Today, as I was attempting to cultivate self care through exercise, a guy in a truck drove by and gave a cat call. My first instinct was not to be flattered. My first thought was “Are you f***ing kidding me?” I wanted to react, to object to his whistle and yell. I thought about flipping the guy off, but warnings about concealed weaponry prevented that course of action. (I’ll save that for another blog post.) I thought about yelling back, but of course feared that he would stop his vehicle and attack me. I thought about how angry I was that he could yell at me, but I, alone and female, could not yell at him. As my anger fueled my run, I was left with nothing but furor over my experience.
I could not believe that I, at almost 40, white legs flailing in defiance against my command to move forward, forehead furrowed by at least a thousand pain-forged frown lines, sweaty hair straggling limply behind a makeup free face, still had to suffer the indecency of a stranger’s leer. I know that some people might find my outrage surprising. I mean, shouldn’t I be elated that I can still attract male attention at my age? No. I should not be elated. No. I should be nothing but furious any time I attract attention couched within the problematic realm of the male gaze. To be fair, maybe, just maybe, there truly was something electrifying in the neon glare of my pale legs struggling against the waves of summer heat. Maybe, just maybe, the cat caller meant no disrespect. Unfortunately, if so, my cat caller needs to reevaluate the connotations inherent in his medium of delivery–a medium of delivery I cannot dissociate from the dangerous implications of the male gaze.
I don’t want to be gazed at–substitute objectified, ogled at, sexualized–without my permission. The type of male gaze engendering a cat call presupposes ideals with which I am at odds. The man in the truck who yelled at me did so from a stance of male superiority and assumed heterosexual preference. And, while I am, in fact, happily heterosexual, I have news for my cat caller; I’m running for a woman. I’m running for Mary Wollstonecraft; I’m running to be “a revolution in female manners;” and I’m running away from men like him. I am running away from a culture which enables, and often encourages, men to view women through a lens which divides the female body from the identity of the person possessing that body. I am more than the body my cat caller saw running. The Stanford rape victim is more than a body suffering the effects of too much alcohol. (Again, a topic for another blog post.) Women are more than the anatomical parts by which they are identified as female. We deserve to be admired for more. Had my cat caller yelled: “Way to be a strong ass woman who respects herself enough to exercise” from the window of his car, I might, just might, have winked at him. Oh, the irony!
“It is time to effect a revolution in female manners -time to restore to them their lost dignity – and make them, as a part of the human species, labour by reforming themselves to reform the world. It is time to separate unchangeable morals from local manners.”
“That women at present are by ignorance rendered foolish or vicious, is, I think, not to be disputed; and, that the most salutary effects tending to improve mankind, might be expected from a REVOLUTION in female manners, appears at least, with a face of probability, to rise out of the observation.”
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman