I accepted this as a part of life, until last year. From the age of 12 onwards (yes, 12- I was a child!) I have been subjected to cat calls, wolf whistles and snide comments. Varying from nasty and malicious, to the seemingly innocent ‘cheer up sweetheart.’
Let’s go back to when I was about 13. One of my friends came running in to school one morning, delighted to have been wolf whistled at by some builders on the way in. A seal of approval on her appearance, a confirmation that she not looked only alright: she looked sexy. We were all insecure, some of us growing and changing faster than others, trying out our first shaky steps in our adult shoes. For a while, we believed these vocal marks of approval meant we must have been doing something right.
Here’s the thing. We were kids. The men that used to wolf whistle at us and shout remarks were belittling us in the street; reducing us to little but objects of desire. They were old enough to know better. We were too young to know just how wrong it was.
And I’m sorry little girl, because I’m twenty-eight years old, and I don’t have any comebacks, I don’t have any real answers or solutions. I still feel lost and angry at what to say every time it happens. It’s not worth the fight back, especially not worth taking the risk that it may turn nasty if you’re alone. Never feel bad that you couldn’t stop it. Never feel that you invited it. We are, in these situations, mostly powerless. But I do believe that knowing it is wrong is adequate. Knowing that they showed you no respect or kindness, whatsoever, is enough. Knowledge is power. Do not accept their words. Turn away. You may not be able to make them think twice. You may not even be able to make them aware of the discomfort and anger their actions have caused. It’s not your fault. Though there may seem a powerlessness in the situation, know that there is a power inside you. A power that you can summon to remind you that what they think or say is irrelevant and small minded. Your power is in knowing that they have such little focus on so little else they they have to make others uncomfortable in a bid to feed their ego, and shadow their own insecurities.
You approve yourself. It is not up to some man in the street that knows nothing about you. It’s not his place to objectify, comment or confirm that your appearance is accepted by his rules. It is not his place to tell you what to do – ‘Smile Sweetheart.’ He knows nothing of you. Even if the intent is friendly, the action is not.
The Everyday Sexism Project offers a forum for women to share these experiences they’ve encountered to do with this sexism. We may not be able to act in the moment, but we can keep the dialogue open, we can keep talking and sharing our experiences and make the world aware of the everyday sexism that still hugely dominates our society.
When I’m walking home from the station, I’m so lost in my thoughts and my dreams and my plans and my schemes that I don’t really notice the people I pass.
Which makes me realise that the Norwood Junction men
(‘Smile Sweetheart’ … ‘Alright Sexy. Nice arse’)
Can’t have much going on, because they noticed me, but I didn’t notice them.
(Until they spoke.)