I was having a discussion with some of my friends about my Division III (My senior thesis-like project, for those of you not familiar with Hampshire College), which deals a decent amount with the idea that women’s bodies are public– in the sense that they are comment on, critiqued, and touched beginning at an early age, and we got to talking about a couple of comments an ex-boyfriend had made about my body. Specifically, “You’re modest on top” (for those of you who, like one of my friends, don’t get that, he was saying I have small boobs) and “You’d be really hot if you toned your ass.” My friend’s response? “What I gather from this is that your ex-boyfriend was an asshole.”
The problem? No, he wasn’t. In fact, he was incredibly sweet and kind, constantly telling me how beautiful I was, how I was too pretty and too smart for him. He was liberal-minded, intelligent. Hell, he was even comfortable around gay men– not just not homophobic, but 100% comfortable around gay men, unlike a number of straight men I know.
So if he was such a nice guy, why did he feel the need to make these comments about my body, comments I still think about to this day? A number of things, many of which I will be addressing in my Division III, but most notably a society that gives others the right to comment on women’s bodies. I am a woman, so despite the fact he thought I was attractive, despite the fact I was aware of my own flaws, despite the fact that if I made similar comments about his body he’d have been horribly offended, MY body, unlike his male body, is up for display and judgement. Because I’m female and he’s male, because we have both been raised in a society that tells men that women’s bodies are there for their consumption, and tells women the same thing– that they are to be consumed– MY body is not wholly my body. It is as much a public thing as it is a private thing, it is as much an object as it is a capacity, it is not just a body, it’s a female body– so therefore, it is societies’ body as much as it is mine.
So being a nice guy isn’t a defense for sexist jokes or inappropriate comments– it enables these comments. It would be easier if the men who made these comments were assholes, if my ex-boyfriend wasn’t a sweet guy, because then we could write them off. But no, the nice ones, the good ones, the men women want to be dating enable this as much as the one’s women don’t, the nice guys enable this as much as the assholes, if not more. Because the nice guys have an excuse, and no one calls them on it.