Tag Archives: Femoir

Wound Up By His Wounded Ego: Exchanges With A Stranger

A few months ago, I had just moved to London from sunny Australia to pursue a more creative career path. The shock of transposing myself from the warm wading pool that was Brisbane – my beloved hometown in which most of my family and close friends reside – into the immense and choppy ocean that is London had me feeling a bit lonely. I was in a particularly low mood one Friday evening when I was the only person I knew in town for the weekend, and thus, for the first time in months, at a loose end with no one to hang out with.

I felt invisible – the only people who knew of my existence were myself and my otherwise-occupied flatmates, who I’d only just met a week before.

As I lugged my bag of groceries back towards the flat, a fresh-faced lad approached me.

“Hi… I’m sorry if this is a bit forward, but you are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen… what’s your name?”

“Oh, thank you,” I said, blushing and caught utterly off-guard. “I’m Sally.”

“Hi, I’m Cameron.”

We exchanged pleasantries, gave each other a couple of sentences worth of information about ourselves and what we do, then he asked if he could have my number to ask me out on a date.

I know what you’re thinking, and of course I was too. This is weird. I don’t know this person. But, let’s be honest – I didn’t know anyone, and I was literally just thinking I was invisible and have no one to hang out with. So… I might as well make one friend (or something), and what’s the worst that could happen? I could always say no later down the track.

I sheepishly gave Cameron my number and we parted ways.

Back at the flat, I was sitting outside on my balcony, enjoying a thoroughly uplifted demeanour by having a glass of wine and cooking dinner.

All of an hour later down the track, I got a text from Cameron. Hey Sally, any plans for tonight and the weekend? Not overly compelled to talk to this stranger again already, I ignored it and went back to what I was doing.

An hour after that, my phone rang. It was Cameron.

Cameron wanted me to go and see him at his professional weightlifting group training tomorrow morning. Already put off by his slightly tactless impatience, I politely declined his offer. To be honest, I wasn’t interested in watching a complete stranger lift weights and had some freelance work to do over the weekend, so the decision wasn’t difficult. He reluctantly accepted ‘no’ for an answer and promised to message me to arrange another date.

More or less certain that things would not work out between me and Cameron, I didn’t think about it again until he messaged me again a month later.

Hey sally

Not sure of what I would say even if that was worthy of a response, I ignored it again.

I thought it was over when Cameron didn’t message me again until a month later – yesterday – with this charming meme to give me a piece of his mind.

File_000

Discomforted and rightfully pissed off, I showed my colleague with whom I was enjoying a beer in the sun at the time and asked if it was reasonable to respond harshly. I was urged to just ignore it and block him. A good option, I’m sure, but I wasn’t satisfied with that. I was pissed.

I’ve been flashed, wanked at, harassed and upskirted many times since my early adolescence, and I’ve never bit back at the perpetrator. I’ve been too shocked or reserved to stand up for myself – passivity is ingrained in the female psyche, but equally, I prefer to take the high road. But this time, I was fed up.

Look mate, I’m not interested. Stop messaging me. Also, f*ck you, that’s disgusting.

I blocked him on WhatsApp and thought I was done with it.

Ten minutes later (ever the model of patience) Cameron sent me a regular text message.

File_000 (1)

Right then. Making the obvious decision to block him immediately, I spent the rest of the day thinking about exactly what this says about Cameron, about the society and culture in which we live, and – if anything – about me.

This is what I could discern.

  1. Cameron’s ego had been wounded, and – being extremely insecure – he lashed out at the girl who rejected him.

He ascertained some catharsis from insulting me, putting me down because I had slighted him and hurt his feelings.

Never mind that he doesn’t know me at all – after all, we had met for all of two minutes – he felt that I was now deserving of the titles fat, ugly and whore.

  1. My beauty – previously exceptional to him – and respectability – previously intact – were disqualified by my non-reciprocation of his romantic interest.

To Cameron, women – or at least, this woman – are only attractive and worthy of respect if they do as he pleases. If, however, they are not interested in him and reject his advances – however politely – they should no longer be told they are beautiful, but should be cut down and insulted, degraded for the promiscuous, mean-spirited whores that they are.

  1. In Cameron’s eyes, women to whom men express romantic interest owe those men the same in return, and that any failure to do so is a rude transgression of social codes.

Cameron believes that I owe him something because he wants me, and that I am a bitch for not electing to spend time with him, flirt with him and watch him lift weights. For the small ego boost he gave me all those months ago, I was indebted to him. When I failed to feed his fragile ego by watching him flex his muscles at training, Cameron wanted to take that boost back and punish me for not giving him what was rightfully his. He meditated on all that he knew about Sally, the girl he met for two minutes, to generate a highly original and factual insult with which he would put me back in my place.

Fuck you, you fat ugly whore ;).

Yep, you really made me look stupid.

This kind of exchange is an outrageous example of the kind of cultural problem that women still face today with the small demographic of men who share Cameron’s beliefs.

To those men, I deliver a response on behalf of women everywhere who have been antagonised for declining a man’s advances:

  1. You are not entitled to speak to women – or anyone – that way just because they rejected you. I am entitled to say no;
  2. My beauty and worthiness of respect are in no way qualified by my romantic interest, or lack thereof, in you; and
  3. I don’t owe you anything.

From the bottom of our hearts, f*ck you.

Kind regards,

Sally.

Misconception Corrections: Feminism Is Not…

Feminism has always been, and will always be, an evolving set of values and principles. Like all ideological movements, it is socially, culturally and politically receptive. The time and place in which it operates necessarily dictate the circumstances it fights to overcome and the ideals it fights to achieve.

Having become a loaded term, Feminism suffers now more than ever with damaging misconceptions about its purpose, its people and the progress that it has made and can continue to make. This video, in which people from all walks of life are asked to describe what Feminism means to them in one word, provides a comprehensive summary of these misconceptions, which include labels such as ‘self-victimisation’, ‘terrorism’, ‘hate’ and ‘female privilege’.

 

The next few Femoirs will comprise a series of responses to the misconceptions voiced by men and women in the video, who represent far larger social groups who hold similar ideas. Using the developmental timeline of feminism, I will respond to each of these misconceptions by following the trail of social, cultural and political opinions voiced about the movement throughout its lifetime.

I believe that the cause of these distorted impressions is lack of- or misinformation, and the false representations of feminism created by misinformed people using its name in the public arena. By addressing these misconceptions with information and analyses echoed by university curriculum, I hope to begin to resolve them and restore the integrity and reputation of the feminist movement.

Taking back the female body

Truth be told, we live in a society that objectifies women. Women’s bodies are used to sell anything and everything in advertising, acting as objects of visual pleasure in television, cinema and magazines. Historically, this has been because advertising and mass media industries have been dominated by men, whose primary audiences for cars, real estate, technology and household products were men as the breadwinners in patriarchal society.

Many women now work in advertising and media, political correctness in advertising is legally mandated, and transgressions from it are quickly repealed and publicly roasted by media watchdogs. fairlife-pinup-ad-2But this does not preclude the use of barely clothed female bodies in advertisements for completely unrelated products, nor the brazen reinforcement of gender stereotypes in the construction of a selling point. It’s gotten to the point that women are even objectified in media and publications aimed at female audiences: sanitary products, clothing lines and toiletries provide fertile ground for examination of this problematic tendency.

waxing

The way mass media portrays it, women relish their own objectification. Let’s take ads for hair removal products: women in these advertisements sensuously extend their smooth, slender, long legs, relieved to have avoided the disaster of baring any hairs at all on their limbs in public. This 2012 ad for beauty salon Uni K Waxing, which offered 50% discounts on waxing treatments for girls 15 years and younger, perpetuates the notion that hairlessness is a basic necessity – the norm – thereby including girls not even legal to have sex yet in the sexualisation of their bodies.

102629646-ad_2.jpg.1910x10002.png

“Are you summer-ready?” this protein supplement ad asks. Why, yes, I would say. I can’t wait to hit the beach. But this advertiser isn’t asking about my emotional or psychological eagerness for summer: it’s asking if my body is ready to be shown in public. Let’s see: am I completely hairless? Have I done a summer slim-down by one form or the other of starvation? Have I bought antiperspirant that will prevent my production of body odour, lest I be revealed as a real, hair-growing, food-eating, perspiring human being? The answer to these questions from all women in ads is “Yes, of COURSE I am, and I’m pleased to be so!”

Because of this treatment of women in mass media, the denial or concealment of our own biological truths has become normal. One aspect of the female biology is particularly taboo, and has been appropriated for advertising audiences in a far more palatable form. Menstruation is a fun, music and laughter filled time at which we gather for sleepovers to discuss sanitary products and embarrassing period-related experiences. We valiantly go about our daily business – yoga, shopping, wearing white skirts – comfortable in the knowledge that this pad will absorb any pastel blue, water-like liquid that comes its way, while maintaining maximum flexibility and minimum visibility. Clearly, up until now, girls have had to stop going on dates, wearing anything but granny undies, working out or being in the public eye while menstruating. That way, no one ever has to know. Because that would be the worst thing: for anyone to find out that you were menstruating, because that is GROSS.

In this recent ad by sanitary line Sofy, a beauty’s period arrives in the form of a plain-faced, overweight caricature of herself enacting period-related behaviours: eating junk food in front of the TV, erupting in anger over the non-delivery of pizza and bursting into tears in the same breath; leaving her after a few days as her usual, acceptable self. To be honest, I actually found this ad hilarious – my own experience of periods and PMS is typified by involuntary crying about anything from cute animals to everyday frustrations (opening a tricky latch; having to re-load the toilet paper in the right direction), and the immense bloating of my abdomen renders my self image to cavernous, pizza-ridden lows. But it is offensive in a number of ways, most obviously, its trivialisation of an aspect of female biology that has in the past been used to discredit and belittle women.

 

BMW Ultimate AttractionSome ads encourage the “boys will be boys” mentality – man creates secret cave to avoid his wife while she makes dinner for the family; bikini-clad women apparate to fulfil a beer’s promise of something good upon consumption; girlfriend vetoes the cordless drill purchased by her disobedient boyfriend and trades it for cash. Or this BMW ad, my objection to which I can’t imagine needs explaining.

 

 

Or this Old Spice ad in which bikini-clad women fawn over a man because he just smells so damn good – whether it is his irresistible fragrance, the sensual bubbles massaging their bodies in the hot tub or their implied lack of cognition, they don’t even realise that he is a robot rather than a real man.

There are so many things wrong with these representations of contemporary culture – in fact, they are insulting not only to women but also to men in a society moving away from gender stereotypes – that I hardly know where to begin.

I think what needs to be said is this: bikini-clad women may continue to appear in ads for television channels and phone plans, hairlessness may continue to be next-to-godliness, and menstruation may continue to be a misunderstood, unsavoury spectacle for us to conceal at all times (it is only the reason that all human life exists, and the source of approximately $25 million per year in taxes on sanitary products in Australia, after all). We may not be able to stop it – at least not without years of laborious legal action. What we can do is move away from passively enabling this objectification by taking back ownership of our bodies, as was the message of feminist art group COMBO’s Paris demonstration (featured image).

With so many factors appropriating our bodies for commercial use, it’s easy to be swayed by the notion of femininity that they perpetuate. But as owners of our own bodies, the only thing that matters is our own perception and our own prerogative: wax when we want, satirise periods how we want to, be naked when we want, be sexual when we want to be. This doesn’t mean that we have to stop enacting the gestures of femininity to which we are accustomed: being an empowered woman does not forbid grooming, waxing or relishing sex appeal. It just means liberating ourselves by considering only our own opinion, our own wishes and our own self image in matters of body and beauty.

The Gaze

Beauty is sometimes said to be a curse – I don’t believe that: beauty in this world is a social, economic and physical advantage. Indeed, there are times and places to enjoy being the target of desirous attention. There have been times of drought when a lingering stare or earnest compliment from a friend or passer-by has made my day. But there are also times and places when they irritate, unnerve and upset me: times when I don’t want to be looked at, fantasised about or antagonised by random strangers.  In this way, feminine beauty is more a double-edged sword: my breasts, bum, legs and any skin bared can feel like biological Hi Vis gear and collar bells robbing me of private and undetected passage in public spaces.

This is not to say that the Male Gaze is inherently malicious or intentionally offensive – it is natural for human eyes to seek attributes in the physicality of those around us to generate sexual attraction. Males and females alike find their eyes drawn automatically to bare skin and body parts associated with sex, and neither I nor feminist ideology, I proffer, take issue with biological truths and the behaviours in which they manifest. But there exist key biological and socio-cultural truths that problematise the female experience in today’s public spaces due to the Male Gaze: our generally inferior size and strength which can make us feel (accurately or not) vulnerable, and the statistically irrefutable implications that it has on our safety in public which we are loath to ignore.

The Male Gaze can make public space perilous for women because of the generally heightened intensity of flirting, the blatantly sexual nature of attention often received at bars and clubs and antagonistic behaviour that sometimes results from politely ignoring, firmly declining or outright rejecting it.

On a recent trip to Bali, my sister and I donned our ‘kinis and beach kits to hit Potato Head, one of Seminyak’s most popular clubs, for sunset cocktails. We had no misconceptions about the type of people we might meet at night clubs in Bali, so we were wholeheartedly unsurprised to see trios of Brits Abroad (identifiable by their vibrant, salmon-coloured skin), 18-year-old squads in cheeky shorts and Cons, and least of all, Australian bucks parties, boistering sloppily at the swim-up bar. After making brief eye contact, our expressions coloured with hesitance and disdain, we took a deep breath, squared our shoulders and sat at the pool’s edge with our feet in the water. We smiled – the sky was a soft, pastel peach, the music was popping, waves were crashing in on the beach beyond the club’s sprawling day beds as the sun set in the distance.

As we settled in, our skin prickled with droplets of sweat in the humid 5 o’clock sunlight. We decided to take a dip. No sooner had we stood and raised our hands to remove our shirts than did we notice the muttering, glassy-eyed gangs of drunk men moving towards us, looking us up and down. We exchanged a glance – nope, shirt’s good. As I re-took my seat, burnt ochre-coloured alpha-Geordie edged over and bellowed, I thor’ you wa gonna tehk I’ off, swee’heart? Cum on luv! TEHK – I’ – OFF! TEHK – I’ – OFF!

Some of the Australian yobs that happened to be co-mingling with the chavvy Bucks from Newcastle joined in on this detestable chant as we stood, frozen in horror. Not wishing to be sour and accepting the drunken sleaziness of Bali clubs in general, we laughed it off and continued to talk amongst ourselves and with the chanters and their friends who elected to occupy our immediate area of the poolside in great numbers. This was fine – meeting new people and socialising is part of going out. What tarnished and eventually ruined our experience was the incessant, obnoxious and inappropriate behaviour some of them showed.

Are you girls single? Are youse sisters? You look heaps alike, are youse twins? Can I buy you a drink? Where are you staying? What are you doing tonight? Who are you with? Got boyfriends? Are you gonna finally take that top off and get in the pool, love? I felt slightly discomforted by the eight sets of eyes hungrily looking my sister and me up and down, over and over, and was tiring from the energy exerted in avoiding further advances – no, I don’t feel like a swim, no, thankyou, I don’t need a drink, thanks but we are just doing our own thing tonight, no, I am leaving my shirt on. I felt uncomfortable and irritated when our polite but firm refusals began to be met with antagonistic and rude comments. Not havin’ a good day, luv? Come on and just get in the pool luv, I won’t bite! Aw, this lass don’t like me, too good for me ey? One of them had three strikes before he was out for fondling my feet in the water and tugging at my leg to lead me into the pool, and the final straw was his assertion that his plan for tonight was to fuck hot chicks and asked if I would like to be a part of that plan.

Ferk this. We got up, fished our scarves from our backpacks and draped them loosely over our torsos like makeshift Burqas and made for the beach. On our towels we took refuge from the Gaze and launched into astonished recounting of our time at the pool.

The behaviour of these men, though perhaps not ubiquitous, exemplifies perfectly the cause of negative experiences of the Male Gaze which taint public space for women of today. It occurs to me that while in the past I have looked at Muslim women wearing their Hijabs and Burqas and thought how uncomfortable, hot and restrictive they must be, they probably look at me in skirts and singlets and think how objectified and harassed by the male attention I must be.

I HATE this behaviour; it features in many of my top 10 worst experiences ever in one way or another. While we can not necessarily expect privacy in public spaces, we deserve respect of our ownership of our bodies, and what is owned is private property. There are boundaries which should never be crossed unsolicited, and this behaviour turns harmless visual admiration into obnoxious, invasive harassment. The feeling of being visually feasted on, persistently approached and propositioned is awful, worse still when you’re not prepared or in the mood for it. This behaviour objectifies women, treating us as objects of desire existing to be looked at and fantasised about while in public. It disrupts, however briefly, my confidence and sociability, and I am ready for a change.

When we go for an afternoon run, walk home from work at dusk or interact with flirtatious strangers ogling us in bars, gyms, shops or streets, we have this in the back of our minds: 17% of women in Australia have been sexually assaultedwomen make up 83% of sexual assault victims in Australia and 58% of kidnap or abduction victims, and 3.8% of all Australian women have been sexually assaulted by a stranger, more than double the 1.6% of men. These morbid truths, I believe, are often miscommunicated and misunderstood: our hesitance or refusal to engage with men in public can be read as an unnecessarily phobic distrust of all men as perpetrators of violent crime. Feminism suffers the same misunderstanding for its encouragement of assertiveness and empowerment for women, particularly victims of assault. But the truth is, we would be naïve or ignorant not to acknowledge our instincts for self-protection, and our experience of public spaces would comprise less angst, discomfort and irritation if the Gaze was executed with greater restraint and empathy.

Ogle subtly if you must, not obnoxiously. Flirt politely, not aggressively. Compliment kindly, not perversely. Proposition once, not persistently. Take no for an answer, not for an insult. Read body language and back off when it’s closed. Meet refusal with respect, not antagonism. Touch solicitously, not unsolicited. And never, EVER, initiate chants for clothing removal. With a little decorum, we might someday enjoy an unperturbed sense of safety and privacy in public.

One Night

Why is it that I find myself constantly explaining and justifying my desire to delay going all the way to home base? I’m not necessarily talking about a three week delay – or even 3 dates. Sometimes, all I want is one: one temporal step between making out and sex, one night to sleep on it, one night of suspense.

To me, this is just what feels right. I’m not doing it because I’ll feel ‘slutty’ if I don’t, nor to torment the guy, and not because I don’t want to have sex with this person at all. I’m waiting until I feel 100% comfortable with him, 100% sure of where I stand with this person and 100% certain I want to do it with that in mind. Mostly, I want to know that this guy is interested in me as a person as well as a sexual partner, because I am a person as well as a sexual partner, and allowing myself to be treated as any less is a breach of my integrity. And if they aren’t willing to wait one night, I feel it’s safe to assume they aren’t interested enough. In any case, it’s a personal choice based on my own emotional, psychological and physical desire to have sex with this person at this time, and it should be respected.

I usually tell guys this when things get close – before nudity but after heavy petting. I feel that I’m being straight-forward and fair. “I don’t want to have sex yet – at least tonight.” Some take it well, but most are some variation of frustrated, sour, (vocally) disappointed or disbelieving. These are the guys I’m talking about: not all guys, many of whom are respectful and considerate in sexual matters. Just these ones to whom I’m sick of explaining myself. The status quo in sex and dating has its roots in a time preceding the level of socio-cultural equality women now enjoy, and established norms for instigating, managing and ending relationships often serve to gratify and empower men. I’m not accepting sex and dating on these terms anymore. If what we are missing is a powerful retort to the ideas about sex, dating and everything in between which are currently accepted as the norm, then allow me to be the mouthpiece for women who are taking control and writing their own rule book.

  1. If I don’t want to have sex tonight, don’t try to convince me otherwise.

Like men, women of course have strong sexual desires which can overcome our willpower to wait, especially when persistently goaded in the heat of the moment. But for women, or at least for me, sex is not only physical, but also – perhaps moreso – it is emotional and psychological. If I was overcome by desire in the moment, I can still feel strange about it the next day – over-exposed, somehow violated, because the trifecta of considerations was not fulfilled before sex happened. This is tolerable, but do you really want to make someone feel like that?

  1. I am not doing this to tease you, make you think about me in a particular way or for any reason to do with you at all.

I’m doing what I want, how I want to do it. It’s also not because it saves me from thinking I’m ‘slutty’: I don’t need to save myself from prejudice that I don’t play into in the first place. Those ideas exist within an outdated culture of inequality in sex and romance which perpetuates different expectations for men and women that society as a whole is still struggling to break away from. My reason is completely removed from this: I do it because that’s what’s best for me. Period.

  1. Making out does not equal sex. They are different things.

Kissing and other intimate activities are enjoyable without sex. Perhaps it’s more common to be in some way ‘finished’ in adult sexual encounters, but that does not create an obligation for any girl to bring you to climax unless she wishes to do so (and if she does, she will – don’t ask, do NOT ask twice). Making out without going all the way is the choice and occasional preference of some people, it is not a deviation from the default order of business which can warrant labels such as ‘tease’ or ‘prude’. I, for example, would not call a person who doesn’t want to have sex with me a prude – it is perfectly conceivable to me that some may lack the inclination towards me but be wildly aroused by and intimate with someone else. I also understand that their reciprocal attraction to me is not mandated by my own desire for them. Their behaviour in and expectations of any intimate encounters with me are based on their own self-determined level of desire for me; not a divergence from my own expectations enacted to tease me.

Furthermore, sex once does not equal sex again. The likelihood of second times and any thereafter is not increased; there is a choice every time.

If this doesn’t help you to understand, think about it this way: sex is always a personal choice made by each involved. This often has nothing to do with ideas, rules and expectations: it’s often as simple as DO I, OR DO I NOT, WANT TO BANG THIS PERSON, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW? Each answer is as good as the other, and neither should be questioned or contested. The established book of rules and expectations is open for re-writing in contemporary society, and by acting in our own best interests we assert ourselves as co-authors.