I went out for a walk on Monday evening. I ended up going in the opposite direction to where I'd planned to go, and I only figured it out thirty minutes in. By the time I walked back home, I wished multiple times over that the earth would swallow me up. From the creepy dude who drove around twice to offer me a lift - the euphemism for 'hop in to be raped' - to being leered at by male motorists whose heads do a full 180 degree turn when they see a woman without slowing down their vehicles, it was less of a walk and more of scene from The Exorcist on Wheels.
This is not a rare occasion. This is every day of my life. It has been every day of my life for so long that I can't seem to remember a time when someone didn't say something creepy or stare.
I don't think I've ever been able to, or ever will be able to articulate this. Which is why reading Jessica Valenti's Sex Object has been such a relief, as if someone finally put into words the exact sensation of when your brain switches over from 'hmm it's nice weather' to 'walk really fast, walkreallyfast, walkreallyreallyfast.'
Valenti describes just how it feels to be a perpetual subject of harassment, how it changes and shapes the way you act and think and perceive people and situations and relationships. It's an incredible book; one that I hope everyone reads.
This is the excerpt that I read before the book, which sums up so much of how I've felt over the years:
We know that direct violence causes trauma; we have shelters, counsellors, services. We know that children who live in violent neighbourhoods are more likely to develop PTSD. Yet we still have no name for what happens to women living in a culture that hates them.
When you catch a cold or a virus, your body has ways of letting you know that you are sick. But what diagnosis do you give to the shaking hands you get after a stranger whispers “pussy” in your ear on your way to work? What medicine can you take to stop being afraid that the cab driver is not actually taking you home? And what about those of us who walk through all this without feeling any of it – what does it say about the hoops our brain had to jump through to get to ambivalence? I don’t believe any of us walk away unscathed.