TW: Misogyny, sexual assault
Men whistle, grunt, leer. You reach over to collect a glass. You see them looking down. Do you want to be a woman? Do you want to be stared at? The men don’t get stared at. They breeze through – unnoticed. They can banter, be friends, and it’s never regarded as anything more. But for us, it’s never that. Every conversation is pervaded by this anticipation, expectation, hope that they could get more. Their eyes are heavy, their voices deep, their words slurring, they’re hungry.
The pub used to be the man’s place. Escaping you, at home. It still is. But it’s a mating place now. One doesn’t have to look further to see how gender operates in Australia. “It’s 2023,” he says. But that doesn’t mean things are better. The present supplies us with this assumption that things are better than “the past”. But in the pub, time flattens, we reach back into the past.
Eyes greedy, hands touching backs, standing taller. You don’t want to be here anymore. Do you like beer? Do you like seltzer? You’re not even sure what you like. Everything’s gendered. You hate it. Can you be feminine? Can you be masculine? What do your clothes say about you? If you wear a singlet, you’ll get more looks. If you wear a t-shirt and baggy pants and a carabiner, you’ll get more respect. Do we have to teach men how to be better? Do we have to spend our time and energy being uncomfortable for the scant future possibility we will feel better? You can’t help but feel apathetic.
You think, and think, and you can’t stop. That feeling they’ve taken away from you. And you’re crying now, at work, embarrassed. And you’re crying all the way home. And when you close your eyes you see their eyes. Your body exists. Viewed from all angles. Can they see your nipples? Is your stomach showing? Does it look good? Do you look attractive? You want to be desired but you hate that desire. You know that women in plaits get more tips. Creepiness is profitable. You don’t know how to deal with this. Do you just accept? Or do you fight? You’re sick of feeling uncomfortable but do you make yourself feel uncomfortable? Is it your fault? Are you encouraging it? Facilitating your own objectification, infantilising yourself?
You’re exaggerating now. You go on about it too much. It’s the only thing you talk about apparently. That is, according to yourself. And when you talk about it with them, you search for their validation that these are actual issues. You can’t think of a lifeboat better than misandry. But you still need their confirmation that these are problems. That your discomfort, caused by them, is only valid once recognised by them. “What did they say to you?”, he asks. And you feel already dismissed, what can you say that will make him understand how it feels? So you exaggerate. Because you don’t know how else to make him understand.
Push it under, forget about it, ignore it. So you play the silly girl. You order your seltzer. You carry plates, and stack glasses––“do you need help with that?”––you’re not okay. That you’ll never be okay. Everything is male territory, which makes you weak. You can’t carry anything. Every utterance etches, scrawls, lining up boundaries. And you’re not one of them. You can’t trust them.
What should I wear to work tonight?
These things can’t stay down for too long. They don’t bubble up. They split and pierce you. They gurgle and foam. And you’re there crying outside work. And you’re there crying all the way home. Your body stings from where they touched you. And you can’t feel good now. It’s been taken away from you. He’s taken it away from you. He looked in shock. He said sorry. He called her sweetheart. He touched her lower back. He invited her to have a drink. You need someone to tell you that things are fucked up.
“It’s a masculine environment,” you say, trying to explain. “But there’s plenty of women around today,” he responds.
Don’t take up too much space. Don’t ask for too many things. Don’t make any errors. Don’t make too much noise. You can be judged for those things, you’re needy now. Don’t complain. Don’t say anything. Nothing will change. Nothing changes. You’re told we have to accept some level of discomfort to exist. But you don’t want to accept these things. Acceptance is aiding and abetting.
You’re not smiling enough. Your smile is painted, they paint it for you. They own your smile now. Your muscles are now theirs too, for crafting, for profiting from. Your body, clothes…it’s all theirs now. You want to shroud yourself in baggy clothes–covered, blanketed, unseen. But maybe that’s worse than being seen. If you aren’t recognised by the male gaze, do you even exist? Are you really a woman? We are reducible to gender. Everything’s reducible to gender. But that’s so reductive.
When you reach down, you can only know that, at least one time, one of those men have thought about you crouched down. You can imagine what they are thinking. You wish you could turn my brain off. Gender is boring now. We talk about more interesting things. I’m going on again. I’m making a big deal again. I should shut up. Am I communicating this right? Is this good enough? Do you know what I mean?
Pubs make a small part of the world. And we can remake it. They make a world where ratios are analysed, where women work the floor, and men work in the back of the house. Alcohol aggrandises people. Gives them the confidence to say that you’re pretty. They make a world that aids these behaviours in turn of a profit. A world where a woman can’t be at a bar alone. A world where women invite you in, as front of house, into their own oppression. A world where female managers aren’t respected. A world where spiking is an accepted danger and sexual assaults occur. And maybe we can remake this world? Right now there’s too much profit and not enough solidarity. It works for people. And it works for people not to think about it too.
But, we can make pubs better. With many people acting, at many different scales, through many different avenues, we can affect change. They don’t have to be the way they are. Don’t accept it – it shouldn’t matter what I wear to work tonight.