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.

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How not to be a feminist (apparently)

Limit #19 feminists shouldn’t pole dance

I was a bit afraid of pole dancing. Afraid that I would be completely useless at it, that it would be too difficult and I would tell myself I hated it so I didn’t have to admit how gutted I was that I couldn’t do it. I was afraid I would be the only fat person in the room, and the most unfit, undignified, un-everything else I could possibly think of.

Except un-feminist. Because, aside from actively adding to the oppression of women and minorities, I don’t believe that’s a Thing.

So I threw myself into it. Literally, for some moves. And it really shouldn’t surprise me by now that trying something scary ended up with me loving it.

Somehow pole class has the same effect as Thai boxing does; it makes me feel dangerous. In a world where I’m 3 to 4 times more likely  to be a victim of some form of assault, there’s a potency to feeling dangerous.  I wear it like armour.

That starts with the bruises.

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They call them pole kisses, but this is not how I kiss.  These are battle scars and medals of honour in one. I fought gravity and friction and the doubting voices in my head, and I won. These stripes were earned.

When I get a move right I am pure muscle. I am light and stardust. I hold galaxies in my skin.

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I collect skills like a trainer hunting pokemon; I love the new and unusual ones, but any and all are welcome.

I can write, I can bake, I can crochet, sing, salsa, play flute, run, calculate the volume of a cylinder, swing kettlebells, paint faces, sew, give a massage, doodle, audit a personnel file, belly dance, set up a pivot table in Excel, and on and on. And now I can move my body on a pole, in ways I never believed I was capable of.

We all know how gaining a new skill feels. It feels like this:

sit hand off
My first hand-off pole sit

It feels like joy and power and victory and strength in every way it’s possible to be strong.

I’m used to fitness skills that grow like plants; you can never see the change happening, but after a while you find you have a fully grown flower. But pole is like watching a time-lapse video. Three weeks ago I completely failed to do one pole deadlift, and this week I did five each side as a warm up.

I expected to walk, and found that I could fly. Give me a month and I still couldn’t explain how powerful and empowering that is.

Every class pushes my belief of what I can do.  I watch the demonstration of a move and silently scoff at the idea that my body could do such a thing, then I get on the pole and nine times out of ten I do the move. Maybe not well or as gracefully as I’d like, but I do it. If it doesn’t work the first time, I manage on my second try, or my third, or even my twentieth. I know I can keep trying.

I can’t wait for the day when I see a move and think “I can do that. Let me at it.”

So yes, I am a feminist and I will continue to learn how to pole dance.

My feminism allows and encourages anything and everything that adds to the freedom and empowerment of women. We’re free to wear make up or not, to be ‘girly’ or not, to wear heels or not, to deadlift our own body weight or not.

My feminism knows that I don’t exist in a vacuum, and everything I do is an action or reaction to the socialising I’ve received since the day I was born. I can see why some people would think feminists shouldn’t pole dance, I can see how it would be problematic. But after centuries of patriarchy and oppression and conditioning there’s really very little, if anything, that isn’t problematic.

So I choose to do it anyway. I didn’t reject society telling me what a woman should and should not do, just to let feminism tell me what a feminist should and should not do.

In doing so I’m proving that I am mighty; not to any man, or even to any woman except myself.

Just like running 10km, just like snatching 20kg kettlebells, just like studying STEM when I’ve only ever known arts, every time I go to pole class I prove to myself that I can do and be anything if I’m willing to put the work in. I’m not held back by my gender, or my size, or my introversion, or anything else that people might try to limit me with.

And that fits my feminism just fine.

Sweaty pole grin
My I-just-nailed-a-new-move face

Seeing red

Limit #18 fat women shouldn’t wear red lipstick.

Because, despite our size, we’re supposed to make ourselves as invisible as possible. Wear black, be quiet, don’t take up space, don’t draw attention; nobody wants to see that.

Well… tough chocolate.

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See this.

I wear red lipstick because it makes me feel fabulous.

Because it’s one of the quickest and easiest entries on my bad body day rescue list.

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Things what make me feel better

Because I deserve to put beautiful things on my beautiful face.

Because I’m not allowed to wear an actual mask to work, but red lipstick sometimes works as a substitute.

Black mask

Because I refuse to make myself less for people too small to handle me.

Because I can. Because it’s my body and I’ll paint it whatever colour I damn well please.

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See?

If anyone doesn’t want to see that, there are always three other cardinal directions in which to point their eyes. They can choose one. And then go take a running jump.

This isn’t for them anyway; it’s entirely for me.

Pouty face red lips
And also to make Mum tut at me.