The Curse of the Self-conscious Boobs

Boobs, I have ’em.

Normally, this isn’t a problem, but sometimes, sometimes, it is. Like at Jitsu for example.

Most of the time the guys can forget I’m female and will train with me as they would if I were a guy. Groundwork/grappling is sometimes awkward but only for the first time they train with me. Usually they’re afraid of squashing me, but sometimes it’s ‘Umm, is this appropriate?’ as they go to practise a hold-down that involves leaning their weight onto my chest. I suppose it’s nice that they ask, it is polite after all, however, I’ve been learning Jiu Jitsu for a year and a half now and I’m under no delusions as to what it entails. Also, if every guy with at least twenty kilos on me refused to train with me I would be stuck with the same three lads, and that would make it much harder to progress. I’m here to train, just as they are, and I want to be accepted as their equal, as in fact I am.

Ma shoes - ain't they pretty?

Ma shoooes – ain’t they pretty?

The problem comes in when I’m so much accepted as ‘one of the lads’ that they forget that the stuff they wouldn’t normally say in front of women is still not okay. Worse, when they say ‘oh, apart from you’. They expect me to be fine with it because I’m ‘one of them’ and so I should be in on the joke. It’s often a thing where a group of guys will be trash-talking some woman or commenting on her sexiness when she’s not there and they forget that I’m sitting there, still being female. If it’s okay to talk about another woman in that fashion, does that mean they talk about me in the same way when I’m not present? That worry fills me with doubt and makes it almost impossible to trust them. Unfortunately I have encountered this all over the place, including at Uni with the group of guys, both PhDs and Post-Docs, in my lab group. I just don’t know how to balance the tension inherent in being part of a group where casual sexism is a-okay, when fundamentally that shit is Officially Not Cool. I also don’t know how to change that situation without loosing my precarious place in the group, or being classed as a Humourless Feminist TM.

The next problem comes from the socialising we do outside of training. The down-the-pub post-training side is fine, it’s the meals out and the clubbing that are awkward.  Now, I’m not particularly ‘girlie’ in the standard always-perfect hair, make-up, nails and skirt sense. I went through some seriously tomboy phases growing up and a lot of my hobbies have an outdoorsy, muddy aspect, but, and this is a big but, I do actually enjoy dressing up for special occasions. Thing is, I often feel like I risk jeopardising my place as one of the lads if I do dress up because it might remind them that I’m actually female.

Regardless of this worry, I dressed up for the post-grading meal the other week. A light floaty black minidress with a square-cut neckline, with fishnets and black patent court shoes, to be precise. I looked in the mirror before I left and thought, yeah, that looks nice. I got to the meal and whoa, my dress was a lot shorter than what the other women were wearing and gave a more impressive cleavage. Not that the others didn’t show any, I’m just particularly well endowed and the right bra does amazing things. Anyway, the meal was delicious and our table had a long conversion regaling each other with horror stories of sporting accidents to the male genitalia, and I pretty much managed to forget that I felt significantly over-dressed.

The pub after was different however. The joys of the Weatherspoons chain lead to the incident I discussed in Internalised Sexism – a story the other day. We eventually made it to the table where everyone else and were having fun talking about whatever it is you talk about whilst slightly tipsy. Cameras and phones came out, and cool apps were being played with, when Lulu took a photo of my cleavage. Cue sniggers from the guys sat either side of her. I realised what she was doing and rescued the camera to delete the offending photo, when Bert exclaimed  “well we were all looking at them anyway!”

Do you have any idea how self-conscious that made me feel? Mortified doesn’t even begin to cover it. I don’t think it showed too much on my face and the conversation moved on to other things but that comment stayed with me.

The consequence of that off-hand, semi-jokey comment? I spent the next week stressing about my boobs, and wondering the entire time if everyone else was looking at them on the sly. Yes, they’re nice boobs and yes, I like looking at them, but just because I wear vest tops that on me look low cut doesn’t mean they’re public property and that any old Joe can comment on them! It’s not my fault that I have boobs, I didn’t ask for them, and it’s not my fault that the fashion industry doesn’t have the first clue how to cut clothes that fit large-breasted women well.

It ate away at me so much that when my partner and I got home after a gig I ended up crying angry, frustrated, hurt tears onto his shoulder, trying to explain why that comment was so hurtful, even if it wasn’t meant to be. Bert should have known better, and this culture needs to hurry up and change and accept the fact that women’s bodies are NOT public property, ever. I should not have to put up with being made to feel self-conscious about my boobs and no woman should ever be under pressure to dress a certain way in order to avoid douchbaggery from men, end of.

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4 thoughts on “The Curse of the Self-conscious Boobs

  1. First off, I’m so, so sorry you had to go through and experienced something like that! And I hope the angry tears and now writing it down helped somewhat to make it better.

    God, do I hear you on the “one of the guys” thing.
    I work part-time in a gym; I started that work almost exactly three years ago but had been going there to work out since 2006. So the regular guys there have known me since I was a teenager and if anything the older ones are protective of me and the younger ones appreciate the opportunity to talk with someone who’s closer to their age but still an adult and thus kind of neither one of their peers nor of their parents or teachers.

    I’ve also successfully gotten them to stop using sexist language (at least when I’m around; although “slut” is a hard one that never really goes away, but “at least” they only use it to describe a woman who’s an arsehole, not one who sleeps with many men *rolls eyes*), had the biggest fight of my lifetime with a stupid homophobe who since then is like a lamb in front of me (goddamnitIhatethatstupididiot and at the same time managed to explain to a 17-year-old why it’s not okay to use “gay” as a derogatory term, and I think he really thought about and understood it) and made clear that I for the most part don’t care how someone looks as long as I like them as a person and they should damn well do that, too, and not judge someone from their appearance. I’ve also often failed at all the things I just described here, either because I was a coward or lately because I was too tired to call them out.

    Granted, this is not my day job and I could without much fuss stop working there if they only ever annoyed and picked a fight with me so we certainly are in different situations, but maybe it would still work to tell them in a friendly (or an angry one, depending and who you’re talking to and how you feel towards them and in general) way that That Is Not Okay? I know that sounds way easier than it is but I’ve actually gotten way more positive reactions than I ever expected, so maybe you’d be surprised?

    Now, back to being “one of the guys”. In that gym, I’m sometimes one of the guys and sometimes part of the furniture, I’m either totally involved in everything or I’m just invisible, standing behind my counter drying the cups. And sometimes, very, very really but still, I’m a woman. Not so much in situations where they deem fit to call all women “except the ones present” nasty names and I get angry about it, but little things that *surprise surprise* are always sexual or at least specifically have to do with gender (although the situations are different from the one you experienced, but who knows what would happen if I wore a deeply cut top and a push up).

    Like one time, when I was asked if, like men get boners when they “see something they like” (what the hell?), women get wet in such a situation? [It wasn’t even directed at me personally, like “Do you experience that?” but rather one of the guys had asked his girlfriend the same question and she hadn’t answered and now I was to summon all my secret powers of general womanhood and tell him if his gf ever got wet when she “sees something she likes”. Hm.]

    Or another time when one guy was ready to go into the sauna but had forgotten something and came out to ask me about it with only a towel around his waist. Now as I said, I’ve been there for seven years and have seen this particular guy in various states of undress several times, and even if I hadn’t, there are enough guys looking at their abs or chest muscles all the time, I’m not particularly surprised or shocked by that. However, right when he came out I coincidentally bent down to get something from the dishwasher and one guy standing nearest to me (a fifty-something know-it-all, he’s annoying anyway) went into a fit of laughter of how I’m totally ashamed and prudish and have to turn away so as to not see the naked guy and what-have-you. The ridiculousness still manages to astound me.

    Or when I was asked if I “ever had sex in the boiler room” (very obviously referring to the fact that the office I was sitting in at that moment is right next to the boiler room) with a smug grin. I was so angry and horrified I almost started crying. And almost worse was the fact that once one of the other guys told my boss about this he was just as upset as I was but as soon as I told him who was the one who said that to me, he was like “Oooh, him. Well, that’s him, he’s always like that.” … Well, I know that. I know him. But that doesn’t make it okay in the slightest.

    As I said, these situations are different from the one you described here and I’m sure they weren’t nearly as hurtful and upsetting as what you went through, but they are things that came to my mind when I read this article and yeah, my fingers kinda typed on their own here.

    • That’s really cool that you’ve managed to influence their language choices, and especially brilliant about the teen that actually thought about why using gay as an insult is a bad thing.

      Your three other stories fill me with rage on your behalf. And, argh, your boss so nearly got it and failed at the last hurdle! Excusing someone’s offensive behaviour because ‘that’s the way they are’ just lets it continue. Plenty of evidence over at Captain Awkward on that score.

      The most annoying thing about my incident was that I didn’t register quite hos much it affected me at the time. It was only a week later talking to my partner that I twigged what my thoughts had been running on the sly. Stupid jerkbrain.

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