I took the dog walking today taking my usual route by main road to the lake, round the lake and then through some shrubs and sand dunes to the beach. As I no longer work office hours I take the dog out when it suits my day which means I rarely see anyone. I have the lake, the sea and the view of the distant hills (on a clear day) all to myself.
Today however, I saw a man wandering at a distance behind me as I began to loop the lake. The lake is sheltered away from the main road and there was no one else around. My heart started beating a little faster and my mind ran away to all sorts of nasty eventualities should this man have anything other than the shared of experience of walking in mind. I slowed down with the dog (who would probably lick a harasser not defend my honour) and let him pass so I could continue my walk without him pacing up behind me.
I have often felt that heart beat in my throat, that gut feeling of concern kick in whether that be walking down a street in London after 11pm, past a pack of teenage lads, or when trying to find a cab alone at 4.30AM in Delhi! It was one thing that continually irritated me during my solo travels – that my experience as a woman was different, less free, than that of the male travellers particularly in places like India. I was terrified of going to Delhi alone. I had read, with horror, about the Delhi bus rape and knew the dangers of travelling alone as a woman. It’s hard to take a place at face value when you’ve been bombarded with scary story after scary story.
India is an intense place to travel, particularly as a woman. As a white woman you attract a lot of attention and interest even if you are attempting to blend in with fisherman trousers and loose tops! On the beaches in South Goa, men would regularly (and repeatedly) ask to have a photo with you so that they could post it on Facebook and tell their friends you were their ‘holiday girlfriend’ (benefits included). I even saw an extended Indian family (grandma was wheeled out from somewhere) queue up to take photos with a beautiful Swedish girl in her bikini who had been sunbathing next to me. I never said yes to these opportunities, and despite sometimes growling at the persistent men who appeared to understand English apart from the word ‘no’ I know that my face, my elbow, my foot appears on a Facebook page without my knowledge or consent.
As a woman, I often feel like the ‘weaker’ sex physically and have felt intimidated in the presence of jeering men. Only on Saturday in Liverpool my two female friends and I were subjected to a vote of jeering ‘yay’ or ‘boo’ as we walked to the bar past a group of older, overweight, over-intoxicated men who played this lovely little game with every woman who passed their way. I couldn’t give a rat’s arse if they found me attractive or not. I am older and can shrug this sh!t off but I’m sure there are lots of women who would feel hurt, vulnerable and intimidated by their sad little objectifying game.
A lot of men (and women too) would say political correctness has gone too far these days and that the behaviour of those men in the pub was just a laugh. Boys will be boys. Part of me agrees as I just rolled my eyes and walked away. But I am not sure what the correct response is. We live in a society that objectifies women, and men. Sex continues to sell and we judge each other on attractiveness, style and material objects. We feel uneasy when confronted by those who look different, sound different, dress differently, those from different cultures and that fear leads to judgement and separation moving us ever further away from treating each other with compassion and respect.
I do not believe that as I was born a woman it is acceptable for men to objectify me as that even if I wear heels and a low cut top. I do not agree that it is acceptable for me objectify a man (even Ryan Gosling).I do believe that by holding fear, prejudice and judgement within us we build up our levels of stress and anxiety which are then added to by the over-bearing boss, challenging client, unsupportive spouse, or troublesome child.
Our bodies hold this tension keeping our adrenaline levels, heart rates and blood pressure up high so that we never truly rest, even when we try to. I have been researching restorative yoga as I continue to explore teaching styles and according to Judith Lasater (Relax and Renew), our cavemen ancestors had more release than we ever do as they actually caught, killed and digested their kill!
We find excuses to keep ourselves busy, to avoid slowing down, we use fear and prejudice to keep ourselves separate and this is compromising our health and our interactions with each other. Yoga starts with teaching you how to connect with your body and how to begin to cultivate positivity towards yourself. I have experienced that by being more in tune with my body, my self, I am happier and less threatened by people and situations. That seems to me to be one way in which we can try to overcome fear and objectification.