I made the decision to pause on my post for the Clean Eating Boot Camp today because there’s something that, over the course of the past couple of days, has been bugging the daylights out of me. I may end up writing about this again tomorrow… just because I have really particular thoughts about this topic.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of someone sending me this blog post regarding sexual harassment (or catcalling, as it is so lovingly called) on the street. It uses some extremely adult (and, in some cases, offensive) language, but I don’t believe that this means her point is any less valid. Go read it.
No, really. I’ll wait.
I want to highlight one passage from the post in particular:
Often times, the response is simply ‘oh, well’, the woman shouldn’t be walking down the street ‘like that’. Or she should expect to be harassed based on the way her body is built. Or that a woman should ‘appreciate’ the attention, as if a blatant sexual comment from a stranger is something to be desired. There are the occasional few who are capable of empathy and do go on to recognize how their behavior may be undesirable. Some simply say they are mocking what they see other men do. I ask do the women respond favorably and I know they don’t. So I wonder what makes Black men think this behavior should be perpetuated.
I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being considered community property just because some men think my skin color makes me a member of a secret harem and I owe them the time of day and some pussy and a blow job.
I want to be invisible. My daughter now dresses in boy clothes. Her sexuality has been a topic people feel they have the right to speak on ever since she was 5 years old and learned to dress herself.
No one asks why my daughter dresses to hide her gender; why she wears layers upon layers of clothes; why she wants to be invisible. She’s had to see me be harassed in the street her entire life. Why would she want to be seen?
Since we’re all coming out of hiding and keeping it real… I’ll go ahead and do the same. I am a victim of sexual harassment.
As a young girl in Cleveland, our childhood environment was full of kids going out of their way to be little adults. I can’t tell you the number of kids joining gangs, carrying knives and guns, cursing, making their dolls have sex, playing hide-and-go-get-it (please, don’t ask), and goodness knows what else I knew. There were some girls who loved that kind of attention (those girls also, by and large, became Mothers at an early age), but it made me uncomfortable. Extremely uncomfortable, simply because it was always taken too far… and it’s not a far leap from harassment to assault in a heightened situation. Gaining weight felt like solace to me… the more weight I gained, the less attractive I would be, the less likely I’d be to be harassed on the street.
It was strange because, by a stroke of luck, my parents decided to pack up and move us to Indiana. Actually, the best high school in the state… devoid of diversity yet full of girls who were thin, blonde and nothing like me. I didn’t feel like I was in competition with them for boy attention, not because none of them liked Black girls – that wasn’t true – but because I was too busy trying to be invisible to the attention I expected to get. They were competing with one another for the same group of boys.. meanwhile I was on my own just trying to hide.
Once I left for college, I was in a much more diverse environment. I wasn’t really ready for dating, didn’t know much about men, so I experienced my fair share of “college dating woes.” However, I had developed this unhealthy ability to hide who I was within what I ate. I had already learned how to not pay attention to my body or what I was doing to it. I had already gotten used to not being paid attention to – it was what I wanted. I learned a cycle of dysfunction that centered around not wanting attention… and had become so used to it that I couldn’t see what was wrong with it.
Obviously, since I have a child, I was able to (hopefully) date and procreate with someone, right? Of course, I eventually found a man who “loved me for who I was, not my outside appearance.” Keep that in mind. The relationship lasted a few years, but has since dissolved. I dated once more after that, but that was it. Right before that ended, I began to focus on my mental and physical health… and while I get that together, I’ve made the decision to remain celibate.
Now, as a single parent tasked with teaching my child all the things I was unable to learn about myself and my health and my body , I’m left with questions and assumptions that may not be easy to discuss… but I can assure you that they’re not easy to write.
First, I cannot help but wonder if this explains the disconnect between Black women and our bodies – the fact that a large number of us went out of our way to stop paying attention to our bodies because we were too busy trying to make ourselves less appealing to harassers. Furthermore, I notice that there’s a lot of discouragement during the ages where young girls are supposed to be learning about and understanding their bodies… to do exactly that. I wonder if we are, in a roundabout way, encouraging harmful behavior in our daughters because we are trying to discourage male attention… and beyond that, sexual harassment and assault?
I’ve been raped and assaulted; because I refused to acknowledge and accept a Black man’s advances. There are women who have been gunned down in the street because they refused to play along with a Black man’s attempt at flirting.
I’ve been called every combination of whores, bitches, cunts and skank.
I’ve been accused of, asked and requested to do any of a number of things with my body.
I’ve been threatened with sexual assault repeatedly by people I don’t know and who may or may not have been capable or willing to go through with their threat.
I’ve been spat on.
I’ve been hit.
I’ve been groped.All after declining the verbal advances of a random Black man on a corner/block/street/ in a town that doesn’t much matter.
Think about that. How well can you relate to that? How prevalent do you think this is? How prevalent do you think this is where the majority of our young girls are being raised?
Secondly, if we spend so much time trying to discourage male attention, when are we teaching our daughters how to handle any male attention? I mean, I’m in the business of raising healthy young women. I want her to know how to, in one hand, appreciate a compliment while, in the other hand, being able to acknowledge unwanted attention. I want her to know that one has absolutely nothing to do with her, while the other has everything to do with someone acknowledging the beautiful person she is.
Really, I want to get into some good ol’ feminist theory and ask why it is easier for us as women to put ourselves through this than it is to correct the behavior of the men… or perhaps ask why no one sees this as another devaluation of Black girls and women (saying that it’s easier for a Black woman to just not “look that way” – you know, the way that we are genetically inclined to look - than it is to just raise our boys better)… or maybe even ask how it became a mainstream principle that women were objectified and their respect came secondary to a man’s gratification… but I recognize that this post didn’t set out with that in mind.
I also want to know why we seek out men who will “love us for who we are,” as if we, in a way, are afraid of a man actually appreciating how we look. Or are we unable to understand that a man can healthily appreciate a woman’s appearance without objectifying her? Orrrrr do we simply not want to be held accountable for our appearance, so we want a man who won’t hold us accountable for it? I mean, let’s keep it real – any person who stays with us stays with the desire to love us for who we are… that’s a default. Why don’t we want more than that? Why is it so wrong to ask for more? Ingrained devaluation?
Can I also see if anyone else sees this as blaming the “victim?” If we’re allowing ourselves to “hide” the beautiful people we are because we’re afraid of something we shouldn’t have to endure in the first place? We’re blaming ourselves for the crap happening in the first place… instead of placing the blame on the perpetrators of the harassment. And if we’re trying to keep our daughter from “being fass,” then aren’t we blaming them in advance? Don’t we, really, just perpetuate this idea that women control everything… and men should be held responsible for nothing? Ladies, I know it’s flattering to think that your cupcakes and your ho-ho are that “powerful,” but as you can see… it’s not.
Someday, we’ll have to learn that sexual harassment, much like sexual assault and rape, are about the perpetrator trying to flex their power on the victim. It isn’t about how you look… it’s about the perpetrator going out of their way to reinforce the idea that they have some kind of power over you. What power, you ask? The power that society bestows men by default… but again, that’s feminist theory for you. Again, I know we like to think that we are the center of everything, but really.. this is one of those times where we need to let that go. Taking blame for a man’s bad behavior to the point where we harm ourselves to “avoid it?” As if fat women are never victims of sexual harassment or assault or, dare I say… rape?
Don’t worry – in this post, I am largely speaking of myself. And in my heart of hearts, I believe that I was able to move beyond this mentality because I was forced to – my health was on the line. I had a child to raise alone, and feared not being around to do it. But now that so many of us are succumbing to the disease chain of poor health… will we finally do what we need to do?