Women are supposed to be WHAT?

According to a number of recent adverts, women are supposed to be perfect. We’re supposed to look “good” (whatever that means), fit (OK, for health reasons, but not for the reasons the ad-makers suggest), be “girly” (ugh), and oh, I dunno, we’re probably supposed to like everything pink, like shopping for shoes and handbags, and as an added bonus, so that we don’t intimidate men, be brainless and ditzy, too.

What the fuck?

That’s my actual question, here. What the fuck? I’m sure things were never this bad when I was a kid growing up in the 80s, though that may just be my clouded memory and rose-tinted specs. Of course I encountered adverts and magazines that told me how to look great for my boyfriend and how to please him in bed (as if that’s got anything to do with anyone else), but from what I’ve been reading lately, it seems it wasn’t half as bad for young girls then as it is now.

From experience, by the way, I can tell you that it’s not only girls who are slightly overweight who get punched in the emotional gut – I was never fat. I was the opposite, a very slender (school “mates” said “skinny”) girl, and guess what? That got me abuse, too. Someone once even asked if I had an eating disorder (though he was at pains to assure me he “wasn’t trying to be horrible”). No. I never had an eating disorder. I don’t know why I was as thin as I was, apart from anything else because I never denied myself food, but there you go. Some people at school were fat. They were bullied, too.

But now children are using mobile phones at school (don’t even get me started on that one, or we’ll be here all day), and girls are feeling pressured to send naked pictures of themselves to boys. Why? I can’t even begin to get my head around why anyone would do that. So he’s your boyfriend? He should respect you more than to ask you that. If he’s your boyfriend AND he then shares the naked picture of you with his pals, shaming you and making you feel like a slut, then you need to think twice about why he’s your boyfriend. Ditch him, girlfriend. You deserve better than that.

Women who experience sexism on the street (what am I saying? ALL women experience sexism on the street) and who are then dismissed by their partners, who suggest it was “nothing” and that they should “just ignore it” have a similar problem. I’m very fortunate. My significant other has lots of female friends, and so he understands a lot of the issues women have, at least as far as he can. There are limits to how much you can truly understand something you’ve never experienced and never will. But he understands more, I think, than most, and for various reasons that I won’t go into here (because they’re his reasons, not mine, and he’s perfectly capable of voicing his own opinions). He doesn’t avoid me when I have a period; he doesn’t dismiss me when I get in, panicky and out of breath, after thinking I was being followed; he certainly doesn’t try to tell me how to dress (though I will ask his opinion sometimes, particularly if we’re going out somewhere special). And I feel safe with him.

I feel safe with my kung fu family, as well. In our club, I’d guess there are about as many men as there are women, more or less, and I feel safe in their company. Mainly, obviously, with those I train with all the time, my immediate classmates. But martial arts, a decent club, at least, will teach someone how to be a good person, and that obviously includes teaching men not to be sexist arseholes and women not to take any shit.

But I’m in the minority in this situation, and I know that. And it’s sad. Women and girls are bombarded with adverts and articles all the time, telling us what we should want, what we should look like (still no one has ever defined the perfect woman, as people are going to disagree on what makes someone sexy, though white, thin and blonde seems to be the benchmark – sorry, ladies who aren’t any of those things – society thinks you’re ugly). And then there’s this latest advertising campaign from Protein World, “Are you beach body ready?” (I have issues with the grammatical accuracy of that sentence, but for once, I’m going to let it slide, as that’s hardly the issue, here.) Women are angry. We’re taking it personally. Women are defacing these ads on the Tube (right on, sisters, knock yourselves out). Frankly, women and girls have fucking had enough.

I’m 5’ 3”, and fairly fit (at least, I hope so, otherwise my instructor will be having words). I am 40 years old and am wondering when I’m going to start becoming invisible. That doesn’t seem to be happening, just yet, partly, I suspect, because I don’t look my age, and I never have. But my “reward” for not looking 40 is being treated, by some random men, as if I’m nothing, or as if I’m not “normal” (OK, I’m not, but that’s neither here nor there, at this point). The other day, I was carrying my staff on the Tube after class, and a man said to me, ‘I’m sorry, I have to ask – what is that?’ So I explained. Fair enough. Seemed like an innocent question. He was curious. OK. But then when I went to get off the Tube, he told his cronies to let me through, because “she likes hitting people.” I’m sorry? I don’t recall saying that. And why would he use those words? About a stranger he’d never seen before in his life? Whom he didn’t know? And I found myself thinking he felt threatened. By me. A relatively short, usually unassuming, petite woman who was minding her own business and just wanted to get to the train station on time, because she was tired, and who didn’t really want to speak to anyone because she couldn’t be arsed to engage. What gave him the right to pass judgement on me? Ah, that’ll be it. He was a man, and I’m just a little woman.

This has seriously got to stop, but I don’t think it will, at least I don’t think it will in my lifetime. I feel for girls growing up now, who have so much hate coming their way from boys (who grow into men) who are not taught that treating girls as if they’re objects is not OK. Treating women as if we’re less than human is not OK. Abusing women, emotionally, sexually, mentally, is not OK. A great many men are signing up to the cause. The @EverydaySexism Twitter handle and #HeforShe hashtag are still going strong. Every so often, they flare up, as something else happens to enrage women; in this case, that fucking Protein World ad. This is ongoing. And we have to keep fighting. We fought to win the rights we have, and we must fight to keep them, or else they will be lost, and we’ll have to start all over again, and this time, it’ll be even harder.

Women are the biggest oppressed group of people in the world. Fifty per cent of the global population, give or take. Without women, there would be no men. Do many men *really* forget that? Or do they think they can use science to produce children without us? Gimme a break.

We are human. At least, most of us are. And this sexism, this abuse, this oppression, cannot be allowed to continue. It has to stop.

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