*Trigger warning: sexual harassment/assault*
This one’s not about travel. It is, however, about something incredibly important. I’m breaking the pattern here, but hey – I’m supposed to be a free woman after all :D. No pretty pictures this time, sorry.
Two weeks ago I went out with a new group of friends. After a wonderful garden BBQ party, we went to one of the fancier clubs in the inner city. Not usually my kind of scene, but new things are always worth a try.
After dancing for a few minutes, a man came up behind me and grabbed me somewhere between my butt/hips. Not the casual groping so many people – especially women – have become all too accustomed to, but actually grabbing me and holding on to me. I pushed his hands off me and turned around to look at his face. I was too shocked to say anything. He sort of laughed it off and turned to leave, but then he came back and said:
“You’re not that hot anyways”
This, to him (apparently), seemed like the most hurtful thing he could say to me in that moment. Sure, I didn’t expect someone with that behavior to particularly respect women, but the kind of insult he chose is symbolic for a whole system of thinking; namely the belief that in order for women to be allowed a decision about themselves, they have to be attractive first. The logical consequence of this is that if one of those highly self-reflective men doesn’t like your decision or opinion, he can devalue it by pulling the ground of (perceived) attractiveness out from under you. Not fuckable anymore – not worthy of autonomy.
This is a phenomenon that can frequently be witnessed today. Just to describe an example from right where I live: A few months ago, Corinna Milborn – an Austrian journalist and TV reporter – called out an extreme “athlete” (who shall remain unnamed since any bit of attention given to him after this feels like letting him win a little) on a sexist post he had left on her critique of an ad in which she saw parallels to pictures of sex-trafficking victims. His reaction was to attack her based on her looks, implying that her opinion didn’t matter – not because he could justify a different one, but because he deemed her too “unattractive” to even be allowed one.
This is just one example out of an infinity of similar cases. I’m tired of shrugging it off to keep the peace (as another guy told me later that night, I shouldn’t be wearing a red dress if I didn’t want that kind of attention – what immensely helpful and justified “advice”…). We all deserve a voice, autonomy over our bodies and an opinion that is criticized based on facts or other opinions, not on the “excuse” that we’re too “ugly” for speaking up.
Laurie Penny talks about the insult “fat” in the essay Unnatural Beauty in Bitch Doctrine and how it’s used to silence women. The underlying message of “fat” for those (mostly) guys is “unattractive” (which is not to say that any curvy or overweight person is actually ugly). Any form of these insults take away women*’s voices.
Now would be the time to suggest a solution. I don’t have one. I can just say, please stand up for yourself and others, even if it’s scary. Of course, under no circumstances should we tell anyone that they could have somehow brought this on themselves (no, my red dress was not the attacker – surprise). This is the end for this one – no solution, just a call to a lot of outrage.