Help yourself to my body

I like to think of myself as a feminist. I dare, for example, to believe that I was not put on this earth for the purpose of pleasing men; that women should be paid equally to men, and that women’s values should share an equal place in the world. I’m a masculinist too. I believe that the narrow-minded version of what a real man should be is damaging to both males and females. And I’ve enjoyed seeing a new momentum on this recently. Grayson Perry’s recent release ‘The Descent of Man’  (reviewed here by the brilliant Matt Haig), Emma Watson’s (lv) promotion of The Mask You Live In (watch the trailer ), and teachers blogging (@PositivTeacha)

However, last night I had no strength in my convictions.

Whilst navigating my way around several bars, I allowed an old male… acquaintance I’ll call him, to repeatedly hug me, kiss my head, touch my hair and place his arm around my waist ‘to protect me’ whenever another man walked by. I didn’t want any of this attention, excepting the one occasion I actually did need help fending off an unstable drunk giant. I patted my way through the hugs, avoiding eye contact; I stood frozen while his arm was across me so as to not invite any further contact, and I looked pleadingly at my friends to save me.

And this morning I woke up ashamed. My body is mine. Yet I do not own it.

If a stranger came up to me even remotely touching me, I’d have moved, shouted or punched. But because this was someone I knew, the lines were blurred. I was afraid of hurting his feelings; of making him feel rejected. Listening to my empathy meter, I told myself he was obviously lonely and it’s not causing me any harm. Toxic thoughts.

We witnessed an even more extreme example of this sort of reluctance to cause rejection earlier in the night, when a woman who was on her first date with a man whispered to my friend, ‘how do I get out of here?!’ when the man went to the toilet. An hour later, they were drunk and she was giving him a lap dance, lifting up her top and letting him bite her backside. They left together after security came over to throw verbal cold water over them.

In her book ‘Love Warrior‘, Glennon Doyle Melton describes a moment outside her house when she lets herself come out and shouts at a man about to wolf-whistle at her body. When I read that, I cheered inside, whilst also patting myself on the back: I would definitely do that too, I told myself. But I didn’t. I did not turn around to my friend and say, look: stop hugging me. I don’t like it. Stop protecting me. I don’t need it. Stop kissing my head. I’m not yours. Stop asking me the same thing on repeat to try and evoke a connection: you’re not getting one. I just let him have all the access to my body he could reasonably expect in a public place; that is if you don’t want a security grilling. I suppose I can at least congratulate myself for not letting him have everything he presumably wanted. But it’s probably a rather small consolation to congratulate yourself for not having sex with a man I’m not remotely interested in, just to keep him happy. Sort of like saying: go me! I didn’t voluntarily stop breathing today just to impress someone. Win!

A woman’s body is not a man’s toy. It’s not a man’s hunting ground. It is not a pathway to validation of anyone’s ego. But words are not enough. I need to start practicing what I preach.

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