Chatting with my step-dad in the study the other day, I started flicking through his guides to Andalucia, Catalonia and Barcelona. A photo of the Placa De Catalunya popped out of me, the fountain square at the head of La Rambla, Barcelona’s most interesting street, and I remembered sitting down in the shade, checking out the crowd, enjoying resting my legs, when an elderly gentleman came and sat beside me.
The elderly gentleman in Barcelona inquired if I was cold and pointed to my goosebumps. ‘I’m fine, I have a jumper’ I responded/mimed. Then he began to rub me. Now, I am not going to move from my spot because someone decides it’s okay to fucking touch me. I laughingly asked him to stop. He did for a bit, then invited me back to his piso (flat) to get warm. ‘No, I have a jumper, thank you.’ Again with the rubbing. With less laughter this time, I asked him to stop. Bedamned if I was going to move or put my jumper just because this guy wouldn’t stop touching me. I want to sit here, jumperless and goosepimply and NOT BE HARRASSED. Thanks. Eventually, I left. Annoyed and frustrated and giving the evil eye to every man I saw after that.
Now, in Madrid I had been reading in some park or other when an elderly gentleman approached me, asked me if I was a tourist, asked my name, asked how I liked Madrid, and I answered him in halting Spanish. We had the same name! We bonded! He was incredibly polite and I really enjoyed my interaction with him. As he rose to leave, I stood also, we did the cheek kissy thing and both left with a better opinion of the respective age groups involved.
Later in Barcelona, perhaps another day, a man came up to me in the street of an evening and told me I was pretty. ‘I know’ I replied. ‘Come for a drink with me?’ No, I have to meet my friends. (I hate telling this lie. If you rape/murder me, PEOPLE WILL KNOW! I’d rather be able to say “I’m alone. Leave me alone.” and trust that people are good people.) He repeats that I’m pretty, or beautiful, or something about my eyes and takes my hands. Firmly. In his. No, I reply. I have to meet people. I have to be somewhere. I don’t want to go for a drink with you. Please, let go of me. ‘Your friends can wait! This is more important! You’re so pretty!’ DUDE. You haven’t even asked my name. You know nothing about my interests. Sure, we might realise that we’re soulmates over a drink in a dimly lit bar, but since you’re asking me out solely on the basis of my looks, I’m really doubting that we’ll find a lot to talk about. I could chat with you about veganism and respecting everybody regardless of their looks, body size, political leanings or skin colour? I’m not suggesting that I don’t respect you, but I really don’t want to go and have a drink with a stranger, in a strange city who WON’T LET GO OF MY HANDS WHEN I ASK HIM TO. ‘But you’re so pretty!’ I KNOW.
Telling me that I’m pretty, or beautiful doesn’t make me go swoony on the inside. Even when people I actually like and respect tell me so. I appreciate that they want to tell me something nice, but my looks are completely incidental to WHO I AM. I was born this way, I grew up with this face and body and I did not make it in this fashion in order to lure men into my pants. I would far rather be conversed with, had my opinions discussed and generally, have my mind acknowledged.
Dancing in a club in England a couple of months ago with my friend Bex, a young, drunk, guy approached us and began enthusing about my dancing. I dance exactly the way I feel and just completely let myself go, for my pleasure. I love moving my body to dubstep, and the way the beat flows through me…So, I completely dance for myself. I appreciate it when people appreciate that because I hope that it inspires other people to not worry about what other people think of them on the dancefloor. Anyway, this chap seemed to believe that telling me I was sexy and amazing at dancing should have elicited more of a response from me than ‘Thanks.’ Possibly ‘Oh my god, nobody has ever been as nice about me as you have, of course I will accompany to your bedroom this moment’?
These are all fairly minor events but they each illustrate this assumption that men believe it is okay for them to touch a woman, to grip her hands, to pressure her into going with them to wherever they want to go. This sort of mentality, that of control, is the first step, the beginnings of the idea that men should be able to tell women what to do, they should be allowed sex, they should have access to women’s bodies whenever they want. The boy in the club didn’t touch me, but he sure expected me to be a lot more grateful about the fact that he had noticed me to compliment. These assumptions on the part of men that all they have to do is make a nicety and they can take whatever they want PISSES ME THE FUCK OFF.
This shit is reinforced in every woman’s magazine and men’s magazine and advert for make-up and teevee show and film and book and song I’ve ever read. It’s ALL ABOUT HOW BEAUTIFUL THE WOMAN IS and as soon as the man ‘realises’ or ‘acknowledges’ that to the woman ‘Oh, I find your eyes so mesmerising’ then the woman’s belly goes gooey and they fall into bed having realised their true love for each other.
It is SO INGRAINED that complimenting someone on their looks, clothes, hair is important, or matters, that even writing this I’m thinking ‘Well, surely it’s cool when one of your friends says that you look nice today’. But, what the fuck does it matter how you look? On any level. Ever. Really? I would absolutely so much rather be complimented on my style of discussion, on my passion for pointing shit like this out, on the way I use language, anything that I’ve actually WORKED HARD ON or MEANS SOMETHING TO ME. I would rather be known and understood before being complimented. I think my favourite single compliment ever as been ‘I like the way your brain works’ from someone I had ranted at in great detail about the injustices in the world and spent some serious amounts of time with, who knew me. And he didn’t even say it to get into my pants.