Feminism | Posted by Beatrice M on 08/4/2015

It’s Time To Stop Publicly Judging Women’s Bodies

Every form of public harassment has got to go

Every form of public harassment has got to go

One evening last week, I stopped at home after work to change my clothes before dance class. It was a hot day and I wanted to shed my workplace-appropriate pants in favor of more comfortable attire before heading downtown. Wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals, I boarded the subway.

Although there were plenty of open seats on the train, a man quickly sat down right next to me. Even though I was clearly listening to music, he decided to ask me a question. He asked how to transfer to a different train — was a typical one for tourists or people new to the city. I gave him a brief explanation and inserted my headphones back into my ears, thinking nothing of it.

But he continued to talk to me. I am a native New Yorker and have been trained to ignore strange men who do this, so I did just that. He persisted, so I lowered my music to hear what he was saying. To my surprise and disgust, he was berating me for my outfit. According to him, I was not dressed appropriately for New York City. If I were from here, he told me, I would know better than to expose so much of my legs (although, it’s worth noting, he was wearing a see-through tank top). He further attempted to justify his comments, telling me that he was only “protecting me from other men” and “I better listen to him if I didn’t want to be attacked.”

I was infuriated by this random, strange man telling me what I could or could not wear. I told him it was my body and I got to decide how to dress. He clearly wasn’t expecting this response and proceeded to look for others on the train to support his opinion. He began trying to talk to the other passengers about my inappropriate attire. No one said a word, but even so — and even though I was still 30 blocks from my studio — I quickly exited the train at the next stop and waited for the next one.

Unfortunately, this was hardly the first time I’ve been publicly harassed. I have been harassed on the street since I was thirteen years old. This persistent and personal form of harassment was unprecedented for me, though. Before this incident, no stranger had ever berated me for the specific way I was dressed.

This man may have thought he was “protecting” me, but in actuality his certainty that he had the right to tell another person to behave in a way that aligns with his worldview is part of a much bigger problem. Men feel that they are entitled to women’s bodies. They feel they have the right to control them. This is evident by just how rampant sexual harassment is, and even the fact that women’s reproductive rights are under attack in this country. Many men — and our society at large — still fails to comprehend that women’s bodies do not exist for their gaze and need not follow their rules.

I know that I should be able to wear as much or as little as I want. I know my body is mine and that I am the only one who should be allowed to control it. I will continue to vocally stand by this fact until everybody else understands that, too.

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