Men are like bugs in the summertime. You leave out feeling good and comfortable only to be swarmed by annoying gnats, which makes being outside unbearable.
Every summer, since I was 11, I've had to deal with men and their lust. Every summer, I have been asked to choose between being comfortable in my skin and making others comfortable about my body.
Since I hit puberty, I've been slut-shamed by both men and women of all ages. This has been regardless of my choice in clothes or my sexual activity. Because of my curvaceous nature and alluring aura, I've always been considered a hoe. I have been hyper-sexualized by almost everyone around me since I hit puberty. Summers have been filled with catcalling, random acts of sexual harassment in public, glares from other women, and uncomfortable stares of lust from men as long as I can remember. This has just been my experience.
I have always felt most comfortable in fewer clothes. Furthermore, it has always been challenging to find comfortable clothes for my body type in the summertime. I have a large butt, smaller waist & thick thighs. I sweat profusely in the summertime and have skin susceptible to heat rashes. Conservative clothes and undergarments in the summer generally torture me. It's sticky; it's hot, it's uncomfortable. I much prefer the no bra or panties maxi sundress look. Despite having excellent logic behind my wardrobe choices, I have been expected to feel shame around my clothing choices in the summertime for as long I can remember.
At a young age, I learned that my body made other people uncomfortable, and therefore I was expected to go to extra lengths to hide it. From a very young age, I was self-conscious about my curves. They made other women turn against me early in adolescence and caused creepy older men to target me.
I recall an incident in high school on a 90+ degree day. I was wearing a pair of Bermuda shorts, the only kind my mother allowed me to wear to school, a step up from my middle school rules of jeans under skirts. By no means were they in violation of the school dress code policy. I was standing in the hall between lunch periods when my principle, an older black man, approached me to discuss my shorts. When I enquired why I was being singled out as small framed girls ran past us in daisy dukes, he refuted with "you are thicker than the other girls." I ran immediately to my mentor, crying. This is just one of the many instances in my life where I have been policed in the summer because of my body type.
While my specific experience may be unique, all women share an experience of body policing or slut-shaming. Whether it's struggling to have a bikini body, being told you are too fat to wear an article of clothing, or second-guessing a cute outfit before leaving the house in fear of being catcalled (or worse) on the street; the policing of female bodies, particularly during the summertime, is nothing new. It is a product of the misogyny that is pervasive in our society. It is perpetuated by both men and women and ultimately harmful to all.
Let's talk about sexual harassment in the summertime for a second, can we?
I'm so tired of getting attacked by men who lack impulse control.
In my natural blissful state, I am carefree, joyful, radiant, and glowing. In the summer, I feel empowered by the sun and how my skin shines under it. I love the warmth; I love the liveliness of nature during this time. What I don't love about summer is men who think me enjoying my life in public is an invitation to disrupt my peace with their lust.
There are many clear body language signs when a woman does not want to interact with you, and I give all of them off consciously whenever I am in men's presence (unless we're at the bar and you're tipping). Yet some men, the bold, the intimidating, the brash, don't give a fuck about those signs.
It is outrageous how men act as though if a woman is attractive to them, she must validate their ego by entertaining their attraction. This entitlement to the energy of women generally leads to an invasion of our space. I have had men try to corner me into the backseat of my car in DC, and at gas stations, I've had men follow me, and even try to fight me for being unresponsive to their harassment. I have been verbally attacked on numerous occasions for ignoring the advances of random men on the street; I have had to leave public spaces without getting what I need due to being aggressively approached by crazy men. The list of inconveniences caused by male thirst goes on and on.
These examples are relevant to our conversation on the policing of female bodies in the summer because it is primarily due to rape culture that we teach women to police themselves. The shaming and policing of female bodies is packaged as a form of protection in an imperfect world.
I have personally been sexually assaulted on numerous occasions in my lifetime. These attacks by men have come to me regardless of the clothes I was wearing and regardless of my age and stage in life. The protection conservative clothing provides from sexual assault, harassment, and rape is only an illusion.
There is a layer of good ol' misogyny from other women that perpetuates these ideas. There is a population of women who thrive off of misogyny. They have been broken by the patriarchy and bought into the system of competition between women. They cosign the notion that "boys will be boys" and that men have no self-control. They have taken up the burden of a woman's responsibility to make herself less sexually tempting to men. These women are the enforcers or overseas of misogyny within the female community. They are the ones who are too ashamed and uncomfortable with their bodies to wear tight dresses, shorts, and tank tops in the summer or cheeky two pieces at the pool, so they talk shit about every other woman who does. They are the women who hurl judging glares and make unnecessary nasty comments. These are the women who enforce societal norms of what is appropriate to not trigger lust in men. They view empowered, sensual women as a threat when it comes to their chances for male attention.
In my Aquarius nature, I often react to bullshit with rebellion, pushing the envelope to assert my individuality and dominance through confidence. This has been my approach to my clothing choice in the summertime since I began PTSD recovery. At a certain point, I decided I wasn't going to let the fear of men attacking me, or people verbally abusing me, dictate what I wore to the point that I'm regularly uncomfortable.
Can we let women live?
As women, not participating in the caddy policing of each other via body shaming or slut-shaming is a huge start. I think in this generation, the majority of us are already there; we just got some old school aunties and pick me's who need to catch up. For men, change can look like not participating in catcalling and harassment, thinking twice about your style of approaching a woman you see out in public (if you need coaching, I have services available for that), calling out other men for abuse and harassment towards women, and affirming women under attack by other men in public spaces (this includes the internet) and beyond this, generally controlling your impulse to be validated by female attention.
Being respectful truly isn't that hard, and respect is just a base thing we should give to everyone.
I say all of this to make one thing clear; no woman should be made to feel ashamed or uncomfortable. No woman should have to carry the burden of protecting a group of men who regularly attack and harass them. And all women, regardless of body type, should be able to enjoy summer.
Every woman deserves to feel beautiful all summer, and every woman has the divine right to bask in her light. To glow as bright as she damn well pleases even if it blinds others & even if it attracts moths.