I don’t know what it was that convinced this man whom I didn’t know that it was appropriate to shamelessly ogle my body at a sex-positive, anti-slut shaming event, but I’m almost glad that he did.
He first made his presence known to me only thirty minutes prior at the #Fight4Her table I was helping manage, just across the walkway in front of Fretwell were the Slut Walk began.
Now, anyone who has volunteered for Fight4Her can tell you that we garner a wide range of both negative and positive attention; students and faculty passionate about our dedication to futhering international pro-choice policies, kids who sign because they don’t know how to say no (a personality trait I also feature, but more on that in a minute), and people who feel like they have to sign because they want a free button to add to their collection cumulating on their backpack. This guy I’d say fell into the last category. Another volunteer caught his attention first, so I let her take the lead and explain our mission to him while I stood behind the barrier of the folding table.
Several yards away, one of the officers for Sex Week made a quick announcement through her megaphone, halting the conversation between the boy and the volunteer. I think that’s when he noticed me.
He tried to hold back a laugh when he first saw what I was wearing, maybe to try and play off his surprise over myine wearing underwear in a public space in the middle of the afternoon. “Is that for the Slut Walk?” he asked, gesturing towards my outfit. I made a joke that I was only wearing my everyday clothes, before explaining that I was indeed planning to participate in the Walk. He noted that the event was for a good cause and that he agreed with their message. He proceeded to go stand with the rest of the growing number of students gathering near the steps of Fretwell, and when it was my turn to join them several minutes later, I headed over eagerly and took my place towards the back of the small yet vibrant crowd. We made eye contact and he walked over to me. I could tell where this was going. I’ve been there before, we all have; you’re minding your business and some random stranger comes over to try and get your number beneath the guise of innocent small talk. The way in which he looked at me up and down and smiled as he came my way made me cringe more than I already was. He said that he didn’t catch my name when we spoke before, and he asked a couple more, increasingly bizarre questions as he continued to stare at my chest and other parts of my body. I was already uncomfortable, but fortunately the keynote speaker for the event began her speech, temporarily coming to my rescue. However, once she was finished, his sights were set on me again. When I think of the way my name sounded coming out of his mouth, I grimace. “I think you’re really attractive and would love to get to know you better”.
I searched for the words to tell him that I was interested, because he creeped me out, but instead I felt compelled to lie. “I have a girlfriend. I don’t like boys,” I explained, shaking my head.
He made a face. “You’re a lesbian?” I was astonished. Not only was this guy shamelessly undressing me with his eyes, his homophobia was showing too (much like my butt in my infamously short shorts.) Next time I looked around, he was gone. He wasn’t there as an ally; he was there to assert his dominance over me. He stole my recent-found comfort in my own body as he took advantage of my vulnerability.
It didn’t occur to me until afterwards that I didn’t owe him an explanation for why I didn’t want to “get to know him better”. My firm no should have been enough.
“No means no!”; those are the words I chanted a mere ten minutes later with the rest of the other marchers. Why didn’t I take my own advice and tell him how I really felt; that he made me uncomfortable,that this demonstration wasn’t his chance to stare at half naked girls and see if he could ever get them alone, and that men like him were the reason why I marched. I don’t want women to feel disrespected based off of what they’re wearing, and for men to feel like the clothes covering (or not) their bodies are to get their attention.
Kid, I’m wearing “too short” shorts and lingerie because I can. If I really wanted your attention, I would’ve found my way to you first, instead of doing whatever I could to get away from you. I wear what I wear for me, and never will for people like you. Your opinion doesn’t matter enough to me.
The next time I’m put in a situation like that, where I’m being judged for my appearance, I’ll tell them what I should’ve told the random, misguided boy whose ignorance and disguised misogyny helped me to understand the value of my word.
“No. I’d rather not go out with you.” I’m already committed to loving my body unconditionally.