(CN: sexualized harassment) I can’t quite remember when it began, but especially when I was in between 14 and 20 years old (I am 24 now), my father told me on several – if not many – occasions that if he’d met me when he’d been my age, he’d definitely have hit on me.
I suppose he thought he was paying me a compliment because when he, as a man, all-knowing and all-powerful as he thinks himself to be, gives me that “stamp of approval”, it has to mean something positive to me. Because, you know, a man’s opinion is of course inherently worth something. And a man’s opinion on a woman is worth a fucking fortune, in their minds. And now, women are convinced that’s where their worth comes from.
In truth, I thought his words were disgusting. They are disgusting. He was congratulating himself for creating something desirable, and at the same time expressing the possibility of his desire for me? What the hell? Because when he says he’d hit on me, that is what he is saying. He has looked at my body and judged it to be attractive enough so that others might find it desirable. He’s judged it to be desirable on their behalf, and that means he has seen me through the eyes of desire. My own father! And that disgusts me to no end.
I also remember that, when I finished sewing my prom dress and went to show it to my grandparents, my grandfather said it showed off my “cherries” advantageously, while trying to cup one of my breasts. I stepped out of his reach, but I was too shocked to say anything. I had no words to counter his. So I went home, and for the longest time simply forgot about the incident.
Until, one day in August 2020, I was trading stories about experiences with sexual harassment with an acquaintance in her kitchen – and with a jolt, I realized that was what that had been. It took me five years to reach that realization because sexual harassment is hardly ever spoken of. I had no clear picture of what it means, where it hides, and I was met with it in a place where I had not expected it. And again, I was disgusted.
What disgusts me even more is that fathers, grandfathers, men in general think they are doing us a favour when they say such things. In reality what happens is a complete distortion of perception: The male gaze takes a hold of us. That is, women begin to assume women have to look and behave a certain way to appeal to the sexualized perspective males take on us.
Because men’s opinions are (I whish I could say were, but no, they still are) so valued by society, women assume we have to please them, win them, not just by being compliant but also by being pretty and sexy. And since winning is done in competitions, we turn looking good, looking desirable into a competition. I catch myself looking at other women’s bodies, thinking “oh, her face is more symmetrical than mine”, “she has bigger boobs/a flatter stomach/more muscle/a better tan/you name it” than me.
I have, instead of empowering other women, and thus myself, a need to try to be better than them in every way. They are made into rivals instead of friends or allies or supporters. I covet what they have: beauty, adoration, success. Because not having them would mean not being desirable, and thus worthless. And with that, I forget that I should focus on being a good person.
I am grateful for every woman that becomes aware of this false belief and decides she will no longer be ruled by it, because from them, I can finally learn how to free myself of it. But my point remains: The belief that women’s worth is dictated by our desirability as judged by men destroys womanhood and humanity as they should be and makes the companionship of community impossible. Instead of focusing on our minds and deeds and turning them towards worthwhile pursuits, we get caught in this nauseating circle of envy and (self-)hatred.
This does not mean beauty is now a bad thing. On the contrary, we should not chastise or hate ourselves or each other for looking at and liking (even loving) beautiful things or people. But beauty is not something to be put on a pedestal for all to see and then point at each other and ourselves and say: “Why are you not like that?”
We need to stop thinking that we have to be physically beautiful to be worthy. Beauty is so subjective. The standards we set for ourselves are so impossibly high that we forget there’s more than one way to be beautiful. It’s in the way you laugh. In the way you sing loudly, whether off-key or not. In the way you dance when nobody’s watching, when you dance for yourself. It’s in the way your eyes light up when you talk about your passions and somebody actually listens. In the way you curse when making a mistake, in the way you try again.
It’s your beauty. You get to decide what it looks like, how it sounds, the way it moves. It’s yours. No one else’s.
Beitragsbild: Adam Smith on unsplash