We often feel like there are these things that only happen to us. That we are alone in our feelings and the thoughts we have about our experiences as girls and young women. It starts so young. The comments, the judgments…the feeling of being watched.
Think of a time where someone commented on your body. What did they say? I remember, in high school, a boy asked me if I touched myself when I showered. I also remember being asked if I had a hairy pussy. These two comments still sit with me ten years later. Why? Because I was angry. I am still angry at the fact that someone felt they had the right to talk about my body this way. I am angry because these comments led to me feeling ashamed about my body. I am angry because I was not strong enough to tell these boys that they had no power over my body and that the choices I make about my body did not concern them.
While my experiences were over ten years ago, this type of toxic masculinity continues to haunt young girls today. When I interviewed girls for my book, I became aware of countless instances similar to my own. This type of male behavior is encouraged by our society. Young boys are taught that they need to comment on girls’ bodies to prove their masculinity.
Girls are taught that they are the problem. They are not. In fact, many of the problems they face are a product of male socialization (reinforced of course by female socialization). Socialization, simply put, is the act of adapting your behavior to the norms of society. Boys are taught to be assertive (maybe even a little aggressive) in both their lives and sexuality. Girls, on the other hand, are taught to be submissive and sexy but of course not too sexy and definitely not sexual.
This is a problem that can only be solved with proper education and upbringing. Instead of teaching girls to protect themselves and how to be the appropriate amount of sexy, we need to teach boys that girls’ bodies are not male property.
Until then, here are some tips for dealing with this type of behavior:
1. Talk About It
Tell your friends, a parent, teacher, counselor or anyone you can trust, about your experience. Holding in your feelings about this type of experience will only make you feel more alone.
2. You Are Normal
I think the thing that bothered me most about the comments made to me (about masturbation and body hair) was that I felt ashamed. I felt like I was the only one my age who had questions about whether my body was doing the same things as everyone else. Your body is normal. Hair, stretchmarks, periods, masturbation…it’s all normal. The problem is that we don’t talk about it enough because we fear that it isn’t.
3. Respond with Power
I want you to know that you are a powerful and amazing young girl. You may not feel like it but YOU ARE. Fake it until you make it. Respond to comments about your body without fear. Here are some examples of responses you can use to advocate for yourself:
- My body, my choice
- My body is none of your business
- I don’t need to listen to your toxic masculinity
- Take your hyper-masculinity elsewhere
- Real men don’t objectify women’s bodies
I want you to know that this behavior is NOT your fault. It’s a result of ingrained gender roles that are used to put down girls. It’s not your job to teach boys about respect, consent, and propriety. You are NOT alone. Wear what you want, be as sexual as you want and treat your body the way you want. You do not deserve to be body shamed. Your body is not the problem, toxic masculinity is.