Yesterday, I walked with a friend through a crowded downtown area and overheard many harassing comments aimed at young woman by the men around us. Since I don't live in France, I am more or less past the age. I felt so--relieved. I can walk past a construction site and ask questions about what's going on there, without being treated like a target, just as I did before puberty. (I love construction. I did serious research about training as a union electrician until I talked to women who were electricians, heard about the harassment they endured on site, and realized I didn't want to work in a battle zone.)
Then I thought, I have a little daughter. Who will some day reach puberty. Some day, like I did, she will have to walk that gauntlet. Why do men do this? Why do we allow it? Why is harassment still a thing?
My friend said, "I remember the first time somebody whistled at my little sister. She was eleven. Eleven! I was sixteen, and I was used to it, but she was just a baby. I felt like crying."
I would have felt like kicking them in the teeth. And puberty, for both boys and girls, is coming so much earlier. That supposed sexy babe someone is whistling at might be nine or ten years old.
Then, I look at the Instagram feed from young women, even some that I know. It starts when they are thirteen--or younger--photos of pursed lips, poses in their underwear, everything aimed at being "sexy."
Only it's not sexy. It's silly and pretentious, an echo of some guy's jack-off pin-up, not living as a sexual being who happens to be a woman.
I remember as a kid seeing Tonya Pinkins as Sweet Anita in Jelly's Last Jam and thinking, "Now, that's not a superimposition of "sexy" on that actress, it's her being inside her body and feeling sexual."
But when I saw Ms. Pinkins publicizing that show, (in red leather chaps over black pants)--she was busy projecting manufactured sexiness. (I knew her at the time, so I know. "This is what it takes," she said. "So this is what I'll do.")
I have to be clear that I'm not laying this off on Ms. Pinkins, or on the girl above in the photo of the selfie, or on my niece, or on any of the women working so hard to fit the pinup image of sexy. Women are not magically able to identify cultural prisons and thus free themselves from them--if that were true, no females would support genital mutilation, or sell a girl child into sexual slavery, or marry off their eight-year-old daughter, or support Donald Trump (who finds his sixteen-year-old daughter pin-up sexy.)
Still, my gut knows that this projected sexuality is some kind of mirror image of women in burkhas; women twisting themselves for men. And I cringe at the idea of my child being caught in that. I know, I already know, that my older child won't fall for it. I hope--so much--that I can help my youngest can avoid it.
P.S. Ninalee "Jinx" Allen Craig, the young woman in the top photo, has said, (sixty-some years later) that she was not being harassed in the image, that the men involved were all unemployed and it was such a hard time in Italy, and that she later flirted with one of them and went for a ride on the motoscooter of another. That may be how she remembers it, but--look at her face. That woman is NOT enjoying the experience.