My evening started this way: I looked into the mirror and nodded my approval at the reflection of my eager self looking back at me. I applauded myself for cultivating this iconic outfit. It was simple, yet complex. Safe, yet daring. Most of all, it was a debut outfit. By this, I mean that every piece of clothing I had on was new and I couldn’t wait to show it off. I had bought a large, satin, cheetah print dress from The Salvation Army and re-vamped it into a mini skirt. I couldn’t wait to walk the metaphorical red carpet down Water Street in downtown Kent, Ohio with my friends and enjoy a drink or two. After all, it was Friday and as my college career was winding down, I knew I only had a few more weekends with my beloved Kent bars left.
So out I went, optimistic and ready for adventure.
What I got instead was objectification and disrespect.
You see, a peer who decided to unwind at the same bar decided that to get more comfortable with me, he had to make me uncomfortable. This boy, who didn’t know me from a hole in the wall, proceeded to stick his hand up my newly re-vamped satin cheetah print mini skirt as a way to get my attention. And he certainly did. I swatted his hand away from my thigh, whipped around as fast as I could, and before I could utter a single word he looked at me with disgust and said, “Relax! What’s your problem?!”
“What’s my problem?” I thought to myself. “Ew, how dare you?”
But before I could summon the resolve to speak these words aloud, he rolled his eyes and walked away.
My problem is that he, like many other boys, find it normal to violate another human being so publicly and casually. They find it acceptable to use women like me for their personal pleasure and discard us even faster. I wanted to say to that boy in the bar, “What gives you the right to touch me in such a private way? Who are you to decide it is okay to humiliate me in front of hundreds of people?”
Unfortunately, his reaction is not uncommon. Boys think that when they sexually objectify women, we are supposed to be thankful for their attention. A concept I cannot, even after 23 years on this earth, begin to understand. This boy thought his way of introducing himself was acceptable. I thought to myself “If your goal was to win me over in hopes that I would somehow sleep with you, and you thought that inappropriately touching me was the way to fulfill my desires, isn’t it ironic that all the while you never stopped to ask me what my needs and desires are in the first place?” The logic is backwards.
This whole situation, temporarily numbing and grotesque in its entirety, wasn’t enough to deter me from continuing my night.
So I stayed.
I stayed at this same bar where this same boy had just intruded himself upon me mere minutes ago. This same bar which now looked like a minefield, holding hundreds of other young men who could potentially disrespect me in the same way.
Because the truth is, as sad as this occurrence was, it was not the first time this has happened to me. And as the optimism drained from my mind, I realized it wouldn’t be the last.
So I stayed.
In a scene from the television show “The L Word”, the main character Jenny confronts her male roommate Mark, after realizing that he has been secretly videotaping her for months. “Do you have sisters, Mark?” Jenny asks. “Yes, I have two younger sisters,” Mark replies. “I want you to ask your sisters about the very first time they were intruded upon by some man or a boy,” Jenny says. “What makes you think that my sisters have been intruded upon?” Mark says. “Because there isn’t a single girl or woman in this world that hasn’t been intruded upon, and sometimes it’s relatively benign, and sometimes it’s so f—ing painful. But you have no idea what this feels like,” Jenny says.
At this age, these things happen all the time. At first, it’s shocking. Then, it’s confusing. It’s even appalling sometimes, but it’s degrading every time.
In today’s world, too many boys are taught to view girls and women as sexual objects: prizes to be won, faceless, brainless creatures to be vied for. From birth, boys learn that women are nothing more than a secondary character in the screenplay of their lives. A mere extension of their egos. They see sexual objectification in movies, TV shows and advertisements. They hear it in music lyrics. They even form these habits as a result of being encouraged by their elders to follow rigid gender roles that depict men as more important and more aggressive than women.
An article on everydayfeminism.com titled, “4 Ways Men Are Taught to Objectify Women From Birth,” explores the many reasons why grown men now find it acceptable to dehumanize women, whether they do it consciously or not.
In this article, Robin Tran talks about her past as a transgender woman. Tran describes multiple scenes in which she, who presented as a man at the time, blindly objectified her very own female friends.
“I can remember countless times when I’d say something flirtatious to a female friend and she wouldn’t respond, and I was convinced that she either didn’t hear me or didn’t understand that I was flirting with her,” Tran said. “So, embarrassingly, I would try harder to get her attention. This, of course, eventually cost me several friendships.” Tran credited this type of learned behavior to the television shows she watched as a child, highlighting the “relationship”, or lack thereof, between Laura Winslow and Steve Urkel. Winslow is depicted as Urkel’s “love interest.” Urkel tries countless times to peak Winslow’s interest, but when she turns him down he just doesn’t get the hint. Looking back, it’s painfully obvious to see that Winslow simply wasn’t interested in Urkel, and although portrayed innocently, Urkel just wouldn’t take no for answer.
Although this type of behavior is ingrained in males from a young age, that gives no excuse for those same boys to grow up still acting this way as men. If a boy can learn by age three that he is now expected to urinate standing up, and he reprograms his mind to now reach this expectation, why do we allow these same boys a pass to fast-forward through the simple lesson of treating women as their equals as they mature into men?
After all, I imagine it would be quite difficult to respect someone who you’ve viewed since birth as a dehumanized, lesser version of yourself. The importance of learning that we are all complex human beings is the first step in changing the way a male behaves towards a female.
R&B artist Frank Ocean wrote a song, simplifying all of this. The song depicts a conversation between two people, who we later find out are Ocean talking against his inner thoughts. Ocean asks if his brain is just grey matter that acts as container for the mind. His thoughts speak back to him with a counter-question asking, if your brain is just that, then is your woman just soft pink matter that’s no more than a container for the child?
Men, think about it. What is your woman? What are all women? Surely, we are more than just soft pink matter.
Written by Keisha Burley
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