Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A thought experiment for the boys

I've been thinking about street harassment and why it is that some boys just can't wrap their head around the fact that is is harassment and not a compliment. So here's a little thought experiment for the bepenised among us.

Imagine you have the coolest t-shirt in the entire world. Maybe it's a concert tee from a favorite band or it has the most pithy statement ever written across the chest. Maybe it was hand crafted by exiled Tibetan monks. Whatever. Every time you wear it, people stop you and comment on it. You think to yourself "Hell yeah, I am awesome and my t-shirt rocks."

Now imagine you can never ever take the shirt off. Ever. After awhile, you just want to be able to do your grocery shopping without getting asked about the shirt 15 times. You just want to be able to go to the post office or grab a beer with friends without strangers thinking that you are at the mercy of their praise and questions about your shirt. So you start wearing a big, ugly, baggy sweatshirt to cover up the t-shirt. But not even that works. People still bug you. "Hey, aren't you the awesome guy with the rockin' t shirt" they ask, and they refuse to leave you alone till you pull up your sweatshirt and show it to them.

At some point, you realize that no one sees you as a person anymore. They see you as "t-shirt dude". You are reduced to being just a body that wears the shirt. Nobody really cares what you think about the t-shirt or anything else for that matter. You could be a scientist who discovers a cure for cancer. But all these people see you as is a shirt. They don't care that you may be too busy to answer questions about where you got the t-shirt, how old the t-shirt is, does the t-shirt have a phone number. They don't care that you are just trying to go about your day without being bothered by strangers. You've tried everything by now. You ignore the questions or you walk fast with the scariest look you can come up with on your face. This just makes strangers say things like "dude, with a t-shirt like you should be smiling" or "if you didn't want the attention you shouldn't be wearing that shirt" as if you could just take the damn thing off and be done with it.

Sometimes, the t-shirt fans are just too much, and you snap. You yell back or flip them off. But this makes them mad. You've been followed, chased, threatened with violence all because you didn't give some stranger the attention they wanted. Sometimes fighting back feels good, but then you are reminded that you will always have to fight back. When you complain to friends without such a t-shirt, they tell you to lighten up. It's a compliment after all. Some friends even deny that it happens at all. They think you are just being melodramatic and are always looking for something to get pissed about.

Now substitute vagina or tits for t-shirt, and that is what it is like for girls. All the time. We can't take off our femaleness. We can't hide it under baggy clothes. Regardless of how we feel about our bodies, we become public property when we step outside. Whoever we are no longer matters. We are just there for the amusement of others. It's not a compliment. It's harassment. And it is meant to remind us that no matter what we do, we are never more than the sum of our sex organs. We are just bodies, not people.

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