Last week I was in Bruges, Belgium. As one does in Bruges, I knew I wanted to go up the Belfrey Tower. The Belfrey is one of the oldest attractions in Bruges, and there is fantastic view from the top. To get to the top there are steps. A lot of steps.
As myself and my cousin, my travelling partner, had arrived in Bruges from Paris, we had already climbed quite a few stairs. Numerous attractions, not to mention the metro, run off of steps in Paris, (which is fine for my escalator-phobia). My cousin was therefore lacking the physical motivation to climb up yet more; deciding instead to enjoy the view of the tower from beneath it, tucking in to some tasty Belgian waffles.
Result? I was going it alone.
Which was fine. For me, this was fine.
That morning I had dressed without consideration. Get up, shower, get out; see the sights. I had arranged a few outfits before coming and packed them together. This particular day I grabbed one of these pre-fab outfits, and went to chuck it on. Only, I soon realised there was a serious issue. It involved tights. The weather was to hot for tights. Solution? Ditch said tights. Simple.
So there I was, on my own, climbing a tower, in a skirt without any tights on.
Turns out the skirt was shorter than I had recalled.
You couldn’t see my underwear. I clearly wasn’t a prostitute. It was quite a classy outfit. I had a long sleeved blouse on. The skirt wasn’t leather. I didn’t have heels on.
So there I was, around step 250 or so, feeling quite impressed with myself. I wasn’t even out of breath yet – not bad ey? Then, I realised that someone was speaking to me. Sorry at me. Sorry about me. The offending people were two gents and they were literally passing me, they going down as I went up, as they spoke. Hence my confusion as to whether they speaking at, about or through me. I think it was the latter.
The first bloke said:
Well that’s a bit of a short skirt for climbing a tower isn’t it?
(Laughter from both)
I stopped in my tracks. I looked down and saw that, as they continued walking, they were blatantly staring up my skirt. Still laughing.
I shouted down the first retort I could think of:
I can hear you guys you know!
I heard more laughter ensue, and some more remarks, but I couldn’t catch what exactly was said.
It wasn’t long before I had wished I said something more intelligent. I spent the rest of my walk up thinking about it, and tugging my skirt down as much as I could. Every time I passed someone from then up, and when I went back down, I let them go rather than slipping by them if nodded to, and tried to plaster myself to the wall so that they wouldn’t notice how much of my bare legs were on show.
After I had done at the tower it didn’t take much walking before I returned to the hostel to change into jeans; under protest of the chilly breeze that had suddenly come on. In truth I just felt exposed.
I hadn’t even thought of the skirt length when I had put it on, but I now felt ridiculous. I felt ashamed, and I felt like a slut.
This one comment did all that.
Then the anger set in, and I was furious.
How could they think that it was alright to say that, as if I wasn’t stood there. Right next to them. They should have known I could hear them but they simply did not realise this; they did not realise this because they were actually speaking through me. They weren’t acting like 13 year old girls, bitching in plain sight to hurt me; they were simply acting like I was a piece of meat, like I couldn’t hear them. Maybe they thought I was foreign, but I cannot see that as an excuse. We were at a tourist attraction for Christ’s sake – more than half the people I had overheard in the hour-long queue were speaking English.
Thus, this means they were treating me like a piece of meat. A lone female that they had a right to speak at in such an un-gentlemanly fashion. Like a white person speaking of a slave girl’s tits like they were a cow’s udders in pre-civil war America; speaking in front of her, about her, touching and feeling her, judging her. Well, we own you they might have said; why not?
Makes me feel sick thinking about it.
I should have done a Sojourner Truth-esque move. Stripped my skirt and knickers off, right there in the narrow stairwell; given them something to flipping stare at!
Yes? Well guys – how shocking am I now? Am I woman?! Can you see my vagina?
Sojourner was a slave who, whence she became free, attended many anti-slavery conventions, where she gave many inspiring speeches. When upon a stage at one said convention in Ohio, giving one of these said speeches, she was aggressively heckled by male members of the audience who insisted that she was no woman, clearly she was a man, they shouted. As legend has it, Sojourner responded by stripping her top off, bearing her breasts, and saying the following:
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): Ain’t I A Woman?
Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.
The fact is, like Sojourner, I do not care if guys like the ones discussed here, or anyone else for that matter, stare at my legs. If I am wearing something that reveals them it means you can look. It really is not a big deal. There is no need to comment on it, or laugh at me. It is precisely this sort of treatment that, in this situation, made me feel like a hunk of meat; an exposed, strung up piece of meat.
They could see my legs – fine. They didn’t need to lear, or stare, or judge. They couldn’t see my knickers unless they looked up my skirt. Me wearing a short skirt does not give them good reason to stare at my knickers. I can wear what I want. They can look at what they want.
However, if they get turned on by my bare legs, and can’t handle it, then that is their problem to deal with; it is not then up to me to feel a guilty-need to change into something less revealing. The guys should avert their gaze if it bothers them – avert their gaze and get over it. Maybe mention it to your friend later on, when you are out of earshot. Or, just masturbate in a public stairwell.
Whichever way, I don’t care.
It is not my problem.