I was in a green room at a comedy club a few years ago. In the room was a man had been doing stand up for five years longer than me, and booked several shows I wanted to do (notice the power dynamic disparity.) He came up to me and said, "Wow, your tits look nice in that dress." I was really uncomfortable, because my breasts look awesome in every dress. After he left I looked at the other comedians, fishing for some empathy like it was a Moby Dick uncatchable whale. I said, "Was that a little objectifying?" A male comedian said, "I would LOVE to be sexually objectified." So I said, "Alakazam!" and turned him into a table.
Recently at an open mic, a male comedian said, "I wish I got cat called." I deduced he meant street harassment, because felines rarely use the telephone. A few months ago, I was walking home at night and some guy said hi to me. I smiled at him, because I felt obligated to. Then he said, "nice leggings." I said, "thank you." Then he started following me. And not in the acceptable Twitter kind of way. (@barbara_holm.) He stayed about 15 feet behind me and just followed me for a few blocks until I got around more people and then he backed off. I can't describe how terrifying it is as a 5'3 person to feel physically unsafe, like I don't have control over what happens to my body. Cat calling and simple flirting can lead to more aggressive harassment. I think feeling obligated to accept unwanted objectification reinforces the idea that we lack agency over our own bodies, and we exist as instruments to be looked at and acted upon by men. And being told that my discomfort is inappropriate reiterates the idea that I don't deserve my own thoughts.
No matter how harmless the harassment is, if we are freaked out or uncomfortable, we're allowed to be. If we feel scared, mad, or feel like eating a tuna sandwich, that is our prerogative. Humans are allowed to feel whatever they feel. If I legitimately don't want some sexual attention, I'm allowed to not want it. I don't have to take it as a compliment. And if you have a problem with that, feel free to tell me about it by yelling and whistling next time I go get a coffee. That has been my least favorite bigotry of the weak, please tune in next week to untangle my hair hanging from the castle tower window.
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