I recently experienced a rather unpleasant episode. I felt very uncomfortable, as I always do when these things happen. And I found myself thinking: “After all, how many times have I found myself in this situation?”
I’ll tell you what happened. As I always do, I put on my running gear, my trainers, my headphones, and went for a run. After a brief fast paced warm up down the street, I found my comfortable running pace.
I’m a well-off girl, I got that from my genes. I’m not referring to family money, but big bosom. My mother had it, my grandmother did not, but curiously my stepmother also has it. I’m the same. As I like to run, to prevent being hit with my boob on my forehead, I always invest in high quality sports bras. And to avoid the glances that I haven’t yet gotten used to – even though I’ve been a recipient of them since I was 10 at Christmas, when I got my first bra, I always choose loose clothes that leave space to the imagination.
The truth is that I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with this feature of mine and the power and influence it has had for the past 24 years on the way I see my body and how others see my body and me. I got used to thinking that certain glances were my fault , I was not well disguised. The comments have also been plenty, ones more original than others. Once I got on a bus and a passenger who was at the top of the stairs said: “What them beautiful boobs.” I replied, “Thank you” because he was absolutely right. But truth be told, no one asked him anything.
That day, I went running through the streets of Lisbon accompanied by two friends of mine. I went all along the riverside of Tejo until I reached the bridge pillar, where I finally began to slow down. I was ready to start walking when I heard the voice of an old man with his eyes fixed on my boobs, upstaging my music. And I heard a comment that felt like a knife piercing through my personal space.
“F*** off!” I shouted. I am no longer the well-behaved girl who at the age of twenty thanked compliments on public transport because she did not know what else to do, nor did she want to lose her seat on the bus. The man did not seem to enjoy it and replied back with in an insult. I speed up the running pace and only stopped a few yards further. I peered over my shoulder, fearing that the man had followed me. Let’s face it, a slap hurts more than a compliment. And then it hit me. How unprotected I was.
In a country that has only recently criminalized such comments, punishing offenders up to 3 years in prison, it is still difficult to see this stop happening. Maybe it is because it is only criminalized if the compliment is of sexual content or if it’s inviting you to something? And how to get proof of it? That must be curious and interesting. As you can read in article 170 of the Portuguese Penal Code, at that moment I was afraid and my freedom was questioned. But I could not do anything about it. You know, Mr. politicians and jurists, I have heard the same things for over 24 years, and this addition to the law has not discouraged anyone yet. From bosses with light hands, physiotherapists who ask me if I’ve already slept with my boyfriend and other women who ask me if my husband allows I wear short skirts … The law hasn’t changed anything at all.
And worse than this is when I complain to my friends and they answer me “If I was with you, none of this had happened.” When I go on a run, I want to turn my head off from reality, I don’t want to call attention like a bodyguard. It’s not women who should be more careful when they go out on a run alone in more hidden places or at night. For God’s sake, it was 10 in the morning on a Tuesday by the river!
The problem lies in this mindset and in this cultural excuse, which uses the argument that the criminalization of compliments will kill the game of seduction and that the hyper-vigilance society will lead us to a nightmare of Foucault or Orwell.
Perhaps, in this generation, the law won’t give us the solutions we need. But if not it, would someone explain to me, like I’m very dumb, please, why the hell I can’t get out on a run without first thinking twice and three times what comments I’ll be the object of this time.
This post was originally written in Portuguese. Click here for the original text.
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