Today, I’ve been thinking about the difference between attention and unwanted attention. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about these things in relation to appearance, and what happens to everyone any time they enter a public space. That is, whenever an individual goes outside of their own private space, they are going to notice other people and other people are going to notice them, for a wide range of reasons. This “noticing” is neither inherently good no inherently bad. It’s good if someone notices you in time to avoid hitting you with their vehicle. It’s bad if someone notices you with the intent to steal your vehicle. However, the act of noticing in and of itself is neither good nor bad unless or until it serves a purpose.
For example, today I have been specifically considering a pair of galaxy-print leggings I own. I love these leggings. They are one of my favorite things to wear- comfortable, cute, and relatively unique. I wear them because I like them, and that’s all. However, while I do not wear these leggings with the intention of attracting attention, I am aware of the fact that these leggings are attention-attracting. OF COURSE THEY ARE THEY’RE AWESOME. I would pay a little attention if I saw them out somewhere, too, because they’re something I like. I know when I wear them somewhere, it wouldn’t be unusual for at least one person to look at them or say something about them to me.
Normally, the noticing is relatively harmless, or even nice. “Hey, cool pants!” or something similar is pretty common, from both men and women, strangers and friends alike. That’s usually totally fine; there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m the type of person where if I see someone wearing something I think is cool, or walking a dog I think is adorable, or something similar, I will probably give them a similar compliment: “Hey I like your shoes/coat/scarf/adorable pug puppy.” I say these things not because I think the other individual owns or wears these things for anybody else but themselves, and not because I think I have the right to validate them or anything like that. I say them because I want to genuinely pay someone a compliment, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Therefore, when someone pays me a similar, genuine compliment, I can take it as such. Were I to assume every comment that came to me because of someone noticing something about me was malicious, I would drive myself crazy. Not every compliment has an ulterior motive- no, not even if that person is male! Unfortunately, one of the repercussions of living in a rape culture means that men are usually looked at as threats, and just like women shouldn’t have to feel threatened everywhere they go, men should not be seen as threatening everywhere they go.
BUT. Of course there’s a great big BUT. Sometimes, comments, compliments, or noticing can be unwelcome, can be threatening. Let’s return to the example of my exceedingly awesome space pants. I have worn these out with friends several times. Most recently, I wore them at my favorite pub when we were out for my roommate’s birthday. We were playing billiards and having a lovely time celebrating. At some point in the evening, a passing individual remarked on my leggings. I was neither super surprised (as discussed, I am aware that they tend to attract attention. I wear them anyway because I like wearing them for myself) nor offended, because it did seem like a genuine compliment, and that was all. No further comments or dialogue with this individual. They said “nice pants,” I said, “hey, thanks,” end of conversation. BUT.
Like I said earlier, there’s a difference between attention and unwanted attention. The above example of noticing was not threatening, appeared genuine, and was therefore not unwelcome. However, I also have examples of unwanted attention; attention that is inappropriate, lewd, or threatening, and therefore unwelcome. On a different occasion, I wore these leggings while I was downtown with some friends. I left the establishment we were at to step outside and take a rather serious, important phone call. While I was outside on the phone, a man walked past, whistled, and shouted over his shoulder, “Hey those pants are hot!” When I didn’t respond, both because I was on the phone and because his attention was offensive, I heard him call out to me again, “Hey, bitch, I was just complimenting you!”
SIGH. Hopefully, you can see the differences I’m getting at. The above example was unwelcome and inappropriate because it was not genuine, respectful, or nonthreatening. It was crude and offensive. This is the type of attention you hear people complain about. Particularly, you probably hear women complain about this, because we receive more of this harassment than men. And yes, this qualifies as harassment. Again, there is a difference between a genuine compliment (attention) and sexual harassment (unwanted, inappropriate, threatening attention).
Now, there are a lot of people out there who would say something to me like, “Well if you didn’t want the attention you shouldn’t wear attention-attracting clothing” and to this I say: Anytime I wear anything- space leggings included- I see dozens and sometimes hundreds of people who don’t do or say anything. Sometimes people are genuinely nice to me. Sometimes, an individual will harass me. Since the majority of people don’t say or do anything, how is it then my fault that one (or even multiple) individual(s) said or did something inappropriate or threatening? Answer: It’s not. It is not my fault if someone else cannot control their behavior.
And this is what I’ve been thinking about lately. My space pants are not to blame. I am not to blame. Individuals are responsible for their own behavior, period full stop.