A few weeks ago, inspired by my blog post here about the challenges of using my male-dominated gym, I was explaining to the male math teacher in the classroom next to mine what it’s like for me there. His response was something along the lines of, “but doesn’t that just mean you have a kickin’ body?” I was floored, and as usual with me, my best response wasn’t formulated until hours after the conversation. Here is what I wished I’d said:
I want to make it clear, when I am explaining to you about the persistent harassment I receive, I am not tacitly bragging about my sexual appeal. I am not proud of the amount of attention my body gets, and I am usually not flattered when that attention is given. It isn’t fun, cute, or flirtatious to be stared-at, cat-called, leered-at, or followed.
At best, it’s annoying. At worst, it’s threatening and scary. When I am given this unwanted attention, I am immediately put on guard. The person doing it invariably has more power than me, is usually bigger than me, and often has a friend with them. If they are willing to cross one boundary of socially acceptable behavior, what other boundaries are they willing to cross?
So, when I’m explaining to you about how I have stopped running in my neighborhood after a couple of guys followed me for nearly a block in their pick-up truck, don’t think I’m really trying to bring attention to my ass. When I say I have changed my lifting routine so I don’t have to use the cable machine in the center of the room where I get stared at, don’t think I’m pointing out the curve of my cleavage.
It isn’t an accident that women who have faced sexual trauma are much more likely to have significantly higher body fat. (The last data I saw was something like 60-80% of those with “morbid obesity” were predicted to be sexual assault survivors.) It is a real and challenging downside to being a smaller size that I was not prepared for–it is hard to explain how often I feel less safe as a result of the increased attention. It is a near-daily pressure that I must navigate. I am not convinced it is always worth it.
It isn’t fun to be afraid. It isn’t flattering to be harassed. I have a right to move through the world and be safe, feel safe, and to go about my business without being treated like I’m an object on display.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, OR.