Nope, nobody. Not even these totally imaginary ladies.
Yes, kiddies, it’s that time again. Time for another anti-boner note to the menz from your ol’ Auntie Bina.
So, this US senator decided to share with us the stupid shit that others (all male, older, and white) have said to her over the years. Most of them with no idea how sexist, condescending and just plain stupid it all is. A representative sampling:
“Good thing you’re working out, because you wouldn’t want to get porky!” – an older male colleague
“You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.” – a Southern member of Congress, while holding her arm
“When I first met you in 2006 you were beautiful, a breath of fresh air. To win [the special election], you need to be beautiful again.” – a labor leader
“Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby.” – one of her favorite members, while squeezing her waist
What do these different dudes’ remarks all have in common? I’ll give you a broad hint: It’s the ENTITLEMENT, honey.
These men are all in effect telling Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand that she needs to be pretty for them. Or for the special election. Some are telling her not to gain weight, others not to lose it. But all of them apparently think they have a right to tell her how she should look. Or NOT look. All of them are telling her, in effect, that she owes them “pretty”. And that she would be nobody and nothing without boner-appeal. (Sign this petition if you agree that this is fucked up and bullshit.)
Would they do that to other men? I’m guessing that no, they would not. They’d hold their tongues and keep any judgments on a male colleague’s looks to themselves, right? And they’d keep their hands off each other’s bodies, too, because no homo, bro!
But since Sen. Gillibrand is a woman, they feel they have a perfect right to do all that to her. A perfect right to paw her body and tell her what to do with it, as if she had no right to dignity, autonomy and respect that was not somehow tied intimately and constantly to her good looks. And by implication, that she could have no career if she did not look the way older white men wanted her to look. Because heaven knows that young people, women, and non-whites don’t vote, right? And that nobody votes for you if you don’t look like a strong contender for Miss America.
This sort of thing is disgusting and all too typical. And it doesn’t happen in a vacuum, either. It happens in a culture of rape and entitlement.
Right now, in a heartening development, there’s a lot of pushback going on against street harassment. (There’s even an app for that.) And there is, in a disheartening turn, pushback going on against the pushback. Recently, the New York Post (which has never passed up an opportunity to throw anyone’s dignity under the bus for dollars) published some contrarian clickbait in praise of street harassment, by some female sexist idiot claiming that it “empowers” women and makes them feel sexy.
Anyone who’s ever been catcalled (I have, enough times to lose count), horn-honked at (ditto), followed around by a strange man (double-ditto) and touched by some dude very much against her will (diddly-ditto) can attest to how much it does NOT make a woman’s day to have to deal with this; it actually ruins it. Because the idea that one’s body is being regarded, and treated, as property by any man with the nerve to claim it, is profoundly unsettling. Don’t I belong to myself? Don’t I have a right to be left alone when every part of my body language is screaming as much?
Well, yeah. One would think so, wouldn’t one?
Funnily, I never hear men complaining of getting similar harassment from women. And really, when’s the last time you saw a construction worker, even a really super hunky one, getting hollered at by passersby in miniskirts and high heels? (Anyone? Bueller?) I’ve never seen it, never done it, and I don’t know anyone else who has, either. It never happens. Know why that is?
I’ll give you another broad hint: Women are not entitled to do that shit.
I’ve never assumed that any man, not even one near and dear to me, has ever showered, shaved, combed his hair or put on clean clothes expressly for my benefit. And if he told me he did, I would think it odd that he saw fit to emphasize the point. I did not grow up believing that they do any of that just for us. I didn’t grow up believing they HAD to. They don’t owe us anything, except (that obvious pipe dream) equality. And basic respect and consideration. And those are independent of how well-dressed and groomed a guy is. I’ve gotten them from big burly biker types, homeless guys, and dudes just as middle-class as I am. Any man can do it. It’s not rocket science, fellas.
Conversely, I’ve been harassed by all kinds of dudes. Black dudes. White dudes. Boys much younger than me. Classmates at school. Guys a few years older than me at university. Men much older than me. Blue-collar, working-class types. And yes, even men in suits. Older, well-groomed, educated white guys. Guys that, by their appearance, one would think they’d know better. Shockingly, they don’t. And the reason they don’t is that they grew up feeling perfectly entitled to do all that, and more. All straight males, regardless of age, race, religion, or class, have been taught to think they are entitled to OWN a woman, if not a very young girl. It’s never formally stated; it’s just “understood” that this is “the way things are”. It underpins every catcall that ever got yelled. It pervades society at all strata.
Once, I tried to impress upon a classmate at j-school that this was a serious issue. He was from Cyprus. He was Greek. Maybe this is some kind of cultural difference, I thought; maybe that’s why he doesn’t get it. So I explained it long, loud and clear. And he still didn’t get it. He spoke perfect, unaccented English, every bit as good as mine, even though it was a second language for both of us. It couldn’t be a language barrier, that much I knew. Maybe he just needed a more graphic example. So then I whacked him on the ass, hard enough to hurt, to show how demeaning that sort of thing is. He merely grinned over his shoulder at me. God damn him, he liked it. He probably figured I was hitting on him, who had a fiancée waiting back home. What I was trying to teach him totally backfired. He never did catch the lesson, and for all I know, he still hasn’t. Well, DUH. In the back of my mind, I knew that the playing field wasn’t really level. The entitlement wasn’t there for me. But it was for him.
And he was so entitled that he could even feel perfectly free to ignore the fact that he WAS entitled. That’s the really insane part.
Every dude, from the lowly hardhat to the bigwig in the Savile Row suit, is tacitly expected to show dominance on the sexual front. And multiple sexual fronts, at that. Long after his own hormones have begun to decline, he’s still explicitly allowed to do all sorts of things no respectable woman could even dream of getting away with. Why do I get all skeptical whenever anyone talks about “sex-positive” bullshit? Yet another broad hint: It’s the ENTITLEMENT, baby. A middle-aged or elderly woman paying for sex with handsome young men would be laughed at and pitied and held in contempt, no matter how high her social rank. A much older man doing that to pretty young women, no matter how low his social rank? Perfectly fucking normal, because he’s perfectly fucking entitled.
Same goes for older men in politics, church and state alike, policing who gets to have birth control and abortions, and who doesn’t. One would think that since it’s not their bodies, it’s not their issue. But they do think it’s their issue, because our bodies, so they think, are theirs to own and control.
Women’s bodies are treated as public property, to be displayed like objects, and pawed at random, and accorded no respect. To be born female is to put up with a lot of shit from entitled menfolks.
And it starts early.
I first became aware of it around the time I hit puberty, just before my tenth birthday. As soon as my breasts started budding — BAM! — instant sexual harassment. Just add hormones. And it had me hunching, slouching, crossing my arms, and wearing baggy, weather-inappropriate clothing for years in an effort to fend it all off. It didn’t work. It’s absolutely amazing how boobs, even ones barely bigger than a little kid’s mosquito bites, will attract unwanted attention. If a girl’s nipples poke up against her top, they will get gawked at, grabbed at, and twiddled like radio knobs. Failing that, there’s always that other, more juvenile statement of entitlement and ownership: the snapping of the bra strap. (Which, boys take note, does nothing to make a girl want you. Oh, she’ll notice you, all right, but not in a good way. Just think how you’d feel if she gave you an atomic wedgie or pantsed you in front of the entire class, and you’ll know how she feels about you doing that to her.)
And then we have the pedophiles, who also feel perfectly entitled to molest girls too young for even their first “training” bra. And who bitterly resent the fact that it’s illegal, and that there is any age of consent at all. But at the same time, they are grotesquely turned on by the fillip of doing something so illicit. Some of them are even willing to travel for the privilege of paying for what no one could even pretend was an encounter between consenting equals. I’ve never been approached by one them that I could remember, but then, maybe I was just plain lucky never to have encountered any. And when you’re too young to know what sex is, how can you even tell?
Now, of course, with the ubiquity of the Internet, one can’t get away from them. Or from guys who disingenuously argue that with the onset of puberty, a girl becomes fair game for any grotty thing a man might have in mind. (It’s worth noting that the Taliban thought Malala Yousufzai was fair game for shooting in the head because she was already pubescent.) There are all kinds of guys who, very “rationally” and “logically”, argue that if she’s old enough to bleed, she’s old enough to breed, and that the age of consent should be dropped in favor of “whenever she’s physically mature”. It doesn’t matter if she’s mentally mature or not; her job, it seems, is to be available to all comers, and to submit “willingly” to their advances. What she wants doesn’t matter. Physically developed girl = Total Slut Totally Asking For It. (It’s also worth noting that the average age for first-time prostitutes in North America is not 18 to 21, or even 16-18, it’s 11-14. Not only are girls that age considered “fair game”, they are highly profitable game. And yes, the johns know how old they are, and don’t give a damn that they can’t legally consent. They demand them that age, after all.)
The “old enough to breed” fallacy is never more glaring than in cases of precocious puberty, where girls as young as five (and some even younger!) have exhibited signs, such as breast development and menstruation, that one normally wouldn’t expect to see before age 11 or 12. Five years old is old enough for kindergarten; it is NOT old enough for sex. Never mind if she can already fill a bra. Not even if she’s getting her periods regularly. But it has been known to happen. I’ve lost count of how many such sickening instances I’ve come across. And there is nothing more jarring than seeing a five-year-old girl with adult-size breasts and a huge pregnant belly, who has no way of explaining how it happened. She hasn’t yet learned the words for all her body parts, and has no clear concept of sex, regardless of how “mature” she may outwardly appear to be. To take advantage of her, just because she looks like a miniature adult, is to ignore her right to a full, safe, unmolested childhood. (And again: How many women do you know of who have taken advantage of a precocious little boy’s accelerated puberty? Even Mary Kay Letourneau picked a kid who was of normal pubertal age and development — and if you’ve ever read her story, and know the arch-conservative circumstances of her upbringing, you’ll know just how messed up she is!)
And then again, sometimes you get wingnuts who just infantilize ALL women. Because they have to feel superior to them somehow.
No, there’s no way of getting around the sexist notion that all women, just by virtue of being female, owe something to all men. And that thing is access to their bodies. And accessibility, it seems, is signalled by conforming to the notion that we owe them “pretty”. And that we owe them “ladylike”. And that we owe them a degree of deference and respect which is merely optional when it goes the other way. And that if we don’t smile, and comply, and above all, remain silent, we’re the baddies in the whole fairytale.
We get insulted implicitly whenever we’re told “But you’d be so pretty if you only smiled!” (So, we’re ugly if we don’t? Wow, what a compliment!) We get insulted explicitly if we refuse to smile. We get flamed, insulted and harassed if we refuse to put up with shit on the Internet. Some of us get chased out of our homes by trolls for it. Some of us even get assaulted for it. We go from pretty princess to ugly hag and wicked stepmother combined. And all for just not complying.
Well, fuck that noise. I don’t owe “pretty” to complete strangers, or “ladylike” to anyone who pesters me. No woman does.
I always make a point of learning the “bad” words early in any foreign language I undertake, so that I can pull them out as needed when travelling or talking on the Internets. I can now cuss like a well-travelled sailor in at least half a dozen languages. It even stands me in good stead in my semi-professional capacity as a literary translator; it’s actually gotten me jobs, because it demonstrates full competence in the language in question. And I don’t take kindly to anyone who considers me “fair game” for sexual harassment or assault because I cuss, either.
I do not smile on command; I only smile if I feel like it. Anyone who tries to make me smile against my will, gets an exaggerated version of my resting bitchface.
If you honk your horn or throw a “nice tits” at me, expect to see a one-fingered salute, held high so everyone else can see it too.
If you harass me on the Internet and I can expose your data to hackers and police alike, I damn well will. And even if I can’t do that, I can still mock and ridicule you, and use my right to free speech against you. I hate trolls because they make the world so goddamn fucking ugly.
I don’t owe compliance to any man. I don’t owe you the time of day. And I certainly don’t owe you “pretty”.