Come on guys, women's bodies are not your property

The writer mentions an incident in which a young woman was groped at Rhythm and Vines 2017. Photo: Getty.
The writer mentions an incident in which a young woman was groped at Rhythm and Vines 2017. Photo: Getty.
Perhaps the biggest ''New Year'' story this year to come out from our sunny side of the globe was the tale of a woman called Madeline who was groped by a male reveller at the Rhythm & Vines festival on New Year's Eve as she strolled along, minding her own business, with glitter covering her breasts.

Madeline and her friend Jolene retaliated by punching the dude - as I expect anyone would, if assaulted like that. And yet, excuses for the man's disgusting behaviour were as varied and numerous as the pieces of glitter covering Madeline's body.

It seems to me that today's society feels a brazen ownership over women's bodies. We can hear it in the insidious catcalls every girl or femme person has encountered walking down the street, feel it in the clumsy, unwanted groping that can happen at any time, and see it in advertisements where the female body is used as a prop. Clearly, our bodies aren't really our own, but rather the world's.

I was 12 when I realised that my body was public property. I was walking home from the supermarket in my little sleepy town when a van of young men drove past, hollering dehumanising and sexually loaded slurs at me. I shamefacedly hurried home as fast as I could, tears pricking my eyes.

A few months later, my best friend was groped by a fellow camper at a Christian camp on Ponui Island. The camp leaders apologised, told the boy off and warned my friend to dress more modestly in future.

He wasn't asked to leave the camp. She was forced to continue swimming, running and hiking with the person who assaulted her. I remember hugging her as she cried tears of embarrassment.

That summer we learned our personal, private bodily autonomy was not our own. We could be forcibly violated at any minute and it was probably ''our fault'' anyway.

Returning to the R&V incident, social media exploded over the man's behaviour. One flimsy excuse put forward for the cretin's behaviour was that Madeline was ''asking for it'', on account of her attire. And yet people are sexually assaulted regardless of what they are wearing.

Madeline was not breaking any laws by covering her breasts with glitter and walking around with her friends at a music festival. New Zealand's law on indecent exposure is explicitly in regard of genitals. Breasts are not genitals. Even though her skin was exposed, it was not on offer to the world.

She was not seeking anyone's approval or affirmation about her body. She probably just wanted to feel fun, glittery and cool in the musty heat of Gisborne. But still, people were trying to excuse the fact someone touched her in a sexual way without consent - which, by law, is considered sexual assault.

I was arguing with a friend the other day about the issue of ''modesty'' and women's bodies. ''She was practically half-naked,'' said my friend, ''it's no wonder the boy groped her. Men and boys can't help feeling the way they do around beautiful women. They're visually stimulated.''

But regardless of how someone's sexual desire is triggered, basic respect and courtesy need to be maintained. The ''boys will be boys'' attitude denies men and boys their agency, characterising them as aggressive and brutish.

As I said in an early column, men are no more rapists in their natural state than I am a lizard in my natural state. No-one has to be a slave to their hormones or sexual impulses. Restraint can be exercised, and respect must always be tantamount.

In a joint statement released after the incident, Madeline and Jolene said: ''No-one has the right to touch you without your consent - it doesn't matter what the circumstance may be, your body is yours and nobody has the right to take that away from you.''

Hear, hear. Can we please stop making excuses for assault? It's 2018. I can't believe I have to spell this out: women's bodies are not your property. It doesn't matter what someone is wearing, or whether they are in a public or private place. Don't touch someone without their consent.

-Jean Balchin is an English student at the University of Otago.

Comments

This Day
Not P.A.

Sex mania has been on the rise since the 60's, who were teenagers then. Cultural debasement and the Anti PC Entitled Generation has led to a Perfect Storm of 'Man's World' reflexive sexual assault. They will Stop when realisation dawns their lack of self control is Unmanly (NSW). Or when women 'buzz' them, which is no joke, the buzzing of 500 volts.