Saturday, May 30, 2015
Provocative Females and the Women Who Hate Them
On a relatively warm but drizzly day in March, when I was 27 and living in Brooklyn, I boarded a Bronx bound 1 train at 34th street in Manhattan. Normally the subway is a wash of deliberate anonymity but today I felt the slow burn of lingering eyes. This is a feeling I usually only get right before I realize that someone I was trying to avoid has spotted me or when a man is about to say something distasteful. But at that moment I only saw the usual cast of exhausted commuters and several tight-mouthed women eying me suspiciously. I was standing with one hand on a vertical pole and they were sitting in a row about 3 feet to my left. I surveyed myself to see if maybe an unexpected body part was exposed or I was accidentally standing on a baby. I was not, so I remained perplexed.
On This particular day it should be said that I was not exactly hitting all of the markers of the Down-to-Earth ingenue. I was wearing very ripped black stockings, black combat boots, and a skirt which was not so very short, but prone to fluttering upward at the slightest hint of a draft, which meant that I occasionally had to spastically clutch my own butt in order to avoid a spectacle. My hair was an electric, almost white blonde. It was short and parts of it were sticking out erratically. The actual cause for this was lack of product or a proper comb, but it looked calculated and subversive. My eye makeup was dark and smudged mostly from rubbing my eyes all day at work. This look was not a signature of mine, but I take personal style on a day-by-day basis and that morning it had felt appropriate to my mood. I had dressed like this at work, and no one seemed to notice, so while I knew that it could be considered provocative, it did not occur to me that it might be considered an affront to basic decency.
It was around 5 PM on a Friday during rush hour and I was on my way to see a friend who was living on West 85th street near Riverside Park. For anyone unfamiliar with this area, it is the setting for the Movie “You’ve Got Mail” starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Despite a general disdain for Romantic Comedies and the unrealistic expectations they encourage I have always loved that movie. I like the idea of Meg Ryan’s character roaming the epicenter of culture and fashion with her fuzzy head, high-waisted khakis and unflattering t-shirts; unfazed by the hoards of angular, hostile, fashionable New Yorkers. When I moved to New York in 2012 at the age of 24, it was this woman I had in mind when I saw myself in The City. You can keep your Carrie Bradshaws and your Anna Wintours, I thought, I’m a Kathleen Kelly.
The Male Gaze is a nuisance, but one I know how to navigate because I was raised to understand that my self worth has nothing to do with men. Judgement from other women, on the other hand, is something which has always had the power to unravel me. When a strange man makes a lewd comment or gesture, his intentions are clear; yes yes, we get it. You are a MAN and you need to assert some sense of power over me because you are entitled and so on and so forth. I can roll my eyes and move on with my life. But when three strange women who had no stake in my safety or future glowered at me as if I had personally come over and ripped THEIR stockings, I felt the need to defend myself. But I’m Kathleen Kelly! I silently insisted I have a healthy body image. You don’t understand! But the frowns persisted, and the eyes followed me out the sliding doors. Earlier that day a man had shouted “Let’s see it all!” when I couldn’t catch my skirt in time so I threw some juicy handpicked profanities in his direction, but for this I had no recourse. It was hardly worth causing a ruckus on a crowded train. So I slunk out the door and up to the street, where I held my skirt to my sides and walked with my head down.