Next time you’re in public, I want to have a look at each gender and how they occupy space. Yes their physical space, where their sphere of identity begins and ends. Once you start, I promise you will not stop noticing; personal space is something that we never notice, until it’s gone.
As this is a women’s magazine, I’m going to spend this article talking about the female space, that is, the space that women occupy and can feasibly claim. As a rule, the female space is never respected in the same way that the male space is, I will spend the rest of the article convincing you of this.
Simple example: public spaces. Next time you’re in a rammed maxi or waiting at licensing office on the bench, take a look at the physicality of the men versus the women. A man, stood or sitting, has a wide stance. Standing up, he is (typically) physically domineering. His legs are wide apart and shoulder’s broad. On the flipside, look at the average woman. She is sat cross legged, shrunk, as if society has spent her life telling her that her space is not her own, that she must make herself small.
When men are sat down it is almost as if they are peacocks in competition, seeing who can spread their legs the widest, who can display their masculinity the most, who can claim the most space. Conversely, a woman can never do that.
“Sit up straight,” “sit properly”, “close your legs” are phrases that are engrained in a girl’s life from young. To me, this translates to “You are not a woman, unless you sit and stand like one” or rather “To be a woman, you must make yourself small, you must not claim space”.
And let me stop you before you protest because it’s not as simple as saying “girls have to sit like this” and “boys have to sit like this” and it’s certainly not as simple as “girls are wearing skirts so they have to cross their legs”. Truly, investigate this for yourself; even a woman in trousers will still make herself “ladylike”, which is to “make herself small – reduce her space”.
Imagine if a woman were to claim her space in a more dominant way (wide stance, wide legs etc), which in a sense, means she would adopt a more “masculine” stance. I call this stance masculine because frankly, in Trinidad and Tobago, dominance is an inherently masculine trait. Women cannot be dominant because it is “unladylike”. I would even go as far to say that if she claimed that space, her space, the same way a man typically would, it would make others in the room uncomfortable, it’s almost taboo.
If a woman was to claim her space like a man would, instead of gaining the power she craves and the freedom to claim her space, she will instead be ridiculed. It is a sickening Catch-22. To appear powerful is to appear masculine. Thus, you are either a “ladylike” and diminished woman or a “manly” and dominant woman.
Let’s talk about social interaction, specifically concerning space. A woman is touched more often than a male equal (there are dozens of research papers on this, please have a Google if you don’t believe me). A woman speaking to a man in a position of power almost always leads to this man patting a shoulder, encroaching her space and is often accompanied by a patronizing “darling”, “babe” or “sweetie”. You ever hear a woman calling a male equal these things? Never. And this mild intrusion of space culminates into the most Caribbean intrusion of female space, that is, fete.
In d fete, what are women referred to as? Bumpers. I mean really, could we at least try to mask our blatant and shameful objectification of the female body? She is not a human, she is a bumper, and her space is entirely ripe for the taking.
There is no male “bumper” equivalent. It is apparently “our culture” for a man to grab whichever bumper is moving nice for him and invade that woman’s space by wining on her. This is obviously highly problematic. Lack of consent aside, we have a culture that encourages men to disrespect a woman’s space. Good luck invading the male space in a similar way.
The female space is continually ignored, especially surrounded by a culture that encourages this ignorance. Her space, her sphere of identity, is consistently taken away from her. If women are taught from young to shrink, wear certain clothes, speak quietly and not cause a fuss, how can they begin to know what is theirs and what is up for debate? Claiming your space is, in my opinion, the most important step in determining your identity, before we can even get into likes, dislikes and favourite bake and shark toppings. The physical space you occupy is your own. It must be claimed by you and it must be respected by others.
Here’s the real kicker: If we live in a culture that diminishes the female space, through micro-aggressions in maxis and queues and business meetings and fetes, is it any surprise that they can escalate to assault? If the female space is disregarded on the small scale, do you see how this can lead to invasions on the larger scale?
So please men, respect the female space. Ladies, don’t feel embarrassed to claim your space. And everyone, let’s abolish the word “ladylike”, it’s completely useless.