Females don’t have breasts for the first ~10 years of their lives. Obvious, yes, yet it’s something I remind myself when considering my body and my relationship with it. Of course, puberty involves the growing and changing of many body features, for males and females, but tits are something that are particularly observable, and particularly sexualised in females in spite of any logic. Naked eye to naked breast, the only difference between that area of a female’s body and that of a male’s body is the fat. Nevertheless, my boobs have mostly only ever really seemed to me like liabilities.
Up until a year ago, I couldn’t feel like my breasts were mine, or that I should have them. I still don’t feel I’ve fully gotten used to my widened hips despite them having been this way for almost a decade. I bang them into things, apparently underestimating their size. Having tits has similar practicality issues, and on top of that you have to deal with the fact you are permanently attached to something which is so unnecessarily sexualised. I wasn’t born feeling like I, a human, an animal, was something sexual and so, perhaps as a coping mechanism to distance myself from the sexual mistreatment (if that’s ambiguous enough of a word) I’ve endured, I forced a weird kind of dualism between myself and my body.
I’ve never quite been able to shake the feeling that my body is ultimately, and perpetually, the butt of a joke. I’m not going to list all the ways in which I’ve felt degraded or sexually victimized because 1) I don’t want to and 2) its not the point I’m trying to get across, despite perhaps serving as context. But I have to acknowledge that things have happened that have greatly shaped who I am as a person including my mental and physical well-being, and, parallel to that, my feminism.
I’ve struggled to stop myself from thinking I must’ve been dealt a particularly bad hand. I’ve heard sexually themed rumours about myself so ridiculous I don’t know why anyone would believe them, let alone fabricate them. There was a version of myself out there in some imagination who was having far more adventure with her desires than I ever did, and for a short while I tried to emulate some aspects of that character’s personality – it seeming more adaptive at the time- only to fail miserably.
I was objectified before I understood what sexual objectification was, like most women. After spending the night at a boy’s house in my university days and stupidly having forgotten my bra there, his friends informed me they’d hung it up, amongst other “trophies from nights out”. The kicker was I thought the boy himself was quite a kind and considerate person, and still do. That made it a lot shittier and harder to deal with. Surely if the common denominator in all these events was me then I was the one doing something wrong, right? None of my friends had such experiences - I must just be stupid, or asking for it in some way. Maybe I didn’t react to red flags like they did, didn’t separate myself from people or situations that would eventually lead to a new kind of sexually-themed pain by being too curious, or trusting people too much, whether it was a boy you trusted enough to walk home with or keeping a “friend” who seemed to always be at the end of false stories you hear about yourself.
I think that might be partly true. But at the same time I remember I was 12 years old when some charming older boy in my school wrote “[my name] loves cock” on the walls of the boys changing rooms. Was a 12 year old stupid, or asking for it, or too ignorant or curious or trusting? No. I was just fucking 12!
Oddly, that sobers me. The thought that I, me, must have had it particularly bad because of experiences I’d had and because I hadn’t been smart enough is self-focused, self-centred and, quite frankly, indulgent. This extends beyond me or any single person I’ve come into contact with.
Do you throw up in your mouth a little bit when someone responds to an extremely complex social issue with an eloquent “society is fucked, man”? Then you and I have that in common. This isn’t to simplify, and I’m not trying to shift the blame from any individual who has acted in a particularly gross manner towards me or even myself. But you must look at the bigger picture and identify the patterns in what’s going on to have any hope of changing things. The whole point of last year’s #MeToo movement and what countless public figures were trying to drum home afterwards was that THIS SHIT IS EVERYWHERE. A lot of people had to deal with the fact a celebrity they enjoyed has harassed/assaulted/raped/taken advantage of others. Hopefully, from that they acknowledge their neighbour, co-worker, doctor, bartender, parent, child, sibling, or best friend could have easily done something similar or on the same spectrum. Ideally, they could even reflect on their own past behaviour, perhaps realising some things they’d done weren’t as harmless as they’d previously thought. Some of the kindest men I know have behaved in ways I consider to be extremely harmful and actively sexist.
Let’s edge ourselves away from envisioning the archetypal rapist, the slimey and disenfranchised middle-aged man hiding down an alley, when we contemplate sexual misconduct. Further, let’s understand you don’t need to go as far as to actually assault or rape someone to cause long lasting damage. We should recognise harm can come in all shapes and sizes, whether it be something as (hopefully now) obviously wrong like judging a woman’s willingness towards sexual advances based on her clothing choices, or something as implicit as shunning conversations involving a friend’s allegations of sex crimes performed by another friend to prohibit some “disturbing of peace”/ false social harmony. The less we distance the men we know, love, or are from this idea of Disney villain-esque “monstrous” sexists, the better. Better for the survivors to understand the world and come to peace with their experiences, and better for those who might realise they’re part of a problem and learn to change.
And so I hold no hatred for anyone who made me feel that particular brand of misery, nor myself, nor my body. It’s a challenge to feel like sexual objectification isn’t personal because its effectively someone placing your thoughts, feelings and well-being below what they want to get out of your body. However, the recognition that there is a wider pattern in all these things that happen has become a tool to heal my wounds.
Appreciating how universal sexual objectification and degradation is has allowed me to contemplate feminism without feeling pain. One might think the idea that so many others are undergoing this dreadful thing would be disheartening and more damaging, but when observing my own trauma from a more selfish perspective, its made me realise this isn’t all about myself (how beautifully ironic lol).
At first I was concerned that no longer hurting when thinking about these things signalled a loss of passion for the cause. But I haven’t lost hope, I’ve just come to terms with things. Made peace – more so with myself than with the way things are in the world. But I’m pretty certain that with an issue which some wrongfully think is about pitting two genders against each other, one half of the world against the other, to ever make real change then fostering peace, conversation and understanding is paramount. Sure as fuck feels healthier anyway :)