So yesterday I dressed myself (I know, high fives all round) in an outfit that I felt had answered all of my outfit selection questions; is it clean, do I feel comfortable, is it professional enough for a Friday at work etc. When I left the house for work I was feeling good, it was Batman day, it was Friday and my in-box wasn’t looking too painful. I didn’t even have to wait very long for a Tube. Happy days!
I don’t know if it was the case or just my perception of the case, but I felt like the only woman in my carriage – or at least the bit of my carriage that I felt part of. Instantly, without anyone saying anything, I became incredibly aware of the length of my skirt (about an inch maybe two above the knee). When I got a seat I felt the need to put a scarf across my knees to cover up a little bit more. Over the course of a 30 minute or so journey, I became increasingly self-conscious and uncomfortable. Frankly I felt hideously exposed. I just want to repeat, no one said anything (or at least not that I heard), there was no obvious harassment – not in the way that people talk about anyway.
What did I experience? Because I think I’m confident enough to have not felt that way without an external cause. Also, I’ve worn that skirt before and not felt anything other than fabulous.
So there must have been something else… Yes there was, there were looks and exchanged glances. Looks at me, looks at my legs, knowing looks at each other, raised eyebrows and smirks. Could I have been paranoid? Of course I could. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t after me… Because there is an assumption that women get dressed thinking “will I attract a man wearing this?” followed by “do I look fat?”. Therefore when I wear a skirt that shows a bit of leg it must have been because I want men to stare at my legs. So it’s fine for them to stare at my legs and have their little “nudge nudge wink wink” moments, after all that must be why I chose to wear that skirt in the first place.
But it wasn’t fine, it was horrible and degrading and I spent the rest of the day feeling self-conscious and kind of sad. Was I supposed to feel flattered? If so, it was a massive fail.
Now I just want to be clear about this, there are times when I choose to dress sexily and that’s because I’m feeling sexy. But first and foremost I choose what I wear because of how I’m feeling and what I want to look like that day. Just as some days I want to look hot, other days I want to look professional or scruffy or warm.
There was a time when I would have just accepted the looks; maybe I wouldn’t even have noticed them. Then I had my eyes opened to slut shaming and victim blaming and all the things that feminists are trying to tell you about the world out there. How I dress is not an invitation, it’s not a signal and it’s not an advert. It’s an expression of who I am, how I feel and also probably about the weather.
So here’s what I’m going to do every morning (well, afternoon if it’s a weekend), before I put any other clothes on, I am going to put on my feminist armour and then my outfit. That way, you can stare all you like, but I’ll have the secret power because I’ll know that it’s you who are wrong, not me and I’ll keep pointing out how wrong you are until maybe, just maybe, you’ll realise it too.