I am not ashamed of myself.
Not for walking down the street, not for wearing a short skirt, and not for the tube top I had on the day you screamed out “slut” from the window of your car.
I know you think you were just making a crude and harmless remark. And you’re partly right. It was crude. It had nothing to do with who I am as a person (since you and I are strangers), and everything to do with your seemingly compulsive need to attach a history to my body — a history of men that it may or may not have had. You’ll never know. You somehow felt entitled to do it anyway.
But it was not harmless, stranger. While it did not hurt my feelings, it is not harmless for you to think you’re allowed to shout out statements made to shame women. I did nothing to you but walk down the sidewalk, and you drove by and insulted me. You tried to make me feel embarrassed and awkward. That’s not harmless.
It reminded me of something that happened to me many years ago, when I was 12 years old. Two of my male classmates commented on how I was seated in my desk. “What’s wrong with how I’m sitting?” I asked. “Well, your legs aren’t crossed. Girls who don’t cross their legs have loose pussies.”
After that day, I’d correct myself whenever I didn’t cross my legs. I didn’t want them to think I was a “slut.” I was only a pre-teen, and barely old enough to know what sex was at all. Yet, I was already conditioned to use my body as a reflection of myself. It took a couple of years for the fear to fade, after I had gone on to high school and nobody mentioned it again. But different variations of this mentality still prevailed. And the day you called me a “slut” reminded me of that incident. My body is never safe from criticism, no matter how I dress it, position it, or use it.
I am constantly reminded that people like you try to take away my control of my body. I am constantly reminded of how this is considered okay to do. I wish I knew how you’d react if someone screamed that out at your mother, sister, daughter, aunt, grandmother, cousin, friend, wife, or lover. The women in your life are not any more saintly than the women you degrade. I wish I knew if you’d be indignant, defend them, or stay silent. I wonder how strongly you’d feel. If it happened to your mother, I’m sure you’d argue that she’s a good woman who raised you, loved you, clothed you, and means the world to you – and stranger, I mean the world to someone too. But I am not your mother, daughter, or friend. And because of this, I am not safe from you. I wonder if it would make you feel that the women in your life were less safe in the world if it happened to them when they stepped out of the house. I wonder if it would change you.
But odds are it wouldn’t. You see them through glass-stained windows. But you see other women through muddied glass. What blurred your vision?
I will not let you think that you or anyone else is entitled to tell me that my body is your problem.
And if I have or have not slept with every single man I know, it is none of anyone’s business.
It does not affect your life. It does not keep you up at night. It does not tell you who I am. That is something only I can do, with how I treat others and how I allow myself to be treated. I will not let you judge me as a person on your terms.
After your comment, I walked home. I did not lower my head, like you probably expected I would. I did not pull down my skirt, which would’ve amused you. I carried on with my evening. I went home and did some reading. I lounged around and watched a movie until I fell asleep. I did not even dream of you that night, stranger. Your word did not stop my body from being mine.
And I am not going to cross my legs to make you feel more comfortable with my body.