Glass Cases

If you take a look at certain areas of the internet, it feels like quite an exciting time to be a woman, like we might actually be getting somewhere with the whole institutionalised sexism thing. Obviously there is a long, long way to go, but for the first time it feels like 'making a fuss' about things will no longer be seen as 'making a fuss', and there will be support from a large community of women and men who are fighting for equality not just in law, but equality of opportunity and equality of respect.

As a part of this, I am noticing increasing instances of women speaking up about the everyday sexism they face just going about their lives. This is unreservedly a good thing and from personal experience I believe every single one of the stories. However, sometimes it makes me feel a bit weird. Because, like, I'm a woman too. And I just categorically do not have men shouting/whistling at me every day, several times a day, as some women seem to. I'd say something like that happens to me once every couple of months, and each time it does, it's scary and awful and I don't like it at all. Nevertheless, I have a complicated relationship with this. Shamefully, I sort of used to be on the side of the debate which says, "well, if you don't want a whole bunch of dudes being leery and awful, don't dress like that." I would (and did) never, ever extend that opinion to any kind of physical attack or assault or even verbal attack, but yeah, I held a bad opinion in the past. Women should have the right to dress however they want, just like men should.

I do, however, still believe that if you don't want to get that kind of hassle, then you can dress in such a way that means you avoid it. I know this to be true because I have realised that's what I do. I came to this realisation only recently. I had seen a series of tweets about sexist intimidation from a female blogger I really like and respect and I was kind of thinking (in the deepest, most shameful, insecure parts of my mind), "well sucks to be you, I guess, you get a lot of guys' attention when you go out and you get to brag about it on social media". And I was kind of wondering what she does to deserve all that attention, and, well, what I don't do. 

Of course, people would rush to point out all the massive flaws in that sentence - she doesn't 'do' anything to 'deserve attention' (a.k.a. intimidation, harassment, abuse), the only people 'doing' anything were the creepy men treating someone's sister in a way that they wouldn't want someone else to treat their own. 

Upon thinking about this further, I was unsettled and upset to realise that I think I dress a certain way to avoid the possibility of comments or criticisms. I mean, I've always kind of known that about myself, but it was new - and really unpleasant - for me to think about it in the context of feminism. I thought that I chose my clothes out of a combination of factors: what is comfortable, what looks nice, what conveys the kind of person I'd like people to think I am, what is clean and available. But pervading through all of that is "don't draw attention to yourself!!'

I've always seen myself - through no agency of my own - as not overly affected by everyday sexism: I rarely get comments/whistles/honks/gropes (although, of course, I have had and do get those things); I work in a majority female, left wing environment; I feel reasonably safe in my local area. But it felt like suddenly I was aware of a glass case that I have been living in all my adult life. And now that I've found it, should I go on the way that I was? Or should I take this knowledge and use it to my advantage? It's really quite exciting!

(N.B. I am aware that this case has been constructed by me, arguably in response to society but mainly just in response to my own insecurities and neuroses. But now I can see that I did it, now that I've become aware I'm in a situation, I can use all my strength to break out.)