I very often hear men use the argument “well can you imagine if this was the other way around” when they are debating issues of modern sexism.
I heard it the other day when someone sent a message to a male influencer saying that she liked a big bum on a man and he replied by saying how inappropriate her question was and “could you imagine if it was the other way around, there would be UPROAR”.
And I have been thinking about this ever since.
Because whilst it’s true that no one should be objectified, or have sweeping generalisations made in regard to their aesthetic appearance, the idea that the world would go into UPROAR if a man made this comment about a woman…. well, I think that’s nonsense.
Because men objectify women ALL THE TIME. I’m objectified everywhere; on the street, in front of my friends, on the internet and sadly, the response is rarely UPROAR.
Very occasionally someone will react in a way that lets me know that my feelings of discomfort are justified but on the whole these things get categorised as simply “one of those things”.
It’s true that women objectify men too and like I say, that’s also inappropriate, but there are some that will use these examples (horny hens out with the gals slapping a bar tender’s arse or a tipsy Magic Mike audience hoping to grab an eyeful of ab) as a means of either discrediting or dismissing a woman’s complaint when she makes one.
YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS, they scream.
But the thing is (and this is a thorny issue so I approach it tentatively), for the most part the levels of harassment and objectification are so vastly different that to compare them at all is impossible.
Unless you have been a woman it is difficult to fully understand this but there is an undercurrent of danger that comes with the objectification that we experience. When we are stared at in the gym or wolf whistled on the street or slapped on the arse by a man in a club, the first response unwittingly felt by most of us is fear. We don’t even mean to feel it, most the time (we don’t want to be considered a kill joy, or overly dramatic or frigid or whatever) but the basic biological, inescapable reaction to these moments is a swelling feeling of fear. Fear for our safety. Because we know, from experience, from observing our society, from existing as a part of the patriarchy that the power dynamics between men and women mean that if we don’t handle these situations with care, we are at risk.
At risk of being assaulted, either as a result of the lust that was displayed by a man in one of these instances or as a punishment for not taking their advances as a compliment.
Now I understand that to say that our reaction to a man saying they like a woman with a big bum is FEAR might sound like hyperbole and perhaps to an extent it is.
On the surface obviously it is okay for a man to give a woman a compliment and it is okay for either gender to have specific preferences when it comes to the physical attributes that they look for in a partner.
But the reason women get so het up when their own appearance is brought into question, when sweeping objectifications are made, when we are reduced to nothing more than our bodies is because the undercurrent pulling at all of us, all the time, is the associations that we have with these things.
The fact that men have so long been able to get away with judging women based solely on their bodies is an example of the society that we have existed in for so long; the one that is, at it’s core, a dangerous place for a woman to exist in.
Men get away with objectifying women so freely because the patriarchy and the subsequent power dynamics have enabled them to do that.
If you remove the threat and the undercurrent of fear, the objectification of a woman COULD be perceived as “just being a compliment” (as so many men often encourage women to see it as).
For that reason, I suppose, I would be inclined to argue that the two things just aren’t comparable, since the fear is so intrinsically entwined with the objectification of the female form.
The only way I might be able to explain it in a way that makes sense would be to suggest that when women “objectify” men, when we got to the magic mike shows or get a bit flirty with the bar tenders, that’s as close to a compliment as objectification gets, since fear has been removed from the equation.
Although there are instances in which women can and do physically threaten and hurt men, the societal norm shows women to be the weaker of the two sexes and thus, fear doesn’t come into it.
The “harmless fun” that this stuff is so often portrayed as is rarely harmless in the eyes of a woman, since we know that if it came to a physical altercation, we are at a biological disadvantage. When a woman does it to a man though, the undercurrent of fear doesn’t exist and the “harmless fun” can continue.
Now obviously it doesn’t make it RIGHT. I will reiterate: no person should be judged based solely on their appearance, touched in a way that they are not comfortable with or objectified by anyone.
BUT, the difference between objectifications made by men and women, ultimately, I think, can be easily identified by the lack of threat level that is associated with each.
If I could be safe in the knowledge that every comment made about me by a man or leery look was JUST that, a comment, or a look, I think I would be more readily able to be okay with them.
But these things are never JUST that, are they? A comment is never just a comment and a look is never just a look.
I keep my keys in between my fingers when I walk home at night, I avoid unlit areas, I don’t wear clothes that are too revealing, make eye contact, lead men on or go out late on my own because I know that these things are never just a comment, or just a look.
At a moment’s notice they can turn into something so much more frightening than that.
And yet, there is no uproar.
75% of women in the UK have been sexually harassed.
65% of women in the UK have been sexually assaulted.
Last year, 139 women died in the UK as a result of male violence.
Where’s the fucking uproar??
It isn’t right that either sex should be made to feel uncomfortable at the hands of another.
But they are, at their core, two very different issues.
And I find myself resenting, hugely, the gross simplification of these issues by some men.
(I WANT TO MAKE IT CLEAR: IT’S NOT ALL MEN.)
I didn’t intend for this chunk of writing to be an attack on men, not all of them, not some of them. In truth I didn’t plan this chunk of writing at all.
I do not think the fault lies with any individual, rather a lack of societal understanding.
There is a naivety that exists among some that enables them to feel quite hard done by when certain fights encroach on what they perceive to be their fundamental human rights.
When the feminist fight starts to demand things of normal men (men that don’t mind having a female boss and are happy to change their babies’ nappies) I can understand why there would be a little bit of kickback and resentment.
On the surface, equality, for the most part, has been achieved. It might therefore seem ridiculous that after all of this, we want more.
I can see why (some) men might feel as if, at this point, we are just arguing for arguings sake. Just doing stuff to stop them having fun. Just being dramatic.
But the thing is… we do sort of need to be dramatic. Because when you say things like “imagine if this were the other way around!”, it’s annoying. ‘Cos we don’t have to imagine that. Most times it IS the other way around. Women are 5 times more likely than men to experience sexual assault. That is our reality. And throwing it back in our faces in the interest of “equality” feels entirely unhelpful.
“There would be uproar…” I wish.
What this man mistakenly described as uproar would in fact be a couple of DMs from feminist followers pointing out that objectification is wrong and a nagging feeling of guilt in the pit of his own stomach that perhaps they might be right.
Real uproar is what happened in Catalonia. Or in Cuba. Or is happening in Hong Kong. Uproar is the people uniting to overthrow a government.
Uproar, sadly, rarely happens after a woman is objectified. Or harassed. Or even assaulted. So infrequent is the uproar in fact, that rape convictions in this country are at the lowest they’ve been in a decade.
I don’t want to undermine any man’s struggle.
I’m not one of these people that think being born with a penis automatically guarantees that you will have an easier life.
But I am a person that has, as a result of my gender, lived a large part of my life with fear. A fear that is so omniscient I am almost numb to it now. And once I started explaining that I couldn’t stop. So we ended up with this.
For more feminist ~ sexism ~ raging against the patriarchy content here’s a blog post I wrote a couple of months ago about the word “slutty“.