One of the differences I’ve noticed between Bolivia and Ecuador is that people don’t stare at me here. People don’t check me out head to toe and comment on my appearance, men don’t address me or try to get my attention in the street, I don’t get wolf-whistled by randoms or asked out by taxi drivers.
I suppose it’s a good thing. Reflecting on that distinction between life in Loja and life in La Paz, I realise I have never been more comfortable with my body and my physical appearance. It’s not that I have a perfect body. It’s not that I enjoyed the attention in Ecuador – but I quickly got used to it, to the point where it didn’t bother me. At all.
For some reason, I am perfectly okay with a stranger running their eyes all over me, for as long as they want, with creepy thoughts, whatever. In other words, I am okay with being an object.
For some reason, it’s not an offence – civil or criminal – for a stranger to run their eyes all over me, for as long as they want, with creepy thoughts, whatever. Not in a public place, and without more, it isn’t (so that means stalking and spying aside, as well as pornography, of course).
Working in the field of sexual assault here with IJM makes me wonder why there are no laws about what you do to a girl’s body with your eyes, but you can go to jail for what you do physically to a girl’s body. There are norms about what you do with your eyes, but there won’t be any formal disciplinary action taken against you.
For some reason, I am also okay with people saying whatever they want about my body. I don’t feel threatened by that even though some things a person could say to me could technically qualify as sexual harassment. Which is cause enough for disciplinary action at work in Australia and other countries.
For some reason, I am disconcertingly okay with a certain degree of physical touch. It’s not one of my primary love languages and in fact I used to be quite awkward about it. But the older I get the more I question whether my barriers are too generous. I question whether I have normalised physical interaction which should not be normal.
I feel like there are so many blurred lines in this space. Does it have to hurt to be violent? If it makes you uncomfortable is it then assault?
With rape there are clear physical indicators to determine whether or not the offence was committed. The same goes with sexual assault. But there are many, many other sexual acts which should, by law, be sexual assault – but the victims don’t see themselves as victims. They normalise the acts done to them.
It’s a constant conversation I have with myself and with other girls. It’s a conversation I don’t think will end any time soon.