I was foolish enough to buy into the misconstrued cliché that feminists were man-hating, pretty-girl-hating, ugly and boring women who didn't enjoy life, their bodies or sex — and didn't want anyone else to, either. And girl, was I wrong!
When I tell people I am counsellor, it is only ever men who respond with questions such as: "Did you have to do a day course for that or something?" or "Did you need to do any studying for that?"
For those men who didn't inadvertently challenge my intellectual capacity, the overwhelming majority of male reactions came in the form of: "Oh, a counsellor... " (seemingly disappointed at the lack of glamour associated with the reality compared to their envisaged one), "I thought you were an actress/model/worked in fashion."
I once walked home from my boyfriend's place in the Halloween costume I had worn the night before, and even though I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, it still felt like a "walk of shame." When I got off the bus to my apartment, I walked by two high school girls who looked at me and muttered the word "slut" under their breath as they passed me.
When I went to the police at age 18 about being drugged with Rohypnol — the date rape drug — the female police officer asked me to stand up and demonstrate to her with my hand exactly how high my skirt was above my knee.
Men in the same situation are praised by their peers and seen as nothing more than a guy who got lucky, which simply serves to illuminate the ever-prevailing double standard of acceptability of sexual agency in our culture among the genders. That morning-after Halloween commute back home I did in the Gothic Angel costume, I wasn't the only one trying to sheepishly tiptoe home in amidst the bustle of peak hour.
I passed other "walkers of shame" who stuck out a mile away in their loosened ties, crinkled work shirts rolled up to their elbows and chaotic bed hair. No one called them "slut" as they walked past. In fact, I remember watching intently to measure other's reactions to them, and aside from me, it seemed nobody had taken the slightest interest in them at all.
When I conducted a survey a few months back exploring the dating experiences of 127 women from 11 different countries worldwide, being used for just sex and then treated as invisible thereafter, there was sadly a very common grievance. Our patriarchal society makes it okay for women's bodies to be used for male sexual pleasure, regardless of if the guy never talks to her again. However, when a woman reaps the benefit of financial profit from being sexually objectified, society perceives this as dishonorable and "wrong."
I worked at a medical center where a doctor said he didn't want black people as patients, but I was okay, because I was "mocha." At another health clinic I worked in, the boss sat at his desk beside me and had a conversation in front of me to a colleague in which he described someone as a "typical black person," which apparently meant "always wanting something for nothing."
Once a man told me if I was ever to travel "out west," I had to "watch out for those Islanders." They were "really dangerous," he warned. Little did he know that I was one myself. Just last week, an old lady in the line at the bank announced to both myself and the bank teller that the solution to the problem in Syria was to "just get rid of them all."
Earlier this year, I dressed up as a boy for the first time for a feminist photo shoot. I posted the pics proudly for all to see my rather-impressive transformation. The comments were all positive. Many friends marveled at my imaginativeness and commended me for my ingenious ability to create a heavily convincing five o'clock shadow with an eyebrow pencil. It occurred to me that the freedom with which I was able to play gender dress-ups and share it publicly, was not awarded to men who wished to do just what I had done. Indeed, for simply wanting to dress up as women, men are not only ridiculed and shamed, but are often shunned by family and friends — and even attacked.
After looking back at a photo shoot I did with my boyfriend, I noticed the clothes I wear when I do my photography are not the same as what I wear when I go out anywhere, especially on my own. In order to avoid the nonsensical catcalling and street harassment so rampant in our society, I actually base my outfits on what will be safe enough to wear if I'm going out on my own. By "safe enough," I mean attire that will minimize the honking and yelling from cars, whistling and commenting from men walking past and unsolicited conversations and attempted pick ups.
As women, we can certainly wear whatever we want, but it comes at a cost of being prepared to get harassed wherever we go. Or we can choose to dress conservatively in order to attempt to prevent unwanted attention, at the expense of our personal preference of dress style and fashion freedom. For the record, dressing in traditional Mormon attire doesn't deter street harassment anyway.
I love beautiful pictures of anything and everything, whether it be people, animals or landscapes, and often liked and commented on photos posted by a male Facebook friend. He apparently mistook my expressions of admiration for sexual interest and began contacting me privately asking for me to go out with him on a date. He told me he wanted to kiss me and wanted me to stay at his house.
When I explained he had misinterpreted my communication and that I had no interest in him other than potential friendship, the man initially responded with, "I'll be the best friend you ever had." He promised, "You wait. I don't want anything from you. I'd be proud to sit next to you and talk regardless of whether you never ever get romantic." Do you see the subtle undertone of hope and expectation that I may one day in fact get romantic?
Hours later, he sent a barrage of irate messages including, "I take it all back, I don't like you any more. I don't even know you." I didn't know him either, which is why I found it odd he would tell me he wanted to kiss me and invite me back to his house!
God forbid, if we were ugly, then we would receive no sexual objectification from men and then what value would we have as women in society? My friend shared a post on Facebook recently about how she was sick and tired of having to fight off men in the bar where she works and also performs as a singer. She explained she had a rather dangerous encounter with a male harasser while at work, which could have ended very badly. One guy commented, "Look at it this way, you could be as ugly as homemade sin and never have any guy try to push up on ya."
I disagreed with dismissing the severity of the problem by making light of an issue as serious as violence against women, the man then went on to try and justify his actions. He said he was merely trying to "cheer her up," and blamed it on his American humor that was merely "misunderstood in Australia." Later, he complained I "went all feminist" on him.
I have heard this term nonchalantly thrown around more times than I care to count. Until I learned about feminism, I didn't recognize the extent of the wrongness of such a derogatory expression. Sexist language is so normalized, we have been conditioned to think nothing of it when we hear it.
The most recent time the hideous words emerged from the mouth of someone, that mouth was that of someone in a position of power. I was furious with him for making such a repulsive statement, but also with myself for not being in a place where I was able to voice my absolute disgust.
Feminism is as relevant in 2015 as it was a century ago, and I have a feeling it will be relevant forever.
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