Monday, July 20, 2015

To age out of Slutwalk feminism

Predictably, the Internet is denouncing Jessica Valenti's column about her feminist qualms with missing getting catcalled. Predictably, because for the tell-it-like-it-is pop-evo-psych crowd, it's too easy: Aha!, they exclaim, Women do like getting catcalled! And extra-aha, even professional feminists realize 36 is over the hill!

But allow me, a woman who will - knock on wood against streetcar derailment - see my mid-30s sooner rather than later, to come to the piece's defense. Online feminism has long tilted maybe a bit too much to a very specific plight: that of the pretty young woman. I'm not talking about issues like assault and domestic violence, whose disproportionate impact is on women, period. Nor am I talking about the sort of street harassment that's about intimidation (generally of young girls). When I, someone to whom the 'if you look 25 or under, you'll be carded' signs don't apply, opt not to go deep into a city park at night, this despite that being my country dog's preferred toilet, it's not because I'm concerned that someone in the park will find me spectacularly good-looking.

What I'm referring to are cases like... the plight that is getting ogled and hit on constantly even though you're engaged. This is quite simply not an issue for all women.* I point this out not to hurl a YPIS (your privilege is showing) at online feminism (it's awfully contextual whether male attention is even "privilege"), but because of the "all women" meme, hashtag, etc., that's developed around these topics. As comes through clearly in the comments threat to that post, quite a few women get why constant attention would be annoying, but who haven't been harassed and can't personally relate, and aren't entirely pleased that this isn't something they experience. (And then there are the women with "resting bitch face," who fall somewhere in between; we're the ones who know our day is up when men stop asking us to smile.)

So yes, there is some value in an online feminism that recognizes female ambivalence to male street-attention. Is this, as topics go, a little slow-news-day? Yes. Might Valenti have pointed out that "lascivious stares" can be an ego boost to those of all genders, and, at that, even if the admirers aren't of the gender you yourself admire? Yes, that too, but the fact that she did not doesn't negate the rest.

Anyway, something I've found, as I've become moderately ancient, is that my personal style has shifted more towards looks that are... conventionally attractive? flattering?, and away from more eccentric styles. Not for would-be street harassers, who I'm quite confident won't confuse me with Gisele no matter how I dress or do my hair. Just for, I don't know, what was referred to, in my distant childhood, as "self-esteem." It's as if I have some subconscious desire to balance things out - whereas I used to be able to rely on youth as an accessory, and to wear (or buy with intent to wear**) sillier outfits, not to deflect the Male Gaze, but because I liked the looks, I now think, hmm, that dress from the cool Korean store may be $29 (CAD), and have a floral, Elaine Benes quality, but it also fits like a potato sack... and then end up down the street at the yoga store that shall not be named (cheaper in Canada, but still not cheap), where I instead buy a fitted tank top. Not an adventurous choice or an interesting one, but it has the potential to make me look, if nothing else, non-sloppy. And (not to get too practical, weather- and appropriateness-wise) to be worn as a base layer under other things. It's not a mutton-dressed-as-lamb (to use an awful expression) thing, exactly, since neither the Before look nor the After one is particularly va-va-voom. It's just... the dress was so fun! And so clearly not the right choice. To me, this - more than the absence of street harassers/street admirers - is the real disappointment.

*OK, a caveat - according to BBC Woman's Hour, which I take as infallible, "100%" of women who ride the Paris Metro report harassment, which, having spent the summer when I started getting called ma'am/madame in Paris and deflecting street harassment beyond what I'd experienced in New York since my early teens, I don't find particularly hard to believe. A lot does come down to where you live, and my anecdotal (and thus probably way off) impression is that in Paris/France/Europe/not-America (and fictional Midsomer, especially), women of a certain age keep on getting attention from men, of the good-attention and bad-attention varieties.

**It's entirely possible that these clothing-related reflections are actually more about some recent KonMari-ing of my wardrobe, and the reckoning that can encourage. That dress had "going, barely worn, to thrift store" written all over it.

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