I’m pushing 50 these days so this particular branch of toxic masculinity doesn’t reach for me the way it did when I was young. Back then, it felt entitled to lean out car windows and yell at my 16 year-old self:
“Don’t worry Baby, you can shake’em, they won’t break.”Teenage Boy in Honda Civic Hatchback, late 80s.
My 20-something self was once graced with this bon mot:
“Whoa, you can even see stretch marks on those bigguns!”Substance Compromised Wanderer, late 90s/early 00s
It was always shame that came first.
All mixed up with a fear I didn’t completely understand until I got older and read things like:
Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill themMargaret Atwood
I would become flooded with adrenaline.
After the “shake’em” comment in particular—where I’d been alone and farther from home than usual in a part of Montréal I didn’t know well—I don’t think my heart stopped racing until I got home over an hour later.
The overarching sensation in both those experiences—and the many others that involved everything from less memorable wording to very memorable groping—was that I had done something wrong. I could never circle that square, though. All roads led back to the fact that my only “failure,” was simply being born with DNA that grew me into the shape I have inside a shitsucking, patriarchal culture.
The other day, when the not-in-any-way-foxy silver-haired sleezebag slowed his convertible Porsche down and gave me ” the stare,” the first thing I thought—and I’m pretty sure I muttered it out loud as well—was: “Ew. No. Just no.”
And then my body filled with RAGE.
Not one iota of shame even so much as fluttered an eyelash.
And this key difference in my emotional and physical reaction to that dubious wanker’s behaviour seemed interesting to me.
Back in the days of much more widely accepted catcalling behaviours, “the stare” always felt more menacing to me than the boisterous whistles or seemingly friendly “Woo! You look nice today, Baby!”s. But, when I was growing up, the rebuttals to criticisms of the whole phenomenon were generally along the lines of:
“Why can’t women just take a compliment?”Too Many Men to Count
And maybe I’m just woefully slow, have been more privileged than many, and needed a post #metoo world to finally, truly, get it. But, the other day, with the insecure git in his overpriced midlife-crisis-mobile, I gained crystalline clarity about how just as sexual assault is not about sex, catcalling and lascivious, objectifying stares are not about appreciation.
All of it is about insecurity and fear (theirs, not ours) and power (ours, not theirs).
It’s about the compulsion to try to silence the former by diminishing or dominating the latter.
So, why did so many of the instances of this gross behaviour in my early years lead to shame and fear and this most recent, surprise attack leave me with naught but vitriol?
The answer seems to be that I finally, truly know what genuine compliment of my body feels like. This, in turn, means that, I also know what it feels like when a look like that is in no way complimentary.
I will explain.
I may not always love everything about myself but somewhere in the last decade I stopped hating my body, stopped seeing it only for the ways it did not fit my society’s definition of beautiful.
My body is curvy and strong and bangin’ as f–k.
And, that’s not bravado.
That’s a short list of facts.
The last time a man—genuinely kind, open, sexy hands—told me “you have a great bum” I was first rather tickled by his use of the word bum (we were in a very public spot and enjoying a delicious round of first kisses) and then I simply said, “thank you.” I was able to say an honest “thank you” because we were crossing a physical line together after a few lovely dates, because I know he’s right about my “bum,” and because I was genuinely grateful he’d noticed.
Once you learn to accept, and even love, your own body a compliment of it can LAND.
You can be gracious in the most elegant, open, soul-filling sense of the word.
Once you learn to accept, and even love, your own body all the icky, non-consensual attention that apparently still sometimes flows toward middle-aged weirdos (with great bums) like me loses all its gaslighty camouflage and nonsense.
I got angry the other day because I knew I was being targeted in a quietly aggressive and completely not-okay way that actually had nothing to do with me whatsoever.
And, here’s the thing. I know that we are all made of the same light and that patriarchy f–ks over dudes in SO many ways. I haven’t really been able to write about it yet but someone I love a lot died not that long ago in large part because of the brutal marginalization and repression of male vulnerability in our dumbass culture. No human who identifies as a man can ever be healthy if he truly believes that “being a man” means not having a full spectrum of human emotion, leering at women, and then telling them they just need to learn how to take a compliment when they don’t like it.
It’s empowering to realize that even putting up with the patriarchal shit that has always affected some of us more than others even as it shapes ALL of us—and which more and more frequently uses “incel” rhetoric, regressive legislation, and guns to express itself where women are concerned—I have somehow still managed to become a woman who likes herself enough to first think that man was disgusting and pathetic and then have sincere compassion for what made him that way.
If you ever read this.
Sell your stupid, geographically inappropriate car and use that money for some therapy to unpack why you thought it was okay to leer at a complete stranger like it was your universe-bestowed right to do so.
Meanwhile. Imma take my “bigguns” and “nice bum” and get them a lovely little treat because, clearly, those young people who scared and belittled me that day were right: we have all been shaken rather a lot over the years but we absolutely did not break.