Tuesday, September 17, 2013
I am a feminist. And I like it when strangers whistle at me.
I am a feminist. I like it when strangers whistle at me on the street. And I don’t think these things are contradictory.
Lately I’ve seen a few Facebook posts by women who are offended when they’re complimented by strangers. I don’t understand this. Perhaps some women feel that because they are perceived as sexual beings, they can no longer be perceived also as intelligent, political, socially engaged beings. I disagree.
According to Merriam-Webster, “feminism” is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” I’m all for those things. I want to be paid the same as my male colleagues. I deserve to have the same political power as any man. I am as engaged and intelligent as the men in my community.
But there’s no denying that human beings are by nature sexual, and we humans react to each other in ways that are not purely cerebral. That will never change, no matter how much homo sapiens “evolve.” And why would we want it to change? Sexual recognition is, to me, an acknowledgment that I am an engaged member of the species homo sapiens. I am alive. I am a physical being as well as an emotional one. Sexual acknowledgment feels exciting.
As teenagers, we all recognized that sexual acknowledgment was fun. A teenaged boy hungrily smiles at an unfamiliar teenaged girl; she giggles and bats her eyes and thinks, Squeee! I’m having a good day!
Somewhere along the way as we age, society urges us to stop perceiving widespread sexual attraction as fun and natural. “Sophisticated women” start perceiving that stranger’s hungry smile as dangerous or insulting or low-class. We learn that strong-minded feminists are not supposed to appreciate the cat-calls. We’re supposed to turn up our noses and walk away feeling indignant and violated. Where I grew up in Alabama, a “proper” middle-class woman would never deign to acknowledge a compliment from a man on the street. Only “trashy” girls smile at the construction workers.
I give that hierarchical, closed-minded mentality the proverbial finger. Personally, I actually like that, to some people, I am not ONLY perceived as a smart person, or a political person, or a social person, but also a sexual person.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not going to follow some stranger home and let him bend me over a couch just because he whistled at me. I’m a married woman, and I don’t share myself around.
And I’m not naïve. I know that some comments from strangers are not innocent compliments. I am not a fan of comments from strangers that are threatening, or hostile, or invasive.
But a whistle and smile from a passerby? I’ll take it.
I’m acutely aware that as I get older, I turn fewer and fewer heads. That’s fine, but it’s also a little sad. I hope that even when I’m 80, there’s someone out there who will whistle at me, so that I can relish that I’m still simmering with brains and curiosity and creativity and at least some remnant of sensual charisma.