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.
Sex is a taboo across the world, and was until very recently a significant taboo in the UK. The 1960s and the Summer of Love began to change peoples’ perceptions of sex and sexuality, but our Victorian, prudish sensibility still holds out in some places today. Despite the atmosphere of the heady love-laden days of the 60s, sex was off the mainstream agenda until the end of the second wave of feminism in the 1980s, and even then, it was a radical conversation topic.
But, like cheese hedgehogs and aspic, most people now seem happy to leave sexual taboos in the 1970s, where they belong. Older people are embracing sexuality outside of traditional institutions like marriage, statistics show, with a 2011 study exhibiting the lowest numbers ever of over 85s who believe sex outside of marriage to be ‘living in sin.’
The departure from sexual taboos in the UK is partly to do with increasing secularism. Modern taboos about sex are associated with religion in places,such as the Philippines, Nigeria, and Egypt. Regardless of which religion we are talking about, it seems that wherever faith is strong, sex outside of structures like heterosexual marriage is considered wrong.
Sexual encounters between young couples must be kept under wraps in the Middle East, and you have to be particularly clandestine if you are homosexual. A rise in the number of ‘temporary marriages,’ which are not state-sanctioned and can last for short periods of time, attests to changing attitudes and a desire for more sexual freedom.
Sexual frustration as a result of continued suppression of men and womens’ sexuality leads to aggression – an Egyptian journalist, Ali al-Gundi, was arrested and threatened with a beating for having an unopened condom in his pocket when driving home with his girlfriend late at night. Alongside trends of modernisation and/or Westernisation in the Middle East, there are also trends of conservatism.
Many women are opting to cover themselves more fully in public, sometimes in response to increasingly overtly sexualised Western trends and imports, further exacerbating the cultural divide between men and women. Gundi says “oppression brings out perversion in people,” alluding to men’s fear of the “feelings women provoke” in the absence of acceptable interaction. It may be true that all this sexual tension leads to violence – many young men cannot afford to get married, after all, and it is often young male police officers that will arrest couples for suspected sexual activity.
Homosexuality is even more taboo than sex alone in many countries. In the Philippines, gay men have to posit themselves as camp caricatures, acting up to stereotypes in order to be accepted in society. Their sexuality itself, however, is not discussed; to contemplate the idea of gay sex is anathema in such a Catholic country, where only six months ago a bill proposing sex education and reproductive health awareness was shouted down by the church. It is something that tears many religious homosexuals apart – it can be hard to reconcile one’s faith with one’s sexuality in cultures where religion is very traditional and conservative, whether it’s Christianity, Islam or anything else. The issue is especially poignant with the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics on Friday and amidst a sustained campaign to highlight the homophobia of the Putin administration, as featured in last week’s edition.
Religion and sexuality are not mutually exclusive – indeed, even conservative clerics accept the notion of pleasurable sex within marriage, and there have always been periods of relative religious liberalism – it is all up to interpretation. Perhaps the progressive trends shown in recent years – the legalisation of gay marriage, increased debate about the rights of women over their bodies, abortion and sexual abuse, will continue to shape our perceptions of the ultimate taboo, in the UK and across the world.
As a ‘modern’ feminist, I struggle to reconcile a lot of my beliefs with things that are becoming increasingly normalised in society. I have never been as hardcore as my parents, and I respect them for their proactive anti-misogyny, traditional feminism and cult pro-womenness (I am aware I am making up words here… but who cares?). Recently I have been thinking about how I feel about my role as a woman, and about society more generally. I find myself acting mum in my house and I dislike that. I don’t want to be the kind of person that cleans up after people and eventually gets taken for granted. And yet I can’t deny that I cannot live in a pigsty. This is one place where my politics fail me.
Speaking to female friends about the normalisation of porn made me think about this. Men of my generation grow up surrounded by images of women in pornography – and expect to from a young age. It is an unspoken truth, and acceptable amongst most (not all) young men and boys, that porn is a rite of passage. Previously I have argued that pornography depicting consensual sex between two adults can be acceptable, perhaps when viewed critically, but I am starting to veer from that stance. Although I would refute the claim that porn directly makes young boys demand sex from their female peers, as was postulated recently on a BBC radio programme, being continually exposed to unrealistic images of women will no doubt influence boys’ opinions and expectations of sex. It is the same with advertising. Already thin models are airbrushed to look even more ‘perfect’ based on society’s understanding of what that should be. This representation of women is bad for women themselves, who are made to feel inadequate, and for men, who, consciously or unconsciously, expect women to look like this unattainable vision of ‘perfection’.
Porn among my generation is taken as a given. We live in the age of the Internet, where anyone can find almost any kind of pornography anywhere and any time, despite their age. Google has launched a new ‘incognito’ function to their browser, which essentially allows people to watch porn without their partners (usually) finding out. This is pretty overt, despite not being specifically mentioned. Buying someone’s birthday present without them knowing what it is, my arse. Why is this acceptable? Why is it OK to watch sculpted people having pretty graphic encounters? And why is it mostly men? Looking at advertising or pornographic depictions of women makes me feel awful about myself, and I’m sure a plethora of other women would agree. Yet there seems to be no comparable reaction among men. This makes me think that perhaps it is because pornography is essentially propagating a misogynistic portrayal of women, who are often shown to be submissive, objectified, and disposable. This is reflected in popular culture – the lyrics to some songs make me feel pretty bad about myself too. Humiliated even. You shouldn’t have to tune out the lyrics when you’re listening to something because what they are saying is horrible. Music is to be enjoyed. Take
Beyoncé, for example, who has described herself as a ‘modern day feminist’. However, she has recently changed tack from ‘girls who rule the world’ recently to ‘bow down bitches’. Not something I would call particularly feminist. Has Mrs. Carter, as she is now calling herself, perhaps been influenced too much by pop culture and social expectations following her marriage?
A few things have prompted me to think about my reaction to this image of women in society. I have long questioned my own body image, and my reaction to the way women are shown in the media. I realise I am a classic example of how such representations of women in society have negatively affected young women. I am 20, and have grown up with a hugely sexualised media, readily available information on the Internet, and feminist politics. And yet, I would consider myself a casualty – I am aware that my notion of beauty is entirely warped, but at least I recognise it. I wish I could change my own perceptions, but no matter how hard I try, the seed is sown, and is reinforced every time I look at advertising, or walk through a city centre, or am on the Internet. I am starting to think that it is not only the media, but also porn, that is to blame. It acts as an underground reinforcement to unhealthy notions of what women should be, and my mind is at least set on that one.