Yesterday as I was walking to the park to preserve my mental health, I wandered past Treasury House. Two black cars pulled up, and a man in a black suit and an ear piece simultaneously stepped out of each door. They looked like advisers to Labor politicians; I'd seen that sort before at a 'community cabinet' when I spoke about clean energy to a politician, who was flanked either side by these burly men in black. As a strolled in between the two cars, I was struck by an almost laughable sense of invisibility.
I related the story last night over dinner: "They were just so masculine! They didn't even see me as I walked through. Not that I was surprised - it was a Credo day so I'd decided not to dress like a sex object." We all laughed at my implication that sometimes I do dress like a sex object.
Actually there were a few reasons for my invisibility - my femaleness was just one thread that caused me to slip their gaze. I was also dressed incredibly casually - as an unimportant passerby that had nothing to do with their very important business. They had no reason to look at me. But it was in the gendered vein that our conversation continued, with a discussion over whether women could choose whether they wanted to be a sex object or not. Gemma remarked, "The gazer doesn't necessarily have all the power. The one who is gazed can dictate the situation as well."
Her comment was a response to a discourse, prevalent in film studies literature, that painted women as passive objects to be observed, while men did all the observing. Men, in that line of thought, had all the power.
David responded in predictable facetiousness. "Are you saying, Gemma, that women who walk around in miniskirts with boobs hitched up to around their necks actually have some control over whether they're looked at or not? Are you saying that women can manipulate men with the way they dress? You've got to be kidding!"
Gemma rolled her eyes, but the rest of us laughed. I said that I actually really like the fact that I can control whether I'm looked at or not. Sometimes - shock horror! - I like being looked at. I suppose that could be because I'm stuck in a patriarchy where I've been trained to think that my value lies in whether I'm attractive or not. Without denying that possibility, I would say that there is something light and playful in looking at someone and being looked at as well. And it doesn't all go one way - I look at men too! It's part of the fun of being young and relatively sexually attractive. I can decide, to a degree, whether I want that kind of interaction or not. I don't feel oppressed in this way; I don't feel like the passive object of the male gaze.
It's nice to have that realisation.