The other evening I spent about half an hour or so up on my roof doing yoga and reading. I live in a small apartment that is the attic of an old house, so the roof is our only outdoor space. The building next to mine has kind of been built on top of it. This provides a nice flat roof that is ideal for yoga, reading, watching other peoples firework displays, and as I found out that night, getting unsolicited sexual advances. My building is two stories high, across the street there are a few taller apartment buildings with balconies. As I laid out my yoga mat on my roof, I caught the attention of three men, nay, boys drinking on their balcony.
Because I am a woman, I am therefore an inherently sexualized being in our society. This, over the years, has been grounds for a lot of attention. In the case of that evening, I was trying to have some me time. I don’t do yoga for anyone other than me. It is a space where I get to face my fears, strengthen myself against them and reflect on my life. Or at least so I thought. My choosing to do yoga on my roof made me a performer that evening. The boys on the balcony provided a running commentary. ‘This isn’t her first time at the rodeo!’ ‘Look at how flexible she is!’ ‘Stretch that ass baby.’ ‘She’s so sexy.’ ‘She can probably hear us’ ‘I’m 25 by the way! And I know my way around a woman’s body’ ‘We should go over there, which house does she even live in.’ Then when I switched to reading (a book of poetry) one of them quipped ‘I’m gonna tell myself she’s reading the Karma Sutra for the sake of my fantasies later.’ All of this was followed by a round of applause as I rolled up my mat to go back into my apartment. I ignored them, as I’ve been taught to. I know they want attention and they aren’t worthy of it if they’re going to act like that.
This kind of attention is all to familiar to many. It comes in many different forms. From cat calls and wolf whistles to being grabbed in a dark club to unsolicited dick pics on social media and online dating websites. As women we have been type cast as passive, helpless, emotional, needy beings who must be objectified. The only way we could be sexual is if someone found us attractive and made sure we knew it. What I know all to well, is that all of that is a load of bullshit. Last time I checked I had agency, I could be pursue those I was interested and as I did that evening, ignore those I who didn’t interest me in the slightest.
These stereotypes seep into our relationships. I couldn’t tell you how many boys I’ve fallen for who put their own desires on me as if I were a blank canvas. These relationships never work out well for me. They’re the kind of people who pursue you with no remorse, who try to manipulate you into being what they want, who push you into doing things that make you uncomfortable. On the other hand, I’ve had the pleasure lately of having quite the opposite experience. The men I have been dating lately give me agency, they ask me what I want, they tell me their desires and ask if I would be interested in partaking. Things like ‘Can I hug you?’ ‘Would you like me to walk you home?’ ‘Can I kiss you?’
One of my favourite stories as of late, is one I like to call ‘My First Consentual Dick Pic.’ Anyone who has ever received a dick pic before knows that most of the time, its unsolicited. Unless you’re sexting, and even then sometimes it pops up out of the blue. This particular case, was much different. One of the men in my life lives in another city so seeing him isn’t always easy. We were texting one evening, at first about life and art and things that thrill us. Then, as the conversation went on it slowly tiptoed back to the last time we had been together, from which the conversation got a little steamy. That’s when he asked ‘Do you want to see what you are doing to me?’ This man, in all his poetic glory, had asked me to consent to him sending me a picture of his penis. It was a revelation.
Over the years I have learned the patterns of what I do and do not like. I have been hurt by stereotypes bleeding into my relationships. I have been objectified by people who were supposed to love and care about me. I’ve been lucky enough lately to have some lovely gentlemen wander across my path. I may not have the code cracked just yet on how to never get hurt again. (If any of you reading this have, please let me in on your secret.) I have however, discovered one pattern that seems to lead you to good outcomes. Pay no mind to the boy who objectifies you, but instead give your attention the the man who recognizes your agency.