Three separate things have happened to me in the last few weeks that have basically lead me to believe that I’m operating as a form of public property – you know, something that anyone can feel free to comment on. And, quite frankly, it pisses me off. Above and beyond the fact that everyone reading can probably say things along the lines of ‘BOO HOO’, and ‘welcome to the real world’, I’ve reached a point of absolute frustration with this shit. A point at which I’ve start side-eyeing random strangers, suspicious of that the fact that they may be poised to make some stupid, crude or idiotic remark to me when I DIDN’T EVEN ASK THEM.
Case number one: About a week ago, I ventured out for one of my standard morning runs. I’d just hit the 7km mark, and was sweating up a storm. Earlier, I had run past an older man. He had waved his hand at me, and said something – but as I was running past him and had my earphones in, I didn’t catch. I didn’t really think anything of it, because people often nod and say ‘good morning’ to me.
Anyway, at the 7km mark, I ran back past this man (I had turned around at this point, and so was running towards him). He waved at me again, and so I slowed down (I thought he might have been lost or confused).
The man carried on to tell me that he has “often seen me out running” (which is correct, I have seen him before, and he has similarly waved at me then) and that I “frighten him” because I am “so sweaty”.
At this point in time, the expression on my face was rather like this cat’s:
My response to this guy was something along the lines of, “well, yes, I’m running, of course I’m sweaty”. I then turned around and kept running. The thing is, this isn’t the first time someone has felt the need to tell me how my body/my clothes/the books I’m carrying are “funny”, “frightening”, or “dirty”.
Case number two: Three days prior to the running incident, I’d swung by my local university coffee shop after visiting the library. I was loaded up academic-type books with titles such as “Feminism Methodologies” and “Qualitative-Based Methodologies for Feminists” – you know, standard fare for anyone doing a PhD in feminism (which, coincidentally, I am). I proceeded to dump these books on the counter next to me as I fished my wallet out of my bag, only to hear the young guy in front of me start laughing. I asked him what was funny (I had suspected it was something to do with the barista, who tends to come up with ridiculous nicknames for his customers. My nickname is usually Jessica Simpson or Jessica Alba, for example…). He then proceeded to tell me that those books looked very “interesting”, whilst, well, sniggering.
Look, I’d like to think that this guy had a genuine interest in feminist methodologies, but somehow, I suspect that this wasn’t the case. This guy’s main interest appeared to be commenting on how much ‘feminism’ I was literally carrying.
Case number three: Two to three weeks prior to this happening, I was walking to university to have a meeting with my supervisors about my PhD. I’d put on a brand new, pale pink dress for the occasion. On the way in, I walk past a guy in his mid to late 20′s, who says to me, “you’re looking good today, Miss”. To which I said, “What?”, because he-half mumbled it. He then says, “You’re showing your pink bits, you dirty bitch!”. Because you know, GET IT, I was wearing a pink dress.
(Even Julia Gillard is unimpressed by this one).
Street harassment isn’t exactly uncommon. It happens all the time, everywhere, to woman (and men!) all around the globe. And whenever it happens to me, I’m reminded of the fact that I’m not just a ‘citizen of the world’ (so to speak) but I’m also a woman. Which of course, means I’m up for objectification and harassment. I don’t have a solution to street harassment – and if I did, I’d bottle it and distribute it to every woman on the planet. What I hope and wish for is some form of witty comeback for each situation. As it stands, I tend to be struck dumb by common sense, and end up replying with the obvious: “I’m sweating because I’m running”, “I have feminist books because I’m studying feminism”, or “I AM wearing a pink dress…”.
What I would LIKE, what I wish I COULD do, is completely lose my shit. I’d like to go completely and utterly bat-shit crazy on these men. I’d like to screech, scream, and holler at them. I’d like to tell them that their behaviour is disgusting, and that they don’t have the goddamn right to comment on me, my body, or even the bloody books that I am carrying around university. But then, of course, I’d just be conforming to the stereotype of the “crazy paranoid women”, when of course these men were just trying to “be polite”, or “make conversation” – except that they weren’t. And then, of course, there’s the fact that I’m too polite to confront men in this manner in public (even though I shouldn’t be).
See the bind that women are in?