A few months ago, you said I looked “objectively really hot, actually, you’re definitely the hot one of us.” I laughed and thanked you because we have the kind of relationship that allows for that kind of banter. Your phrasing amused me. I took a little bow.
You asked me why girls get upset when guys comment on their bodies, and wondered why my reaction to you was different than, say, a girl’s reaction to a random guy on the street. Why I was mildly flattered, instead of scared or angry. You honestly didn’t understand, and wanted to know.
I tried explaining, but I think I left you more confused than I found you.
I have a better explanation now.
The first time I can remember a guy staring at my boobs, I was in eighth grade. I didn’t even notice; I was still a kid and was largely oblivious to such things. My dad, however, did notice, and started glaring at the twentysomething stranger ogling his thirteen-year-old.
I could maybe have passed for fifteen back then. There was no way anyone would have mistaken me for an adult. That wasn’t the issue, though. To that guy, it wasn’t about who I was or how old I was. I was a set of boobs to him, not a person, certainly not a child.
My experience is pretty common. Girls start getting unwanted attention at a young age, and it happens for the rest of our lives. Men yell things at us on the street and invade our personal space on the bus or trolley when there are plenty of other seats. They try to look up our skirts when we sit down. They don’t listen when we try to rebuff them. We see reports of yet another girl raped on her way home last weekend, another woman whose body was found in a ditch. We’re told not to go out alone at night, to take someone with us even if we’re only driving to the store or the library or the gas station. We’re told to carry our keys like weapons, to park in the lot instead of the structure because it’s better to get rained on than raped and murdered. We’re told not to walk alone even during the day. We’re told close friends might rape us if they’ve had a bit to drink because they’re men, that it’s wrong, but it happens sometimes and we should be on our guard.
Imagine hearing that from the age of five. Imagine being told from childhood that men are more likely to hurt you than women are. Imagine knowing that, though you might be smart and well-trained, men will almost always be bigger and stronger than you, and you wouldn’t be able to beat most of them in a full-on fight. I can best my brother at arm-wrestling, yeah, but that doesn’t have many practical applications.
Now imagine that one of the people you’ve been taught to regard as a threat to your body says he wants your body. If he really does, you’ll have a hard time stopping him, and people will treat you as an object lesson for others, like you’d done something wrong for “letting” him hurt you. They’ll ask why you didn’t do more to protect yourself, why you wore that dress, or walked into the parking lot at that time, or talked to that person. Why you went out after dark or flirted with someone at a party.
I’m not saying all men are awful. I’m saying that decent men should be the norm, but there are a lot of men who aren’t, and who make us feel unsafe in our normal lives. We can’t tell the difference between decent people and potential rapists by looking.
What you said to me was meant as a compliment, and I took it as such. That’s because I’ve known you since we were kids, and I know you didn’t mean any harm. We have the kind of relationship where words like yours are appropriate, and you’ve never strayed outside the bounds of what’s okay. I don’t have that kind of relationship with the car full of drunken guys I walked past on the way home from D&D last weekend.
Girls get upset when guys comment on their bodies because we’re being treated like sources of pleasure, not people. We get angry because we can’t go about our business without having to worry about sexual predation. We get scared because, when it comes down to it, if a guy tried to act on his shouts of “Hey baby, nice tits, keep it up” we probably wouldn’t be able to stop him, and some would blame us.
Girls get upset because we’d much rather be seen as people, not just bodies.