I am in Asia. People have no qualms about talking about your body here. Men walk past me in the street and tell me I am really fat. Women prod my stomach and ask if I am pregnant and laugh. Yesterday a man mimed me by puffing out his cheeks, making his arms into a circle and waddling, which his friends found hysterical.
It’s a cultural thing, apparently. It’s not rude. It’s just acceptable that my body is a freak-show for other people’s entertainment. I must accept people ridiculing my body because that’s just how things are here.
Back in London the story has a slightly different flavour. When men make comments about my body I am meant to just accept it because apparently this is flattery. People imposing their view on the shape of my curves and occasionally what they’d like to do to me should be demurely accepted. Preferably with gratitude. I must say thank you that someone has decided to let me know public whether they deem this lump of meat to be fuckable or not. It’s a compliment, apparently. It’s not rude.
Just because you like something and decide to shout that, does not make it a compliment. It just makes it your opinion. The desire for others to tell me what they think of my body over my right to feel safe and assessed is relentless.
And it’s exhausting.
As someone who has been raped in several scenarios by known and strangers alike, feeling safe in my own skin is not something I arrive at with ease. One of the worst fallouts of sexual assaults for me was the aftermath feeling like I could not escape from the house that had been broken into. I’m walking around in the very thing that feels like (and I was repeatedly told) had caused my abuse.
So when people prod, poke and pass comment on my flesh, walking down the street can feel like I am on the butchers slab just waiting for the cleaver to execute me once more.
I am not alone in feeling like this. Maybe over sensitive, but not alone.
It doesn’t have to be like this. It is extremely unlikely you, reading my ramblings are someone who actively engages in street harassment. But it is also quite unlikely that your life, social and work circles never cross paths with anyone who does. If I can walk down any street this side of the globe or the other and regularly face ten to fifty people a day declaring judgment on my anatomy, it shows it is not a small isolated group following me around. It’s about the way women’s bodies are seen as public property the world over.
You can help change this. Call people out. Engage in dialogue. And simply try reverting to the base line of respect “Is that kind?”.
One of the most inspiring ideas I ever heard was from Daisaku Ikeda who said the type of world peace we should be striving for is a time when any woman, anywhere in the world, day or night, can walk home alone and feel safe.
It is a small step on a long journey, but we do have the power to prevent verbal violence towards women. And every step towards less violence is an essential one. Your actions make a difference. Even if it is just to one woman. Don’t get lost in the bigger picture. Each incident makes up thousands a day. Speak out. Talk about this. Help change this. Let’s each take a step towards a kinder path.
Together we really do have the opportunity of being and inspiring the change we want to see.