This week the internet was all a-buzz about a young woman whose viral video depicting a day in the life of "street harassment" for women in New York City. The video has its flaws, as Roxane Gay has so eloquently pointed out. Most of the harassers are black and Latino. Nevertheless,...it's all harassment.
Brave black women such as Feminista Jones and artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh are telling and shouting from the rooftops that this is not OK. ESP not OK to do to black women, whose bodies are targets of ridicule, objectification, and subjugation.
Now, I am sure you are thinking: what on earth does street harassment have to do with my husband and his compliments to me?
I think everything.
If you hear "hey beautiful" everyday as you walk the busy Metro streets, as you try to go to work or just take a jog around your neighborhood, you just brush it off as some tactic that men use to get in your pants. As a woman you think, "sure I am beautiful but dude...stop using that tired line". You start to dismiss "beautiful" as some sort of annoyance. You see that and many other things that street harassers say as "dangerous" and misleading; as something to get into your pants. And you rarely reclaim the word as something magical for yourself. In turn, you just stop feeling beautiful. You stop believing that you are. You become desensitized to the sincerity of those who truly love you. You really do think you are beautiful, attractive and even look good "in those jeans". And who truly want nothing more than for you to feel great about yourself.
You cant even take a "hello" at face value as a woman walking on the street. 10 times out of 9 it is an invitation for conversation. And if you do not entertain folks, it means that you are a "stuck up bitch" who was "ugly anyway" and "should be glad someone is calling you beautiful/commenting on your body/wanting to talk to you", etc. It makes you afraid to be out in the world. A "hello" or a "hey beautiful" can turn ugly really fast and escalate into violence if not reciprocated. Just the other week, a Detroit woman was KILLED for not giving a man her phone number? Now you can't even say NO. Being a woman has now become a living night mare. So yeah.... sometimes I cannot even stomach a "hey beautiful" from a stranger. You don't know WTF to do t and you can't differentiate crazy from sane in a chance encounter. No one is that quick...
But anyway.... back to my husband and I.........
Everyday in some sort of fashion my husband tries to get me to say I'm beautiful. Everyday I rebuff him. HE will say "Good Morning, Beautiful!" and I just roll my eyes. Just yesterday, he runs down a list of my friends and goes "don't you think so and so is beautiful? What about her? And her?" I say "sure" (because truly I do have beautiful friends of all shades, shapes and sizes) then he quickly tried to throw in "and you? Aren't you beautiful?" I just sat silent. I swear this happens at least twice a week. I keep saying one day he'll stop but he doesn't. Once he uncomfortably held me in front of a mirror butt naked... And I just cried. I felt violated in a way. Emotionally transparent and assaulted. As if some dude off the street cornered me on the way to work.... I couldn't differentiate.
If you tell me I'm smart, I can accept it. If you tell me I have this talent or that ability, that's great. But I do not take compliments about my looks well. I guess these are just lingering scars from childhood and even young adult hood. What do compliments even mean? It's just empty words from creepy dudes of past.
I'm desensitized to the absolute beauty and sincerity that is in my husband's words because as a woman, I've been howled at, cat-called and harassed since I hit puberty at 9 years old. It has greatly affected my self esteem. I cannot distinguish between absolute adoration and lustful wantonness. I cannot have the luxury of just existing and walking and minding my own damn business without being harassed. I can't feel beautiful without thinking someone wants something.
I say all this to say. If we keep normalizing the pure fuckery of patriarchy, we will not be able to see the shining, bright spots of humanity. The people who TRULY love you and just admire you. The people who treat you with respect. MY husband never approached me in a foul, rude way. Not even we first began dating. He's never said anything with malice or ulterior motives.
We have to teach young men to stop thinking with their dicks and thinking women OWE you something for simply walking near your space. We have to unlearn this behavior for our young men so that women can freely walk the streets, no matter where they walk, what they have on, our the countenance on their faces. I shouldn't be told to "smile" and I shouldn't be told how "fine" I am or "look at those titties" on my commute to work.
...and I shouldn't rebuff my husband for just saying how beautiful his wife is. This is what happens when we normalize street harassment and cat calling. We take way the beauty in sincerity.