This morning, I was about to walk past a couple of construction workers on my street. Young English lads, quite good looking. One of them said: ‘Sorry, love, you need to go around,’ pointing at the enclosure he had made on the sidewalk.
I said ‘No worries,’ and stepped onto the street.
‘Good morning!’ said the other lad, loudly.
I turned my face to him, smiled and said ‘Good morning.’
‘It’s nice to see you’ve got a face,’ he said as I walked on, putting my earphones into my ears and not looking back.
Something about the way they looked at me, predatory, like a lion tantalising a gazelle, made me feel uneasy. It reminded me of my vulnerability. It reminded me that in Romania during my teens I used to constantly be a target for any fucker who passed by wishing to tell me that I had an ugly face but thank God for my big jugs. It is only because of the way society changed and because of the rights we women have (fought for to) have now that we are no longer the target of this predatory behaviour every single day. But when it happens…
I was at a loss of how to respond to the two workers. Ignoring them seemed the least confrontational way and it was exactly what I did. Because this is how I had learned to cope with unwanted attention: by quietly and unobtrusively removing myself from their space. Becoming a shadow, an nonthreatening presence that might, just might, get away with not being hurt.
I didn’t think about it. I just reacted the way I had learned and practiced throughout my 37 years on this planet. But on my way to the train station I became angry. Why hadn’t I stopped and gave them a bit of bollocking? Because it wasn’t what they said (which was actually polite) but how they said and the way they looked at me. With… I don’t even know how to call it, it wasn’t lust. I may be pretty enough on a good hair day but I wasn’t the most beautiful creature they’d ever seen. It was probably the knowledge that if they wanted they could have grabbed me and overpowered me but for the time being they were happy enough to look at me. If I was going to say something, what could I have said?
Even though I grew up in a patriarchal society (communist Romania) and witnessed my mother being abused by my father on a daily basis, it took me over 30 years to become a feminist. I was so well conditioned, that I didn’t see a gap between men and women. I didn’t question my instinctive reaction to pacify a man and to avoid conflict at all cost. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I figured it out: as long as we are the target of any kind of abuse (physical, verbal, emotional, political, economical), we are not equal and we are certainly not safe.
I became more of a feminist since I got married, realising that I have a duty to myself and to all the other women out there to stand my ground both in society, and most importantly in my own home, because that’s where our power is either forged or taken away.
I became a feminist because, even though we’ve gained a lot of rights in the last 50 – 60 years is nowhere near enough. I was shocked to learn how recently women gained the right to vote in the UK, a country I considered equal and fair. It’s all too fresh still to think we are out of the woods. And with European societies leaning more and more towards right-winged extremism, we have got to hold on to all power we’ve got.
Today let us think about this. Maybe we are feminists. But let us ask ourselves why.
Happy International Women’s Day!