My boobs came in somewhat late, at the over-ripe age of 15 years old. I went to sleep a blushing AA cup, and woke up (in a virtually overnight process) with two smushy, jiggly milk-bags, comparable to either very large grapefruits or very small basketballs. It must be said that personally, I think breasts are great. I’m a big fan. This doesn’t mean, though, that they don’t carry a weight far heavier than the extra couple of BMI points I like to blame on them. With great breasts (and I guarantee mine are fantastic) comes great responsibility.
In fact, any breasts. Or a vagina. Or legs. What I’m basically trying to say is that if you’re one of the unlucky 50-ish % who identify as female, and you have a body, then boy-oh-boy have you got a whole lot of possession-problems to deal with, and (sadly, as a consequence) the chore of having to educate a depressingly large number of other people about exactly who your aforementioned body belongs to.
My first cat-call that I really remember came in the same week as my first non-training bra. I don’t doubt that since I was old enough to eat/sleep/breathe people will have made claims about my body and appearance. I am not saying this out of conceit (‘Oh, I’m so pretty people must have noticed!’), but because I truly believe this is the reality for all people who grow up female, a reality in which boys are valued for their boisterousness and girls for their bone structure. I remember vividly the sensation of suddenly being aware of the parameters of my own sexuality. Of becoming afraid of bikini tops and cartwheeling in skirts. I don’t like to own to it, however, but for the first few times I found the catcalls thrilling rather than threatening. I was desirable, sexy, a bona-fide woman with holes people want to put things into!
Here’s the thing, though. It took me a while to realise, but the only person whose opinion is important regarding my body is my own. It’s genuinely hilarious that some randomer on the street thinks I’d honestly give a damn what they think. It’s a dreadfully entitled way to look at the world. I know I look great. Your opinion is invalid and completely unwelcome (see also: mansplaining). I want to have sex with me – and I frequently do – but this sense of value in myself is not reinforced in the slightest when I’m jarringly reminded that others want to fuck me, too. I know what some of you are thinking: ‘Calm down, love! It’s just a compliment!’ I’m not flattered when I’m reduced to an object of desire, equivalent to a sports trophy or Mercedes. What you perhaps don’t realise is that here, instead of demanding that people stop cat-calling, you’re demanding that women should not only ‘deal with it’ but actively accommodate it. If someone tells you that what you have said has offended or upset them, whatever your intention, you don’t get to decide that it didn’t.
In response, some guys are now saying they feel ‘scared’ complimenting women. We’re all so sensitive and testy, ready to get offended at just about anything. Well cry me a river, because guess what motherfucker? I feel scared every single time I step out of my damn door wearing a short skirt in the morning. My best friend just this week decided to no longer wear dresses, because it’s simply not worth the trouble. It’s literally summertime. It’s hot outside. My legs are exposed for my comfort, not your perverse and unwelcome sexual satisfaction. The problem is beyond my heatwave nudity, though: it’s not about how we walk or what we wear. It’s not even about if we’re ‘fuckable’ by your arbitrary aesthetic standards. It’s about how you (don’t) see women as people, and that’s not clothing-deep.
I’d like anyone who has ever cat-called as a compliment to know that the power one feels from being happy in your skin as well as your clothes is lost instantaneously when some asswipe attempts to claim ownership over your body with an unwelcome, lingering glance or some crass, generic comment. We’re supposedly intelligent people: I promise you, if you can apply Durkheim’s theories on the division of labour to a Mayan municipality, or differentiate some numbers or whatever (I’m an arts student), then you honestly can learn the difference between a genuine, kind compliment – the kind that feels like sunshine to hear – and the kind that dries up my vaginal canal and clenches my hands into fists. Consider anything that starts with ‘Oi, love!’ to fall unequivocally into the latter category.
I will not be apologetic about my overt and uncompromising feminism. I will not be apologetic in calling out the faults and prejudices of others, especially where they infringe upon the sense of safety of half the population. Most of all, I will not be apologetic for talking about something that makes you uncomfortable; it is not I who ought to be saying sorry. If these unpleasant truths are upsetting to you, you don’t really have any option other than to be part of the force that changes it.