Some weeks, especially during the summer months, the remarks passing males make on my appearance is an everyday occurrence. The sheer frequency of it has made me numb to the remarks, causing me to experience them as I do the white noise machine I use to drown out auditory stimulation during the night. But in recognizing that I have cultivated issues regarding the way society reacts to my body, I recently decided- when applicable and appropriate- to engage with these comments, rather than ignore them as an unavoidable nuisance.
Last week, while passing two men chatting on the street, I noticed- from my peripheral vision- one of them look up and remark, “Hey beautiful.” I glanced at him, noticed that he had a creative, put-together style, and verbalized this observation. His grin broadened as he thanked me and I was able to continue onwards without being harassed or followed, which isn’t always the case. This made me inwardly smile, because I realized that my positive attitude towards the encounter resulted in a positive experience.
I am not writing this post to recommend that other females reactive positively towards cat-calling. Nor do I want to absolve those that cat-call. Even non-aggressive comments such as ‘hey beautiful’ are not benign, as it promotes the importance society places on a female’s appearance, affirms her restricted[i] position in society, and propagates the belief that youth and beauty are a woman’s most valuable asset.
I will address the detrimental aspects of cat-calling and female objectification in another post. However, I first want to challenge the manner in which such topics are being discussed.
A neutral discussion, one without anger and one-sided perspectives, is necessary in order to be fully engaged and committed to a perceived issue. Unfortunately, neutral, constructive discussions are hard to come by, especially online. Animosity and harsh words are the common way people react towards ideas and beliefs that don’t coincide with their own. But in every encounter, there are several perspectives; and for those of us who identify as female, the male perspective is a valuable one to consider. Yes, it has been overrepresented in the past, and continues to be to this day, and it is productive to fight that reality with anger and resentment, but regardless of patriarchal bias, it is not beneficial long-term to sideline the masculine perspective.[ii]
As a female, I encourage other females to speak up about the hurdles they face surviving in a ‘masculine’ driven society. But I also encourage my female friends (when possible) to open themselves to an entirely alternate view. The other day, after discussing this topic, the man I was on a date with leaned back in his seat, smiled, and gave me this response: “I like the way you think. So many people see themselves as victims. But the way you see the world is very victimless.” I smiled back at him, because after a few years of trying to logically place my emotions, I have been able to react towards negative encounters in a victimless manner. Yes, being called fire pussy, tight pussy, bitch, and so forth from a passing man on the street is discouraging. Being followed or locked in a cab or harassed by the Uber driver is scary. Getting grabbed at is unpleasant. Hearing about the pervasive assault scandals in the media is infuriating. But it is important to note that these encroachments on personal space are external actions to myself and/or those experiencing them, and the best I can do in any sexually precarious situation is remain logical and positive while actively asserting my own needs and space.
Regardless of my positive perspective on the matter, my physical appearance will continue to affect me. We are visual creatures, and a person’s physical appearance will be the first aspect we notice. That is a harsh fact we must be willing to accept in order to understand and overcome difficult issues such as beauty bias, racism, ageism and sexism. In the current society I live in, my youth, gender, ethnicity, and beauty will have consequences- both negative and positive- that I cannot completely control. What I can control is the strength to come at it from the opposing perspective[iii], even when that perspective encroaches on my inner balance and well-being. I can choose to hate on men for not viewing my person as more than a sexual object, or I can try to have a sympathetic knowledge of their needs, formed belief system, and particular insecurities and traumas while continuing to hold them accountable for their actions.
The reality is, neither gender will live a life devoid of challenges. Regarding sexuality, men live in a world where sex is continuously advertised to them, and women live in a world where sex and sexual pleasure is requested and expected of them. Instead of letting my emotions rule my reaction towards that, I have decided to question and investigate why these issues are rampant in modern society and become empathetic of both genders sexuality as well as understand and address my own issues and perspective on the matter.
After years of retrospection regarding my sexual place in society (and similar topics), what I have decided is this: I no longer want to live in a peaceful, safe space. I don’t expect that my personal needs be effortlessly fulfilled. I don’t need to live in a world where my body won’t be sexualized. I live in a society with others, so it is inevitable that my space be encroached upon, and it is inevitable that I will encroach upon another’s space. Because of that, it is important that I learn to stand firm in my own space, even when it is occupied by a being whose needs, motives, and ideals oppose my own.
It is lovely that, at least for the majority reading this post, we live in place and time where food and shelter is plentiful and emotional trauma is beginning to be addressed. But, in a society that isn’t ideal, we need to do more than encourage comfort, peace, and idealism. We need to teach our youth how to handle adversity. Today’s youth expect to fall onto a padded surface. Expect the stove to be out of reach and to never get burned. Expect to be complimented at every action. And, on the opposite spectrum, instead of having a discussion of their wrongdoing, get scolded, beaten, yelled at, or punished from ideals that aren’t of their making. They then wake up the next morning encouraged to achieve success, make money, learn math, language, art, music, science, social studies, physical education, and so forth. But not how to handle emotions. Not how to be confident and grateful. Not how to respect others and have a fulfilling connection with themselves and the environment around them. When you realize this reality, it becomes obvious why we continue to destroy what is around us. Why we require and rely upon external matters. Why we find it difficult to find lasting friendships and partnerships. Why we have become obsessed with political correctness. Why we react with bitterness when something comes along to upset our intended balance.
I will end this with post with a simple- but heavy- assignment. I encourage all of you reading this to focus on achieving contentment regardless of external factors. Staying balanced on a calm peaceful platform is an easy task. It is another thing to be balanced while on a shaking, volatile platform.
[i] I recognize that the patriarchy imposes masculine ideals on men and, therefore, restricts the male position in society as well.
[ii] As it hasn’t been beneficial to sideline the female perspective.
[iii] As one who finds the male body more attractive than the female, I don’t have the experience of sex being pushed into my face on a daily basis. I don’t often walk down the street with a supply of beautifully styled, health-conscious men with luscious hair. Nor do I walk down the street with advertisements of beautiful, half-naked men. Perhaps if I did experience such occurrences on a daily basis, my actions and thoughts on sexuality would become more traditionally ‘masculine.’
When we obsess over an ideal, it becomes all we can see.