I used to get really angry when men would whistle at me or try to pick me up or say “Dddaaaaaammmnnn” when I walked by them. If I was wearing something revealing I would inevitably feel shame too. I was sure that I had “asked for it” and that this meant I was a very bad girl. (Turns out I am, and that’s a good thing, but that’s another blog.)Today, I smile back at whoever is paying me the compliment (because, yes, I think it’s a compliment when a man notices my beauty in a playful way) and say thank you. I have had men hang out of car windows and yell at me about my beautiful ass, I have had them wave politely from trucks, I have had them smile at me across cafes, I have had them stare unabashedly at me in bars and I have had them stop me in the streets to tell me I’m beautiful and ask me if I have boyfriend. I always respond with kindness. If they try to pick me up I politely tell them I am not available. Most men back off. Most men are grateful that I did not verbally emasculate them for paying me a compliment and taking the initiative to try and introduce themselves.
I don’t find most male attention demeaning or threatening. Even more importantly, because I engage men, I know when it IS truly threatening (versus judgmental, or just playful, or a little rude) and that makes me feel safer in the world. Maybe I sound completely naïve. But let me tell you, my approach towards men today works far, far better then the shut down, fear-based responses I used to take with them.
And yet, while I think women need to be more open to positive male attention, and recognize that most men do not want to hurt them, it’s my belief that the ultimate responsibility for safety lays not in a woman and her choice in dress and behavior, but in the man who is giving the attention. The idea that it is EVER a woman’s fault for any kind of boundary violation – including unwanted, unkind attention – is the same mentality that puts rape squarely on the victim’s shoulders. “She was asking for it.” Bullshit. As men, it is your job to learn to control your instincts, learn to respect women in all their states of dress and undress and take responsibility for your reactions to your own arousal, disgust, pleasure or whatever else comes up when you see the female form. And until that happens, not a whole lot is going to change in the world.