An exercise in saying the wrong thing

I know the man responsible will probably never see this, but I need to write it out anyway for my own processing.

For context: A few weeks ago, someone I hadn’t spoken with for over a year got in touch, and we started chatting. The usual rubbish, how are you, how’s work, what have you been up to (how I detest small talk).  Then, in response to him asking if I need to workout considering all the dancing I do, I said I probably don’t need to, but I love having muscles.

And then he sent this:

Muscle shaming

Translated for the sake of clarity, “not too big muscles, I hope; A pretty woman with a toned body is sexy. A pretty woman with big muscles is not.”

First and foremost, this is creepy. as. hell.  He hopes. He hopes, about my body. He wants my body to remain sexy at all time for his benefit. Scuze me while I try to stop my skin crawling right off me.

But it’s also infuriating, I read it and I was instantly shaking with anger. The suggestion that only ‘pretty’ women can be sexy. Because of course there’s only one definition of pretty and/or sexy.

The suggestion that well-muscled women are not sexy in any way, to anyone.

But most of all, the assumption that any of that would be a motivating factor for me. As if I would immediately sell off all my kettlebells and weights because heaven forbid I not be considered sexy. As if the entire point and purpose of my life is to be attractive.

 

So I called him out. Something along the lines of “nuts to sexy. I love my big muscles and that’s the only opinion in the world that counts”. (Actual quote lost when I deleted everything, just barely resisting the urge to set the phone on fire.)

And he sent me this:

“I wasn’t talking about you, I like the way you look. I meant like this. This isn’t sexy body-builder

Face, meet palm.

Of course he wasn’t talking about me, what with me not being a woman and all.

Of course the fact he wasn’t talking about me makes it perfectly fine for him to say that this woman is womaning wrong because she doesn’t turn him on. Dear lord, I can’t believe I just had to type that sentence.

 

By that point I was rage-shaking so badly I could barely type, and dithering between trying to get him to understand and just blocking him. In my hopeless optimism I went with giving him a chance to stop digging, with roughly the following points:

  1. Comparing me to another woman is not a compliment. Ever.
  2. ‘You meet my definition of the correct way to be a woman’ is not a compliment, or an okay thing to say in general because…
  3. If there were a correct way for me to be a woman, it would be defined by me, always me, and only me. But…
  4. There is no ‘correct’, nor indeed ‘incorrect’, way to be a woman.
  5. I’m not here for your sex drive. Ew.

 

He said I was being over-sensitive.

Then I blocked him.

 

A few people have said he had a point – they don’t find super-muscly women attractive either. But that was not what he said.

“I don’t find muscly women attractive” is a point. One I really couldn’t care any less about when it comes to other people’s thoughts on my body, but a point nonetheless.

“Muscly women are not sexy”  is not a point, it’s a sweeping generalisation that says his worldview is the only true worldview and there is no possible dimension in which anyone could find muscly women attractive.

And “you shouldn’t get too muscly because I don’t find that sexy” is so far from a valid point, that I can’t quite believe I had to type that sentence either.

I’m not angry that he doesn’t think muscles are sexy. Everyone has opinions and they’re entitled to them.  I’m angry that he tried to impose his opinion on me and assumed I seriously care whether he finds me sexy, and then dismissed me as over-sensitive for being creeped out and offended by that assumption.

I wish I had blocked him sooner and saved myself the adrenaline stress.

 

A microscopic part of me is hoping he will have thought about my points and realised his mistake. But the realist in me knows fullwell he probably rolled his eyes, muttered something about my time of the month, and carried on his creepy way.

 

In case anyone is wondering, the right response sounds a bit like this:

“I’m sorry I offended you. Thank you for taking the time to point it out and explain it to me, which you are absolutely not required to do. I’m taking your points on board and I’ll try to do better next time.”

But to be honest just “I’m sorry” would have done, rather than doubling down and mansplaining his sexism to me.

Sometimes it’s hard

I leave my flat to walk to work. On the way some builders wolf-whistle me, then call me a bitch and a whore when I don’t respond.

I stop to buy coffee and a man steps in front of me in the queue, talking loudly into his phone. He doesn’t even acknowledge me.

I get to work and head to my desk past the guy who thinks he’s being nice, but only ever compliments me on my outfit, and only ever when I’m wearing a dress.

A man tries to explain a report to me that I have been running longer than he has been with the company. After telling him three times that I know what I’m doing I end up snapping at him, and he jokes to a colleague that it must be that time of the month.

There is training out on site; I step from the car and the first man I see asks if I’m a secretary. The training takes twice as long as planned, because they interrupt constantly to ask questions that would be answered if they would just listen until I finish speaking.

Back to the office and I take out my afternoon snack. A manager leans over and loudly asks, “are you still eating??” When I refuse to dignify that with an answer, he also mutters about my time of the month.

Finally time to go home. On the way, a randomer stops me and tells me to smile, I would look so pretty if I smiled. When I answer “you bloody smile” and walk off, he calls me names, screaming them down the street until I turn the corner out of his line of sight. If I’m lucky. If he doesn’t grab me, hit me, stab me, shoot me, rape me for not doing as I’m told.

A group of teenage boys are hanging round at the end of my street. They spread out across the pavement when they see me, thinking they can stop me. I have had more than enough so I just keep walking, banging against their shoulders, pushing through. They call me a whore, slut, cunt. They follow me home.  Tomorrow I’ll have to come home a different way.

I barely even noticed the billboards and adverts I saw all day long, using skinny, half-naked women to sell anything and everything from beer to clothes to holidays to burgers.

 

No, I am not imagining it. No, I am not making it up. No, I am not being over-sensitive.

If I had actually been on my period every time my feelings have been dismissed as PMS, I would have bled to death years ago.

If I had a pound for every time a man has assumed the right to command my facial expression, I would no longer have to work.

If I added up all the extra distance I have walked in my life to avoid males who make me feel unsafe, it would reach to Crewe and back. Several times.

Yes, you’re damn right I’m a feminist. Yes, we still need feminism. Because yes, we still have such a long, long way to go.