By: Glenne Fucci, IATG Contributor March 3, 2016
From the time we’re little kids, we’re told to keep our hands to ourselves. We learn that our bodies are our own and that others don’t have a right to touch them unless we give them permission. We learn that we are in control of our bodies and our space, and we (should) get to say what is and is not okay for us in that space. Unfortunately, it seems as we grow older, this wise kindergarten wisdom falls further and further away from our reality.
It seems as we grow bigger and taller and stronger and we head out into the world to forge our own path, our personal space shrinks smaller and smaller. I don’t mean the personal space riding the subway during Monday morning rush hour (because if you’re not touching or bumping up against someone at that hour, the train is just not full enough); I mean the kind of personal space we seem to lose as women in this world. I mean the bodily autonomy that seems to be a distant memory when some feel it okay to touch you without asking your permission, those who assume that because you are a girl you can be touched or poked.
A few weeks back, I was out with friends. It was late and we were tired. A few of us were sitting at a table, waiting until our other friends tired themselves out enough to head home. We were talking, trying to keep our eyes open. I yawned and then suddenly felt someone’s hand on my face. I couldn’t quite process what was going on. Why were someone’s fingers both over and in my mouth? I froze, not getting the opportunity to dropkick him the way I wished I had. Seconds later (although it felt like years), the owner of the hand leaned into my ear and told me that he did not permit yawning in his bar, and he wanted to know what he could do to make me less tired. I immediately shut down, my friends told him to get lost (and that no, they did not want any complimentary drinks after he just accosted their friend), and we all just sat there in abject silence for the next three minutes, trying to process how someone completely uninvited and unwanted feels it is their prerogative to approach a girl from behind and put a hand over and in her mouth.
The girls sitting with me that night decided to take this opportunity to have a conversation about what we all go through on a weekly basis though.
We started talking about the vile catcalls we get hurled at us when we’re out for a jog, the men who follow us around and leer at us at the corner store when we’re trying to pick up some milk, or, most egregiously, those that go beyond catcalling and glaring and physically touch us as we’re just trying to go through life. We all had stories about feeling uncomfortable, feeling disgusting or violated, but I was surprised at just how many of us also had stories about having our personal space physically invaded. One of my friends told me about how a man followed her around the subway platform asking her out. After she ignored him long enough, he actually grabbed her arm, spun her around, and asked her why she wouldn’t go out with him. She ducked into the next subway car and headed to work, trying to hold her head high as her morning was just ruined.
Here’s the thing, however naive it may be, we don’t go into the day thinking we’re going to be harassed. We don’t plan on being grabbed by strangers on our morning commute, and we don’t think about someone pinching our back when we’re out for a girls night.
We still believe that our personal space is ours and that the kindergarten, golden rule of keeping our hands to ourselves sunk into the rest population as much as it sunk into us.
These issues don’t just arise in the context of me and my friends living in New York City. Girls across the globe face these challenges on a daily basis, and in much worse ways than an unwanted man placing a hand on my face. In many societies, women are accosted on a daily basis when trying to get to work or school. Sometimes it’s more than just unwanted touching and can lead to sexual assault, rape, or physical violence. Yes, the seriousness of the encounters differs, but at the heart of it, the same theme exists; as we grow older, we often feel as if our bodies are no longer ours. Sometimes it feels like no matter what we do, how we dress, where we go, others have free reign to infringe on our personal space, just because they want to.
I constantly have a mental battle between feeling as if I have complete control over bodily autonomy to feeling as if it’s just a matter of time before I feel violated because of someone’s words or actions. We all take on the day hoping to just exist, to live, to love, to change the world, but sometimes that’s all halted by some vulgar profanity shouted at you as you walk to your car or some unwanted touching while in a crowded space.
I wish I could tell you that things will get better, that this will change, that one day the golden rule will be an intrinsic part of our DNA. I honestly don’t know if that will ever happen. Some days I don’t think it’s possible for the world to change in this way, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep our heads held high, determined to push ahead. We can’t let all of this bad stuff stop us from doing all the good, amazing beautiful stuff that we’re capable of. I get it; it’s hard -- after one of these encounters you often want to go curl up under the covers and never come out until the world is full of unicorns and puppies and Beyonce. We have to keep fighting onward though.
We are all strong, powerful, beautiful ladies, and although sometimes we forget that we have the power to change the world when we’re reduced to nothing but a physical attraction for the opposite sex, we all certainly have that ability. I don’t know if things will change, but I have great hope that all of us, working together, can make this world the fabulous place we hope it to be -- a world complete with the golden rule.
Have you ever felt like you personal space has been invaded? It’s time to spark some change! Talk to your friends, sisters, or teammates about personal space. The first step is starting dialogue!
Glenne is a third year law student hailing from NYC, University of Michigan ‘13 grad and Beyonce enthusiast. Currently residing in Korea, my interests include duathlons/triathlons, traveling near and far, documentary films, consuming sugary cereal, watching mid-2000s teen dramas and singing my heart out at Betty Who concerts. You can watch me attempt to navigate Asia and beyond on Instagram @glennefucci.
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