shorts kinda like theseI thought I was just making a healthy, positive decision to bike to my pole dancing class in Cleveland Park.  It was easier and faster than taking the bus, and it would get my muscles warmed up for a good pre-workout stretch.  It was finally warm outside, sun shining bright, pleasant heat but no humidity.  To me, it just made sense to wear my pole shorts for my bike ride (why dirty another pair of clothes?).

What I didn’t expect was the barrage of catcalls, whistles, hooting, and ogling that I got on my two mile ide to the studio.  The first time, I thought it was an anomaly.  When I walk down the street, I try to smile at people and be friendly, so occasionally I will get a leer or whistle from a guy who took my smile as an invitation (This, also, is rape culture, btw).  But after the second and third guy hung their smug heads out the window to holler at me, I realized that it had to do with my shorts.

Ugh.  “Fuck them,” I thought.   I know many women who face street harassment of this variety on a daily basis, because of how much makeup they wear, the attractiveness of their figure, the tightness of their clothes, etc.  Intellectually, I understand that it happens.  Intellectually, I knew it could happen to me too.  Which is why I was angry, but not surprised when it finally happened.

For those of you not familiar with the term rape culture, street harassment is a prime example of it.  My short shorts were seen as an invitation by many men to objectify me and treat me with less courtesy as a normal person.  If I had been a man in bike shorts, this would not have happened.  If I was a woman in capris, this would probably not have happened.  It was specifically the combination of my gender and my outfit that made it acceptable for these men to treat me like I was an object of their spectacle.

A lot of people justify this reaction by saying that I made the choice to wear those shorts, knowing that it invited people to look at the skin they exposed.  This is, in a way, true.  I have a good body.  I don’t blame anyone for looking.  To suggest otherwise would be prudish and absurd.   HOWEVER, to make a connection between gaze and the inherent disrespect of a catcall or wolf-whistle is what constitutes rape culture.

In essence, look all you want, but do not treat me with any less respect as a human being because of the clothes I wear.  You wouldn’t cat-call at your cousin, even if you knew she looked very attractive.  Why?  Because there is a level of respect and distance between you and your cousin, no matter what she is wearing or doing.  That same courtesy should extend to me.  Even if you’ve never met me.  Even if you don’t give a damn about me.

Does this skirt make me look slutty?What really surprised me about this whole incident, however, was the reaction I received from my fellow pole dancers once I arrived at the studio.  None of them were outraged, or even mildly annoyed, by the story I presented.  Most of them shrugged, and my instructor said, “Yeah, you really shouldn’t wear your pole shorts out in public.”

Wait WHAT?  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the most insidious side of rape culture.  It has infiltrated the minds of the people who suffer from it, legitimizing itself and its world order.  My fellow pole dancers, who undoubtedly have suffered street harassment themselves, see my experience as ordinary and acceptable, simply “the way the world is.”  Rather than critique the systems that make it socially acceptable for men to whistle and cat-call at us, they blame their friends for life choices that leave them vulnerable to the system.

I’m sure my pole dancing friends didn’t intentionally blame me for wearing my shorts.  It was meant as a friendly reminder, a suggestion for next time to avoid the hassle.  But in doing so, they reinforce the way that society operates, affirming that men are allowed this indulgence of street harassment.

And that, my friends, is just bullshit.

Because I must end these posts in a prescriptive manner, PLEASE, please with everything you do, think not about how the world does work, but how it should work.  Don’t blame women for the choices they make about their bodies.  Think critically about how society has given men the privilege to demean and objectify us, and make sure your men-folk know that this behavior is NOT OK.


****Note to any trans readers out there, I know this was a very gender-binary article.  I beg your patience in that regard, as I know trans people experience severe street harassment, which deserves equal treatment and attention.  It is, however, a much more complex topic and I felt I could not do it justice.  If someone else is interested in guest blogging about it, I would more than welcome such a submission.  Thank you!