"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Saturday, August 08, 2015

on objectification.

'It is easy to forget how full the world is of people, full to the bursting and each of them imaginable and consistently misimagined' (Paper Towns)

I love the rush of going out.

It doesn't always work out; there's nothing more frustrating than an unsuccessful night out. But when it works, it works, and it's fucking beautiful. I love the rush. I love the dresses that always end up riding up to your See-You-Next-Tuesday. I love the heels that fail spectacularly at being adequate footwear.

And I love...I love meeting people in places that drown out voices.

When you're a young intellectual person, you learn pretty quickly that intellectual connection is sometimes vastly overrated. There is something profound and visceral in physical connection, in the electric chemistry that sometimes just happens when the most unlikely people collide. I have met some pretty terrible people and pretty poor candidates for Future Life Partner in my nocturnal escapades, but that wasn't the point - no one goes clubbing in search of a marriage proposal. I love the sparks that fly, I love how ethereal everything is, I love how it comes and goes in a heartbeat. When the people and the speakers are so loud you aren't quite sure what their name is or what the hellcrap they're saying and you can't quite put a finger on their accent but all you know is that this feels good; sometimes I like that.

Is it objectification? Probably. They don't know, or care, about my life story or my values or my opinions on whatever. But I don't care, either; you really can't overthink stuff like this. You don't need to think about the fact that you really can't date a bricklayer from Leeds; because you're not going to end up dating a bricklayer from Leeds, because eventually you two will part ways or you will sober up or both. Beautiful things are sometimes fleeting.

When I was younger I felt like people treated me like some kind of disembodied brain; like my body was only there to provide transport for my Marvelous Intellectualism. I come from a family of science nerds and my sister is quite athletic so I never really felt smart or competent, but people thought I was a fucking genius. Which is flattering up until a point, but then it just feels dehumanizing. I wanted what all teenagers wanted; I wanted an outlet for the confusing tangle of sexuality and attraction and lust but all anyone wanted to talk about was the essay that they needed help on. I wanted someone to acknowledge that I was more than just my books and my grades; I wanted people to consider me as a person, someone who fell in love and got hurt and sometimes did stupid things and sometimes didn't always have the answers and fucked stuff up and got angry and really, really, really wanted a boyfriend in that unironic way that most teenage girls were allowed to, except for me. In some ways, I hated being smart; in the same way that some conventionally attractive people sometimes dislike being pretty. It's all people can see, and when you're reduced to just one trait you stop being human.

Physical interactions can be dehumanizing, sure; but there's more power in it. There's nothing subtle about the hook up scene, and I am not above slapping sense into people or even just doing the 'thanks, but I'd rather watch paint dry' thing. I am allowed to be blunt and rude; I am allowed to voice my desires or my disapproval. I am allowed to walk away; but I am also allowed opportunities to do things I never had a chance to do before. I still remember the first time I went out for real; and the person I met didn't care that I was 'smart'. I was just a person; perhaps that's the first time someone actually acknowledged that I was an actual person.

And physical interactions don't have to be vapid. One of the sweetest people I've ever met, I met at a party and will probably never see again. Our relationship was brief but gosh, it was kind. It was the easy, casual courtesy that people associate with Australians but that I'd seen little evidence of, and I still think of it fondly. In contrast, one of the longest and most intellectual relationships I had was also profoundly abusive. I don't understand why people were more okay with that than with a short, but deeply respectful encounter.

Here's the thing - sluts are meant to be the worst kinds of women. And the men who want to interact with these 'bad women'  are the best and the worst; the worst are pretty easy to spot and even easier to 'accidentally' spill your drink on, and the best are the ones who see past the slut-shaming bullshit, the ones who are actually the most capable of viewing women as multi-faceted human beings.

It is very easy, when you're 5'2" with stretch marks and scars and wobbly bits and acne, to convince people that you're not made for male consumption. It is very hard, when you are intellectual, to convince people that you're not an encyclopaedia.

I've had friends who do what I call the intellectual booty-call; the ones who chat me up demanding some kind of blisteringly intense debate. I value their intellectualism and gosh, I value my own; but I'm not a machine. Sometimes I don't know the answer; sometimes I don't know what I'm supposed to think about something. Sometimes I just want to chat, sometimes I just want to lie quietly with someone who wants to lie quietly, too. I want the space to say something that isn't a joke, or a controversial opinion, without worrying that you will think less of me, that I'm not living up to my reputation, or that I have - shock horror - forced you to think of me as a person with flaws and bits that don't work and things that I don't understand. In this obsession with 'smart girls', with this total disregard for my sanity or feelings; that's when I feel the most dehumanized.

As a woman, and as a woman of colour, I have been dehumanized many, many times by many, many people. And yes, some of those times were by sleezy losers lurking around at parties; but some of those times have been fully clothed, completely sober, at uni, by my 'friends'. Objectification is a multi-headed beast; there are many, many different ways in which many, many people fail to imagine others complexly. And when we divide interactions into 'good' or 'bad', when we arbitrarily label people and places and relationships with blanket labels; that's objectification, too.

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