A couple of summers ago, my girl MJ and I were walking to brunch when we were met with the greeting of an elderly: "Good morning! Don't you ladies look lovely today?" To which I replied, "Thank you, sir." She looked at me, rathe puzzled, and I simply said: "Sometimes it actually is a compliment."
A week later, we were having dinner and she told me that she had since taken a similar approach of acknowledging when men give her compliments. She also told me that she noticed two shifts: One in her perception of the situation and another in how she held her body in these circumstances. By meeting the person where he was, she was able to neutralize any anxiety she might have otherwise experienced.
More recently, the song of the summer was 'Blurred Lines' and conversations about personal responsibility have been in the ether. All this prompts questions on when a compliment stopped being just a compliment and it when the day-after reality checks that stem from the previous night's new experiences become someone else's doing.
When I turned 40 I got inked in a two-part tattoo, right through my heart. The front part of the tattoo sits in the cleavage region and I can control when I show by it what I wear. It is beautiful body art. When the front part is in plain sight it almost always comes up in conversation, and I am always happy to tell the story behind the art I wear through my heart. How I took the Spanish word "Si" and wrote it through my heart, constant reminder to say 'yes.' How the verbal in Spanish dances with the visual in Filipino, just like the ethnicities of my bloodline.
I am proud of this body that has held me. I try my best to hold myself with feminine grace and dignity. I recognize that I am able to make choices about my body because of women and allies who fought the good fight before me. I am also aware that the easy confidence with which I hold my body is sometimes misunderstood as it doesn't quite translate in other cultures or contexts.
Sure, I cannot control how people see me and my body, or the impressions they form about either. However, I do take full responsibility for how I hold myself, the choices I make with my body and the aftermath that sometimes results when said choices are of the questionable kind. A killer hang-over from that one-for-the-road that was one too many? That's on me. A sore knee resulting from the combo of five-inch heels and all-night dance party? Yep, also on me.
Choices relating to sexual activity aren't excluded from this notion of personal responsibility. I am hearing stories of one person's shame or regret about a previous night's exploits getting projected as another person's responsibility. This blurring of narratives creates a dangerously gray area in discussions of personal responsibility and consent. This troubles me. A lot. There is nothing retroactive about consent. Permission given cannot be taken back after the fact. Doing this undermines the importance of consent in its entirety.
As I thought about this more, I came to suspect that what is really happening is less about consent and more about shame. It is less about what women truly want for ourselves and more about how stifled we feel in the confines that the culture imposes upon us. Society continues trying to shame women for our bodies and our sexuality. Conservatives are steadfast in their campaign to control our bodies and limit the choices we can make regarding our bodies.
If there is an enemy, it is that constriction. It is that imposition. If there is a place to point the finger, it's towards the insidious way the patriarchy turns us against ourselves. That is the fight right there. Let's fight that fight. The one in which society shames women for how we experience and learn our own bodies. The one in which conservatives guilt us into regretting how we hold our bodies. The one in which the establishment pretends to celebrate our choices then moralizes us into regretting what we chose. Let's unblur those lines.
I don't recall ever consenting to any of that, do you?