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.

Advertisements

Teeny tiny study

So today I found this article on Gadgette about perceived gender roles.

TL;DR – sexism is still a thing, possibly getting worse.

On first sight it could be a somewhat disheartening read. But I’m not throwing in the feminist towel yet, for several reasons.

First of all, the sample size for the study is pathetic. Even if I had not studied sociology and worked in market research, I could have told you that 191 responses is tiny. That number cannot possibly give an accurate representation of the beliefs of the (roughly) 7 billion people currently on the planet. Or the few billion people in the Western World. Or even the 361 million North Americans.

Which brings me to my second problem with this study; It was done in North America. North America, where this amendment has still not been added to the constitution, over 90 years after it was first presented:

Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.

Where women who may become pregnant (i.e. the vast majority of us) are told we ‘should not drink alcoholic beverages at all’. Because everything possible must be done to keep baby-making factories women healthy, whether they like it or not.

Where a disturbing number of people seem to think they have the right to tell a woman whether she can or cannot use her own body to produce a child she doesn’t want.

Of course sexist beliefs are getting worse in a place where women are reduced to their ability to create offspring, treated like children, and seen as constitutionally less than men.

I want to see this study done with a much larger sample size, for a start, and in some other countries. I want to know how different the results would be in places that are known for better equality. Maybe they would be the same, but somehow I doubt it.

On closer inspection, this is not disheartening at all; it’s fuel to my fire. I’m going to keep up my fighting to make sure that, even if it never ever gets any better than it is now, it doesn’t gets as bad as these results.

I have faith in you, Britain! Don’t let me down.

Once you pop, you just can’t stop.

There once was a woman who lived in a bubble.

The bubble had always been there, from the moment she was born, and everyone around her had one too.

It filtered everything she saw, and made the world look just fine, but it also made the woman feel bad. Her reflection through the bubble was distorted, so all the things she didn’t like about herself looked much bigger than they were, and she could hardly see any good parts.

One day she saw some people who looked strange, although she couldn’t work out why. They were loud and confident, and moved through the world with power, leaving it changed behind them.  She tiptoed closer to them and realised why they looked so different; they had no bubble!

She ran away as fast as she could, afraid of these strange people who were not living the way they were supposed to.

But she couldn’t forget about them, and eventually she started to wonder what it was like to live without a bubble. The thought terrified her, and yet the non-bubbles had seemed so… alive.

She searched for them and found them again. For a while she only watched them, learning how they moved and talked to and about each other. Sometimes they waved at her and she waved back, but didn’t dare get any closer.

Then she overheard one of the non-bubbles explaining that she had been born with a bubble as well, but she had burst it herself. Set herself free.

The woman decided to try it. She stood in front of her mirror and pushed at the bubble, but it was so thick and strong that she could only open a tiny hole in it. She pressed her eye to the hole and looked in the mirror. She couldn’t believe how different she looked! It was too strange so she looked away, but she left the tiny hole there.

She tried looking through it every day, and every day it grew a little wider, until one day with a pop her bubble disappeared completely.

She spent a long time looking at herself. Without the bubble blocking her view she saw there were so many wonderful parts of herself she had never been able to see before.

Then finally she looked around at the world, and realised that the bubble had been distorting things there as well. Everywhere she looked were things the bubble had been hiding from her.

 

Why did that advert for washing powder only contain women’s voices?

Why did that poster have only white people on it?

How could people say that trans women aren’t real women because they can’t have children? If she needed a hysterectomy, would she no longer be a real woman? So… did that guy actually believe he was complimenting her by saying she ‘looks fertile’?

Why did this clothes shop only stock 3 different sizes? All of which are well below the national average?

Did that song always have such rapey lyrics?

 

The people still in their bubbles couldn’t see the problems. Some of the non-bubbles tried to explain, and a few people burst out to join them, but most of them just got angry. They liked their bubble and the way it made the world look.

The bubble-free world was sometimes hard and frightening and painfully unfair, but the woman loved the feeling of being free to see it and try to change it.

She realised she could never force people to leave their bubbles. She wasn’t even very good at persuading them to try, but she decided to do her best anyway. Even if her trying only yielded the smallest results, it would be worth it.

It was the only bubble-free way to live, and she vowed never to let her vision be bubble-clouded again.

 

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.