I have all these great chats with my girlfriends about our experiences of being a woman. They are utterly tragic and hilarious in equal measure. I started writing because I wanted to share them. So, why did I call my writing project Halopygian? Google and spell check ask me: Did you mean: callipygian? Well, kind of. Callipygian is a rare adjective to mean ‘having well-shaped buttocks’, just like marble statue The Venus Callipyge. When I was growing up, all Mums had a copy of Arabella Weir’s ‘Does My Bum Look Big In This?’ When I became a teenager, the genetic gods had bestowed upon me a large bottom. Like most things during puberty, you don’t notice them at first. Things like this appear suddenly, as they’re pointed out by a boy in your form class as you try to squeeze past to get to your table at the back. Whilst other girls were gaining attention for their bosoms, I was gaining attention for my big, round bum.
Being a woman meant that my body was up for debate, apparently
Along came my early twenties and I was feeling rather traumatised by my teenage years. Being a woman meant that my body was up for debate, apparently, and I was to be reminded of this fact, by family members, friends and strangers on the street. In response, I wore frumpy clothes and pulled my hair back into a ponytail. This uniform worked for me and I received little or no attention. Of course, if I dressed-up for a night out and walked to meet friends in town, the unwanted attention came back. How fickle, I thought. If you’d seen me this afternoon in dark grey jeans, some trainers and a misshapen jumper with no make-up on, you’d not have given me a second glance. Now I’ve dressed up a little, that makes me fair game? Does it? I think not.
Back in the day, I would shout back at cat callers, calling them “a disgrace” and shout “how dare you comment on my appearance when I’m on my way to the bloody shops?!” and scream “fuck off, you poor excuse for a man”. Their response would often be: “dyke, bloody lesbian”. As if that was the only reason in their tiny minds that would make me reject their advances, the small-minded pricks.
how dare you comment on my appearance when I’m on my way to the bloody shops?!
Occasionally and when walking with friends, if I got cat called, I would turn around and start shouting “Ah OK, yeah. Fancy a date?!” – a bit like when Mel C called out Noel Gallagher at the Brits or when Delia Smith gave a drunken, rousing call to action to Norwich City F.C. fans. Sometimes the men would laugh and stop, or sometimes they’d chuck abuse back at me. Like, honestly, what did they think the outcome would be? Sometimes on those days when I wasn’t feeling so chirpy, I’d just put my head down and shuffle off, letting those bastards go unchecked for their appalling behaviour.
More recently, and in my experience, I notice this type of behaviour less. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’ve moved up an age bracket or because people are checking their behaviour due to Operation Yewtree, #MeToo, Harvey Weinstein… I wear what I like now, I don’t think about what anybody else thinks. I dress for myself and refuse to apologise for my body.
Unfortunately, sexism is more insidious than we give it credit for. It’s not just about name calling or blatant bullying – that is only on the surface, the tip of the iceberg. It’s about what is deep down and the structures to keep women in a state of other. There is still work to be done to tackle sexism and the real causes are harder to see. Unlike my big round bum, of which I never ask ‘does my bum look big in this?’
Thanks go to Jonathan James-Whitehead for drawing the graphics for this article. Get hold of him here: firstname.lastname@example.org.