I read this feature on upskirting and the legal issues surrounding it on Salon, and felt a chill crawling up my spine the entire time I was reading it.
Walking around in Amman, I stick out like a sore thumb. People notice me, and sometimes they follow me, and sometimes I think I’ve noticed several people trying to photograph me (it happened so quickly, that I wasn’t sure what was going on). I feel especially vulnerable on escalators, even in a fairly conservative below-the-knee skirt.
The situation is even worse in Ukraine, where men just aren’t afraid to get caught doing this sort of thing. The only time I know I don’t have to worry about it, is when I’m walking around with a burly cousin or a male friend – because we all know that a woman only deserves basic respect if she “belongs” to another man. The rest of us? Fair game.
When harassment happens to me, my usual response is to laugh it off. I laughed for about an hour after some guy grabbed my ass on the metro in Kiev this summer, probably due to the fact that I had just been wondering why crude harassment of me had recently stopped.
But there is something particularly creepy about a guy getting so close, and then being able to take away a memento – a flash of panty, a bra strap, that he can then store on his hard-drive, wank off to, send to his friends, whilst bragging about the experience. When I put a picture of myself out on the Internet – I am in control, to a certain extent. Others can still wank off to it, or photoshop it, or whatever – but it’s still my picture, I created it.
“What about paparazzi? Or plain old journalists? Of which you are one?” A friend asked me recently. “Wouldn’t you say that invasion of privacy is already the norm in our society?”
Yes, it is, I think. But I also think that women are disproportionately targeted in this system, and that the upskirting and downblousing is used primarily to humiliate us.
I think objectification is pretty normal for our species and our societies – it’s a phenomenon much like the weather, which sometimes can be cruel. I objectify men all the damn time, and I can’t very well expect that others won’t look at me and do the same. Guys who look at me in the street aren’t doing so because they’re interested in my beautiful mind. That’s the reality. Even if I walk out sporting a niqab, they’ll fantasize about what’s underneath. What am I going to do to stop them? Poke their eyes out?
But I think it’s also worth mentioning that we specifically single out one gender and lay it all at this gender’s feet. There’s something particularly vicious about men who try to “lay claim” to a woman, even in a public space – vicious in the sense that they want to make her feel less than human. They think they are revealing her “true” nature, the nature of a slab of meat served up purely for their consumption, and they revel in this in cruel and bizarre ways.
These are the men who want to make you feel filthy, rotten, disgusting. They want to make you feel afraid and unsure of yourself. They aren’t just interested in offering a comment or a second glance, they think you are a bitch and a whore and a cunt for simply going about your business in public and allowing them notice you. They want to put you back in your “place,” as it may.
Personally, I have no problem with a guy saying “woooow” as he cruises by me while I walk to the gym or wait to catch a taxi to work, or whatever. I have a huge problem with men who try to intimidate me, though. The men that honk, and laugh when they see you startled, the men that follow you for block after block, even after you’ve made it expressly clear that you want nothing to do with them, the men that swear at you and block your path, or try to get all up close and personal with a sneaky little phone camera. They revel in your vulnerability. They want to see you hurt, afraid, humiliated, etc.
A few years ago, I was lunching with a friend in the center of Kiev, when a couple of guys at the table next to us asked to have their picture taken with her. They had been looking at her for a while, and they wanted something, a memento. Well, they asked.
My friend asked if they were going to pass around the picture to people back home (they weren’t from the city) and say, “oh yeah, that’s my girlfriend.”
They laughed, apologized, and went to retreat to their table, but she said “OK.” So they handed me the camera and I took the picture.
THAT I can understand.
Of course, you have to have both confidence and a belief that a woman is something other than meat being hunted for sport, to be able to simply ask for a photo, risking rejection in the process. Some guys? They think they’re too good even for that.