I just saw the SBS documentary, Is Australia Sexist? So, now I’ve seen it – am I now in possesion of the answer? Yes. The answer is yes. But I already knew that. Derr…
Australia is sexist and so am I. Because I live in Australia and Australia is sexist. Because Australia is a country on planet earth and planet earth is sexist. (Can’t speak for the flora or fauna of the world, but us humans sure are). A more important question might be, what is sexism? Or how is Australia sexist? Not that this documentary doesn’t expose some interesting territory. The objectification of women as sexual objects for example – the experience of sexual harassment in the street, the wolf-whistling and unwanted staring women experience at various times in their lives – or repeatedly on a daily basis for that matter.
My most memorable personal experience of this type of sexism (treating women as objects rather than humans with a right to go about their lives without harassment) happened quite a time ago. It was a lovely spring, sun-shiny day and my spirits were high. I was about to cross the street outside my house in Carlton when a man, leaning from his car window called out, “Hey sexy!” (or something like that) When, in return, I yelled, “piss off,” (or something like that) he screamed at me angrily, “Ya fuckn ugly slut!” before revving his engine and speeding off like a true hero.
Yes. Delightful. First I was sexy (and thus worthy of attention), and then, when I dared to step out of the frame -become a subject with the right to respond – I immediately became undesirable, ugly. Disgusting. I remember the sudden shock of it clearly, feeling angry, violated, shaky, and later, an uncomfortable feeling lingered…perhaps he was right. Perhaps I was…ugly.
Right now I’m tossing up if I should post this at all. I don’t want to ‘invite’ trouble. I’m very aware that some troll might respond by calling me an ugly bitch who needs to be raped. That I deserve everything I get because I have a vagina and dare to speak my mind.
In Is Australia Sexist? A woman confronts a man for making the comment, “nice long legs…” He says it in a rather detached tone, as though describing a race-horse in a parade. He then defends himself, says the comment was just a ‘compliment’, the implication being that she should (presumably) be grateful, not upset, angry, intimidated or fearful… He then goes on to say he ‘couldn’t help it’ – after all, she was committing the crime of walking past – she invited the unwanted attention apparently, simply by having the temerity to exist.
Of course we all love to look at others, admire forms and faces, but I think some men have been so thoroughly conditioned to gaze shamelessly, I don’t think they’re aware they’re doing it. I used to live on a street that shared a corner with an old-style coffee shop – the type where men gathered to play cards and socialise. They would hang around outside, not to smoke (smoking was allowed inside) but just to look…
In order to get to the main street I had to walk past one or more pairs of ogling eyes, so, to combat this almost daily dose of objectification, I developed a technique to make me feel less powerless…I found that if I stared back boldly – without flinching – then they (eventually) looked away! It felt great to turn the tables, flip the power dynamic so they got a dose of what it’s like to be seen primarily as an admired/reviled object. Yep…it’s not very nice.
So. A top tip for men who care about equality. For men who want to make society a place where women feel safe – If a woman you find attractive walks past (or indeed exists in the same vicinity as you), don’t say a word about it. Please keep your thoughts to yourself. Keep in mind that a woman is a person. Not an object. And it’s best not to stare – to gaze shamelessly as though she’s nothing more than a two-dimensional picture on a screen. Please avert your gaze, give women some psychic space so they can go about their business as freely as you do.