Street Light Stories
This story was originally published by The Ladies Network under the title "How I've Learned To Bond With Other Women Over Experiences With Sexism"
This morning I was feeling good about myself. This is something I relish as a young woman, a less frequent occurrence than one might hope. Waking up in the morning, scrutinising your body – this vessel of flesh that you exist in every day – and feeling some form of satisfaction, or at least not pure disgust. I proceeded to get dressed in a new skirt, paired with a couple of old favourites to piece together an outfit that allowed me to be confident, albeit cold, and proceeded to leave the house. I plugged my headphones in and left the house, jamming to Slick Rick, bobbing along the street and soaking up the rare gaze of the winter sun. In front of me, a woman exited her house looking great, her stride confident and well-rehearsed. I admired her patent leather boots from a couple of metres behind. Our paces equalised and we met at the traffic lights on the next block, standing next to each other but very much occupying our own thoughts.
A white Mercedes pulled up to the traffic lights, at which point the male driver wound down the window and began to incessantly beep his horn at us, a distressingly common, and overtly misogynistic attention grabbing technique practiced by young (and old) men the world over. Suddenly, me and this woman turned to each other, and smiled a knowing smile at one another, both of us evidently familiar with the ways in which our bodies are objectified and sexualised while simply walking on the street. In a moment of magic, as if our thoughts had synchronised, we flipped the bird at the guy and in unison said, “Fuck Off!”
As we crossed the road we began to chat, I expressed to her that I dressed in a certain way purely for myself, (and perhaps sometimes my boyfriend) because it helped me to feel good, fighting against the abundant forces that attempt to rid women of any pride in their body, it’s a nice practice of defiance to look pretty solely for your own sense of self. She agreed, “I’m a nurse, I work long night shifts and often feel pretty shitty in the aftermath, for me looking good is a practice of self-care and preservation.” She said. We continued to chat as we walked along, united by the experience, which, despite impure intentions, had in fact brought us together through some twisted form of relatability and sisterhood. Sharing in our disgust, had empowered us to form a connection, and fight back, unified.
On the one hand, this is sad, that women must endure this sort of frequent torment throughout their lives. This is not a one off experience, in fact I recall the first time I was “beeped at”, being in my early teens, when sexuality was a foreign expression, and my body was slowly growing into itself. On the other hand, our ability to forge a common connection over the sexualisation of OUR bodies was also sort of a beautiful product of this man’s ill intent.
I am certainly a feminist, and have been brought up in such a way that I am confident in my abilities and strong in my refusal to take shit from any man, whether it be the Mercedes driving asshole or any other behavioural manifestation of the patriarchy in which we all operate.
I often remark that feminism for me unfolds in the smallest of circumstances, the discomfort of being talked over in a predominantly male atmosphere, or feeling belittled because of my outspoken personality and the confidence pervasive in my voice. I am aware, however, that I create an environment that minimises others ability to demean me. Because I’ve been brought up with a mother who has always worked and been professionally successful I don’t have an image of myself of a subordinate subject which in turn creates a set of principles about how I am in the world that demands respect, and relays my sense of individual dignity.
The times I engage with feminism most, are the times I tend to think about it least, such as while I walk along the street. Whilst I can talk about feminism in a conceptual sense (and don’t shy away from doing so), I only realise my own feminist sensibility when it is questioned or tested. When you are a white, educated woman you don’t really start to hit discrimination before you head up the Escalon of power, with the exception of outright experiences like this one, where as a young woman your body is constructed in a particular way in public space that is ubiquitous to men. We live in a world that isn’t safe for us, despite occupying so much of it. I will never have the indulgence of feeling totally safe, confident and unscrutinised in public, in my own space, in my own world, on my own street.