Last week I went to a feminist art exhibition in London and come across a photo that overwhelmed me with emotion.
This is a picture of Haley Morris-Cafiero, the photographer herself, from a series called “the Watchers”. This photo is titled “Anonymous”. The gallery had kindly left pencils and paper next to the image, inviting guests to write down what they saw. Some people had left theirs for others to view, I scanned the barely filled papers to see vague words like “loneliness” and “big city” repeated. Overcome by passion, I furiously grabbed a pencil and paper and started scribbling down an essay, almost stabbing the pencil through the delicate little paper.
“I see a woman relaxing on the stairs amongst a crowd of others, minding her own business and not hurting anyone. I see a man so amused by her imperfections that don’t coincide with today’s stereotype of female beauty, that he feels the need to stand behind her and laugh at her, publicly ridicule her, and to ask for a photo to be taken to retell the story to his friends who will likely be equally amused. I see another woman who more closely emulates today’s stereotype of female beauty, who is supporting said man in his ridiculing, most likely to deter him from victimizing her instead, in her own relief in not being victimized herself in such a way at this particular moment, and to make her feel empowered in a world that so often leaves her powerless.”
Why did he need to do this? Was she hurting him? Was she doing anything to make him retaliate in such a mean way? Why was her physical appearance insulting him so much that he needed to react so cruelly? This shit makes me so angry because it happens almost every day to every woman. We can never simply be “anonymous”. If they think we are attractive, they sexually harass us, if they think we are ugly, they verbally abuse us or socially humiliate us. In my personal experience, most men have a strong opinion on whether I am one or the other and when I was growing up, having inappropriate or cruel comments flown at me would trouble me and make me question “what was I doing wrong?” When only now do I realize that it wasn’t my fault, it was theirs and they don’t even know it. Once when I was 16, at the school musical rehearsals, I was innocently walking down the street to a local store with another girl on break time. A fully-grown man in a car started yelling out some perverse comments at us and pulled over asking if we wanted I ride. Humiliated and frightened we kept our heads down and kept walking, continuing to ignore his persistence. Finally he gives up, and is clearly pissed off as he drives off swiftly, yelling out “you’re too fat anyway!”. I remember thinking the situation over and over in my head, trying to understand what I had done wrong, was I wearing too short shorts? Were we being too loud? And am I really that fat that he was personally disgusted by me? This is just one of countless times I have been made to feel worthless by men, when I am innocently going through my daily routines. I am not accusing all men of course, my brother and my father would never do such things, but there is a huge portion of men who behave inappropriately towards women on a daily basis and perhaps don’t even know it is wrong. It is our (women’s) responsibility to call these men out on their shit so they know it is wrong. It is our responsibility to share these stories with each other so we know we are not alone. It is our responsibility to remind each other that this is not our fault and that changing our appearance or toning down our personalities, or stopping ourselves from leaving the house isn’t going to fix the problem. Yes we have made huge advances for women to have a world now that is generally equal between the sexes lawfully, but there are still vast social constructions which chain us from being whoever we want to be and do whatever we want to do to the extent that a man can. These constructions can be the stereotypes of what a woman should be, or maybe it’s the unsafe world that men are perpetuating. Why does it have to be harder for a woman to travel by herself alone than for a man? Why should I have to feel unsafe walking home on my own? Why should I have to cop abuse or sexual harassment from a car on my way to work, rattling me for the rest of my day? Why should I have to put up with being insulted or publicly ridiculed if I don’t accept a man’s sexual advances? Why should I have to be made fun of or abused because I don’t fit a certain man’s idealization of beauty? I’m sorry, are my wobbly thighs causing you pain?
And now to hear, a few days after this emotional gallery visit, that a sexist, racist, homophobic gun-loving man has been elected by a whole bunch of people as the leader of one of the most powerful countries in our world, I’m pretty fucking upset. I’m already unhappy with the social inequality of men and women and I highly doubt he is going to improve the situation. But I refuse to let him make it worse, and to let him give power and confidence to other sexists who want to make it worse. There are whispers around about a war brewing, and if there is I am prepared to fight. Not with violence, but with words, intelligence, and protests. Because to sit by and not say anything is to support the wrong. I encourage women to share their stories like mine- document, photograph or film the incidents- and help me hold a mirror up to these sexist wankas. Moreover, I ask all members of any minority group feeling threatened too, to share their stories so we can hold a mirror up collectively to all the racists and homophobes as well, showing them how ugly they really are and shaming them into silence, letting love and peace over-power, and prevail.