Dita Parker

Friday, March 8, 2013

Let's hear it for the girls

A girl passed me by the other day, her coat open. It wasn't that warm but at least it had stopped raining, and standing in the sun you could bask in the illusion of spring warmth. She was about fifteen. She could have been seventeen. I'm not sure. So much eye shadow. Even more mascara. I remember myself at that approximate age, putting on extra years by applying too much makeup.

She was young. She was lovely. And she was stacked. Her breasts were oozing out of a v-neck top one size too small, a top that revealed more cleavage than it concealed. They were beautiful breasts, no two ways about it. They were also so prominently on display I couldn't help but notice. Or stare, just for a second or two, before I jerked my eyes back to her face. She looked quite lost in thought, not at all conscious of my ogling. Or maybe it was the confidence of youth, the one that alternates with deep uncertainty.

I had the sudden urge to stop her and ask her what she wanted to say with that chest so...out there. That she thought her breasts were beautiful? That she hoped others noticed exactly how beautiful? Or maybe that her coat was too warm for such a lovely day so she had opened it and the top was what she happened to be wearing? Does it matter? Since I've been obsessing over that sight for days now, wondering why it plagues me so, maybe it does. Since today we celebrate International Women's Day, I say it does.

A part of me wanted to compliment that girl. You got it? Flaunt it! The other part, the maternal, protective part, wanted to walk up to her and zip her up, tell her she didn't have to do that to feel good about herself, or beautiful. Because I sometimes feel that all we've accomplished is the right to take our clothes off when and where we please. And that maybe we shouldn't, you know, not everywhere and all the time, as if the only woman worth listening to and noticing and taking seriously is a half-naked one and that's no way to represent, not until we are free of misunderstandings and misrepresentations.

But the only way I know of getting there is acting as if we already were. Maybe she had arrived. It's just that she may have meant that sexy semaphore for someone in particular, or only herself, but she was flashing all the world while at it. Then again, you can't control how your messages are received and you're not responsible for the reactions they invoke. It's our responsibility to keep our hands and thoughts to ourselves, not assume what someone does is for our pleasure, that it's a mating call, anything at all besides, for example, a pair of very nice breasts. Luckily, not all men have to be reminded of that. Unfortunately, the most obstinate ogres will never get it. But we are free to set them straight. We are free. (Ladies, please exercise that freedom, even when it begs the question why are we forced into these situations time and time again in the first place.)

But never forget it wasn't always so and that for too many women in this world, it still isn't. For centuries, women's bodies have been a battleground. For cultural reasons. Religious. Historical. Socioeconomical. Political. Personal. You name it, they have had their say, even if no woman asked for their opinion. Our bodies come with baggage, baggage a girl has no concept of when she's born. As she grows, the contents of that bag are gradually revealed. In looks, comments, touches. Some welcome and well-meaning, some unwanted and unjust.

On a global scale, Western women in general and Scandinavian women in particular are men, equal in rights and responsibilities and in no danger of being arrested, jailed, tortured or killed for being women. (Not by our governments, at least.) But are we free to define what and who we are, free of the baggage, free of the interpretations and beliefs and definitions, caricatures, stereotypes, simplifications, competing with our own, a woman first, everything else we are second? Anyone else feel we are called to task for them, slapped in the face with them every time we open our mouths? Or our coats?

I don't know a single woman who hasn't been sexually harassed at some point, verbally or physically. You never forget your first one. I had just turned fourteen. He was pushing forty. I was helping out my aunt over the summer holidays. He worked in the same building, an office close to hers. It started quite innocently in the break room, hello and what you're eating or reading there. I thought nothing of it. I certainly didn't think that politely answering his questions would lead to the day when he would bluntly tell me what he had dreamed of doing to me for weeks, and if I was even a bit curious or interested, he would pay me for the privilege.

I should have gone to my aunt that very instant. Called my parents. Called his wife. Told him off. He's long dead but he lives in my head, an animal disguised as Average Joe, a predator I never talked to or glanced at again but who surfaces on occasion. I must have done something, said something, to make him say and think such things. That's how he made made me feel. That's how he made it sound. That's what he said, that I had reeled him in, become his sweet summer dream one day and word and gaze at a time. And here I thought I was merely going about my day, living and breathing, having a snack and trying to be courteous.

Of course it didn't matter what I said or did or didn't. Apparently my mere existence was a provocation. I was somehow responsible for his actions, reactions and impulses. How's that for twisted logic? That is still the logic and responsibility thrust upon women and girls day in day out all over the world. I don't know how else to fight it except to refuse it, time and time again, by being and doing what I want and saying to those who stare or snarl or snap that you don't own me and you can't talk to me like that and that you don't get to boss me around, my body and my mind and my choices are exactly that, mine and mine alone. Act and talk like you do with an unruly child who has to be told a hundred times what goes and what doesn't, a thousand times, before it starts to seep in and have some effect.

It's a tiresome task that takes guts and constant alertness when you'd rather not represent every woman or girl on the planet, when you'd rather just go about your business thinking let them shout or stare, fuck you very much, see if I care. It's a tedious task but you gotta do it, you just have to because if you don't stand up and talk back talk back talk back nothing's ever going to change and you can't stand the thought that nothing's ever going to change, for anyone, and you contributed to that, and that that animal had no right,
you were just a kid, but you're all grown up now and never again. Not you. Not anyone.


Evanne said...

Amen, sister!

Dita Parker said...

Thank you, Evanne. I wrote what I felt, what I've thought and felt for the longest time, and the sight of that girl just pulled it all together somehow.