I learned at a young age that what it means to be a women is associated with overt and implicit rules on how to govern our bodies. That as women of color our voices were often rendered invisible but our bodies were more than hypervisible. I remember the school system would strategically make sure that girls’ attire would not tempt boys or distract them from learning. The rules: wear a bra, do not wear shorts, spaghetti straps or tight clothing. If you do not obey, be subjected to unwanted attention, or reprimanded by a school employee. At the same time, males weren’t admonished for perceiving us as objects in the first place. All of these cultural burdens weigh down our bodies before we’re fully formed resulting in doubts of what our bodies want or need. In these instances we as women are not afforded ownership of our own identities, own bodies and decisions. Even more so, this paradigm has an impact in sexual assault and victim blaming culture.
“What our bodies needed was to be heard and to be acknowledged, for accountability to be served; needs we are told we are not worthy of receiving.”
Two weeks ago I attended a healing group for victims of sexual assault and sexual violence in search of healing and understanding. As we all sat in a circle, cross legged or splayed out on the floor we shared our thoughts, experiences, tears, and support. A common theme was the fear of being silenced or not believed by our peers but also being uncertain about whether what we felt, and feel in moments of memory and fear are valid. What our bodies needed was to be heard and to be acknowledged, for accountability to be served; needs we are told we are not worthy of receiving. These fears are established in the world we live in that is central in the sexual objectification of women.
Every time the current administration is silent about sexual violence and assault of women, every time institutions indulge in rape culture by labelling sexual harassment as merely a compliment, encourage men to be sexually aggressive, shame women for their dress or trivialize sexual assault, it immediately posits women’s bodies as objects and condone victim blaming culture.
How do we reclaim our bodies and tackle these toxic notions that continue the cycle of objectification and sexual violence? On an institutional level, we hold perpetrators accountable to their actions, we discourage the judgement of women on the way they present themselves, we speak out against actions and discourse that promote rape culture and victim blaming. Among women, we need to take action and let the world know that our bodies are not a ground for domination nor a site to be examined and rendered sexual.