankful to also have learned that not all men think this way. Not all men have an inflated sense of entitlement, or hear ‘yes please, that feels fantastic’ when actually what was said was ‘stop’. Not all men think it fun to challenge exactly where the boundary of the word ‘no’ lies.
Why are the lines so blurred, and why do we require debates about them?
What do I teach my daughter?
Better yet, what do I teach my sons?
We live in a culture where despite our best efforts to change, women are still seen as objects of pleasure.
The trophy. The vixen. The weaker sex. The malleable. Pussy.
We still make excuses for the bad behaviour of powerful men. Sometimes we even feel sorry for them.
We still have to justify ourselves. We still have to be sure to ‘keep ourselves safe’. We approach social situations cautiously lest we tempt or entice the male gaze. We (must) keep our bodies neutral and our words passive; anything else is a breach of gender.
There was (and still is) an intrinsic belief in me that anything sexually negative I have ever experienced is somehow my fault. A deep guilt within about even writing this piece.
But I am unlearning. Beliefs can be malleable too.
We live in a culture where boys will be boys, and girls should know better.
It’s time to change the fucking culture.