I was walking into my church the other day, when a male member of the church who happens to live in my neighborhood exclaimed loudly, “Hey, you’ve lost weight! Like, a LOT of weight!”
I was surprised, and slightly embarrassed, and then angry. I haven’t lost any weight; in fact, I’ve packed on about twenty pounds of muscle, but several years of weight-lifting and exercise have stripped away the thin layer of fat that coated my brawn and exposed the lean meat underneath.
I’ve had a problem with this neighbor for a while. He once chased me while I was running to give me feedback “on form.” He notices the color of my dresses and when my long-term boyfriend moved out several years ago, he offered his condolences with a Cheshire-cat smile. “You’re a beautiful girl; you’ll find someone new in no time.” I often find him dilly-dallying around my house on nice days, seemingly walking his large, often unleashed and aggressive dog.
This morning, I was traipsing across the neighborhood with my dogs and he stepped off his back porch to yell, “Hey, listen! You look really great!”
And I was on fire. “Look, you really weird me out when you say stuff like that, and it’s really none of your business!” I called back.
He looked perplexed. “What! I’m just telling you how great you look! You obviously work hard on your body. You need to learn how to take a compliment!”
And that’s the problem. Men think that anything I do to and for my body is for them, and that they are allowed to comment on it regardless of how it makes me feel. Anything less than a glowing response to an unwanted compliment means something is wrong with me.
To which I say: my weight is not your business. My body is not your business.
My problem with my neighbor is not that he’s older or that he makes unnecessary and inappropriate comments. My problem is that the assumption is that I have to enjoy it, or that it’s his right to make those comments. My problem is that the fact that he makes those comments is so commonplace to him and other people in society that he doesn’t think anything is wrong with it. My problem is that he thinks I have a problem because I asked him not to comment on my body.
As a young woman, I’m used to men making inappropriate comments. I’ve been taught the same things a lot of young women have been taught: be nice, or he might think you’re a bitch. Be nice or no one will like you. Be nice because you’re a woman.
After telling my mother about what happened, she was quiet for a moment and said, “Be nice, or he might kill you.”
“Be nice, or he might kill you.”
My problem is that we live in a world where I have to be nice to my neighbor who is making inappropriate comments about my body because he might kill me. This actually happens to women in our country. They are murdered because they don’t respond the right way to someone’s catcalls.
So I am angry. I am angry at the men and women in our country who don’t think this is a problem. I am angry at my neighbor who thinks his unwarranted advances are acceptable. And I refuse to be quiet about it anymore.
I’ve spent six years being uncomfortable around my neighbor because I didn’t want to be rude. Six years. A person has made me feel uncomfortable and unsafe for six years and I’ve been too afraid to say anything because I’ve been taught what many young women have been taught: that I have to accept what people say to me because I am a woman; that my body is not my own.
To which I say: enough. My body is none of your damn business, and I refuse to be nice, or quiet, or polite anymore.