It can be flattering to be noticed and appreciated by men, and even other women. All women to some extent want to be desired. We want to feel noticed. We want to be seen. We want to feel beautiful.
So when a man notices our beauty, it’s nice. Sometimes.
My whole life, even in middle school, I have been “noticed” by men. There was one day in 6th grade when I was riding my bike down the street, and at a stoplight, an older man in a truck rolled his window down, whistled at me and then stuck his fingers on the sides of his mouth and stuck his tongue in between them. At the time, I had no idea what this gesture meant, but I knew it made me feel icky. I knew it was something sexual, and when he did it, my stomach turned and I felt sick.
Things like that have happened on an at least weekly basis ever since. It happens to all women, because for some reason, certain types of men believe we are here for their pleasure. Some men view women as things to be used.
And it’s disgusting.
I have learned over the years how to avoid eye contact with these men. How to keep walking as if I didn’t hear their degrading sexualized comments about my ass. How to pretend I’m not repulsed by their behavior and words about what they’d like to do to me if given the chance.
After I graduated high school, I was sexually abused on multiple occasions, and this thing happened where I began believing that all I was good for to men was sex, and that somehow, that was my fault.
I have always been told I’m a sensual person. In a counseling session once, as I spoke about losing my virginity by being raped at a party, the counselor’s response to me was, “Well, you are a very sensual person.” I had no idea what to even say. I asked her what she meant, and she said, “Well, the way you dress, the way you play with your jewelry. You just have a natural sensuality about you.”
So there it was. Your beauty makes it your fault that men use and abuse you. With men, I always felt like an item, an object, a means to an end.
No one ever makes catcalls about your beautiful soul or your compassionate heart. They don’t ever yell out the window how smart you are or that you’re a great mom. It’s never about thinking you’d be someone they want to spend the rest of their life with or even that they’d want to get to know you because you seem like a really cool person.
It’s always about sex.
It’s always about your body and what it can do for theirs.
It’s never about you. It’s always about them.
I recently had a married man express great interest in sleeping with me. Before it escalated to that and before realizing he was married, there was seemingly innocent flirting, and I have to admit, it was nice. It was fun to feel attractive and desirable after being nothing but a mom for the last three years. It was flattering.
I got butterflies for the first time in many years, and it was cool to feel noticed by a decent man. But then I realized he was married, and it became the same story as every other story. It turned icky. It reminded me of every other situation I seem to encounter with men when all they’re really interested in is how I make them feel and what they think I can do for them.
There’s this thing that happens in society where women seem to be put into a lose-lose situation. If you’re considered attractive at all or call any attention to your beauty, you’ve somehow invited creepy, inappropriate men to say (or do) whatever they want to you, and it’s ridiculous.
I work hard on my body. I take pride in how I dress. I enjoy dressing up and looking well put together. I do it for myself because it makes me feel good. I don’t dress to impress men. I don’t get ready in the morning hoping I turn married men’s heads. I don’t check the mirror before I leave in hopes of getting hollered at by men on the street as I walk to work.
But when it happens, I feel like I should cover myself up. I feel like I should dress in loose clothes that don’t show my body at all. Like I should keep my eyes down and not call attention to myself in any way. And I feel guilty for holding any outward beauty that’s noticeable to men.
It’s a frustrating reality that there are men who are lead by their penises and their own sexual needs. They don’t care who is on the other side of their words or behaviors. They view women as things to be used. Of course, not all men operate this way, but the ones who do make it difficult for women to feel safe in their own skin.
So to the men who think women are here for your personal pleasure, we’re not.
Your catcalls are not flattering. They’re not cute. Your secretive attempts to get in my pants when your wife isn’t looking don’t make me feel good. They make me feel sick.
I don’t want to have to cover myself in a muumuu to avoid your degrading comments. I don’t want to have to walk as if I have no confidence so that I don’t call attention to myself. I don’t want to feel guilty for dressing with sexy class.
I don’t want to be your sex toy. I don’t want to make you feel good about yourself.
And I don’t want to be your fantasy.
My womanhood is not something to be used by you. My beauty is not up for grabs, and neither is my body.