Image: Chhaya Acharya
During a recent conversation with a young man, I mentioned that I wanted to have the feminist symbol tattooed on my upper thigh. First he told me that it would be cool to have it done on my lower stomach before going on to tell me that I should save my body for art rather than political messages.
The irony was palpable.
As I’ve lived in my female body for the past 24 years I am well used to others forcing their opinions on how my female body should exist. It is done with a casual, yet authoritative air and it’s only in reflective moments that I am I struck by how little my body seems to belong to me. It seems to be free to be leered at, jeered at and touched with only a degree of ownership.
My body is in a tug of war as I negotiate how I present myself to the rest of the world. Torn between wearing what I want and feeling anxious about how much attention I’ll draw, low-cut tops and heels become consigned to my home, while jeans with baggy jumpers have become standard wear.
I’ve been told by men that my walk is too fast, too aggressive. It’s a habit I’ve forced myself into, trying to make myself seem as unapproachable as possible. Hopefully a deterrent to any potential ‘Hey baby’ comments jabbed my way. When I’m walking with male companions and they tell me to slow down, it’s as though they’re trying to calm my fears. They’re right in a sense; with a man by my side no one ever follows me down the street or tells me what they’d like to do to me. It’s a security bubble that I wish I could blow up around myself. Instead I walk home at night with a hat pulled low and my oversized camo jacket, trying to project invincibility.
As I sway between passive compliance and passive aggression, I’m confounded by the two opposing forces that shape women’s existence: autonomy and entitlement. How women have to be given permission to lead the lives they want. That the threat female agency poses to the patriarchy would make a farce out of the fragility of toxic masculinity – were it not for retaliation it attracts.
Far from expecting my frustrations to be true to me alone, I expect that they resonate with countless people and I can only hope that our shared experiences will motivate us all. Our autonomy is a worthy cause. It is at the risk of spending our lives tip-toeing around the patriarchy that we must march. Now more than ever, it is vital that we use what power we have to fight back.
I’m done with my body being policed as if my appearance has some bearing on my moral compass. As if it alone has the ability to give consent. As if it is public property. I’m sick of the very real consequences women and any marginalised people face for asserting their right to be heard and respected. Even more so, I’m afraid of what might happen if we don’t fight.
In this politically tumultuous time, there is no longer room for complacency. We should all feel obligated to fight as legislature and misogynistic rhetoric encroaches on our rights. While at times it may feel like our cause has already been lost, there is a lot of hope to be found in the fact that worse odds have been overcome. We must hold onto that hope, no matter what.
And for the record, I’ve since had the tattoo done. On my upper thigh no less (see above).
Let me tell you that it is raging.