Guys at the Club Are Why I Need Feminism

If I ever need a reminder about why feminism is necessary I just need to go dancing. In my personal experience there are few other places where it is so clear that women are not considered equals and that their bodies and feelings are not valued by men.

I go dancing because I like to dance. Personally, I have rarely ever gone out dancing looking to dance with anyone but the people I came with. I have almost never gone out dancing looking to hook up. My personal dancing style is very solitary. I do not grind, with anyone. I rarely ever even dance close to people. When I do it’s with my significant other, a close female or gay male friend, or because there is no more space in the club. I would much rather have a small space of clear floor to really bust a move and feel my own style. Unfortunately, my space is never respected.

Since the first time I went out dancing, the audacity of males in the club has amazed me. I cannot count the number of times that I have been dancing by myself, having a great time and I suddenly feel hands on my hips, or hips pressed against me, or the worst: a hand grabbing my ass. These physical assaults come without warning. It doesn’t even cross the minds of these men to ask me whether or not I want to be touched; they simply touch. They grab and fondle and molest as if I didn’t have a say in the matter, and the truth is, in their minds I don’t have a say. They want, so they obtain.

I used to be polite when I was touched at the club without my consent. I would move away, face the man, smile, and shake my head or mouth “no thanks”. Soon, I learned that this tactic is not sufficient. “Why?” you might ask. “You’ve made it clear they don’t have permission to touch you, isn’t that enough?” Unfortunately the answer is a resounding “no”. After the polite refusal comes the negotiation from the man. “Come on baby, I’m just trying to have a little fun.” Or perhaps they don’t even try to negotiate; they just grab me again. I try to move away from them and I am followed. Sometimes halfway across the club. The denial of my consent has been made repeatedly clear, but that is not enough. On multiple occasions I’ve had guys follow me across the club for the entire night and try multiple times to engage with me. They just don’t take no for an answer, which makes me wonder how dangerous they are at home, after the club.

After multiple refusals, when the guy finally gets that I am unwilling to relent, comes the anger. “You don’t have to be such a bitch”, and they sulk away to find another target. It’s not their fault that they have spent the entire night trying to force themselves on me, it’s my fault for being a bitch. This mindset implies a deeper belief that men have a right to women and their bodies that women should not be allowed to refuse. It also implies that women should simply accept however they are being treated by men without protest. This mindset basically says that women and their bodies are still men’s property to do with as they will.

This is never clearer than when I am out with a group of male friends. The scenario described above changes drastically when there are other males involved. Though it is nothing for a guy at the club to disrespect a woman, he is cautious about disrespecting other men. Now the scene plays out like this: I’m dancing alone, but surrounded by male and female friends that I am clearly “out with”. A guy notices me and starts approaching. He notices that the group is mixed and acknowledges that I may be “with” one of the guys in the group. Instead of asking me if I would like to dance or if I am single, the guy catches the attention of one of my male friends. He motions to me then back to my friend. My friend shakes his head “no”. The guy then motions to me and the other guys in our group. Again my male friend shakes his head “no”. After all that, the guy walks directly to me and starts dancing with me.

An entire “conversation” about me and my “status” within the group has occurred between the two guys. Essentially, the stranger asks “Is she yours?” When my friend indicates no, the stranger asks “Is she one of theirs?” referring to my other friends. When my friend again indicates no the stranger assumes that it is okay to engage me because he does not risk pissing off any males. The fact that he never asked me if I was single or wanted to dance is irrelevant because he has gotten “permission” from the other guys in the situation. By the way, I’m not creating a scenario to illustrate my point. This exact scenario has happened to me multiple times. The fact that the only thing that keeps women safe from being assaulted by men at the club is by belonging to one proves that men still believe that women are property to be owned and passed around.

Another common situation at the club is the “watcher guy”. I’ll be doing my own thing, feeling the rhythm and I’ll notice that there’s a guy standing in the corner watching me. I don’t think that much about it until a half hour or so later when I notice he is still in the same spot, watching me, like I was a stripper doing a private dance. Now for complete transparency I will admit that sometimes I love this. On days when I am feeling down about myself and not that attractive I get a major ego boost from the “watcher guy” even though I know it’s super creepy. I’m not proud of that, but it’s the honest truth and this blog is about my struggles with finding my place in feminism so I have to be honest about when I’m not so feminist. Other times I get so angry that “watcher guy” is creeping on me. I want him to know that I am not there for his amusement. I am not dancing for him. I dance for me and me alone. I am not an actress in his fantasy, I am a real person. Sometimes the “watcher guy” is worse than the handsy guy because at least the handsy guy is making it clear that he wants my body. The “watcher guy” just silently does whatever he wants to my body in his head and that’s more creepy than being touched.

Guys at the club are why I need feminism. Women are clearly not equals in this world when men believe they have every right to touch women without their consent. Women’s feelings and bodies are not valued by men who believe that they don’t need to ask before they touch, and most men still believe this. Women are not considered beings with their own agency in a world where men will ask each other consent to touch before or instead of asking women. And in a world where men assume that women’s bodies are there for their own entertainment and benefit, women are not humans; they are just bodies. Anyone who claims they don’t need feminism should put on a tight black dress, go to their local club, and tell me how respected they feel.

The Problem with Hollywood’s Version of Body Acceptance

There has been a lot of talk among celebrities about body acceptance in the past five years or so. The famous Kate Moss quip “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” is so 90’s. The 2000’s are all about loving the body you have, as long as it looks a certain way. In Hollywood terms it seems that there are only two acceptable sizes: thin and fit or full figured and curvy.

Thin and fit has long been the accepted size for the female body, especially in the media, but lately there has been a dramatic increase in the acceptance of “full figured” or “plus sized women” in Hollywood. Actresses like Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson boldly and proudly claim their body sizes. They proclaim that they are not ashamed of their size and they shouldn’t be. The media cannot ignore their successes, however, the stories of their successes always seem to center around how they are successful in spite of their weight. A magazine cover featuring Melissa McCarthy says “How I Did it My Way”. Another proclaims “Hilarious, Happy, and 100% Herself”. Though these headlines seem pretty positive the implications are that Melissa McCarthy is the exception to the rule. That she has somehow reached a level of body acceptance that has allowed her to transcend the “rules” of Hollywood and be successful regardless of her size. Like it’s some sort of puzzling conundrum that a woman of her size has managed to be successful. It’s a huge step forward for the media to recognize amazing talent like McCarthy, but it’s sad that the attention still centers around her size rather than her talent.

Another troubling aspect of Hollywood’s “full figured acceptance” movement is the fact that plus sized actresses seem to be relegated to the role of “the funny one”. Perhaps this reflects reality in some sad way. I can’t tell you how many times when out with male friends I have heard the demeaning comment “Oh she must be the funny one”. They are always talking about the single plus sized woman in a group of thinner women. The thought process behind this comment is that since the woman’s body is not winning her any points her personality must compensate. This deeply embedded thinking has pervaded the media in that plus sized actresses like Rebel Wilson and Melissa McCarthy are the queens of comedy. While these women do have a talent for being funny that I would never want to discount, the portrayal of plus sized women as “the funny ones” makes them court jesters who garner laughs at their expense rather than because of their talents. Full figured actresses who star in dramatic roles rarely gain as much positive attention. The obvious example is Gabourey Sidibe who faced brutal criticism from the media about her size after her starring role in “Precious”.

It seems that Hollywood’s version of plus sized body acceptance is woefully limited in scope. The only plus sized women allowed to love their bodies publicly are “the funny ones” because their personalities redeem their size. Beyond that, their success is portrayed as a mysterious phenomenon and a rebellion to acceptable norms. Any way you look at it, size is still a central part of the conversation around these women. That’s not really body acceptance at all. It’s just admitting that they can’t hide these beautiful talented women or fit them in to their boxes.

The problems with Hollywood’s version of body acceptance don’t stop with their portrayal of full figured women. The more glaring problem with Hollywood’s so called body acceptance is that there are still many bodies that are not accepted, namely the ones that actually represent normal sized women. Actresses like Mindy Kaling, Amy Schumer, and Lena Dunham have brought to the forefront the struggle of actually being a normal sized woman in Hollywood. These women are not as thin as Hollywood would like them to be, but they are not big enough to fall in to the category of “plus sized and proud”. The best quote I have ever heard about this conundrum of the normal sized actress is from Mindy Kaling: “Since I am not model-skinny, but also not super-fat and fabulously owning my hugeness, I fall into that nebulous, “Normal American Woman Size” that legions of fashion stylists detest. For the record, I’m a size 8 (this week, anyway). Many stylists hate that size because, I think, to them, I lack the self-discipline to be an aesthetic, or the sassy, confidence to be a total fatty hedonist. They’re like ‘Pick a lane.’” (http://www.crushable.com/2014/05/06/entertainment/mindy-kaling-body-image-weight-quotes/#ixzz3nyx7bHbl).

This quote demonstrates Hollywood’s commitment to body acceptance for only certain kinds of bodies. Actresses must fit one mold or the other or they are likely to be at the worst shamed and at the best ignored.

I identify strongly with Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer because I exist in that middle area and there is no allowable body acceptance for that body size. The mainstream media says that I am not full figured enough to be happy, but I’m also not thin enough to be happy. If I just worked harder I could be thin, or if I just let myself go I could be fat. The truth for me is that I have tried to work harder and be thin and I developed an eating disorder. I have also let myself go and been fat, but that wasn’t healthy either. My healthiest self exists somewhere in the middle, just above a “normal weight”, but far below “obese”. My healthy self exists without a perfectly flat stomach, without a thigh gap, and with some wiggle on my arms. In fact, my healthy self looks a lot like Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer, who are all fat shamed on a regular basis by the Internet and the mainstream media.

Though this paints a relatively bleak picture I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that all of these actresses, of all different sizes are going out of their way to make themselves heard. Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson are proudly letting the world know that they are happy with their bodies and that they won’t allow anyone to take that happiness. Mindy Kaling is speaking out about the problems with the way women’s bodies are talked about in Hollywood. Lena Dunham has become, in her own words, “the voice of a generation” speaking for weird, intelligent, beautiful women who don’t need to be liked to like themselves. Amy Schumer has related the clear message that her body has nothing to do with her success in the world. At the heart of all of these women’s word is very powerful feminism. They are all proclaiming that their power is not related to whether or not their bodies are accepted by the world at large and that is an undeniably powerful message. I just want the rest of the media to catch up.

Leggings are a Privilege Not a Right

More often than I would ever like to admit I have been guilty of outfit and food shaming other women. When walking by a curvy woman wearing leggings I would whisper to the person next to me “Ugh, leggings are a privilege, not a right.” Meanwhile I was wearing leggings as well. But in my mind I had earned the right to wear leggings with all my countless hours at the gym and the myriad times I chose not to eat. My thinness gave me the privilege to dress as I pleased and apparently it gave me the right to judge whether other women had earned the privilege to dress as they pleased.

The same form of judgement made itself clear at restaurants. I would watch a women that I judged to be overweight devour a cheeseburger and think to myself, “Doesn’t she know what she’s doing to her body? She really should have ordered a salad.” Of course, I know that social rules dictate that I can’t make this judgement out loud, but it was loud and clear in my brain. This kind of judgement did make it out of my mouth when I decided to justify my order to the people I was with. “I was at the gym for like 3 hours today. I am so starving! I think I’ll get the cheeseburger.” I needed everyone at the table to know that I had earned the right to have that cheeseburger. Of course, I also needed people to know when I hadn’t earned the right to have a cheeseburger. “I ate sooo much for lunch. I couldn’t possibly eat more than the salmon and veggies tonight. I probably won’t even finish that!”

The saddest part about my judgement of other women’s outfits and food choices was that I ultimately internalized all these rules and was constantly aware that other women might be making the same judgements of me in their heads. When I wore leggings I would think to myself, “Does that skinnier woman over there think that my thighs are too big for these leggings? Does she think I should put on some baggy jeans instead?” When I was out to lunch with my girlfriends I would think, “Do they think I’m fat for getting this sandwich? Should I have gotten a salad instead?” At the height of my eating disorder my own perceptions of other’s judgements of my eating habits became even more sick. On the rare occasions I would eat a “fat food” in public I would want women to be jealous of me for eating that food and being so thin. I wanted them to think, “She’s so thin, but she’s still eating that giant cookie. I wish I could eat giant cookies and be that thin.” Of course, the giant cookie was followed by extended periods of not eating or triple sessions at the gym, so I was not really able to maintain my ideal physique and “get away” with that cookie.

What I failed to understand about all of this judgement was how dangerously anti-feminist it was. I had completely bought in to the idea that in order to be worthy a woman’s body must be aesthetically pleasing, and not just aesthetically pleasing, but pleasing in a very specific way. Her body must be pleasing according to the standards set by the media, a male dominated industry. Through my judgement I was choosing to enforce the ideals and standards that were tearing me apart. Every time I chose to judge a fellow woman I was reinforcing the standards that made me feel worthless. When I realized this was the truth behind my judgement I realized that a large part of the power of the patriarchy is conditioning women to tear each other down. Imagine how much could be accomplished if we stopped tearing ourselves and other women down and started building ourselves and each other up.