I distinctly remember a particular trip my brother and I took to my grandparents’ house, about 8 years ago. I was 12 years old, and I had never heard of male privilege, nor did I understand feminism. Even so, something didn’t feel quite right to me when my grandfather made a comment about Rachael Ray one day when we were watching television. On that occasion my brother and I were watching Rachael Ray on Food Network, when my grandfather walked into the room. He scrutinized the host on the screen, and declared in a haughty manner that she had chubby fingers and was thus overweight and unattractive. 12-year-old me, who had always found Rachael to be beautiful and talented, didn’t know what to think or say. My grandfather’s comments made me feel uneasy, and it was later that I learned that this incident was only the tip of the iceberg for him. Thinking back to this memory makes my blood boil because I realize that my grandfather’s behavior is neither unique nor rare – it simply fits in with the often unchecked male privilege that accompanies unsolicited judgments of women’s bodies.
This sense of ownership and entitlement manifests itself in so many ways, from fat-shaming to street harassment. Many men feel that they have the right to comment on any female body at any time, simply because they are men. They feel a (false) sense of entitlement to female bodies and thus determine that they have the power to pass judgment on these bodies. The male gaze that dominates mainstream media determines who and what is attractive and who doesn’t make the cut. I’ve seen this most often in adult men, although young men sometimes display the same sense of entitlement.
This phenomenon is ever-present in our culture, and it absolutely makes my blood boil, especially when I witness first-hand the effects it has on my loved ones. Fat-shaming is a major issue and one way by which men exercise control over female bodies. I have seen fathers employ a special brand of ownership over their daughters’ bodies to justify destroying their self-esteem with judgments about weight. My heart breaks for the girl who is too ashamed of her body to even put on a swimsuit, as a result of the constant reminders from her father that she is too fat. Hearing that you’re fat is bad enough – when it comes from a family member it feels ten times worse. I’m lucky to have a father who has never subjected me to this feeling, but I’m close to many people who aren’t as lucky.
It goes without saying, but FAT-SHAMING IS NEVER OKAY. It’s not okay for men to do it and it’s not okay for women to do it. Fat-shaming is a way to regulate and control female bodies in a uniquely gendered way, because while men are subjected to fat-shaming as well, male bodies are regarded differently than female bodies. Simply put, female bodies are sexualized and objectified in ways that male bodies are not. Woman face, every day, a plethora of media messages and social ideals about what their bodies should look like. We’re consistently told that we’re not good enough and simultaneously told that our bodies are not our own. Women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream media, so it is fair to conclude that it is mostly men who determine how women should look.
It is also mostly men who supply unsolicited comments on female bodies, on the street and in other public places. Street harassment is rampant and affects women everywhere. And no, it is not a compliment. What we see is men claiming female bodies as public space and objectifying women as if it is their God-given right. This kind of unchecked privilege is dangerous and can lead to all kinds of gendered violence (e.g. rape, domestic abuse). Just because you are a dude, doesn’t mean that you have the authority to comment on my body. This has happened to me multiple times, and I know very few women who haven’t experienced some kind of public harassment.
I wish I had spoken up when my ex-boyfriend commented on Jennifer Hudson’s weight loss and proclaimed that she was much more beautiful now. I wish I had dumped him when he told me he wished my breasts were bigger. These things didn’t sit right with me, just as my grandfather’s comments didn’t. I know now that I cannot and will not stand for this kind of misogyny. Boys and men everywhere, I implore you: check your privilege at the door and stop judging female bodies. Our bodies are our own, and we don’t need your approval. Take your false sense of entitlement elsewhere – you do not own us.
Women: your body is yours, and nobody but you has a right to it.