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Of all the things you want to hear while walking to the subway at 11 p.m. on a Friday night, a man screaming at you for eating frozen yogurt on the sidewalk is not one of them.
It took me a moment to register that the “girl” the man was yelling at was me, a 26-year-old medium-sized woman leisurely strolling across town after a late-night stop at 16 Handles, armed only with a healthy serving of froyo and an assortment of toppings. Once I realized I was being spoken to, I stopped in my tracks, too shocked to do anything but turn and look at the man who had interrupted my I’m so happy I’m eating these delicious ice cream-like processed chemicals internal monologue. He responded with a leering look and a nod. I walked away, my cheeks flushed with shame, instantly reverting to the most insecure version of myself.
It was a humiliating and startling experience. So startling that I walked halfway down the block, threw the remainder of my frozen yogurt — I couldn’t stomach even one more bite — into the nearest trash can and got on the subway in a daze, a thread of mixed messages running through my mind: That guy was an asshole. Why didn’t I turn around and tell him to f**k off? Am I fat? I’m fat. Whether or not I’m fat, it doesn’t matter. Why am I letting some random dude make me feel like crap? It was goddamn froyo! I’m disgusting. I’m probably going to die alone. I’m not fat. I’m so fat.
Despite being a generally upbeat, well-informed, body-positive person, I left the interaction feeling terrible about myself. My figure had officially become a casualty of the body wars.
People should be able to walk down the street eating without worrying about comment or harassment from strangers. That seems like common sense. But the sad reality is that for women, eating in public can be fraught with unwanted commentary, sexual innuendo and judgment. Doing so can turn a pleasant evening into an exercise in maintaining a semblance of self-esteem.
And it’s startling how common stories like mine are. When we asked our Facebook community whether anyone had experienced public food-shaming, the thread got over 200 comments and we received emails from dozens of women all over the U.S., Canada and the U.K. wanting to share stories.
One was Vicki*, now 30, from Cardiff, Wales. When she got up to go to the restroom during her 21st birthday celebration — which, naturally, included cake — she didn’t expect to leave the party in tears. “Some 50-year-old jock who was standing at the bar smacked me on the side of my hip and said, ‘Looks like someone’s had too much cake already,’” she told me. “I went into the bathroom and cried. [It] ruined my entire birthday.”
Why Strangers Give A Damn What Women Eat In Public
According to certified health coach Isabel Foxen Duke, there is a reason why a woman licking an ice cream cone or chowing down on a piece of pizza on the sidewalk often elicits a reaction from strangers.
“As a way of performing their gender role, women are supposed to be trying to lose weight or maintain their figures at all times,” Duke said in an interview. “So if you’re [eating in public], you’re basically saying, ‘Hey, I have a right not to diet,’ and you’re going to get backlash. At the end of the day, not trying to lose weight is counter-cultural for women.”
The vitriol directed at women’s bodies, especially women who fall outside of the sometimes impossible standards of conventional attractiveness, has consequences. We live in a country where 40 percent of 9 and 10-year-old girls have dieted, and where 78 percent of young women feel bad about their bodies by the time they hit 17. Clearly, something is affecting the mental health of American girls.
The thin and fit ideal for women is reinforced in magazines and movies, on television and billboards, on weight-loss reality shows and even, at times, inpublic health campaigns.
“As the war on obesity increases in visibility and as the funding [for it] increases, I’ve been finding people’s entitlement to talk about my body increasing,” Virgie Tovar, a body image and fat discrimination expert, told HuffPost. “Women are already constantly being observed and judged, so women become disproportionate victims of this government mandate against obesity. It makes everyone a f**king vigilante.”
It’s not just larger women who experience these sort of stranger-delivered PSAs on their eating habits. Five years ago, when Maeghan*, a 28-year-old woman from Nashville, weighed just 115 pounds, she went into a McDonald’s to buy a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone.
“As I was leaving with my ice cream, a random guy sitting in the dining area looked me up and down and commented, ‘You know you gotta be careful eating stuff like that or you’ll lose that figure,’” she said. “What he didn’t know was how I already felt guilty about the ice cream because it was not my weekly ‘eat anything day.’ He didn’t know I worked out two hours a day, six days a week, plus walks on Sunday, or that my dining habits at that time certainly fell into the category of ‘borderline eating disorder.’ To this day, I blame myself for his remarks.”
Tovar maintained that fatphobia is at the root of most food-shaming commentary, regardless of whether the woman on the receiving end is size 2 or size 22. “What’s so interesting about fatphobia is that it impacts anyone who could become fat at some time,” Tovar said, “which is everyone.”
When Food-Shaming Becomes Street Harassment
Amy Schumer’s “I’m So Bad” sketch hilariously skewers women’s tendencies to police their own eating habits and those of their friends. In the sketch, four women out for lunch at a restaurant try to console and one-up each other’s “bad” food-related behaviors. “I was cyberbullying my niece on Instagram the other day and I literally ate 15 mini-muffins,” Schumer laments. “I’m so bad.”
Much has been written seriously about our unhealthy tendency to put foods into “bad” and “good” categories, to obsess over calories and weight gain, and to subject ourselves to regimented food rules and diets, all in the name of faux “health” — and looking good (read: thin). But unsolicited, food-related comments that come from (primarily male) strangers are less widely discussed. And yet, the experience of being targeted by a random man on the street is fundamentally different from having your mother or a female colleague give you the side-eye for taking two croissants from the bread basket at lunch.
Kelly*, 59, still vividly remembers one hectic morning when she was 38 and decided to grab breakfast on her way to work. She was eating a scone and coffee while walking to her job in Seattle when two young men passed by in a car and started making pig noises. “I didn’t realize they were making the noises at me, until they came back,” she told me. “They’d driven around the block so they could catch me as I crossed the street in order to make sure I heard them this time. My throat closed up and I started to cry. I couldn’t keep eating, even though I was super hungry. I felt so vulnerable and ashamed. It still makes me want to cry just remembering it.”
After speaking to experts and hearing the stories of women with experiences similar to mine, one thing became clear: When a stranger comments on what you are eating in a public setting, it is a form of street harassment, something that 70 percent to 99 percent of women internationally report experiencing.
Street harassment “is about ownership of public spaces,” Debjani Roy, deputy director of Hollaback!, an organization dedicated to ending street harassment, explained. “It is also an opportunity to do this thing that everyone does to women — which is objectify them. It’s the idea that it’s okay to police what is acceptable in terms of what it means to be a woman, be feminine, be attractive.”
Knowing that you are vulnerable to judgment — and possibly a verbal attack — every time you step outside may severely limit the way you act away from your home. There’s a reason number 19 on BuzzFeed’s July list of “29 Things Women Avoid Doing Because We Fear For Our Safety” is “eat food in public — like ice cream cones — that might attract unwanted male attention.”
Tovar told me that as a fat woman, she constantly anticipates someone commenting negatively on her body, and therefore “tends to avoid” eating in public.
I sure as hell take pause before heading out of a froyo shop alone these days.
Public food-shaming also extends beyond the streets, onto computer screens and smartphones. In April 2014, a public Facebook page called Women Who Eat On Tubes, which featured photos of women eating on the London tube — posted without the permission of the women featured — gained significant mainstream media attention. The growing “fan base” of Women Who Eat On Tubes, which, though the page is now private, clocks in at over 32,000, set off a conversation about the potentially harmful nature of posting photos that may sexualize and/or shame women simply for putting food into their bodies.
“I hugely dislike the fact that women eating on the tube is even seen as noteworthy,” wrote The Guardian’s Nell Frizzell about the Facebook page. “Women need to eat. They do important jobs, they make useful things, they have interesting things to say, they have people relying on them and they cannot cope with all that on an empty stomach.”
An Instagram account You Did Not Eat That, started at the end of April, specifically targets thin women (and the lifestyle brands that use them to promote sales) for posting photos of fattening foods. The message of the account is that a thin woman could not possibly eat a donut or an ice cream cone or bacon and keep her lithe figure. It is an inherently problematic perspective, given that some women are naturally thin, regardless of whether they eat pink frosted donuts.
“People need to acknowledge the existence of body diversity outside of the context of eating specific foods,” said Duke. “A person can eat ice cream and still be thin, and a person can not eat ice cream and still be fat. Just because you see a person eating something on the street, doesn’t mean you know anything about their health status.”
Your Body? No One Else’s Business
Changing the way an entire culture thinks about body image, food consumption and health means fighting a long and uphill battle. And a lot of that fight comes down to individual women saying f**k it, and eating what they want, when they want, where they want.
“It really just boils down to: ‘My body is not a democracy, it’s a dictatorship,’” said Duke. “You don’t get to tell me what I can or can’t do with my body, and what I put in my body is not your decision.”
She also suggests looking at your afternoon stroll near your work while eating a burrito as a political act — a way of mobilizing women around the fight for body positivity and safer public spaces.
Geneen Roth, author of Women Food and God, agreed that women need to learn to divorce themselves from what she calls the “insanity” of the larger culture — and recognizes that it’s easier said than done.
“I think that one thing is to realize that when someone comments on something you’re eating, it’s not about you,” Roth said in an interview. “It’s about them and their craziness and their judgments — and usually [how they feel about] themselves.”
And the more secure you feel in your own skin, the less a shaming comment is likely to derail your self-esteem.
“If a woman feels that she has a right to eat what she wants to eat, that she’s really fine in herself, that it’s nobody else’s business what she looks like and eats — which it isn’t — then how that woman would react is to not have a reaction,” Roth said. “Or [she would] say ‘Oh, poor guy. There’s something wrong with you.’”
Here at HuffPost Women, we once published a collection of photos of women eating. Those diverse pictures are a reminder that not only is food nourishing and necessary, but a source of real joy.
“When I eat a cupcake in public, I give all women everywhere permission to do the same,” said Duke.
Sexual / street harassment is not a new thing. I experienced it all my life. Currently I am doing academic research on it too. And then it made me to respond to the harassers. Just a few days back, I was walking nearby the bull ring where a man was passing by and commented something like “nice smile” , I didn’t hear it properly , but I saw his leering face. He kept walking, but I turned around and shouted “f*** off”. I shared this to some of my female friends and to my utter surprise , they said- how can it be a harassment, its a compliment !!
Again, just yesterday, a man was waiting by my side in the signal and said ” Hey beautiful”. I didn’t say anything , but kept staring directly at his eyes. Then he said-”smile”. I asked-”why ?” he said again- “smile”. I asked too- Why would I smile to you, f****er ?? ” The signal was green then, so I started crossing the road, realising how good it feels to respond. It gives a feeling that I have got my own back !! Never gonna let anybody go anymore.
writes Laura Bates, original article here
Not sure if you are complimenting a woman, starting a flirty conversation – or harassing them? Consult our handy checklist
“Equality means never paying a woman a compliment” … said no feminist ever.
Amid the exciting recent surge of feminist activism and energy in the UK, a slight confusion seems to have crept in around the idea of battling sexual harassment. Summarised by a recent Comment is Free piece by David Foster, the general concern seems to be that by condemning sexual harassment and discriminatory behaviour, we will somehow accidentally sweep up well-meaning compliments and flirting in the melee and inadvertently do away with all sexual interaction.
Well, there’s no need to panic! Feminism simply means wanting everybody to be treated equally regardless of their sex. It’s as simple as that. And no part of that definition maligns or “bans” flirting, telling somebody they look nice, or going at it like joyfully consenting rabbits in whatever style, location, position or combination of partners your heart desires.
What it does mean is that women shouldn’t be scared to walk down the street; shouldn’t be faced with intimidating and aggressive sexual shouts from cars and vans; shouldn’t be treated as dehumanised sex objects; shouldn’t be made to feel that men have an inherent entitlement to their bodies in public spaces.
Strange though it seems to have to keep reiterating it, the difference between sexual harassment and flirting is really fairly clear. It’s actually quite insulting to the vast majority of men to suggest that they aren’t perfectly capable of knowing the difference between complimenting someone, starting a flirty conversation, and harassing them. The clue is in the name: harassment. And if you’re hoping to end up in bed with someone, of whatever gender, it’s really in your interests to steer clear of harassing them, as it’s likely to be fairly unhelpful to proceedings.
I think very few men would be concerned, upon reading through the page after page of stories we have collected from women screamed at, pursued, groped, licked, touched, appraised, scared and frustrated by street harassers, that combating these things might somehow interfere with their personal pickup style.
But for those still in doubt, you could always run through this handy checklist of questions:
• Is the way in which I’m making this advance likely to scare or alarm the person?
• Has the person already made it clear to me that they are uninterested in my advances?
• Does the speed at which my vehicle is moving rule out any likelihood of a response to this advance?
• Is this “advance” actually just a shouted and uninvited assessment on my part of this person’s attractiveness/body/genitals?
• Does the context of this situation (a job interview, for example) make a direct sexual advance offensive or inappropriate?
• Am I actually, all things considered, just being a bit of a dick?
If the answer to any of the above is “yes”, then perhaps what’s happened here is that you have accidentally confused sexual harassment with a respectful sexual advance. In this case I refer you to the advice of a lady on Twitter, who rather eloquently summed things up:
Frankly, if your “liberated sexual advances” are cock-blocked by the @EverydaySexism project, you’re probably doing them wrong.
— Eleanor Orebi Gann (@almostalady) April 9, 2014
More seriously, though, to make the wounded assertion that everybody, men and women, must retain their vital libertarian right to make direct propositions for sex is to display rather a major ignorance of the circumstances in which many women experience such propositions, on a near daily basis. When you’ve had “Get your tits out love” or “All right darlin’, fancy a shag?” shouted at you across a busy street; when you’ve been angrily pursued with shouts of “Slag … slut … whore” simply for politely declining such advances; when you’ve been lecherously harassed in the workplace, or confronted with somebody who simply won’t take no for an answer until the alternative “ownership” of a boyfriend finally convinces them – when you’ve experienced all this and more, it can have a bit of an impact on how you respond to unsolicited sexual advances.
Yes, sometimes just a tad of caution might creep in. Is it too much to ask that you respect that context? Is it really all just too wearisome to have to go that extra mile in your approach to reassure the person you’re flirting with that you’re not harassing them?
And if your answer is yes – if you are so frustrated by the atmosphere created by our gender imbalanced society in which such a large proportion of women experience harassment, and by the annoying caution that this engenders in some of your female flirting targets, guess what? The people you need to blame for that, the people you should be getting angry with, are the harassers. They are the ones ruining your fun and cramping your style – not feminist women and men who call out such behaviour when it happens.
Telling us that not all men are sexist or perpetrate harassment is preaching to the choir – the Everyday Sexism Project has received the most overwhelming support from men all over the world. We actually celebrate their awesomeness pretty regularly too.
But if you want to carry on making the point that many men are absolutely on the side of gender equality, you need to put your money where your mouth is. And in this case, that means stepping back, seeing the bigger picture and throwing your weight behind those battling sexual harassment, not moaning about the comparatively miniscule impact the widespread oppression of women might be having on your own personal sex life.
Just another day going for a run, when a car beeps at me as they drive past. Within another 3 minutes or so, another car does the same, except the shout some sexist and racial abuse towards me. I ignore it and continue to run. Within the space of 5 seconds, another car does exactly the same. Again, I’m really angry, but continue to run. The same car decides to loop round and repeat their actions. This time, out of no where, I accidentally slip out 2 words that really pushed their buttons. They decided to loop round again but this time, they stop and launch a large cup of coke from McDonalds all over me. This happened 5 or 6 hours ago and I am still absolutely fuming. This all happened so quickly so I was unable to get their number plate. I am livid. What makes them think it’s ok to drive round shouting abuse at girls then throwing a drink over them when they say something back?! I was absolutely hysterical as I walked home as they threatened to find me and beat me up and there’s absolutely nothing I can do.
The A roads, the spokes in the wheel of Birmingham, are the places I’ve experienced the most harassment. Last Wednesday lunchtime I walked from the city centre to the Royal Mail sorting office alone, and got 2 car horns and an aggressive “SMILE!” from a guy as he walked passed me. It doesn’t sound like much but the sudden way he did it made me jump and feel very vulnerable.
Polly Toynbee writes: http://gu.com/p/3m34t
What are the women whingeing about? If a grown woman can’t handle a hand on her knee, she’s probably not fit for the rough and tumble of the workplace. Men do try it on, but surely the women could politely tell the portly peer with the wandering hands that they’re not interested. Why quite such a fuss when nothing much actually happened? Either these four women are over-sensitive or else they must be part of some conspiracy.
That’s the gist of one side of the argument among Lib Dem peers who cheered Lord Rennard last week, two to one in his favour. Now the stand-off has been put back on ice: another inquiry and a disciplinary procedure to see if he brought the party into disrepute by refusing to apologise. He says he can’t, for fear of being sued. Others say Nick Clegg should have sat him down and cobbled together one of those non-apologies that go “Sorry if some people have taken offence”. But with blood boiling on both sides, this only freezes the dilemma. The party is in disrepute.
One MEP said Rennard’s behaviour was no different to the bottom-pinching Italian men of yore. But most Rennard defenders adopt the kind of “common sense” attitude that has dogged every attempt to improve women’s position since the suffragettes. Remember David Cameron’s patronising “Calm down, dear” – there it was again in Clegg’s complaint today that the argument around Rennard was “shrill”. Such mild put-downs are harder to confront than full-frontal misogyny.
But these cases are deadly: Rennard’s reputation is shot, but his four women accusers stand disbelieved, with their claims not “beyond reasonable doubt”. With QC Alistair Webster’s report being secret, all we are left with is the impression that one man’s evidence seems to have carried more weight than four women complainants, sharia style.
For those who had never heard of Lord Rennard, in the teacup of the Lib Dem party he is a storming figure. Magician of Lib Dem byelection victories, many senior figures owe their selection, election or preferment to him. Few forget the whisker-thin Clegg-Huhne leadership contest when the Christmas post delayed the postal ballots. Those votes were heavily pro-Huhne, but the Clegg side demanded they be ignored: Rennard adjudicated in Clegg’s favour.
So Rennard had immense power over the four women aspiring to be Lib Dem candidates. If he did what they claim, then surely only that power would have given this physically unprepossessing man the nerve to try his luck with younger more attractive women. Did an implied “come up and see my target seat” let a political supremo make passes at women well out of his league – or did they make it up and risk all for mischief?
Sexual harassment is all about power. When that phrase first flew across the Atlantic, we didn’t know how to pronounce it: harassment or harassment? Nor did we know how bad it had to be before it counted, along the continuum all the way to rape. Back then groping, pinching and outright sexual threats were commonplace. New girls – and “girls” we were – were warned of the worst leches, that it was not safe to be alone in their offices. But no one complained because no one would listen, and it would mark you down as trouble and no fun. In a 1980s newsroom where I was the only woman editor, other women came to me wondering what to do about an editor who promoted via his bedroom and demoted those who refused. A man with power at work over a woman can never have a fair and equal relationship: how will it end, what happens to her if they break up? Whose job is at risk? Never his.
Costly employment tribunal cases taken by brave women may make men more circumspect. As cases are now unearthed from yesteryear, some complain they’re from another age, another culture: if so, any culture change is only because some women dare to call out their abusers. But read the evidence from the Everyday Sexism Project and the change looks cosmetic, with more than 10,000 complaints about workplace harassment received last year – still so insidious, with victims so vulnerable.
How will women in politics feel on hearing these four complainants only suffered “behaviour that violates their personal space and autonomy“? Westminster remains a man’s palace, its 22% women MPs too few to tip the balance. Neither Tories nor Lib Dems learn from Labour that the only way women break past men’s barricades is with women-only shortlists and quotas. Douglas Hurd voiced what both parties think when he said last week that things are “slightly ludicrous” when parties think “there ought to be more women in this or that sphere of our life“.
Tory politicians’ use and abuse of women subordinates is well documented. The Lib Dems were always bad on women: around Jeremy Thorpe was a curious closet-gay coterie unwelcoming to women. Oddly, that unfriendly-to-women aura remained in not-gay David Steel’s milieu. Lib Dem women’s voices are few, with no uprising over this. Labour may promote more women, but more than one cabinet minister needed his women staff protected from slobbery kisses and aggressive fumblings.
Power may be an aphrodisiac, but it certainly gives otherwise unappealing men the chutzpah to imagine so. Touching up women at work is a way to exert power, often an act of aggression to keep them in their place: underneath it all, women’s realm is the bedroom. The politics of sex are too difficult to navigate, men complain. At work, as at home, the only etiquette question is who has the power. And what women hear again from the Lib Dems is, “Not you.”
I’m writing this because it happened a few weeks ago and I’ve not seen the lady in question since on my commute to and from work. I feel it needs to be shared and also because I hope maybe it’ll find it’s way back to her.
Early in October I was walking from Shirley station down the Hasluck’s Green road, and watched one lady I see on my commute occasionally cycling home. She got to a junction and waited on her bicycle for the traffic to clear to turn right into Sansome Road when a hatchback type car passed her slowly and I saw the driver’s hand reach out and touch her bottom. She looked back but carried on cycling home and I took a note of the vehicle registration as they drove away.
I’ve been trying to spot her since then but haven’t seen her, but if in the unlikely event this does get back to her, i’ve got the reg number still on my phone if you want to make a complaint to the police, or if you already have i’m fully happy to make a statement to back you up because what I saw was not okay at all.
When I was 16, I was walking home with a friend when I looked down a side passageway to a house that was being built upon. There was a man down there with his penis out, touching it and looking at us.
In shock I exclaimed ‘Really?!’ and carried on walking. My friend hadn’t seen, so pulled me to one side after minutes of silence and I explained what happened.
We thought very little of it, until we found out it had happened (on multiple occasions) to another girl in our 6th form, who lived on the road. He would see her walking from her house and prepare for when she walked past the house in question.
We then went to the head of 6th form and the case was reported to the police. After we had both given statements, the man was found but was only given a warning after he said that they ‘had to wee down the side of the house as there wasn’t a toilet fitted yet’, and he was trying to start his own business.
He certainly wasn’t weeing when I or the other girl saw him. Whilst we were a little older and could handle the situation, this house was also on a road where there was a high school for 11-14 year olds.
What if this had happened to them?