Lately I’ve been having “feminist” conversations with people, mostly on the topic of street harassment. Discussing that brought back an old memory… and despite it being not my proudest moment, I felt I had to share it here.
Let’s start at the beginning.
I used to be an unattractive teen. Really. Most people aren’t at their prettiest when their bodies are growing and changing, but I was among those unfortunates who go through an exceptionally awkward and visually displeasing phase while growing up. When I was about 14, I was short, and chubby in all the wrong places (as in, flabby arms and belly fat but no boobs or ass to speak of), with extremely disproportionate hands and feet. I also wore glasses and had a bad case of chronic acne. Not pretty, trust me.
My best friend back then was a lot older than me. She was Ukrainian, 18 years old at that time but still in the same class as me, and she was everything I was not. Our only resemblance was that we were both short. However, she wasn’t “disproportionate growing body” kind of short. She was petite with enormous boobs, platinum blonde hair, and all the sexual confidence that comes with age and experience. I won’t say that I was jealous, because I loved her as a friend and when I grew older I even hooked up with her a couple times. But I certainly envied her.
Now, I remember there was an occasion when we were out in the city after dark. We had gone to a concert together, both dressed to the nines, and walking down the street there were of course a bunch of guys harassing us. You know; catcalling, making dirty proposals, even following us, trying to paw at us… Wait, did I say us? I meant of course her. The assholes were all after my best friend. I was just being… ignored.
Of this situation, that should have been at least somewhat frightening to my young self, and definitely very unpleasant for my friend, I only remember anger and frustration. My evening was ruined… and not because we got harassed. It was because I Did Not Get Harassed. To me, it was like a slap in the face. I read the situation as: “I’m not even good enough for this kind of lowlifes. I must be really worthless.”
Can you imagine that? 14 years old, and my entire value as a person took a dive in my mind because some random drunks didn’t think my childlike figure worthy of bestowing their unwanted sexual attentions on. Isn’t that just awful?
I was so pathetically insecure, that everyone’s opinion but my own mattered the world to me. I would have said yes to anyone and anything, just to feel like somebody wanted me, just to feel that I was worth something.
This is my childhood. And when I look back on it, I think this is why I am sick. Maybe I have always been sick. I think I was born without the ability to value human existence for itself.
- November 2014
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We’re All Mad Inhere on Twitter
- @dehairboss Couldn’t he isolate in a hotel room for a couple days before coming home from the concert? I get wantin… twitter.com/i/web/status/1… 3 weeks ago
- Apparently I've been on this hellsite screaming into the void for a whopping 10 tears. Who knew, right?… twitter.com/i/web/status/1… 7 months ago
- I'm trying. I'm trying to be a better person. But it's so hard when I feel like such a deserving target for cruelty… twitter.com/i/web/status/1… 8 months ago
- It's so hard to fight the urge to be cruel to myself. I see an opportunity, and it's like I'm a bully who spots the… twitter.com/i/web/status/1… 8 months ago
- I am so tired I could cry. Going to work tomorrow feels like punishment. I haven't relaxed. I haven't recharged. Th… twitter.com/i/web/status/1… 9 months ago
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Congratulations. You’re normal for a woman.
“Marta Meana, a researcher at the University of Nevada, has argued provocatively that the organizing principle of female sexuality is the desire to be desired. In her view, the delicate, tentative guy who politely thinks about you and asks if this is okay or that is okay is a guy who may meet the expectations of your gender politics (treats me as an equal; is respectful of me; communicates with me) and your parents’ preferences, but he may also put you into a sexual coma—not despite these qualities, but because of them.
“Female desire, according to Meana, is activated when a woman feels overwhelmingly desired, not rationally considered. Female erotic literature, including all those shades of gray, is built on this fantasy. Sexual desire in this view does not work according to our expectations and social values. Desire seeks the path of desire, not the path of righteousness. It thrives not on social order but on its negation. This is one reason all religions and societies try to control, contain, limit and re-direct it.
“Marta Meana had men and women watch erotic pictures of contact between a man and a woman and tracked the participants’ eye movements. She found that men and women focus on different aspects of the sexual event. Men looked at the women, while the women watched the two genders equally. They concentrated on the man’s face and the woman’s body. What turned them on apparently were the desired female body, with which they identify, and the man’s lustful gaze, for which they long.
“Despite what is commonly believed, then, Meana argues that female sexuality is more self-centered than male’s. Mick Jagger’s lamentations aside, male fantasies focus on giving satisfaction, not on receiving it. Men see themselves in their fantasies bringing the woman to orgasm, not themselves. Women see the man, set aflame by uncontrollable lust for them, bringing them to ecstasy. Men want to excite women. Women want men to excite them. Being desired is the real female orgasm, Meena says, and her words resound as a kind of truth. After all, wouldn’t more women be jealous of the desired woman who cannot orgasm than of the orgasmic woman who is not desired?
“Meana asserts that this aspect of female sexuality explains the prevalence of rape fantasies in the female fantasy repertoire. Rape fantasies, in this understanding, are actually fantasies about surrender, not out of masochistic yearnings to be harmed or punished, but out of the female desire to be desired by a man to the point of driving him out of control. By this logic, the fantasy is actually about surrendering voluntarily after the coveted man, in his inability to stop himself, attests to the woman’s own supreme desirability.”
Intriguing… I don’t find it immediately applicable to the situation described in my post, but it certainly rings true to me.
Your hindbrain over-rode your forebrain’s judgement of a potential threat and identified a reproductive deficiency and responded with anger.
I understand and agree that it is woman’s desire to be desired… but is experiencing another’s desire for her the only factor that defines a woman’s self-esteem and personal value? You do have a point in this case, but it doesn’t explain the situation as a whole.
Before I further explain, what facet of the interactions remains unexplained?
In this case, it was indeed the need to be desired overruling self-protecting instincts.
But the existence of such a “natural need to be desired” doesn’t explain why this need was so strong in a 14 year old girl that failure to meet it (in such unfavorable circumstances, at that) resulted in a complete devaluation of herself.
What I’m wondering is, why was I so needy? Is there a biological explanation for that?
QP: My thinking regarding your experience is this.
As a young woman – girl only seem applicable in a legal sense – your self-worth would be integrally entagled with your sexual value as you perceive it. Without contrary evidence, several instances of negative evaluations of your sexual appeal – even relative evaluations lacking objective standards – would lead to self-doubt, anxiety, and depression, assuming no evidence supporting your beauty.
Of course, all that hinges upon the validity of the hypothesis that women generally base internal valuations of personal worth on external opinions. My evidence supporting the hypothesis is anecdotal, so let’s see what others say.
“Kaplan’s esteem enhancement argument has
also been invoked in various forms to explain
teenage pregnancy. One view has it that adolescent
girls can see motherhood as a more prestigious
status than the one they currently occupy. Another
is that pregnancy signals a move to the status of
adult and an escape from a childhood status that
has failed to provide feelings of self-worth. A third
is that the sexual contact involved is associated
with being loved and valued. As Crockenberg and
Soby (1989) put it, sexual intercourse may ‘validate
the adolescent as an attractive person’ (p. 131). And
pregnancy would also validate capacity in a central
“If any of these views has any virtue, then, there
should be a gain in self-esteem from a sexual
relationship or from pregnancy. Taking teenage
pregnancy first, the lessons to be learned from
comparisons of pregnant teenagers, teenagers who
have become parents and teenagers who have
experienced neither state are limited. One reason is
that both teenage pregnancy and parenthood tend
to attract strong social disapproval.”
Regardless of the hypothetical cause (1, 2, or 3), self-esteem can be reasonably concocted from sexual (read: reproductive) success. The mitigating factor – social disapproval of teenage pregnancy – is a so-called social construct. You can’t rely upon that as a biological factor, especially given at least 2,000 years’ prior Euripean history to the contrary, plus another 5,000-10,000 years more before Rome’s height.
Regarding timing, let’s look at some deeper into the paper I’ve refernced,
“Kling and colleagues (1999) identified 216
studies of gender differences in self-esteem in
which sufficient information was available to
estimate the size of the difference. Males score
higher on measures of global self-esteem. The
difference is highly consistent, but it is also small.
One factor influencing the size of the difference is
age. The largest differences are apparent in late
adolescence; they are smaller both before and after.”
“One factor young people consistently mention
when asked what particularly affects the way they
feel about themselves is their physical appearance.
Furthermore, the correlations between self-esteem
and perceptions of physical appearance are high,
and exceptionally so in adolescence. Harter (1998)
reports correlations from her own research with
teenagers in the range 0.65 to 0.82. At the upper
end, this is close to the theoretical maximum. It
would mean that self-esteem in some groups of
young people, therefore, is entirely dependent on
So, if your adolescent self-worth is predicated on your appearance, and your appearance is established by the opinions of others, then it follows that instances when your appearance is judged relatively worthless would impact your psyche, regardless of your objectve appearance or long-term self-worth.
There’s a lot more buried in the paper (and other psych lit) that all points in the same direction: females base personal worth in part upon beauty, and that proportion of self-worth that beauty influences is at it’s zenith during adolescence.
Makes sense; given that I was not particularly attractive during that period, I would be even more sensitive to it…
Thank you, that was enlightening 🙂