When I first heard Emilie Autumn’s “Thank God I’m Pretty” some years back, I knew it would be one of my all-time favorite anthems—not because I was “truly privileged to look this good without clothes on,” mind you, but because the lyrics’ cutting sarcasm and feminist commentary, delivered in Emilie’s deep, textured vocals coupled with the piano and violin, appealed to me. I may have looked more like the subject of fat jokes rather than cat calls, but I could relate to the song on a theoretical level—until I became the object of unwanted male attention myself.
I’ve been on the receiving end of much staring and winking, leers, lewd comments, gesticulations, and propositions. Once I rode a cab whose driver wouldn’t stop bugging me for my number, despite my firm, repeated turndowns. I couldn’t exactly get off at some dark, deserted street in Manila at 1 a.m. then, so when we got to my neighborhood, I had him drop me off the wrong street and hid for a while until he drove away several minutes later. Another time, while waiting for a ride along Timog Ave., a boy approached me, begging for alms, and then he suddenly groped my boob. I wanted to punch his face but I just scurried away. As I boarded a jeepney along Quezon Avenue one night, the man sitting near the entrance of the jeep whispered “Ang ganda mo” (You’re pretty) and then openly stared at me throughout the ride to Manila, all the while mumbling gobbledygook. That we were alone in the jeep except for the driver and the guy’s friend, and that he was obviously high on something did nothing for my nerves. So now, when I listen to “Thank God I’m Pretty,” lines like “when it’s dark outside/ I have to run and hide and look behind me” leave the realm of merely theoretical fear and take on the menace of reality.
But I am not wangsting about being So Beautiful It’s a Curse, so you can hold the eye-rolling. In fact, I would argue that the only attraction I held for such men was my obvious and invariable possession of lady parts. Because, you see, this is not so much a matter of aesthetics as it is of gender/sexual politics. Those men hit on women because they can, because they believe such behavior is acceptable, because if a girl stays out alone late at night then she’s only asking for it, and it is their inalienable and patriarchal-god-given right to claim her attention and acknowledgment of their sexual interest regardless of the girl’s discomfort or fear. And our culture, apparently, still condones such backward machismo.
I know this theme is older than dirt, and really, given the advances made by feminism, I wonder why I’m writing a rant like this at all. But these experiences are making me SO ANGRY I feel like kicking the nether regions of the next man who makes a pass at me. Now, I’m fine with flirting. I usually can’t be bothered with it, yeah, but when I do participate in it, I enjoy it. Hey banter is fun! But the operative word is participate. I like it when the guys who flirt with me obviously see me as their equal: someone to exchange quips with, not an object to hit on and ~conquer~ (in any case, if a man can’t come up with a more intelligent come-on than a wink and a whistle, then he should stop wasting women’s time and just go hoot at his dog).
Getting hit on may not seem like such a big deal, especially when the man just makes a passing comment and doesn’t actually heckle the woman, but who’s to say those “little” leers and remarks don’t add up to harassment? Those men may not realize the amount of mental stress their “harmless teasing” causes—once, when some new acquaintance, practically a stranger, sidled up to me while I was lying by the beach one night and basically asked for sex, I was so disturbed and repulsed I couldn’t sleep the whole night. Or maybe they do realize it, and enjoy their power to cause discomfort. Why else would they advertise their horniness? I mean, hello? Dude, I don’t know you, I’m alone, it’s late, YOU ARE CREEPY, GO AWAY. Your attention is not flattering, in case you haven’t realized that yet from my raised eyebrow, dagger eyes, and twitching vein.
Of course I’m not generalizing that all men are such douchebags—I have a lot of pretty decent guy friends who find the rudeness of many members of their sex shameful too. But even some of those friends are like, Ikaw kasi, just don’t commute alone at night, don’t lie out on the beach by yourself, DON’T STAY OUT AFTER DARK OR THE BAD MEN WILL GET YOU. Firstly, it’s not like I have any choice, I don’t have a bodyguard and a yaya and a whole entourage of people to follow me around. Secondly, I have as much right as the next man to travel at night or to lie on the shore and not have to fear being harassed! Just because you are male and you have carnal desires does not give you the right to heckle any female in your midst. I am female, and I have carnal desires too but do I make a pass at every guy who catches my eye? NO, I respect their personal and psychic space!
I realize that we don’t live in the same world as Dora the Explorer and there’s no evading threats to one’s person especially when one doesn’t spend the whole day locked up in a room. But the fact remains that women are still generally seen as mere objects of male desire, not persons who deserve to be treated with common decency and courtesy. There’s a fine line between aesthetic appreciation and outright objectification, but it’s there. So please, guys, the next time you feel like getting into some random girl’s pants but can’t be bothered to go through the process of approaching her with propriety, making friends with her, getting to know her (not in the biblical sense), etc., please, just keep the thought—and your hands—to yourself.