I’ve been ruminating over my own experiences as a pretty woman for some time now. On the one hand it has definitely benefited me in some ways. I understand that it can benefit me in larger ways that I don’t necessarily notice or know about because of the reaction our society has to attractive people. Here’s the thing, some days the positives probably do outweigh the negatives, but at 2 in the afternoon when I’m having to threaten to cut some guy on a bus to get him away from me and random bystanders are ready to victim blame because I had the nerve to wear shorts on a hot summer day it doesn’t feel like it.
I know street harassment (hell misogyny in general) knows no bounds and that women of all races and sizes deal with some version of it. I’m not trying to downplay anyone else’s experiences. I’m just focused on what I’ve noticed since I gained enough weight to move from a B cup to a D cup. I’m pretty in that way people are when they have symmetrical features, the genes for straight white teeth, and a socially accepted body type. Please note, I am not saying this is the only way to be attractive, it is simply the way in which I am attractive.
My decision to go natural, and put my hair into comb coils means that I now have longish hair with a minimum amount of effort. In the past when I was the aforementioned B cup and had a habit of wearing my hair short I’d run into harassment probably once or twice a week. Now? It’s pretty much daily. Some of it is definitely because I present as very feminine now (I have a grown up job that requires business casual attire and in the summer that means a lot of skirts because I hate long pants when the sun is trying to broil me alive) and that seems to make some men feel as though I’m dressing to attract their attention. Some of my harassers have gone so far as to claim that everything I do is to attract their attention. The other day I actually had a guy insist that I wouldn’t have sat in the same row as he did on the bus if I wasn’t interested. Apparently the concept of public transport eluded him. Then again so did the idea that he wasn’t entitled to my being receptive to his overtures so we went the standard misogynistic insult route when I didn’t play my part of his internal script.
And it’s not just street harassment (though I’m at a point where it feels like a one way forcefield would be a good look so I can traverse the city in relative comfort) I also find myself being taken for an airhead on sight. I’m having to prove my intelligence over and over again to people who should have a clue. Someone at my current job was so amazed that I knew anything about computers that he broke into a conversation another coworker and I were having to tell me of his shock and awe. Twice. I don’t have the fanciest job title in all the land, but I do employ a fair amount of critical thinking skills on a day to day basis. Granted the case could be made that his shock was down solely to race and gender, but I’ve got my doubts since his hands couldn’t stop making certain gestures while he was expressing that shock and awe.
Is this a “It’s not easy being pretty so you should feel tons of sympathy for my plight” post? No. Well, at least that’s not what I’m trying to convey. I’m just feeling like some of the people in this article who are both reaping the rewards and suffering from the side effects. It’s easy to talk about pretty privilege, but the reality is that (like a lot of other facets of life) being attractive is a double edged sword. Just as white privilege doesn’t remove the oppression of sexism, or male privilege doesn’t remove the oppression of racism, being pretty doesn’t do away with any of those oppressions. In fact it can heighten the incidence rate (at least that’s been my experience) and then any comments about why it is happening are met with derision. Because we as a society seem to think being pretty is a cure all, so there’s a huge focus on becoming attractive without any discussion of what happens when you are attractive. Misogyny is a hell of a drug in general, and it seems to get particularly potent when it can be justified by pointing at a woman’s appearance as being such that it attracts the male gaze so she deserves whatever happens to her. Fetishization of attractive POC lends a certain nasty edge to the racial component, and that’s before we start getting into the intersectionality of class with this topic. I know it’s a tricky area to discuss, but I want to start having the discussion any way. You in?