Tuesday, 3 June 2014
Well, what a light-hearted post to launch myself back in to blogging after an enforced hiatus due to ill-health. And, therefore, I am very late to this as a hashtag, but this isn’t a subject that is only important for a few weeks. This subject is something that, as a woman, impacts my life whenever I leave my house. You may think that’s an exaggeration, but really, really it’s not.
I was still in middle school when my body started changing from that of a young girl to that of a woman. I started my period at the age of ten and with that came the budding of breasts, the widening of hips and within a year I was a young girl who had the changing assets of a woman. This wasn’t something that I went through with my friends, this was an isolating and frightening experience: when I had my first period I had no idea what was happening, I was going out to buy my first bra far before most of the other girls at school. I, probably, wasn’t treated any differently but I felt different. Isolated.
Quickly, though, I discovered that this changing body was powerful. It was, by far, the most empowering thing I had experienced. I learnt that I could win boys and attract attention all with the arching of my back or a flick of my hair. To me this wasn’t men being in control of me, it was me being able to control most situations just because of the way I looked. How wrong was I?!
In parallel with this I constantly worried about my looks, I went from being a tall, lean, sporty girl, to one who didn’t grow taller after the age of twelve, and who had a body that was different to the beautiful barbies and film stars that were held up as beautiful. I was, instead, a short, plump, brunette who worried daily about the size of my hips and the shape of my thighs.
This insecurity quickly led to me feeding off of the way men and boys treated me; by the age of fifteen I could get myself and a group of friends in to a club just by wearing a low cut top. And this, obviously, makes me sound like a precocious twat, but this is an honest account and, well, I was. And I was also very, very, naive.
By the age of fifteen I had already had my drink spiked and ended up in a strangers house, coming to at 5am with no idea where I was, where my boyfriend was, and who was laying beside me. I shook like I leaf as I left the house, finding myself in a different part of town and running, shoes in hand, like my life depended on it.
And yes, a similar thing happened again when I was sixteen. I was young, I didn’t learn, and I have paid for it many, many nights as I’ve woken up drenched in sweat and not being able to shake the feeling that I was that young girl again.
I may have been granted a powerful weapon, but my god I didn’t know how to use it.
And I still blame myself for those two incidents. And for the numerous other near misses. This blame, guilt and shame has shaped who I am today and remains with me. Victim-shaming and blaming has such very real consequences.
I was so very, very lucky that throughout my teens I had a boyfriend who, okay didn’t turn out to be my husband, but is still one of the men I respect most on this planet (not least for putting up with me!). I was also lucky that his friends became my friends and showed me how wonderful men could be.
So, rather than leaving my teens hating men for hurting me I saw them as capable of good as well as bad; which is just the same way I saw women.
Fast-forward fourteen years (bloody hell, I’m old) and I have learnt the power that my body has to do me serious harm.
Surely this doesn’t, still, affect me every single time I leave the house? It absolutely does. What I wear, where I go, the plans I make, whether or not I will walk home alone, the fear I have when getting in to a taxi, the way I hold my drink, how I worry and adjust my top, pulling it up, constantly if I think I’m showing a little too much cleavage.
Just because of two isolated incidents over a decade ago? No. Because of the looks I get when I walk down a street, because of the way some men think it’s ok to touch my hip as they talk to me, because of the not-so-sly comments about the size of my chest, because of the way some men think that if I wear something that I feel good in, but that obviously shows too much cleavage for me to be anything other than easy, it is okay to grab me, because of the way my heart races when a man walks behind me, I could go on. And on.
I am not a looker. I have a wobbly stomach, thighs that rub together as I move, a body that truly tells the tale of my life. I, wrongly I should point out, assumed that after my disability this would change. The comments change, sure, but the touching, the looks all remain.
So, whose fault were the two incidents that happened as I floated around the age of consent? Mine, because I wore a top a little too low, a skirt a little too short? Mine because, to be honest, I enjoyed the attention as doors were opened and drinks were bought? Mine, because I should have known better?
Or, instead of victim blaming should we instead be looking at the perpetrators? Instead of teaching our daughters how to dress to avoid unwanted male attention, instead of teaching them how to stay safe around men, should we, instead be teaching our sons to respect women? Teach our boys how to treat women irrespective of what they wear or where they are?
This isn’t ‘just’ an issue about rape. This isn’t even ‘just’ about discrimination. And it’s not even ‘just’ about men objectifying women. It’s about the things that are so ingrained in us that we just think of it as normal. As acceptable.
As long as women carry on deciding what to wear to minimise the chances of men thinking they’re ‘easy’. As long as women carry on refusing to walk home alone. As long as women quicken their pace as they walk down a darkened street. As long as women place their hands over their glasses for fear of having their drink spiked. As long as what a woman wears determines her sexual eagerness. As long as all of these, so subtle we probably barely even know we’re doing them, things continue. For as long as these are the lessons we teach our daughters: This is not okay.
Just because something is deemed normal, just because, for the most part, we all keep breathing, just because all of these things seem impossible to change, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
No, not all men, but yes, yes, all women have had similar experiences. Things must change.