Saturday, 22 September 2012

[Insert witty breast-related pun here]

Kate Middleton’s boobs are everywhere, both in the flesh and spirit. That sounds like the plot of a horror film in itself (“Nooooo, we’re surrounded, I’m suffocating!”). But what I really want to bring to your attention is how boobs are somehow capable of turning normal, rational people into adipose-for-brains morons. Not coming to a cinema near you - Attack of the Insidious Mind-Control Mammaries.

What is this post all about?, I here you ask. To answer that question, let’s go back more than fifteen years to when Kat (that’s me, hi everyone!) was an immature, average-looking, shy/slightly weird fourteen-year-old. Six months later, young Kat looked and acted pretty much the same apart from two not-so-small changes. And, with the materialisation of those breasts, there came a complete annihilation of teenage Kat’s faith in humanity.

Men old enough to be her father asking her out and getting angry when she politely declined, van-drivers slowing down to shout suggestions of what they wanted to do to her breasts, every tenth car holding down their horns as they passed her, wolf-whistles, strangers staring at her chest while licking their lips or nudging their mates, men ‘accidentally’ touching her on the train. Every day, all the time, until it gradually tailed off when she was around 22.

Friends were jealous, her mother answered her unease with “you should be flattered!”, other women gave her dirty looks when she inspired explicit requests from men. And it wasn't sexual harassment or, on the occasions when their hands slipped or they tripped or whatever, sexual assault. Those things were dark and menacing, confined to shadowy alleyways and drunk girls stumbling alone out of seedy bars in the early hours. Not something constant and blazon and backlit by bright daylight.

Now here's where I attempt to make my point in an oh-so-clever way. Here's a quick test: reading the above, did you think a) wow, that's shitty, b) stop exaggerating, that's ridiculous, or c) wow, it must be hard being soooo pretty. Stop boasting and get over yourself?

See my big problem isn't really with the men who thought nothing of propositioning the teenage me. What makes me unbelievably sad is all the nice, reasonable, respectful people who roll their eyes when I try to explain that there's something very wrong with society's attitudes to women. We are constantly bombarded with images of female sexual availability - advertising, music videos, daily tabloids that celebrate male achievements and female mammaries. The message is that it's OK to ogle women's bodies in public, that secretly photographing celebrities without their clothes is something that they kind of asked for when they became famous, that treating women like sexual objects when they clearly don't want to be treated that way is perfectly fine.

"So don't read The Sun," people say, failing to realise that even they have come to accept the objectification of women as not a big deal. The kind of harassment I experienced has been normalised to the point that people judge me as arrogant or boasting or, at best, overly-dramatic or a boring feminist when I try to talk about it.

I look around my train and try to work out which of the normal, polite suited-up business men, were I still a teenager, would be the ones to lose their self-control and start aggressively hitting on me. And which of the better behaved men and women would think I'd somehow asked to be harassed or would just accept it as normal.

Trying to explain to a non-believer how the over-sexualisation of women in the media harms us all is on a par with those little photos of rotten internal organs on cigarette packets. Smokers ignore the pictures, non-smokers such as myself get all worked up about all the passive smoke we may once have inhaled back when it was acceptable for people to exhale toxic chemicals on their friends. The people who need to be convinced aren’t even listening.

But when you tell me that it is natural for men to want to look at breasts, or 'jokingly' ask why I am such a man-hating feminist who wants to ban sex, or inform me that underwear adverts objectify men and it is no different, or roll your eyes and just change the subject, to me it sounds like you're basically saying that you don't think I have any reason to be upset and that I should just 'take the compliment'. That you think it's fine for certain men to treat a woman's breasts as if they are public property - whether they're a fifteen-year-old girl or the future queen.

The image at the top is borrowed from the awesome Indexed. Go check her other charts and stuff, they are very cool.

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