Friday, 11 October 2013

You owe me respect because I am a human being.

And that's the end of it.

Our fundamental human rights are ours from birth (and even arguably before then), and they are only conditional on our humanity.
If this seems obvious, let me assure you, it is not obvious.
As a young female adult living in Amsterdam, I am constantly surprised to find that the reality of European female freedom and emancipation is completely warped.
Once I was by the milk aisle at the supermarket and an old man (senior citizen) came up to me and my sister and asked if he could take a picture of us. Naturally, given that this man was a stranger (who brings a camera to the supermarket...) we declined, and he grumpily grunted a few words at us before we made our move to another aisle. However, as I was bagging my groceries, I turned around just in time to see the man taking a picture of me. I could barely turn my face to avoid it, and I was so dumbfounded (I assure you I am in no way a celebrity or anything of the sort) that I didn't even know how to react other than finishing my shopping.

When re-telling this story to acquaintances, their reactions are even more dumbfounding than the rude Dutch old man's behavior. One person asked if I was wearing a particular headband, reasoning that that might be the reason the man wanted a picture. Others commented I should be flattered.
No, I was not flattered that my express wish NOT to be photographed by a complete stranger was ignored. And no, my headband does NOT somehow and magically remove my humanity so that my express wishes can be easily disregarded by members of my community.
I am owed the same respect as any other person on this country, and that right is not based on whether or not I am female, young, or wear certain items. You do not have to respect people only when they wear clothes you approve of, you have to respect all the people all the time.
And I sincerely resent people who try to say that I deserved this complete disregard due to wearing a specific headband, or that I should be flattered to be receiving unwanted (and creepy) male attention.
I resent a society that tells me I deserve to be treated as a child and be disrespected unless I conform to each person's specific demands about the way I look.

Another time, during a particularly chilly winter, I was waiting at a metro station wearing a Sakun breathing mask. A middle-aged man approached me as we were the only ones at the station, and signaled me to remove the mask. When I refused, he signaled to remove my headphones. When I yet again refused, he loudly asked me why I was wearing it. I told him it was to protect my breathing from the cold and the moisture of the environment, but I deeply resented having to give him an explanation in the first place.
I don't care if you're curious- I do not owe you an explanation for the things I'm wearing, or any other aspect of my appearance. And if you think I'm making a big deal about this, then what if I was hiding a scar or wound I was self-conscious of? What if I had just come out of a surgery? What if my religion didn't allow me to show my face?
My point is that if you are curious about my clothing choices, that is your problem and not mine. Just think for yourself what kind of reasons a person might have to wear such things, and suddenly the question doesn't seem so pressing. Why do I wear colorfully patterned jeans? Because I like them just as much as you like your boring light wash. So there. Now you all can stop asking, unless you're also about to go asking every man in a suit or metal band t-shirt why they chose that particular item.

For every man that has felt the right to approach and harass me for my clothing, there is a woman who tells me it's my fault for wearing such clothes. I tell you, no. I will not accept that my humanity is based on my clothes, and that any man can remove it from me if they so choose. Am I alone here? Are there more women feel the way I do, that we do not owe men our time nor a specific physical appearance, and most of all, that we do not owe them an explanation of who we are?
Speak up. It's them, not us.

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