Objectification and the male gaze

Objectification and the male gaze

I intended to drevey for the Easter weekend. A flat tyre on Easter Saturday, a busted spare and closed tyre shops threw holes in my wheel (pun intended) and left me grounded. Instead, I spent the long weekend home, writing, journaling, drinking too much coffee and making meaning of the experiences I am about to share.

Realizing that there was no way I was going to get the car to move or get a ride home from a friend, I called a taxi driver I know. Maybe that was the error, calling this person when I knew he had the habit of hitting on me at every available occasion. But at the time, I had little choice and I hoped he’d see how stressed and tired I was and keep his feelings to himself. Not too long after I got into the vehicle, he launches into his Mac Daddy mode.
 
Him: What do you like to drink? Beer, wine, what?
 
Me: Why?
 
Him: Let me take you for a meal and a glass of wine. Yuh so stress out.
 
Me: No, I’m good. I want to go home and rest.
 
Him: I’m not taking no today. A glass of wine maybe two and maybe we could go dinner.
 
Me: What the what? (the edited version posted here)
 
He went on to discuss the relaxing benefits of wine, something a wine lover like myself needed no education in. I sat in the front seat seething with anger, but too tired to say anything. It was not the first time he had asked me out and was met with the same resounding ‘no‘. I was tired and wanted to be home so I could shower and figure things out. But he had other plans and kept persisting. He then suggested that after wine, we could perhaps take a walk on the beach. I recoiled in the seat and stifled the urge to barf up my last meal. I summoned my remaining energy to tell him that I thought he was inappropriate for asking me out when he lived with a woman I happen to know quite well. His reply was that he was just trying to help me unwind and she did not have to know. He got quiet for a minute or so and started up again.
 
Me: Let’s put aside the fact that I’ve said no many times and you live with a woman, okay? You do know I have someone in my life right? You’ve met him and he has a lot of respect for you. So should I mention this to him?
 
Him:  Nah, you don’t have to tell him nothing man, come on. How allyuh woman so boy?
 
Finally. Message registered.
 
I got home that night feeling tired, defeated and a bit like a failure. Here I am, a progressive and forward-thinking woman, having to defend myself, my space, and reduced to threatening intervention from le boy, to get a lecherous old dude to back off. I’m a big girl with granny panties to prove it, yet check this shit! I did not feel strong or empowered. I crawled into bed and fancied that tomorrow would be better.
It’s Sunday and I’m about to be mobile again. Yay! My real soldier checks me early in the morning to sort of my tyre business. As I got into the truck, my thoughts are on how I was going to salvage the rest of my weekend and I failed to see the way he was looking at my rear.
 
Girl go and change that big panty on yuh. Who you feel you going behind? Yuh bam bam looking good but that big draws printing up. Watch how yuh spoiling the people leggins’.
 
Objectification and judgment from a male friend who should know better always riles me up. My interest was in getting a tyre changed. Not to look good for him. Changing a tyre is not an occasion to dress up for or wear underwear with a more visually appealing panty line. At least to me. And besides, I like big, granny panties. There, I said it. They’re comfortable and I dress with that in mind first. I couldn’t see why that upset him so much that he needed to vocalize it. I won’t tell you what I told him here, but he got some choice words. Much of it was obscene, colorful. This same dude last week made mention of how my stomach was sticking out and I needed to lose weight. Bear in mind we both just came from a business lunch and he wasn’t in better physical shape than me! The irony – his girlfriend is at least fifty pounds heavier than me! I wonder if he harassed her about her weight and her ever-expanding waist line? I’d give up my next cup of coffee or glass of wine to be a fly on the wall to see that exchange. I’d probably fly over and crap on him, for giving her flack!
 
Tyre business now sorted, I went to Grand Anse to grab some lunch. There, I got into a conversation with an acquaintance and his friend. Initially friendly, the friend started asking about tattoos. We spoke casually and then he started discussing piercings.
 
Him: I like tats, dey sexy, but not tongue piercings. I cyan be attracted to a woman with a tongue piercing. Them gyal and dem so usually some ghetto bitches.
Me: My tongue is pierced! I’m just not wearing it now. So how does that change your view of me now?
Him: (Pause) Huh! Then I’m not attracted to you anymore, he said with a half laugh.
 
Aww snap! I’m so losing sleep tonight over a guy I just met ten minutes earlier who no longer has an attraction to me because of a tongue ring he did not see. Psych.
 
Next stop – the barbershop. Sitting in that barbershop was a very educational and disheartening experience. Listening to the men talk as women passed by made me feel invisible and disrespected. Who want she? Nah boy she mileage high.’ Yeah jedd is she I want to shave top and down below’. ‘Bambam have cushion for pushing’. At that last one all the men in the barbershop roared with laughter, and the girl in the short dress and ample behind looked back with a curious gaze. The fact that they could converse so openly in front of me while I sat there stunned and stony-faced tells another story, too.
 
Sometimes, it’s hard to be a woman. And as a woman who is an advocate for women, I have an acute distaste for many of the ways men relate to and engage with women. I see it often and I never hesitate to address it. I have high expectations of my male friends and I’m quick to call them on their bullshit, but sometimes, it gets tiring. And sometimes, I can tell they think I need to lighten up and stop being a feminist bitch as one former friend bluntly put it. Maybe I do need to lighten up and not be a feminist bitch. I know I need to pick my battles. But the more I realize how pervasive this judgment, harassment and objectification of women is by the male gaze, the more I need to speak up.
 
Men, you need to understand that we need our space. That our no means no, that we don’t have to like you or want the ‘pleasure’ of your company. We have a right to not be touched, not be accosted, not be harassed, not be relentlessly hit on. I don’t enjoy using my headphones as a buffer when I share spaces with you. I don’t feel I need to dress for your pleasure. I don’t want to be whistled at or cat-called when I drive by. And I would rather if you don’t call me a ho when I ignore or reject your advances. I don’t need to hear how you appreciate and admire my body and I certainly don’t want to hear what you want to do with it, no matter how worth my while you think it would be.
 
Can our men change? Can we change? This thing ain’t simple. It runs deep. It’s almost as if it is ingrained in our culture. It’s not something that will change overnight, especially when men don’t recognize it, women don’t speak up about it and the culture subtly promotes our objectification and the encroachment of our boundaries and personal space.
 
My dear, this is how it is. Changing this sort of behavior isn’t easy; we meet is so, sometimes men don’t even notice it. This is me paraphrasing le boy when I shared these feelings with him. And to a degree he is right. I could tell that this conversation made him uncomfortable, and that perhaps he was mentally checking himself to assess how often he had been on the offending end.
 
Babes you don’t really see it or experience it because you are not an ‘other’. You inherently derive benefits, privileges and certain passes because you are a man. You will never truly appreciate what it is to be a woman.
 
I tried my best to explain to him that just as there is something call white privilege, there is also male privilege . I then try to show him how it manifests itself. He listens, he agrees and I sincerely hope he understands. I’m grateful that I can have this sort of discourse with him and that he patiently listens to me wax philosophical about these and other matters and he never tries to shut me down. I’m opinionated. I think sometimes it’s not easy for him.
 
Uncomfortable. That is how I feel sometimes as a woman in this skin. Don’t get me wrong, I inhabit my body in all ways, but this discomfort goes beyond me feeling loving and full and at home in my skin. I’m uncomfortable when a guy looks at me as if he is undressing me. I’m uncomfortable when my value and worth as a woman is defined by my physical and what a man sees when he sees my outer shell. I am uncomfortable because oftentimes, I am not seen beyond my curves, the clothes I wear or my occasional bold hair color. I am not this hair, I am not this skin. I am complex, I am layered, I am rich and textured and I’m all sorts of effing awesomeness. Dude, I am so much more than you see with your eyes. I have so much more to offer than the treasure between my thighs. And worth much more than a chic to look good at your side (rhyming not intentional, I just spit prose like that 🙂 ).
 
So see the me beyond this brown skin. Suspend your judgement until you know me. Respectfully approach me with your feelings. And respect my personal space, my right to decline your propositions, my right to be. I could be your sister, your lover, your daughter. Treat me with respect and give me the honor I deserve simply because I am human, then woman. And know that as human, it is my right to be respected. That is all. The end!
Carlana Charles is the visionary and editor-in-chief of FemmePowered. She is a womanist, writer, speaker, story midwife and facilitator of meaningful and engaging conversations. When she is not working in or on FemmePowered, she can be found resting, baking, reading or scribbling furiously in her journal whilst sipping wine or coffee, sometimes both at the same time. She is currently working on her first book and hopes to release it in September 2017.
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3 Comments

  1. April 17, 2017 / 8:00 pm

    Good grief!!!! That’s a LOT to take on for even the strongest woman. I have to say I haven’t been cat-called a lot in life nor have I been around men talking about women in such ways so I don’t have much personal experience. Every now and again maybe, but not as much as what you went thru! However, this kind of behaviour is prevalent in my culture (in India specifically). Women are tormented daily and men don’t seem to understand the word “NO”. Sorry you had to go thru all of that. And no please don’t lighten up. We turn to empowered women like you to keep our standards ever high and don’t settle for less than who we are. Blessings and love x

    • Carlana
      April 18, 2017 / 8:18 am

      Thank you again! Your words are always encouraging.

  2. April 22, 2017 / 12:28 am

    This post made me cringe. I can’t stand when a man cannot understand NO. I have been in your shoes in the passenger seat getting the same bullshit talk and fuming wondering when this idiot would just stop because “Queen nice” don’t want to hurt his feelings and tell him fuck off. That is a problem……most of us grow up being “nice” not wanting to offend and so we stay quiet and don’t vocalize our disdain. It’s soooo annoying.

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