Social Sickness and Individual Illness

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

September 16th, 2011 • Mind-Body MedicinePrint Print

Apparently, statistics indicate that women have chronic illness more than men. It seems to be, although I haven’t seen statistics on this, that historically women were more ill than men as well. I am not surprised. Women are energetically assaulted around the clock, in ways both little and small. The further back in time we go, the more that assault seemed to occur. Women had less rights, less voice, less power, less control.

Those assaults impact the body, eroding our life force and our relationship to our own damn skin. We come to feel uncomfortable in our bodies, or we rework our bodies to be in hiding or to fit the “on display” way of walking through the world. Think “hoochie mama” for that last one, and you know what I’m talking about.

There is a cumulative effect, just like with too much exposure to radiation.

When I go bike riding, I throw on a dark t-shirt and bike shorts. I do not wear a bra. Most of the men who pass me stare at my chest unabashedly, as if it is their right to visually consume my breasts. As if my breasts are independent objects, on display. As if the breasts are not on the sacred body of a human being with a heart and spirit.

I have been repeatedly surprised by the ogling, as I do not wear anything “revealing.” It’s a loose damn t-shirt. Not that if it were tight or with a plunging neckline, the ogling would be any more justified. But I’m just pointing out how extreme this behavior is. I have been so perplexed by the phenomenon that I actually have looked down when men stare, trying to figure out what the hell they are looking at and seeing.

I came to realize that when these men pass a woman, they must just zero in on her breasts, as if it’s their birthright. It makes me angry. Especially in the case of the guy today, who just would not take his eyes off, as he slowly passed me. What the fuck! It makes me see red. It makes me want to kick their bikes, yell at them, spit on them. As in, right back atcha, fuckface.

This socially-sanctioned form of violence – ie, violation – is so pervasive that hardly anyone notices it or talks about it or does a damn thing about it. We serve up our daughters to this undignified treatment, even sanctifying it as an indicator that a girl or woman is “beautiful” – the ultimate accomplishment, we are taught, for any female.

And it’s so damn pervasive, that I’m left with two choices: fight it constantly, or tune it out. Ahh, there’s the rub. Tuning it out means constantly and repeatedly denying the natural inclination of taking up and protecting our space. Therein lies the erosion. Another option is hiding and succumbing – ie, wearing a bra. Another erosion of the human spirit.

When I was sleeping on the beach in Tel Aviv, nearly 20 years ago at the age of 24, I woke up and took a shower on the beach. Naked. A man ogled me. “It is disrespectful to stare at my body. Turn around!” I commanded him. He did as I said. That is power. I get to be buck naked and you don’t get to look. That is also basic respect.

The energy of male-female interactions is one of peeking, copping a feel, grabbing, getting away with something. The female body, or body parts, become the target in a video game. And so girls and women are under assault constantly. Forget the threat of rape or murder or the domestic violence that happens every eight seconds. That’s extreme. I’m talking about the stuff you’ve numbed yourself out to.

The stuff that makes women more sick than men.

In 1996, I wrote a book called CONSEQUENCE: Beyond Resisting Rape. I chronicled my journey hitting men who harassed me – like the time I hit two soldiers in the balls for staring at my chest. My journey pushing the boundaries of response to sexual harassment was thrilling. Empowering. To keep it up over a lifetime, however, would be exhausting. As long as violence against women, in its tiniest or most grotesque forms, remains socially sanctioned, it will require battle to defend against it every day. And nonstop battle is depleting. But so is the erosion of our energetic field.

What to do?

In my 20s, I confronted things head-on. In my 30s, I avoided things – because I had enough on my plate, dealing with chronic pain. In my 40s? I don’t know. But I do know that I shouldn’t have to wear a bra, or a t-shirt for that matter, when I go biking. I do know that men need to teach boys and other men a different way of seeing, so that the “male gaze” dissolves, and gaze of respect and dignity meets women instead.

People have often said I should go to Burning Man. I always had the sense, however, that I would hate it. Nobody could understand, because I’m your prototypical anarchist artist type. But a new friend of mine said I would hate it. “Thank you!” I replied. “That’s always been what I thought. Why do you say that?” She shared with me that while men ran around without pants, without any predatory attack by women, women who went without shirts were sexually harassed with the “hey baby,” whistles, and all the other crap that women get on the streets – which are not as “enlightened” as these supposed hippies are.

It’s such bullshit, and I’m so tired of it. And I’m so tired of how overwhelming it is to take it on. As I documented in CONSEQUENCE, when a woman creates the rules of the game and starts hitting men who are assaulting her verbally or visually – the violence that deliberately falls through the cracks — she is the one considered the assailant. So she ends up not just assaulted by a creep, but then assaulted by the criminal “justice” system.

It is sick. And, as an upshot, so are we.

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