Before I stepped out I looked at my outfit in the mirror: a white shirt with a square neckline from Aritzia, floral-patterned shorts with frilly hems that I bought with my grandma last spring. It seemed miraculous that I could wear this outside, after the long persistent winter. Also I thought I looked cute !
I packed my bag — sunscreen, laptop, bottle of water. I carried a piece of toast in my mouth. At the door my aunt stopped me sternly, change your outfit, it’s too provocative. Guys will take pics of your ass with flash on. I left anyways.
Lately I feel like I move with more calmness, maybe it’s indifference. If this happened two years it would’ve ruined my day, made my head spin with rage. On the bus I closed my legs. I examined my reflection in the window as I walked past the front of the library. I sat at the long table in the middle of the study room unsure how to stand back up. You think you dress for the female gaze until one remark reifies your gender.
G said that femininity is protecting what you have. I think femininity is this line from Animal: I’ve been called a whore. I’ve been judged not only by the things I’ve done unto others but, cruelly, by the things that have happened to me.
Women are expected to have the foresight to pacify men. When women choose to care for themselves first — through assertiveness, disagreeableness, vigilance — we are spat on with vitriol that men with identical traits face disproportionately. If he’s a public figure or in a position of power, he represents the excellence of masculinity. Interpersonally he’s considered a douche, maybe, which is a way of acknowledging that his behaviour harms or annoys others, though ultimately the world is his arena to prowl. A woman would never be labelled a douche — she’d be a bitch, a term that calls for people to tame her, remove her of her agency.
Iris Murdoch said, Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. Do we love men over women? I think we’re selectively empathetic. We’re hyperaware of male interiority and let it take precedence over female interiority. We model philosophy on the male subject and protect male futures fiercely. Male suffering is tragic and urges society to mobilize to alleviate it, while female suffering is a shortcoming — a personal failure. Men are objective, cognizant, very human. Women can’t be relied on to speak about their own reproductive rights, as their capacity for reason is contaminated by emotional volatility. We avoid seriously considering what women want.
I often return to the question Maggie Nelson raises in On Freedom: For whom is there, has there, historically been a no, and for whom is the introduction of the concept so radical?
I don’t think I’ve done something wrong. (the goalposts for what’s provocative wear shift every decade). But still, there’s shame. It’s the shame of feeling cute and carefree until someone insinuates that your personal style is, in theory, the object of someone else’s sexual gratification. It shatters that healthy form of solipsism in which it’s self-evident that you’re not responsible for how people behave towards you.
But I don’t believe I’m responsible for what people do to me. I’m not responsible for correcting what people think of me either. Knowing this is freeing.
i was wearing normal-length shorts lol, but that should go without saying
"Male suffering is tragic and urges society to mobilize to alleviate it, while female suffering is a shortcoming — a personal failure." Curious, I've always thought it the opposite. Perhaps neither is true, idk.