Friday, December 6, 2013

On sexiness and changing narratives

  Before the weather turned, found myself myself pushing the bounds of what I was comfortable with wearing outside. I've been wearing red lipstick, and I tried some outfits that showed more of my shoulders and back.
  I think this was sparked by a conversation with a friend of mine. He said that for someone who loves style as much as I do, the colors I prefer -slate blue and soft grey- are "urban camouflage" and that I still dress an awful lot like I don't want to be noticed.

  I thought about it, and I realized that while I dress to be confident and happy, that I am very gunshy about dressing sexy. Part of it is I am paranoid about looking inappropriate/trashy/tasteless, but part of it is also a reaction to the male gaze.
Urban camo!
  I started physically developing when I was 10. By the time I turned 11, unwanted scary male attention started. Bam! All of my feminine clothes went away and I dressed to be invisible for the next 8 years.

  When I started trying more feminine clothes again in my late teens and twenties, I discovered a new type of predator: much older men with Asian fetishes approaching me in cafés and Japanese bookstores. I steered well clear, but again, it was a confrontation in which I was prey and it left me feeling dirty, marginalized to a fetish, and powerless. If I'm never called "exotic" again it'll be too soon.
  Even with the early puberty, I think I've had a less extreme version than what many women have to put up with. My natural protections include an ADHD, distracted way of socializing (I walk around staring intently into my own little world), and being born a woman of color, which automatically puts my appeal outside the mainstream.

  Sometimes you receive awesome compliments from strangers. Sometimes people hit on you in a polite and nice way that you feel comfortable saying "no thank you" to. Sometimes you're followed in a car while you're on foot or called to as you'd call a cat, and there's less reasonableness involved. Ultimately I think I the puzzle we all face is wanting to be attractive to the people we find attractive, and unappealing to the people we find creepy.

  Nowadays I both have more confidence and honestly, enough years on my face that men who prey on young coeds don't sniff around any more. It also helps to be in the SF Bay Area, which is majority population Chinese. I blend, and people seem less likely to fetishize 50% of the people around them, at least blatantly.

  For the few unwanted approaches I still encounter, I have developed my own way of dealing with the situation. You see, when a person makes an unwanted advance, it can easily become a situation in which I feel trapped and the center of scrutiny.
  So I developed the Bro Stance to change the narrative: I drop my naturally low alto to the bottom of my register, jut out my lower jaw, lower my brow and shout, "Coo, thanks, braw!" and throw a peace sign or a 'W'. It's kind of improv from there, but there's usually a chest bump with my fist or a chin nod-up involved. My nuclear option is shouting "Nah, BITCH!" if I get really uncomfortable.
"Uh-oh. Better make myself look BIG!" -The Cat, Red Dwarf
  Prey has become confusing and possibly masculine! Irony! I like to imagine a person reaching for a delicious sandwich only to find it has transformed itself into a jar of fuzzy purple mayonnaise. Sac town represent!
  The situations I've used it in have certainly left me feeling like Not Prey and the other party feeling confused. I really like it. It makes me giddy every time it works. I practiced it when I was alone and now I use it without even thinking when I'm in a situation where I don't feel comfortable.

  Best of all, doing this jars me out of my "freeze and stare into the headlights!" mentality that is my normal reaction to any sort of unexpected situation, and I feel centered and ready to push back if someone encroaches on my boundaries.

  Growing up is all about developing these little coping mechanisms, isn't it? May I ask what sort of coping mechanisms you've developed as you've made your way in the world? (In general, not necessarily being hit on or making a spectacle of yourself in public. :D)


  1. Very interesting subject. Because I've seen only parts of the female experience, this aspect has always intrigued me. How women deal with male sexual interest and aggression is so complex that I'd never claim to understand it until I was personally subjected to it. The sad part of your story is how it affected your wardrobe and public presentation. I wish threats didn't exist to force you (and many other women) into hiding. That makes me so deeply upset. The problem is caused by men; women shouldn't be the ones to suffer.

  2. I can relate. I am nowadays pretty much comfy to wear for example short skirts and red lippy, but wouldn't have guts to wear the red (awesome btw) harness thing you wear in your pic.

    In my country people still like to put labels on people if they wear something slightly different.
    I'm not sure if I have a coping mechanism for unwanted attention. I just act politely distant and disappear. If someone gropes or something, then I actually say very loud "HANDS OFF MY ARSE, PERV" or something (and make sure people notice who I'm talking about).

    Shybiker blames on men only, but tbh women's behaviour has affected how I dress, too. In some communties women can be really judgemental against each other.

    An interesting post!

    x, Lara

    1. I like your loud assertive voice if some ass tries something. (:

      I'm sorry to hear that people get singled out for styles of dress in your country! It's a privilege I can easily forget about, living in San Francisco. Thank you for shooting me your blog link, I love your style!

  3. I have a love hate relationship with this. Always have.

    I've always felt powerful when I dressed sexy (keep in mind this is years ago and our ideas of what is sexy has drastically shifted, it wasn't naked like it is now) but sometimes didn't know what to do with the reactions I would get from men.

    I think you hit the nail on the head that you want to be attractive for someone that you think is attractive and everyone else can bugger off. It's the old creeps that creep me out.

    I too like it when someone notices something or compliments me in a nice way. But someone being vulgar or actually touching me freaks me out. Often I'm so shocked by it that I have no comeback and am left feeling stupid and dare I say it, ashamed, like somehow it was my fault.

    However now that I'm getting old I no longer put up with stuff like that. I'll just tell the guy even if I have to be very rude. I think after all these years of putting up with it I've just had enough. Mind you, now it doesn't happen often. Funny how that works in life. Just when you figure out how to deal with something it no longer exits.

    I really liked your take on this.

    That harness thing is very sexahy!


  4. I still remember waking up when groped by the man sitting next to me on a commuter bus. He stopped when I woke up and at the next stop I pointedly moved to another seat..... But oh how I have replayed it in my head where I immediately jump up shouting, making a scene, calling him a pervert, driving out of his seat and up to the front of the bus where I make the driver pullover and dump his ass out on the road side! (or getting him arrested would be good also) And that was over 30 years ago !

    1. Ugh! I'm so sorry something so horrible happened to you. It's funny how our minds replay these things ad infinatum, isn't it? I guess it's to prepare us for a next time.

  5. Another good post to chew on. And having talked to men who have fetishes about Asian women, I can only imagine how creepy it can be to have to put up with that just because of your race. Looking back, I know there were occasions where I felt uncomfortable with unwanted attention, but I honestly didn't get it that often. Maybe because I wore glasses and was not girly or beautiful, I didn't provoke that kind of challenge to men. And it is a challenge, I think - they want to win a prize. Your way of defusing such situations is perfect - break the image, change the challenge, take control without playing their game.

  6. I'd like to try fuzzy purple mayonnaise. Err, no. Laughing.
    I looove your coping mechanism. Awesome. Your photos are great. I want to see the faces of the people you're addressing. I DON'T have a coping mechanism, other than to say, um, oh, I have to go, I have an appointment. LAME! So I'll try a variation of your method.
    Great post.

  7. It's just so much easier to dress casual, and more comfortable too. I do like sexy clothes though, but then you need heels and makeup... I enjoyed reading your post, straighforward and sincere.


    1. I agree with you in general, but I'm trying with my style to compromise between sexy and comfortable. 'Tough warrior' sexy is my favorite, because I really don't like high heels!

  8. We definitely want to be unappealing to those we find creepy! When I was younger, I was quite the creep magnet, stalkers and restraining orders and everything. I was so excruciatingly shy that almost any unwanted attention practically paralyzed me. Now, oddly enough, it's younger men that seem to like me a lot. Now that's I think it's a mom thing. So far, it's sweet and gentle to rebuff.

    I don't get very many opportunities these days to do sexy, which I guess due to being a child of the 80s to me still means short skirts, high heels, and tight jeans. So I do those on the rare occasions I get to howl at the moon :) Oh, and I guess I am kind of an idiot about pencil skirts. They make me feel like I still have some stuff to strut.

  9. Really interesting post. I think the Bro Stance is brilliant. Personally I built a wall around myself when very young as a way to deal, in retrospect not the best move but it was all I knew to do. I like your changing the narrative because you can still dress how you want to dress, sexy or not. It attempts to change other people's reaction to it, which is their problem anyway, right?