Faceless Women

Two weeks ago, I was sat with friends in a man’s home.

 He had invited us there, after meeting during the Mardi Gras Parade. We assessed the situation, decided he and his friend were harmless and headed back to his apartment to the promise of more alcohol.

He began talking to my friend, and addressed ‘the three of us’. I was confused. “There’s only two of us?” I said. And he laughed. He was drunk, but not so drunk he couldn’t whip up a halloumi platter complete with hummus and flatbread ten minutes before.

 “Noooooooo,” he slurred. “Gemma here, and you two.” As he said this, he pointed at each of my breasts.

It was a throwaway comment which, once upon a time, I would’ve laughed off. This man was clearly drunk, and probably not a bad person. He’d invited us into his home after all.

But then I remembered the New Year’s Eve we'd just celebrated.

I was dancing to music with friends at an event, having the time of my life when I caught two men filming me as we jumped up and down to the music.

'Caught' is a strong word, the iPhone camera light was shining straight at my body, as if this was a perfectly normal, reasonable thing for two men in their twenties to do.

I had removed myself from the situation. What else could I do, I questioned.

But my lack of action means somewhere out there, is footage of my body, faceless, jumping around to whatever song was playing in the background whilst I was filmed.

And here it was again, I was faceless.

The comment stripped me of my identity as a person. My achievements, my life as a daughter, a friend, a writer, a musician, the fact I’d sat and talked to this man about most of these things. But he was addressing my breasts. I could’ve been anyone, anybody.

We left shortly after this interaction, with both Gemma and I calling him out for what he said. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I just didn’t even think.”

It’s a weird excuse, to say you didn’t even think about it. Because it suggests the comment was natural. It was an obvious thing to say, 'it’s just how it is’.

If he had thought about it, would that have made it better, or worse?

If he’d considered it, and decided to say it anyway, it meant he didn’t care for its implications. But by saying it without thinking, it meant he thought identifying me by my breasts instead of my face was perfectly fine, normal even.

“International Women’s Day isn’t really necessary in Western society” I hear, a lot. “But it is important for the women who don’t get a right to education and who have little to no agency over their own body.”

And to that, I ask you, by whose standard is International Women’s Day not necessary in Western society?

By the standard of your workplace, which has equal pay across genders - but forbids women to wear ‘distracting’ clothes?

By the standard of your reading list, which is vast - but has no female authors because ’I just don’t like those kinds of books’?

By the standard of your justification to do the right thing - ‘Think of your mother/daughter/sister/‘ as if without any of the above labels, women wouldn’t deserve it simply because they’re human beings.

It is wrong to undermine the atrocities being committed against women right now around the world. But it is also an atrocity to deny there is a problem in the society you grew up in, the one you are a part of.

We are your doctors, your nurses, your soldiers. We are your CEOs, your waiters, your actors, your directors. We are in every walk of life, a necessity to keep the world going, to keep it turning because we choose to, not because you choose to allow us.

Don’t dull her achievements because of the shape of her body. Don’t withdraw her personhood because she turns you on. Don’t make her identity about your pleasure.

Stop making women faceless.