Growing up there were countless times a cousin, brother, or friend felt the need to step in and save me from another man. Should I have been grateful that I had people in my life that cared enough to intervene before I made what they thought could be a disastrous mistake? Were my decision-making skills so subpar that I needed a third party to step in? Maybe. Call me crazy, but it always left a bad taste in my mouth. It always felt slightly problematic. Like a live action fairy tale where I’m the damsel in the distress, just waiting on a man, any man, to come rescue me from the plight of my own creation.
Whether it’s our brothers, cousins, uncles, or father, consciously or otherwise, we are taught the unfortunate lesson that we do not own our bodies. The men around us do. The sentiment being that any outsider will disrespect and objectify us in a way that either they have done personally, or have seen other men do. They are the ones who determine what is the proper or improper way for us to speak, dress, and act. The control factor being hidden under the clever guise of self respect. It would seem that a “Madonna-whore” attitude is the accepted perspective on women. There is never an in-between. Accepting this as fact ourselves, the opportunity to become self actualized is suppressed.
In our society, the hijacking of our sense of self is felt in many ways, ranging from the ubiquitous — intimidating our love interests or generally discouraging any man we may come into contact with from talking to us — to the overt and extreme; honor killings and purity ball ceremonies. Were the roles reversed, A young man promising purity to his mother would evoke assumptions of an inappropriate and disturbing relationship akin to Norman Bates. A situation that makes onlookers question whether authorities should be alerted.
Existing in this world as a woman is a perilous burden. While it is understandable for others in our lives to want to shield us from any discomfort that may be a result from womanhood, it should be recognized that attempting to do so is stifling to our personal growth because more often than not, it’s perpetrated in a way that infantilizes. With the prevention of self development, we learn to view ourselves as men do. Mere vessels of pleasure to be used and discarded, enforcing the notion that our pleasure –short of what they perceive our pleasure to be (thanks porn) — is irrelevant. This promotes sexual dysfunction. We’re forced into a position of secrecy, lest we risk word getting out and our actions reflecting poorly on our family.
For men once they’re able to sexualize us, our value is lowered. Lowered further if there is no familial connection and further still if they cannot sexualize us because of the rules of conventional attractiveness. Feeling the need to protect perceived vulnerability against the male sexual prowess of outsiders illuminates a seemingly primal, unhealthy preoccupation with our sexualities. In our adolescence, the adults around us often permit this and encourage our peers within the family to pry into our social lives at their own discretion. It sends a message we are not to be entrusted with choosing who we should or should not be consorting with.
Now, you would think it would be easier to prepare us for what we may encounter while accepting the fact that we are our own people who will ultimately make our own decisions while taking what is taught into consideration rather than giving in to patterns of toxic masculinity, and engaging in violence in the name of defend our honor. And so begins the assumption of authority over our bodies and the normalization of aggression and over protection. Our ability to foster healthy relationships is stifled as we become complicit in this cycle, accepting behaviors that borderline emotionally abusive, as normal. I can only come to the conclusion that this could be part of the reason why many women, myself included, have difficulty fostering healthy relationships with any man, family or otherwise.
In a perfect world, we would be afforded the same privilege as men. The privilege of judgment free, uninterrupted, self exploration. The freedom to live, make mistakes, and grow from those experiences. Though, considering the many boys, now men in positions of power who continue to pry into issues that do not concern them, I can’t say I’m optimistic.