I don’t know why I remembered this recently, but I did, and… snowball.
In high school, I worked at an after-school childcare program. My boss had run the program since I was three, and she’d watched me grow up, so I was kind of grandfathered in. (That’s not to say I was bad at it—it’s how I got a lot of stable babysitting jobs.) Her son, who was about ten years my senior, also worked there. He was fairly nice, but a little quiet. No. This is not going where you think it is. In fact, it’s about to go exactly the opposite.
A few days after I turned 18, I was talking about the low-key party I’d had (hanging out on the beach with friends and then scarfing down a neon pink and green cake at my house), and the first thing out of this guy’s mouth was: “You’re 18? Now you can model as a centerfold!”
It took me a second to realize what he’d said. During that time, he got a pretty good dressing-down by his mom. I think most of that was motivated by me being a “good” girl who would not in a million years pose for Playboy. “Good” is, of course, a subjective term, but whether or not I am, I’d never pose. Just not something I ever want to do. Given my body type, I doubt they’d have me, anyway. So, everyone’s happy there.
But really, is that the first thing people think when they hear someone’s turning 18? Yeah, there are a lot of “legal adult” things that being 18 entails, but why zero in on objectifying women? I suspect the guy was joking, but why not joke about cigarettes or how I don’t know how the election system works and I’d probably just write myself in for every slot? None of these are things I’d do, so I guess that sort of puts them on fair ground, and I guess it could be considered a compliment if he really thought I’d pose. But then, it’s also a huge knock if it’s “Hurr hurr… You’re such a fatty and they’d never use you.” (I was quite overweight at that point, so this is not outside the realm of possibility.)
I’m probably making far more out of this than he ever meant. It was probably just a harmless joke, but it still rankles a little. It’s an implication that that’s what I’m there for: to be looked at and enjoyed. Like my brain is suddenly of no use to me unless I’m thinking how to do some sort of sexy pose (which I’d be horrible at), or put on makeup (which I rarely wear), or how tight/high my skirt should be (not a fan of micro-minis, but that’s just me).
Let me be clear: the girls who choose to model for Playboy aren’t doing anything wrong in my eyes. As long as it’s their choice, and as long as they’re okay with it, that’s fine. I don’t think I’m better than them—I just don’t want to be known as a sex object. But I can’t say that other women shouldn’t—I can’t make that choice for them. What I can say is that it’s not flattering to every woman to be looked at like that, so think before you objectify. If you think someone is hot, great! But there’s a time and a place to express that.
This guy’s friend, who also worked there for a year, was even worse. He was clearly misogynistic, and I got into verbal fights with him more than once about what girls can and can’t do. Apparently, for no other reason than that I’m female, he believed (and probably still does) that I didn’t know how to jump a dead car battery. I could do this at the age of ten. It’s not hard at all. A car battery is pretty obvious, and it’s even color-coded for your convenience! I’ve had to teach others (mostly women, but also a guy or two) how to do it, and every single person has had no trouble with it. (As a side note, I can also change a car’s tires and oil, and each of these was met with equal disbelief. What’s next? I can’t pump gas?)
It’s hard to define a line in these cases. What’s okay to assume, and what isn’t? Well, ideally, we wouldn’t make assumptions at all. But, because we do, there’s gotta be some line separating appropriate from inappropriate. For instance, you generally don’t walk up to a stranger on the street and tell them you want them in your bed five minutes ago. You also wouldn’t assume a woman knows how to cook, or that any man can change the oil on your car. Not everyone knows everything—I hope that’s obvious—and not everyone knows what people of their gender are “supposed” to know. Honestly, I have no idea how one applies eyeliner. I’ve seen it done. I get the theory. But I can’t actually do it. I am also not incredibly good at sewing, and God forbid I need to use a sewing machine. Um, halp?
Of course, a lot of people know things that their gender “isn’t supposed” to know. I know my way around cars. I know guys who are good at braiding hair and cooking and cleaning. There are men out there who *GASP!* teach elementary school.
This world we live in can’t be defined by strict gender roles. Yes, only biological women can carry and birth babies, and it takes one of each biological gender to make a baby. And that’s about it. Women can program, men can be nurses, and we can all just get along. Women aren’t property or objects—they’re allowed the same desires as men, including the desire to just be left alone sometimes. I’m probably preaching to the proverbial choir, here, but if that’s the case, it’s nice to know I’m not alone.