Yesterday as I walked out of a grocery store carrying a case of coconut water to my car, two guys on the street passed me, and as they walked away, one of them turned around and said over his shoulder, “Great ass”, and his buddy said, “Damn, girl.” I was immediately thrown into a state of conflicting feelings about this: part of me wanted to laugh, because really? I’m not a girl, I’m a woman, I’m a mother, I’m a yoga teacher and a writer and a business owner, and these two guys just treated me like a piece of meat. Another part of me felt enraged and frustrated. That’s a compliment, right? These guys thought that what they said was going to make me feel good. I’m supposed to enjoy the fact that someone thinks I have a great ass, but I’ve also just been casually reduced to a body part. This is so acceptable in our society, I’m expected to blow it off if I don’t like it, roll my eyes or shake my head and go on about my day as if it isn’t a big deal to be stripped of what makes me, me, by two complete strangers. That’s what my daughter is supposed to do one day, too.
I grew up with a dad who loved women and struggled with fidelity. He especially loved tall thin women with big boobs and tight butts, and long flowing hair. I met so many of my dad’s “women friends” growing up, the mind boggles, but I came to understand from him that most of the value of a woman had to do with how she looked. I don’t think he meant to teach me this. He always encouraged my writing and reading and creativity, so it wasn’t that he didn’t like smart women, because he did, but on the street his head would turn, or he’d point out some feature he really liked about this one going by, or that one over there, and as his daughter I got lessons in his preferences like I was his wingman. I also saw the way men looked at my mother as I grew up. She’s very attractive and never had trouble turning heads, and that seemed to give her some power. When we diminish women this way, and when we, as women, buy into this idea, we do a disservice to both genders. We also have a whole bunch of people who are transgender, or don’t relate fully to either gender. The way we think about roles is really outdated.
Last week I took my kids to meet friends of ours at a sushi place on Main Street. We like avocado rolls, so sushi restaurants are usually a good bet. When we got to the place, though, there were 3 big-screen televisions on the walls. In the chaos of sitting down and getting settled, I wasn’t paying attention to what was on the screens, but after we’d figured out who was sitting where and ordered, I noticed my daughter, who’s five, looking up at the television facing us. On it, were very young Japanese girls in tiny shorts and skirts, and little midriff tops, gyrating, and playing with their hair, and blowing kisses to pop songs. If it was just me, I’d shrug it off and not look, but I don’t want her taking that in. Not at five, and not ever. I leaned over and said, “You don’t need to look at that. Those are just girls who think they have to dress that way and dance that way so people will like them. They’re confused.“ I told her the conversation we were having with our friends was a lot more interesting. Then I look across the table, and see my son staring at the screen behind me. I turn to look, and it’s a beer commercial, with a girl with her boobs sticking out. I told my son he didn’t need to be watching that, either. It turned out it was a football game. I look to my left, because I’m hoping for National Geographic or something. My kids don’t get much television time. A few shows that are educational and cool, but that’s about it. So of course it’s enticing to be in a place with three huge screens. On the third screen, I kid you not, is “Shark Week.” It happens to be an episode about a rescue mission to save people who were on a boat that capsized near a hungry shark. The shark started eating people, and they had this on film, and I thought, things are bad when there are three choices, and I’d pick having my kids watch people getting eaten by sharks. We ate our rolls and got out of there, and won’t be going back.
Here’s the thing. Nothing is black and white in life. We all have our masculine and feminine sides, and we are beautifully different, but completely equal. We balance each other out. When you get too much testosterone in the mix, and not enough estrogen, I’m sorry, but things start to explode. We start shooting things up. We need each other. We need the action and the fire and the strength to get things done, and we need to be able to be soft. We need to be brave enough to be soft.
We’re training our boys, who turn into our men, to think of women as pretty objects, to separate them into different body parts. “Nice ass”, “great tits”, “long legs.” We’re visual beings. Women are, too. “OMG, that guy is so HOT.” It’s just, as a society, we’re taught to think of men as virile and powerful, so even if you try to reduce a man to the sum of his parts (and I hope you don’t), those parts are still holding the cards. When we, as women, dress ourselves in tiny skirts and push-up bras, what we’re saying to men is, “I know you can only really think with your small head.” We need women who are not spending the vast majority of their time and energy obsessing over how they look or what they weigh. If you see a woman, and you think, “Great ass”, I hope you immediately remind yourself that she’s a human being with an interior world you know nothing about. Maybe she’s carrying a lot of pain. Maybe she’s grappled with loss, fear, shame, insecurity. I know when I look at a man all those things are probable because it isn’t a gender thing, it’s a human thing. This is a tough gig. We don’t need to be reducing each other, we need to be uplifting each other. We have real problems in the world. We need to work together, and we could help each other so much if we recognized and acknowledged that. If we taught our girls and our boys to value people for who they are, not how they look, or what body parts they have.
Sending you love,