Warning: Naughty language ahead!
Yesterday was the first time in six weeks I walked into a yoga studio.
Life has been hectic these days. My work schedule is an obstacle course, I count the hours until bedtime and my eating habits resemble those of a five-year-old.
Then there’s the pain in my left knee—a constant reminder of a recent car accident and the main reason I’ve avoided stepping on my mat for so long.
But there I was, front and center in a packed class of supportive yogis whose peaceful energy silently cheered me on through 75-minutes of flow and meditation.
Feeling sweaty, revived and ready to tackle my day, I walked outside to warm spring air.
“Hey Shortyyyy! Damn baby, that ass is fine.”
“Why don’t you bring that body over here, girl.”
I could feel peace begin to drain from my body.
My muscles tightened up. I counted down from 10 in my head, searching for any way to avoid turning around and responding to these two grown men and the unsolicited comments that I (and almost every woman I know) deal with daily.
As I continued the walk to my car—sexual harassment still dense in the air—I allowed myself to respond, but only in my head.
My name is not Shorty. And it’s certainly not Baby. Also, my ass is just that—mine. So leave it be.
Bring my body to you for what—so you can ogle it up close?
Or maybe you’d like me to just stand here quietly while you physically violate it.
I wasn’t surprised by their words. For the past 24 years, I’ve listened to one man after another tell me in subtle, and not so subtle, ways how they own my body.
I’ve been stopped on the street and told, “You should smile more.” (Yes, because having you pop up in my face like a damn leprechaun brings such joy to my day, why wouldn’t I smile?)
I’ve had men holler, in disgusting detail, what they would do to “please me.” (How about you draw me an anatomically correct diagram of the vagina and point out exactly where the clitoris is. Can you do that? Yep, didn’t think so.)
Then there was the time in fourth grade when a group of boys asked me, in front of the whole class, if the reason I had bigger boobs than the other girls was because I had my period. (Dear pre-pubescent boys, I hope the universe is watching carefully and rewards you with a lifelong, incurable case of erectile dysfunction.)
As I sat in my car, doors locked, I tried to focus on the breathing I had so easily practiced in class. I searched again for peace, but all I felt were the emotions raging inside me:
Anger. Fear. Shame.
I’m angry that women are still dealing with this nonsense. I’m angry that men still think they have the right to harass us simply because we enter their line of sight.
I’m angry that generation after generation of men have not recognized that this type of behavior is harmful and degrading and not the best use of time or energy.
I’m scared that we live in a world where I can’t walk through a strip mall parking lot, seven minutes from my house, without being accosted by a man’s ego.
I’m scared I can’t exist without second-guessing my safety, so I walk with keys sticking out of my hand and lock the doors to my car before even turning it on.
I’m scared that one day, the words and grabby hands will escalate to the kind of violence some women don’t come back from.
I’m ashamed that I view any man I don’t know as a potential threat, that I plot detailed escape routes whenever I’m out alone.
I’m ashamed that men view my body—a body I love and appreciate and work hard to care for—as nothing more than a neighborhood playground for their sexually aggressive fantasies and misplaced emotional issues.
I’m ashamed because I know men are capable of so much more.
But sitting in that car, watching these men in my rear view mirror, I realized that I am not now—nor will I ever—be angry, scared or ashamed of my body. The body that allows me to stand tall in yoga class, each corner of my feet grounded firmly into my mat. The body that allows me to breathe deeply, whether I’m lying in stillness or walking away from confrontation.
No woman should feel ashamed.
So men, please take this as (another) friendly reminder: we ladies do not wear yoga pants (or short skirts, tight dresses, tiny shorts, bikinis, leggings, low-cut blouses, high heels) for you. We wear them because they allow us to move freely as ourselves, to feel confident in a world where you insist on trying to rob us of this.
If you like the way my ass looks in yoga pants, admire it discreetly and respectfully from your side of the street.
If you absolutely must say something, try a simple, polite “Hello”—without the expectation of a response.
But maybe, when you come across a woman in a parking lot, or crossing the street, or minding her business in a bar, instead of attacking her with the running sexual monologue in your head, you could just stop and breathe for a second.
Give yourself a moment to recognize that all women deserve respect and uninterrupted moments of peace.
Author: Nicole Cameron
Image: Ryan McGuire/Gratisography