Not good enough even for sexual harassment
OR: The privilege of being “ugly” in society’s eye
content warning: sexual violence, ableism, bulling.
There is a saying in Israel, usually used by men towards women that says: “I wouldn’t even touch you with a stick”. The meaning of this phrase is that receiver is so disgusting that even using a stick to touch them is too much. There are 2 uses to that phrase. One is to deny that that the man even tried to give you sexual attention — usually after receiving a “no”. The other is actually the first thing that they say to you, without any attempt to give any attention. They shout it at you when you pass by. And then they add how ugly you are. And by “you” mean me. I was the receiver of such “compliments” throughout my life. At the darkest days they will also throw stuff on me, or call me ugly. One time one of those people, a teenager like I was, from my class — tried to choke me.
“They do that because they like you” said grandmother. But she also used to beat me up, so what do I even know about positive attention?
I guess that I don’t. I secretly envied the women around me — because they were sexually harassed by men. These experiences rarely, if ever, happened to me. I also was very ashamed about even feeling that way.
Somehow, although I “pass” as a woman, I am rarely harassed by men in a sexual way. This fact always confused me then it came to the topic of street harassments. Women talked around me about the experience they had with men. Man how tried to harass their way to their hearts/beds (AKA pick up artists). Those women talked about the difference between flirting and harassment. They wrote about women being entitled by society to be available to men. They shared their experiences with men who flirted with them until they got “no”. And when the flirting became shaming. I believed them. I was angry with the men who harassed them. I suggested empathy.
I also wondered what was wrong with me. Women around me talked about having to live with this shit daily. They talked about “friends” and co-workers who were saying horrible things. About sleazy comments in the bar, at the street, on the bus. But I wasn’t part of this experience.
It was weird and shameful, wanting to be harassed. But if felt that the fact men almost never harassed me in the “I am flirting with you” way meant I was “ugly”. Which, in a way, was true.
Once I thought that it was because I was too ugly to even be harassed. It seemed like a plausible explanation . After all, from age 10 to 14 people bullied me about my looks to such extent I couldn’t look at mirrors for about a decade. But still, it was weird.
It is not that I wasn’t harassed at all . It happened rarely, surly not on the almost daily basis women around me talked about. When I “got this kind of attention” — it was more physical violence and classic bullying, and at younger ages.
After I became 15 people stopped even trying to touch me without consent. It was great, not to be beaten by bullies, or had nasty things said about my body because I walked by. I was invisible to men. No whistling, no “hi babe, I want to fuck your ass”, no nothing. Flirting never happened. Men ignored me. They still do. Harassers don’t harass me (unless they are kids), even though I look like a woman. It even didn’t happen when I still used to dress in a feminine way.
I wondered why it happens so rarely to me. I can count on one hand the times I was harassed about my looks and femininity for the last 10 years. I am 28. The last one happened 18 months ago. Why is that?
Some time ago I found an actual explanation of the scale that numbers women from 1 to 10, when 10 is the “hottest”. You can find it using your favorite search engine. It is very USA-centric in it’s standards, but it was what I had. Pick up “artists” use this scale to decide what women to flirt with. The closer “her grade” is to 10, the woman is considered more attractive. In the pick-up world, successful flirting with “hot” women gets more points, or something.
When I used the scale I found that my place were about 3, without makeup. I barley make it to 5 with make up. When it comes to conventional beauty, I am not considered attractive. And this is something I am quite fine with. Still, I always felt that my looks are not the reason why I am not harassed. My hypothesis felt wrong. After all — even “unattractive” women get harassed. Men rarely harassed me in the “I want to get in your pants” way. When they did, it was more about mocking me — because it was very clear that I was undesirable. Women who cover their faces get harassed. Women who’s face you can’t see because it is dark get harassed. And yeah, ugly women get harassed. I wondered what was wrong with me.
But what I didn’t knew was that I am “ugly” in a different manner. It is not the way I actually look. It is about my body language and the way I move.
Because I am autistic.
People who see me usually don’t think to themselves “this person has autism”, they do react to me in a different manner. They see my body language, the way I never look at their faces, my hand flapping, rocking and other forms of stimming. They think to themselves: “Something is WRONG with that person”. They may not be aware that I am disabled, and that I have developmental delays. What they do know is that giving someone like me any kind of sexual-ish attention in public is a bad idea. It will only lower them in the eyes of the society. Because when they look at me, they don’t see a woman. The see a “crazy person”, a “freak”, a “child in a body of an adult”, even a “retard”. And so, they wouldn’t harass me in public. Someone like me doesn’t worth their effort. I am someone who people stare at with disgust or fear. It is more likely for them to attack or humiliate me for being weird when for being female-passing in public.
These facts were quite painful to understand. It is painful to know that you are so undesirable that even douchebags wouldn’t sexually harass you.
It is not that I don’t get any harassment or violence. I get plenty of it. It is almost never about my femininity. It is about my disability. My inability to talk the secret language of “real people”. The body language.
But there was a short period in my life when things were different. During that time I got more flirting and sexual harassments when I got before and after. I wasn’t using makeup or combing my hair. I was trying my best to act in a neurotypical (AKA what people like to call normal) so I seemed like I could be a target. People back then even flirted with me. Not much, but they did. It was weird and scary. You see, when you are to treated like you are very unattractive, an idea settles in your mind. The idea that something must be horribly wrong with people who find me attractive. It still feel that way, even though my close friends and partners are great people.
I may feel some hurt about not being harassed, but in the end of the day, it is a privilege. I prefer not being harassed. I feel safe in places that others are afraid to be in. I know no one will try to publicly grab me or shout nasty things at me. People do shout at me for looking not normal, or for being weird, but usually they actively avoid me. I am untouchable.
I guess it is a good thing. But why do I feel so bad about it?