I do not care if you think I’m pretty.Posted: July 12, 2011
I’ve been following the blowup over Rebecca Watson of Skepchick posting a video blog piece where for two seconds she talks about being at an atheist conference where she talks about how much she doesn’t like being sexualized and hit on at these things and then she says she’s going to go to bed now and some guy followed her into the elevator and asks her to coffee at 4am, because somehow that’s supposed to be non-threatening.
Which was also covered in Salon, and Forever in Hell does a piece on rape culture that’s fairly solid, Shakesville did a good breakdown and a link to the original video with transcript, and Rebecca Watson posted a followup to the whole thing.
There was another link I wanted to post from Fugitivus, but I didn’t bookmark it and now I can’t find it. In this post she talks about how women are expected to be sweet and complaint and polite and not hurt men’s feelings but know when there’s real actual danger and suddenly become total hardasses who do exactly the right thing and get away to safety and there’s somehow supposed to be this clear line between the two kinds of situations and there’s not. Anyway, it’s really good and if anyone else has the link I’d appreciate it.
So what I keep thinking about with all of these critiques is that they all seem to be written by straight women, with this set of assumptions that I just don’t have about society. And I thought it would be worth my time to organize my own thoughts about my experience of gender socialization in rape culture with respect to queer identity and nonstandard gender identification.
Growing up my parents taught me to be afraid of strangers, specifically strange men. My parents also attempted to feminize me, which didn’t work very well, and they absolutely assumed that I was straight.
When I was 12 or 13, strange men started coming on to me. It was obvious when this started happening, and it wasn’t something that could be mistaken for something else. It continued through my teens with men trying to chat with me, touching me on the bus to get my attention, leaning in close to make sure I could hear them. It was a false casualness where they didn’t need to do that. I started wearing my walkman everywhere and I usually had a book and did not invite conversation. And let me make this really clear: I was not an early bloomer or a really attractive teen or anything like that, especially on the younger end of it. I was a tiny, skinny, awkward kid. I did not dress sexy. I did not dress mature for my age. I did not even dress femme. My peers often could not tell my gender and would ask me in class if I was a boy or a girl. I started dyeing my hair and dressing really punk in high school, and I was pretty obviously gay. I did not shave my legs or armpits. I was dirty and skinny and androgynous.
Men did not hit on me because I was pretty. They hit on me because I was out alone.
I learned to be wary of men I didn’t know in a way that all my mother’s paranoia about strangers could never have imparted.
Initially I thought somehow that obvious signs of disinterest would be a deterrent: that I am queer, that I was a filthy punk kid, that I was ten to forty years younger than they were, that I wasn’t at all femme, and above all, that I was giving off every signal I could think of that I wanted to be left alone.
These men often started with something falsely harmless: Hey, can I talk to you? and would go on with increasing demands that if I said no to at any time the response was somewhere between but I’m just being friendly! and screaming at me that I was a horrible bitch for wanting to go on about my business and not shoot the shit with them for an indefinite amount of time, get coffee, give them my phone number, hang out with them somewhere more private… they’re just being friendly, right?
Even when they’re not friendly like that with other men, or anyone besides young women who are alone.
But if I tried to make an exit, I was being rude. No matter what my own schedule or priorities were like. And if I didn’t get out of the situation and something bad had happened, then it would have turned into something where I should have known better.
So over time I have become wary of men who make approaches like this. I am wary of men who get in my space or try to get me alone or catch me when no one is around. I am wary of men who just want to chat! or are just being friendly! or don’t respond to my obvious signals of disinterest or think they should talk to me about my appearance.
And I want to be clear about this, I’ve encountered plenty of men – and women, and people of other genders – out in public who really do just want to say hi. They say hi, how’s it going, how bout that weather, hope you’re having a good day. And then they go on about their business and don’t press me about mine.
They don’t get in my space. They don’t approach me only when I’m alone. They don’t talk to my chest. They don’t lean in close even when I can’t hear them okay, they speak up. They don’t tap me repeatedly on the arm to talk to me when I’m clearly involved in listening to my headphones. They say hi and go on about things.
I’m happy to say hi to them. I’m cool with people who are trying to be friendly. If they’re actually trying to be friendly, and not pretending to be friendly for some other reason.
It’s not a majority of men. But it is only men who do this, it is only men who are oriented toward women, it is only men who are typically masculine.
There have also been a number of men who felt it was their business to police my behavior, who scream at me that I should shave my legs or my armpits, grow my hair out, have fewer tattoos, dress in a way that is more pleasing to them. That I should appreciate their flattery.
Because it’s flattering to be screamed at by strange men, apparently, especially if they’re more than twice your age and a hundred pounds bigger, about how well I fit into their notions of appropriate femininity.
Why should I be flattered to have the attention of people who I find totally unappealing, who invade my space, who criticize or fetishize my looks, who yell at me in public, who care so little about whether I am interested or how I feel about their approach, who don’t even care whether I like men?
Who don’t care about my obvious discomfort, who scream that I’m a bitch when I tell them anything other than what they want to hear, even when it’s excuse me, I have to get to work.
Why is that supposed to be a compliment?
These guys would be totally offended if another man treated them the way they’re treating me, and would expect everyone to understand why that was. But because I have a female body, it’s supposed to be different for me. I’m supposed to care how men think about me and whether they desire me, for some reason. I’m supposed to be into being valued for being decorative and it’s supposed to be a compliment that these strangers want to interrupt my routine to tell me that I’m hot or something.
They never tell me they think I’m a supergenius.
If I wanted to meet men, I’d go to a straight bar. I’m sure that many men who frequent straight bars could use a lesson in etiquette too, but at least that’s an appropriate venue to approach strange women to chat.
I just want to get my fucking groceries, see my friend, get to work.
I don’t want to get screamed at, either because I’m hot or because I’m a bitch. It’s actually a lot like the anti-queer harassment I’ve gotten in the street. I’ve never had anyone threaten to “fix” me with a rape, but a lot of men find that I’m out queer either distasteful or else they think it’s a show for their pleasure – the issue in either case is that I am making my self and my sexuality about something other than them, the same line of thinking many men have where they will only leave me alone if I say I have a boyfriend and not if I say I’m just not interested in men at all, the valid escape being another man’s claim and not my own autonomous interests.
I feel that the heterosexism and homophobia I have experienced here are facets of sexism and a heterosexist form of social control in that it is about the dominance of heterosexual men and their insistence that all women fit into predetermined roles for heterosexual women, where expressing hate for the rest of us is somehow a separate and more acceptable thing even though in truth it is often more frightening to have huge men screaming anti-lesbian epithets at me than to deal with the creepy guy on the bus who wants to tell me how sexy my feet are, not that I wish to downplay the creep factor there in any way.
I also feel like the response I get from many of the men in my life is defensive and not constructive, but I’m not like that a moment before the standard creepy defense but you’re pretty as though that justifies other men’s creepy behavior, as though my appearance makes men lose all control and they can’t help saying horrible things to me, a shifting of blame onto my appearance when it is utterly clear that my appearance is not the issue at all but their relative social power and right to demand that I, a queer anti-gender person who is obviously disinterested in their sexual attention, conform to their requirements for straight feminine gender normative beauty.
There is nothing in this for me.
I do not care if you think I’m pretty.