Whose body?

As Jean Kilbourne states, “turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person."
As Jean Kilbourne explains, “turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.”

Want to know what makes me really angry? Okay, a lot of things make me angry. I’ll give you some hints.

Take, for instance, my one and only outing to the club. Why I even thought this was a good idea is a mystery to me – I guess I just wanted to have the experience and feel like a “normal” college student for once. Anyway, as soon as we walked in I knew that I wasn’t going to like it. From the drunken frat boys to the cage of scarcely clothed dancing women, my misogyny radar was going nuts. I was disgusted by the 40-year-old creeps who came in purely to watch young girls “dance” on the caged platform clearly marked “Ladies only.” I was disgusted by all of the scantily clad girls who apparently had no sense of dignity whatsoever, as they let sloshed guys rub their dicks all over them. But more than anything, I was disgusted by the general atmosphere of the club – it seemed to encourage the domination and exploitation of the female body.

The males in this club all appeared to follow the same thought process: entitlement to women’s bodies. Entitlement to every female body and entitlement to do what they wish with the body. I was asked to dance by no less than five different guys, all of whom touched me in the same place while asking – my waist. Ironically, they found it chivalrous to ask my permission before rubbing their dick on my ass, but seemed to think that they had the right to grab my waist (these are guys that I’ve never met before). For some reason they felt entitled to touch me in an intimate way, despite the fact that they didn’t know me at all, much less have an intimate relationship with me. This really rubbed me the wrong way (no pun intended). Luckily, my girlfriends surrounded me for the most part and I was able to avoid further harassment.

This is what makes me angry. Men feel that they are entitled to dominate the female body, because our culture reinforces that message in a persistent and pervasive way. There are the obvious signs – magazine ads, commercials, movies, television – that clearly depict subordination of the female body. There is porn (not all porn) that portrays women as objects of desire for men to exploit in order to satisfy their “needs.” Even gay men feel that they have the right to objectify and criticize women’s bodies. I have had some of my best gay friends touch me in ways that would be inappropriate for any straight guy that I wasn’t involved with, but they seem to feel justified in these actions because they “don’t like girls.” I felt underlying discomfort in these situations but pushed it away, telling myself that they weren’t hitting on me. But regardless, it is not okay to touch someone without their permission, whether you’re gay or straight. Gay men are some of the worst culprits in terms of criticizing females as well, never failing to supply judgment on hair, makeup, and fashion, not to mention critical assessments of weight and body shape.

If you’re still not convinced that there is a problem here, let’s consider the implications. All of these situations promote the notion that women’s bodies are not their own. Men are entitled to our bodies and entitled to do what they want with them. The media reinforces this idea in many ways, encouraging women to constantly work on their appearance in order to attract the opposite sex – in order to make themselves the sexual object of men’s desires. And so we have a culture of women who feel disconnected from their bodies and experience a sense of powerlessness in their lives. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape only make this worse. Taking away someone’s agency over their own body has seriously detrimental effects on psychological health. Recent political happenings echo these same issues: the debate over birth control and abortion exemplify the widespread effort to take away a woman’s control over her own body. Despite the abundant news coverage of these issues, I don’t think that the sinister nature of the events is recognized.

Reclaiming our bodies as our own is a large part of feminism, and a part that I think is extremely important. I would encourage women to honor their bodies, physically and spiritually, and not allow men to take advantage of something that belongs to you and you alone.


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