Every day 137 women across the world are killed by a partner or member of their own family. The only separation of these women and their killers, is generally, their bodies. Kate Demolder writes about how inhabiting a woman’s body means more than it would seem, and how fear is a natural byproduct.
I’m afraid of my body. Of what it means. Of how it suggests I’m more likely to be raped, assaulted, or murdered in my own home than if I was born differently. Of how its curves and lines act as bait to a person I don’t even know exists. Of how it conveys vulnerability and willingness and temptation despite no effort otherwise. Of how its power can only go so far. I travel into the well of my body, my home, the world that exists within me and wonder how it can no longer feel like mine when looked at by someone else. How it can be commandeered even though I am the one who owns it. The only thing I really do own. How I feel I would be better off chopping it off at the nape of my neck, people only to see my face and not wonder how they could take hold of my skin.
I am afraid of my body in the presence of people I don’t know, men who judge and take and grab and claim and frighten when you demand that your body is yours and not to be shared. I try to live the way the women I admire live, by loving their bodies and taking care of them and being proud of the piece they inhabit. I try and fail, as when taking care by walking and running I feel unprotected. When I present it beautifully with creams and silks I feel demonstrative and vulnerable. When I let it breathe, I fear people think I ask for it. But none of it is true, despite hearsay telling you differently. My body is just as tempting to those who lurk in shadows when covered in polyester and cotton than when sun kissed and hair-free. If I’m asking for it in a short skirt, why can’t I not be asking for it in thick wool?
I am afraid of my body in the hands of others. In the ways they look at me. How differently they treat me to men because of it. How they make assumptions that I can’t run fast or drink much or speak fluently about politics. How they imply that I am weak and easily tired and know little about cars and much about hair products. I hate these assumptions, the ones I wear daily, like a thick cloak, in a world that looks at women with tilted heads and downward-turning faces. I hate the feeling that I am less than, and pitiful, and to be minded and not safe by myself, all because of my body. Something I never asked for and never found love in, because of the realisation of what it signals in a world built for non-female frames.
I am afraid of my body in dark places and in light. In work and play, in pubs and cafés, in boys’ cars and school cloakrooms. No sooner had I grown into my womanly shape did I realise what this meant. That men stare and this was supposedly a good thing. That underwear was for taking off. That beauty is not in the beholder, but a demand, lest the world wasn’t yours to exist in. That studies conducted on the health and safety of us all were done for men’s bodies and not mine. That the way I conduct myself matters a huge amount when compared with my brothers. That I will never be afforded excuses and no one will ever say “that’s just how it goes” when discussing my actions. That I will always, always be in the wrong even if I did everything right.
I am afraid of my body in the moonlight and sunlight and morning and darkness. Because the world has told me to be and every woman who has gone before me has passed it on, like a secret. I am afraid of my body in times when men touch it and taste it and place their hands on it, even if it is only to pass me in a crowded room. I feel this way because of the men who have gone before me and caused those women to pass on what we now all know. It is never every man’s fault, but the ones who have made me afraid never look the same or sound the same or come from the same place, so we must assume the worst, as an act of self-love, until proven otherwise. I will tell this secret to the younger women in my life, now and forevermore. In hopes that they will no longer fear their body, in the way that I am forever destined to fear mine.