a discussion about body image via the patriarchy and heteronormativity
“Yes, my consuming desire is to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, barroom regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all this is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always supposedly in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yes, God, I want to talk to everybody as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night...”
Recently, there has been discussion about sexual violence, sparked by the tragic attack on Sarah Everard, a discussion that unfortunately resurfaces. When I was reading about the incident, I had the same recurring thought : she was not the first, and she will not be the last. The usual public outrage occurs, and then people return to their normal lives. It can be exhausting to be a woman, especially a black woman, wondering what will happen next, what other poor family will have to deal with an incident that should never have happened to anyone.
Women have come to believe that they cannot even rely on the authorities to assist them. During the investigation of Sarah's attackers' phone, a Whats App group chat with racist, sexist, and homophobic messages was discovered. Furthermore, Sarah's attacker faced allegations against him, earning him the nickname "The Rapist." Had these allegations been taken seriously, he could have been dismissed and Sarah may still be alive. As a woman, I've grown tired of seeing the same pattern and living in fear. Gender specific and hegemonic ideals have been embedded in us since birth - that men will always have the power, that we are small, little, and weak. I came to think deeply about patriarchy and its profound impact on how other people think and have always thought.
Although I feel comfortable in my identity as a queer person, I still feel compelled to conform to a heteronormative relationship ideal. My attraction is not gendered, but when I consider non-cis relationships, I feel either fetishised or seen as the 'other.' I started considering media representation and how it perpetuates this idea, as well as how the media can be quite damaging and non-representative. I have always wondered how this could be changed, but as a former media student and now a film studies student, it became increasingly clear how misrepresented I felt and how I felt pressured to think a certain way. My thoughts were further stimulated by a quote I saw on Instagram that spoke to me.
“Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it is all a male fantasy: that you are strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you are not catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you are unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.” - Margaret Atwood
This struck me a lot, having read Margaret Atwood's ' The Handmaids Tale ' before. I thought "How can we women escape?" How do we educate men against patriarchy and achieve true gender equality, how do we avoid being seen as objects, and how do we reclaim our bodies? I've always considered myself to be well-educated and un-apologetically myself, but I believe there will always be this male-dominated expectation lodged in the back of our minds.
In relation to the idea of body image, the patriarchy defines how bodies should be, which I find quite ironic given that we can achieve the male-centred beauty myth and cover up while still being attacked. It's not what we are wearing and its not our fault, as we've been screaming for years, with no one seeming to listen. It is about society as a whole succumbing to programming and control, and not being taught to question what is truly being told. More change has been made to promote better body image and break away from the norm as society grows and changes.
I'll finish this article with an image from Sex Education, a show that I think has done a fantastic job with body image and representation in general. We have a wide range of characters who express themselves in various ways and struggle with their body image. The show promotes acceptance regardless of how you identify or want to appear, and I believe that in the face of centuries-long movements, it is pivotal that we have representation like this to challenge everyone to do better.