This one goes out to all the roadmen, the van drivers, and the lads lads lads out there (and everyone else too). Anyone who has ever made lewd and obscene comments, or worse still, noises, at someone (me) publicly, get 2 knoe.
Do you think I need you to point out that I have a massive arse? Don’t worry mate, I am in fact aware – I’m the one who has to wrestle it into my clothes every day – so I don’t need your insightful comments to graciously bring my attention to it. Trust me, I’ve also heard all of your shit jokes and hilarious one-liners, just like every other woman you shout them at.
Don’t tell me to smile, you have no ownership of my body and no right to tell me what to do with it – and I won’t smile just because it makes you enjoy looking at me more or because you think I exist purely for your pleasure.
Maybe it’s time to think about what you’re actually saying when you casually look me up and down and make some kind of judgement about the way I look. Because it’s not a compliment, regardless of how much you might protest that it is. No, it’s an assertion of power, and a statement that says: “I am a man, and I have the right to treat your body like an object to be consumed”.
It’s not about me necessarily; it’s about your own fragile masculinity and the need to demonstrate to other men that you are hyper macho. It’s about keeping women in their place – because women who are not oppressed represent a threat to male dominance and the crumbling fortress of patriarchy. It’s a display of power which is intended, however subconsciously, to humiliate women and remind them that they are second-class citizens.
That’s why these type of comments are so much more common when they’re likely to go unanswered – like when you’re driving by or I’m cycling past you (and yes, I’m cycling faster than you can bro: it’s not an affront to your manliness, I’ve just got killer quads).
Here’s why: because if she had the chance to reply, you’d be forced to confront the idiocy and disrespectfulness of your actions towards that woman you shouted at like a dog. You’d have to ask yourself why you’re expressing such contempt for another human being, why you’re actively trying to make someone feel uncomfortable and unsafe in the space you’re temporarily sharing.
And don’t get me wrong – you’re as much a product of our very strange, fractious society as I am. You might have grown up thinking that it’s OK to treat women as if we are inferior to men – it’s an understandable perspective given the onslaught of information to that effect that we are bombarded with through the media, porn and advertising. You might have been brought up by people who reinforced those values, explicitly or implicitly, and ended up emulating the behaviour of the role models you had in your life.
But while that might be an explanation, it’s not an excuse not to think about what you’re doing.
Patriarchy hurts men as much as it hurts women, albeit in a completely different way. It teaches men that they have to be strong, to provide for their families, to never show weakness or emotion, to be the picture of buff, manly, physical prowess. It’s a lot to live up to.
And when, inevitably, you cannot be all of those things at once, you need to disguise this and compensate by reasserting your masculinity, imposing yourself on someone you perceive to be weaker than yourself, because it’s easy and it makes you feel good.
But that isn’t going to make anything better. Patriarchy will continue to oppress people of all genders as long as there is a vanguard to protect and perpetuate it by behaving in the way you’re behaving. I’m not suggesting it’ll be easy to smash such an engrained and hegemonic system, but we’ve got to at least try, right?
In the meantime, think about what you just said to me, and whether you would kick off if someone said that to your sister, or daughter, or mother, or friend.
And while you’re doing that, I’m gonna keep learning to wolf whistle so that hopefully soon when you whistle at me I will be able to make more than a feeble, spitty whooshing noise in return. Table flip, bitch.