I have to start this post by saying I'm a massive hypocrite on a number of levels. I did, after all, once write about - and not entirely in jest - how depressing it was to walk past a construction site or a road crew when you're dressed up to the nines and get... absolutely no reaction. If pushed I would further have to confess that I also routinely ogle random boys that I find attractive - I try to do it discretely but very likely I fail. And finally I thoroughly enjoy those (sadly rare) times I catch someone I fancy kinda checking me out (a flirty little smile with a skinny hipster type on the street really is enough to lift my mood for the day). So there's that.
That much said: it can be really really exhausting being a girl sometimes and I think a lot of guys don't realise or understand sometimes how it feels to have men LOOK at you wherever you go. This is on my mind because yesterday, for boring reasons, I had to (unexpectedly) walk a fair distance. On this walk I passed a bunch of guys doing some work in someone's front garden, another bunch of fluro vest-wearing workers fixing a footpath and a couple of tables of guys having coffee outside coffee shops. The more I walked the more hyper-aware I became of the fact these various bunches of guys were looking at me. I'm not quite sure how to explain it. It wasn't so much that they were ogling, per se, not staring, exactly but just... taking me in.
I don't for a moment believe this has anything to do with the way I look or the way I was dressed (pretty boring work clothes). As far as these guys were concerned I was just a pair of tits out and about and so they looked and didn't even try to pretend they weren't looking (in the interest of perpetuating stereotypes I will mention that the guys drinking coffee were a lot more classy about it than the vest-wearing guys or the gardening boys). I felt weirdly like a bit of public property and soon enough I had my gaze fixed on the footpath, my sunglasses on and my earphone stuffed into my ears.
It was the middle of the day and there were other people around so I had no reason to feel unsafe but by the end of the walk I felt distinctly uneasy without really knowing why.
I feel a bit unfair writing this because I really love boys (or men or whatever you want to call them) and the vast majority of my male friends are lovely and respectful and not even remotely sleazy or intimidating. Maybe I was just having a bad day and being oversensitive. Still, the whole thing reminded me of a very good series of articles from Sydney Morning Herald columnist Sam de Brito from a few years ago. De Brito, not the most feminine looking guy in the world, spent a few days dressed as a woman and wrote about it. Obviously his experience differed from the average woman's but some of his comments really struck home, including that sense of being watched.
"As I click-clacked toward the women's, a group of young guys in loud dress shirts sized me up and I steadfastly refused to look at any of them.What came across really nicely in these articles was how quickly Sam (as "Samantha") got worn down by these male stares. He starts out full of excitement about the experiment and winds up tired and too intimidated to go to some of the more aggressively male places he'd planned to. That's a more extreme version of how I wound up feeling at the end of the stupid walk: tired, weirded out and surprisingly angry. When some random dude with a beard straightened up from his work to seriously stare at me for a good 20 seconds I wanted to tell him to Fuck Off and leave me alone: I just wanted to get home.
"After doing that a dozen more times on the weekend, it dawned on me why so many women don't meet men's gazes on the street. It's safer not to engage. You hope they'll just ignore you.
"I thought also about the instant judgements I'd seen in people's eyes as I walked through the city. It forced me to recall my own judgements and for some reason my mind wandered to young women and all the times I'd been less than discrete perving.
"I thought of the looks of confusion on the faces of playful, childish females when they realised there was no going back, that those budding breasts they were sporting were dragging them into a new world, like it or not.
"I don't think men ever experience that shock of sexualisation like young girls do but it must be both terrifying and empowering, when childhood is stripped away and you're suddenly seen as an object for sex.
"The more I thought about it, the more disturbed I became by my own ingrained lusts, by the countless times I'd seen women as little more than holes and lumps to squeeze or poke, lick or leer at."
I wish I had a snappy conclusion or a real point to make but I really don't, except to observe that I'll never walk the particular route I did yesterday again if I can help it and if I do I'll put on a burlap sack before I start.
Okay. Phew. Rant over. Sorry about that, especially to any male readers/friends who think I'm having a crack at them. Next post: some jokes!