A few weeks ago in Chicago I was walking down the street in shorts and a t-shirt and a young gentleman stopped me to tell me I that my "tat" was awesome. I don't mind people looking or making (kind) comments at my tattoos generally so I said thank you with a nervous laugh and kept walking. He then told me, "it looks so sexy, your legs are so sexy" and proceeded to follow me down the block asking for my name and where I'm from. I'm embarrassed to tell you that I told him in short one-word answers because I'm a Passive Patsy and suck at telling strangers to fuck right off.
I will stress this again: I really and truly do not mind people coming up to me and complimenting or asking about my tattoos. In fact, just after my experience with "legs so sexy" guy I had another gentleman tell me that my leg tattoo was beautiful and asked who it had been done by. No touching, no weird "compliments" about my legs, just genuine human conversation. It's the sexualization of my body by a complete and total stranger and the implied assumption that I'd leap into bed with him for being so complimentary that makes this a whole other beast.
I know that there are those who have experienced much worse than this (I read an article on xoJane about women who've been groped and rubbed against on public transportation, how does this shit happen?!) but it nonetheless got me thinking about the idea of body policing.
This isn't new to me at least since I started getting visible tattoos. I've been grabbed and my tattoos have been stroked, I guess because people half-expect it to not just feel like skin. For some reason, people feel that they are entitled and even invited to make comments and invade personal space under the guise of flattery or honesty or some other guise I don't understand.
This isn't new to a lot of friends I have, either. Like you all I have friends who are short, tall, skinny, overweight, tattooed, non-tattooed, short-haired, and long-haired; no matter what adjective can be nailed to them they still receive unwanted attention, comments, and physical contact. Even online, there is a constant running commentary of what you could possibly be doing right or wrong with your body, be it tattooing your skin, eating too much, eating too little, dressing too provocatively, dressing like a prude, having too much or too little sex.
The only thread that binds this criticism--both positive and negative--is that it is almost uniformly directed toward women.
I doubt I have to tell you that my husband, a combat veteran and wildland firefighter with a kickass set of pecs, has never once been grabbed or stroked for his tattoos or for any other reason. His body has never been commented on in public by a stranger. No one has ever suggested he lose weight or eat more or be taller or be shorter (all of which has happened to friends of mine). And if he ever was accosted in such a way, I doubt he'd be expected to take it as complimentary and not just downright fucking weird and invasive. Nor would be considered an uptight asshole if he threatened to punch the person square in the face.
I guess what bothers me about the whole thing is that we as women are taught that we should more or less expect this kind of behavior and that it is our responsibility to take steps to avoid it. I'll be honest that after my run-in with "legs so sexy" I thought to myself, "I really shouldn't wear shorts and a tank top since all my tattoos show and I'm just inviting more harassment from creeps." That is complete and utter bullshit. As a woman and indeed as a person, I should in theory be able to walk down the street wearing whatever the hell I want without fear of harassment--and if harassment does come, the blame for it should never fall on anyone else's shoulders but the harasser's.
A woman's body is her own, just as a man's body is his own, and we should all have reasonable expectations that our boundaries will be respected. This is what we need to be teaching our daughters and in particular our sons, for that is where the change will hopefully come in time.