Women Are Not Just Bodies

Ripping off the gag tape

I don’t have any terrible #metoo stories. Like most women, I’ve been cat-called on the street. I’ve been told by men that I should smile for them. I’ve had my rear end pinched and touched on buses. A man once creepily smiled at me across a subway car as he touched his erect penis in his pants. But for me that’s about it. I’m lucky.

While I have not been victim to harassment or assault in a major way, as a woman I have felt that my body is not my own. When I was growing up, there was a brief period of feminist awareness in the 1970s — an awakening of sorts, and as a country, we took one step forward. But it was short-lived — Madison Avenue took over the feminist revolution and ran with it. It was as if the contents of what had been happening — equality for women — was secondary to how women should appear. “Sex sells” became even more acceptable, and women’s bodies were central. The feminist cause was co-opted, and women were visually used, thought of as bodies for the use of others. While of course advertising is not the cause of sexual harassment and abuse, I believe it is complicit.

What’s happening now is making this reality crystal clear. When I first read the graphic descriptions of what some of these men were doing to women, the specificty alarmed me, and I wondered if we needed to hear such detail. Then I thought, yes we do. The phrases “sexual harassment”, or “sexual misconduct” are too vague, and can be interpreted in many ways. Spelling it out in grotesque detail helps our culture more fully understand how bad this is. And it comes from famous men as well the man-on-the-street.

Women are thought of as property: A woman walking down the street is yours to all ogle and say crude things to. The woman in your office wearing a short dress is yours to touch. A woman in an advertisement wearing skin tight jeans and no shirt is yours as well. A highly sexualized female cartoon figure in a video game can be manipulated as you choose. They are inter-changeable.

We are experiencing a change in this country, and I predict we will look back on the fall of 2017 as the time when our country really woke up to sexism, hidden and overt. We may not be able to fully stop the ad agencies from using women’s bodies as selling objects, but we can learn to understand it for what it is, and we can teach our children — boys and girls — to respect women as people, not just bodies.

Women are finally feeling the support they need to speak out about what has been happening to them. We are ripping off the duct tape that has covered our mouths. While it hurts to do this, it is important. I support those who want to tell their story so that we can know their pain and help them. We can stop this madness in our country. If we can stop it here, then we can help other countries do the same.

Because this is global.