The Everywhereist, aka travel blogger Geraldine, recently wrote a post that disturbed me. It was a good post and a necessary post, but it disturbed me nonetheless.
In a nutshell, she was bullied to the point of an anxiety attack during a trans-Atlantic flight. The man sitting behind her threatened to shake her seat if she reclined, and he mocked her when she tried to respond with civility to his outrageous behavior.
This stranger made a power play for Geraldine’s personal space, and it was extremely scary for her.
In her post, she writes about how women’s personal spaces and bodies too often are treated as public domain. They’re subject to commentary and invasion in a way that men’s personal spaces and bodies are not.
When I worked at the Wisconsin State Journal, my desk was partially on camera when reporters did live remotes from the newsroom. I would sit behind the featured reporter and continue my work while they were on local TV, because I was on deadline and we needed to GSD.
One night, we got a call in the newsroom for “the girl who was behind the reporter.” The man on the phone said he was my uncle. I picked up, expecting to hear a familiar voice. Instead I heard a stranger say that I would be prettier if I smiled on camera.
I don’t remember my reply; I think I was in shock. (For the record, this guy had a history of calling the newsroom and laying into whoever answered.)
I would be prettier if I smiled on camera. I wasn’t a broadcast journalist. Never had an interest in it. I wasn’t the featured reporter. I was at my desk, doing my job. After that night, I left my desk whenever reporters were on TV. It was the easiest way to avoid harassment.
I would be prettier if I smiled on camera. Think about it: The way a woman looked while she was minding her own business bothered a man SO MUCH that he felt compelled to say something to her about it.
I’ve had other experiences — and if you’re a woman, I’m sure you’ve had them, too — where your body, appearance, or personal space was incorrectly judged as fair game. I’ve had sunglasses snatched from the low point of a V-neck shirt. I’ve had my bra strap tucked in for me.
Unfortunately, I think these attitudes about and actions toward women are widely viewed as normal and not offensive. But, when you cut to the heart of them, they’re driven by subordination and inequality.
The intersection of sewing and standing up for your body
What does this have to do with sewing? Actually, I think it has a lot to do with clothes.
When it comes to RTW, men’s clothes are pretty consistent, even when sizes are S-M-L, etc. Buying pants couldn’t be any more straightforward — waistband plus inseam and you’re done.
To compare, the sizing of RTW women’s clothing is wildly different between labels. A 4 is not a 4 is not a 4. And even when you have garments that are sized by measurements — take bras, for example (band size plus cup size) — you still can’t be sure what you’re going to get.
I’m not breaking any ground here when I write that vanity sizing is a huge mind job for women. You think there’s something wrong with YOUR body, not the clothes and their whack sizes. Combine that with subtle and not-so-subtle reminders that women’s bodies are part of the public sphere, and it’s no wonder that too many women have negative feelings about their appearance.
Now, when you create garments for yourself, you take your body out of this toxic environment. Your handmade clothes fit and flatter your wonderful body; vanity sizing be damned. Your handmade clothes function for your needs and tickle your fancy.
I’m not saying sewing can cure anxiety caused by personal space invaders and jerks with unsolicited opinions.
But I think sewing can help you master your own perception of your body and appreciate it in a new way. And next time you’re compromised, you will have greater resiliency to stand your ground and do what you need to do to return to safety and comfort.
Over to you: How do you see the link between sewing and women’s bodies as public space? Am I reaching too much? Am I on to something? Please sound off (respectfully) in comments.