No touching

I was on my way home the other night, riding a fully packed tram, standing by the doors, when three guys got onboard. Since there was no way to get further inside the tram they stood next to me by the doors. The tram left the station and as it accelerated one of the guys who didn’t have anything to hold onto bumped into me. Fine, whatever, it happens. He regained his footing, I gave him an “Ok no worries” smile, he winked at me, and then I turned my head back facing the doors and kept listening to the music blasting in my headphones. That would have been just fine, just one of those small unimportant incidents in your life, but the story did not end there. A few seconds after me turning my head back, the guy started putting his hands on and around my waist, grabbing a hold of me. For a split second when I first felt his hand land on me I thought he had lost his balance again, but I very soon noticed that this was not the case. He just took the liberty of grabbing me by the waist, holding on to me. I immediately tried prying his hands off me, and he tried incessantly to keep them there. After some very uncomfortable seconds I got him off me, with some help from his two friends who were there all along, looking, half-laughing. I then moved my headphones off one of my ears and gave one of his friends a look that said: “If this guy does not stop right now there will be hell to pay.” The guy must have understood it since he then got hold of his friend and pulled him slightly away from me. The rest of the journey home I felt uneasy, getting more and more infuriated, and I kept noticing that they were looking at me, finding it all funny. I was angry, but not only that. I was also afraid. The thoughts circling through my mind; what if they get off at the same station as I? What if they keep bothering me? What if they follow me home? What if.. I don’t even want to go there..

Nothing more happened that night, I got off at my station, they stayed on the tram, still, I walked faster than ever, glancing backwards until I was safe inside my apartment. Is this the way it is supposed to be? Should girls and women have to be this scared walking home alone? Should they have to be assaulted just by riding a tram? Of course it could have been worse, of course some may say: Oh come on he just grabbed you by the waist what’s the big deal?! Well this is the big deal: It’s my waist, my body, and my rules. I did not ask nor did I wish to be touched or grabbed like that, not by him, not by anyone. Neither I, nor anybody else, should have to be touched or grabbed by anyone if they don’t want to. Nobody should put their hands like that on anyone unless they have consent.

This was not the first, or the worst, time a boy, guy or man put his hands on me, without my permission, and it will most likely, unfortunately, not be the last. Just knowing this, makes me feel sick to my stomach. When will this type of behaviour die out? When will it actually become unacceptable, unimaginable, for guys to put their hands on girls willy-nilly? Will it ever happen? I want to say yes, but my gut says no.

At least now I know better than to let them, but growing up, this was not the case. In school, through 1st to about 8-9th grade, us girls, me included, not just accepted guys touching us whenever they felt like it, but it was also more or less encouraged. I grew up thinking something like: “If a boy touches me (inappropriately) then that means that he likes me, or at least thinks I’m cute, and that is what’s important, so even if I don’t feel like being touched right there and then, I should accept and enjoy it, cause us girls are supposed to be touched by boys.” Basically, our self-worth could pretty much be measured by the amount of times some boy grabbed or pinched our behinds. This however, did not work the other way around, it was always: Boys touching, Girls being touched, i.e. Boys = Subject, Girls = Object. Thinking back, I understand why I, and other girls had this type of reasoning, because this is how we, all of us, girls and boys, were brought up. This is what our culture, religion and society has ingrained in us. It’s a disease really, and it should be dealt with as such. I wish there was an easy fix, a smart little pill you can take to make it all change, but it does not work like that. Norms and behaviour take time and effort to alternate; it takes time to learn that you can and should say no when you don’t want someone touching you, it takes time to learn that you are not for anyone else, it takes time to learn how to look but not touch, it takes time and experience to understand the difference between a subject and an object, and to further grasp that you, as a person, are always the first of the two, no matter what gender you subscribe to.

Now I know better, I know that I am not a passive object like the majority of women displayed in the media and ads. I own my own body, I have my own rules regarding it, I am not mute, I am not inanimate, I am not here for your amusement or pleasure, I do not give you permission to touch me whenever or wherever you want.

And if you disobey my rules, there will be hell to pay.

Boobies, baths and beyond

I recently came across a story that happened one year ago, but can still be considered pretty current. It was about two women in Sweden who went to a bathhouse and bathed topless, if you can read Swedish you can check it out here, for all you others I will sum it up: So basically the women just wanted to bathe topless  cause that was more comfortable for them, but when the security guards saw them they were confronted about it. They debated for a while about the unfairness of it all, since men are allowed to bathe in just swimming trunks, why should this not be OK for women? Eventually they got kicked out of the bathhouse and demanded their money back, which they also got.

After the incident the women started a petition for allowing women to bathe topless in the bathhouse if they so chose, they gathered hundreds of names and marched right down to the bathhouse supervisor with their list of names. A month or so later, you could see this story, which said that the women had got what they demanded; the bathhouse had changed their rules and now women could, if they wanted to, bathe topless.

I was delighted to hear that the women were taken seriously by the bathhouse and that they actually took action. This might not be an enormous cause for equality, but hey, every step we take is valuable. What is interesting though, is why this was even an issue to begin with.

Women have breasts, get over it. Breasts are not dangerous to look at, they are simply, breasts. The problem is that breasts, at least female breasts, have in our culture and society become sexualized. I am not sure why, since their primary function is to produce and dispense milk for babies, and how sexy is that really? It’s just a biological function. But since men’s breasts are different, for starters they do not produce or dispense anything, also they are (usually) smaller, it kind of becomes an issue. Everything that sets women apart from men is basically an issue, since the male body is, and has always been, the norm. It’s ridiculous really, that we even now, in 2015, have to be ashamed or feel weird about a pair of breasts. That we have to cover them up as if the mere sight of them will blind someone, or that they might poke somebody’s eyes out.

They’re just breasts. Take it easy.

The “Sex Sells” conundrum

Just read this interesting article with Jean Kilbourne, and as always, she continues to inspire me with hope. I know things are looking grim in this field, but it’s a matter of spreading awareness, of voicing your concerns, of saying No when you’ve had enough.

I think there is a paradox surrounding the world of sexist ads: they all seem to stick to the cliché that “sex sells”. However, there is no real way of knowing how true this is. Since advertisers sell “sex”, people buy “sex”. It’s as simple as that. And when they stop selling it, people will stop buying it. This is the conundrum, kind of like the egg and the hen; which came first? Which is the result of what? Just because A: people buy products with sexist ads, does not necessarily mean B: sexist ads increase product sales. I mean, I don’t really believe that people way-back-when started to riot on the streets and demand that the ads be sexier, rather, the ads became sexier, and the people adjusted, more or less, to this kind of imagery. Nevertheless, even the ads that do not use the “sex sells” argument manage to sell their products. How on earth they do that is beyond me, I mean really, no sexual imagery, no objectification, and people still buy things?! Wow.. (I am re-he-heeeally trying to underline my sarcasm here, hope it shows..). So, basically, there is no proof that ads using sex should sell more than those that don’t, however, they might well sell a whole lot nowadays, since this is the imagery we have gotten used to. BUT, just because you are used to something, does not mean it is good. It does not mean that it shouldn’t change. So instead of clinging to the “sex sells” argument, how about trying to prove it wrong instead?

I remember a couple of years ago I was watching television, the Swedish channel 6, when this ridiculously sexist commercial came on. It was about the fact that the channel was now going to show two films each Friday, and for that, they decided to cut in images of half naked women in between the clips of the movies that were airing. Their tagline was something like this: “Do you like double-sandwiches? How about this double-sandwich?” (Cut: half naked lady, clip from movie, half naked lady). Very clever indeed… Needless to say, I was shocked in disbelief for about a minute after seeing the commercial, then the shock dissolved into complete rage and frustration. I immediately sat down by the computer, googled the channel to get hold of their contact info and then I set out to write an e-mail voicing my disgust and anger towards their utterly stupid and degrading commercial.

The next day I got to read an article stating that the channel had stopped airing their commercial due to many people contacting them and accusing them of sexism. I was happy to read that there were more people than me who got upset and took action, cause that is exactly what is needed in situations like these. Just as Kilbourne argues:

“The best bet is to put your money where your values are, and if you don’t support Calvin Klein, tell them you can’t stand the way they advertise.”

Really, it’s as simple as this: When you see sexist and objectifying ads and commercials that upset you, instead of ignoring them and moving on, why not speaking up about it? Explaining why they bother you directly to the source, demanding that they stop using the same tired imagery that degrades and dehumanizes both women and men. If more people did this, I am sure we would eventually see some changes around us. If more people expressed their concerns and frustrations, the advertisers would not be able to get away with the “sex sells” argument anymore. And how nice would that be, for a change?