Content warning: catcalling; sexual assault; rape
Time and time again you see it. You experience it. You live it. Us womxn (cis or trans). Every single one of us live in a life of constant, never-ending observation by the male gaze. Most of us don’t even acknowledge it. We come back and share night-out stories missing out the part on your walk to pre-drinks where a blacked-out car wolf-whistled at you, when you spent the entire rest of the walk in trepidation of the dark, where three boys groped your arse in the club. But the more we accept that it is what it is, the more it’ll be normalised for our daughters, our sons, our peers, to treat women this way, and the longer it will carry on. Like Emmeline Pankhurst who decided to challenge the norm, every single one of us should too, or things will never change. Pankhurst ensured women were deemed real citizens; they were allowed to vote, to own property, and challenge unequal pay. She started the revolution, but we must carry it on.
This evening, my sister came home from a jog. It was half past 8. On her way back, a man had moved out of the way for her, and she, contrary to her previous experiences, decided to thank him, despite the female fear of talking to men whilst on our own. In return, he saw a woman on her own, and thought he had the right to make a comment about her looks, despite her cis-gendered, heterosexual privilege.
“Looking gorgeous tonight!” he said.
What some people may be thinking is, well, she should have taken that as a compliment. Here are some of the reasons as to why this is not a compliment:
- He was actively promoting the idea that it is acceptable for women’s bodies to be subjected to the male gaze.
- He intentionally reduced her worth to her attractiveness, which, like all humans, is only a tiny, tiny proportion of what makes up a person.
- If she were a man, he would not have said anything at all.
- The mere fact that he felt like he had the right to say this to her promotes the idea that men are more powerful than women, and have the right of ownership over them.
- She didn’t want it.
Perhaps the last point is the most important. This is the same sentence we see used again and again in rape culture, in assault cases, and still it exists as an unheard reason as to why unsolicited behaviour is wrong. It is wrong because we didn’t want it. We don’t want it. We don’t want to be going on jogs before it gets dark so that we don’t fear getting raped. We don’t want to be holding our keys in our palms as we walk back from a night out in case someone grabs our hair and pulls us into the bushes. We don’t want to be constantly looking over our shoulder in fear of someone following us. WE. DON’T. WANT. IT. And that should be enough.
When I asked my sister how she was, she said she was angry. She was angry because she realised how much she feels the need to change her behaviour so she isn’t considered attractive, so a man doesn’t ‘accidently’ rape her or assault her on the grounds that her outfit told him she was asking for it. Subconsciously, she ties her hair in a scruffy bun, so her face isn’t defined. She wears her boyfriend’s gym tops so that her figure doesn’t show beneath them. She wears leggings so that her tanned legs aren’t considered alluring. To change her behaviour meant that he had won that night. But, another night, we won’t let him. He, and men like him, keep winning, but we must challenge this; we must speak about it, so the norm can be challenged and women can feel safe past 8pm.
Photo courtesy of Jozsef Hocza