Sometimes it is hard to believe we are in 2017, we’ve all been there.
In the beginning of June we took a very anticipated trip to Paris. It was my first time in the city of love and fashion and I was truly excited. I’ve always thought of French culture as very open minded. A “casual braless and slightly transparent” kind of open. Putting it simply, a country comfortable with nudity. Well, this may or may not have been an accurate depiction of French mindset, but it truly shocked me when a random man decided it was his duty to tell me I needed to cover myself.
Lately I’ve been obsessed with acrobatic pictures. They inspire me to work harder and and learn more just so I can get that perfect angle. Our trip to Paris seemed like the right opportunity to make use of these skills. So there I was, in front of the pyramids outside of Louvre, trying to get a backbend or a Warrior III pose. For each picture I dared a little more, comfortable enough to start climbing benches or the water fountain.
My boyfriend, thrilled with the opportunity to practice his photography skills, directed me into different angles. That’s when a man dressed in security gear approached him and started speaking in French.
My immediate thought was to get off the edge of the water as he was probably concerned with safety, although in the split second that took me to form the thought, I also considered how odd it was that he didn’t come directly to me. That’s when it hit me! He was pantomiming to my boyfriend something that looked like the motion of someone putting a jacket on. My boyfriend struggled to understand as he threw a few english sentences like “It’s not correct”, and “this is not the beach”.
I charged forward and asked him: “are you saying I should put my jacket on”? The man, clearly uncomfortable, left.
Here is what I was wearing:
My very first instinct was to actually put my jacket on, maybe intimidated by the security garment, or maybe years of imposed shame for having a woman’s body. I was truly feeling like I had done something wrong. However, the more rational part of my brain kept fighting, “wait, there is nothing wrong with what I’m wearing!”, so I just slowly walked away from the Louvre, and only covering myself when I was clearly out of sight.
Yes, I did cover myself eventually, because I was still processing what had just happened and it made me feel less vulnerable that way.
I kept thinking that maybe I was just one of these stupid tourists who doesn’t know anything about the culture they’re in and doesn’t care to learn either. It wasn’t until later when I reflected back on this man’s behavior, where he was unable to speak directly to me, I finally understood that this man in particular, was living in a different century – and if you’re wondering, yes, this was just an average white man.
Well, people are entitled to their opinion, he can have his. What’s really sad about this story is knowing that the immediate shame I felt is fruit of a society who incites shame on the mere fact of a woman being a woman, making us responsible for man’s desire and therefore deserving punishment. Most of us spend our lives without even knowing how much of it has shaped who we are. Have you ever decided not to wear something you really like because of how men may perceive you? Or because, as the security guard stated, “it’s not correct”? Have you ever disconsidered a piece of clothing because you didn’t feel safe?
In countries where sexism is so prolific – like Brasil – where rape and catcalling are pieces of every woman’s daily life, it becomes very evident. We’re not free to be ourselves and walk on the streets, unless, of course, you make yourself the least feminine as possible. I realize that culture turned me into someone who despises being sexy, always avoids all kinds of feminine traits, make up, high heels or any kind of skin exposure due to the abuse I have experienced early in life and the fear I’d never be safe. It wasn’t until I moved to California that I slowly started opening up to the idea of being, well, a woman.
But how do we solve this problem? We can’t ignore the danger, but we can’t confine ourselves forever either.
Later on in this same trip, we visited Geneva. Sasha, my 8 years old stepson immediately noticed that the Statue de la Bise wasn’t wearing any clothes, so we went on to have a little chat about how nudity was a sign of confidence, but never an invitation to touch, comment or do anything, that we all must respect people’s bodies, and also our own, no matter how they look. We may have to have many other conversations like that before he really gets it, but we’re confident it planted the seed.
Honestly, I believe the answer doesn’t lie on how we women behave, but how we, man or woman, teach our boys to, firstly, respect any woman or anyone’s body, secondly, handle their own feelings. What do you think?
Photograph by: Mazi Minoui