From an incredibly young age, our society’s gender expectations are made evident; young girls are given dolls houses, hair accessories and toy kitchen wear/dinner sets to entertain themselves with, whereas boys are handed fishing rods, footballs, tennis rackets and other sporting equipment. Essentially, boys are handed freedom, whereas girl’s gendered toys keep her confined in the home.
These traditions, which enforce gender restrictions, follow us well into adulthood, though they are now so engrained in our society that they are difficult to spot. Camouflaged by emotive language, these imprisoning and insidious norms are enabled to manifest under new terminologies, such as safety and protection.
An idea is an incredibly powerful form of fear mongering, which can also be used to greatly benefit us, as well as oppress. For example, the idea of a man that would offer me sweets, only to lure me away and kidnap me, prevented me from talking to strangers as a child. However, another powerful idea is that of the good and respectable woman, which comes with heavily restrictive guidelines.
A respectful woman knows when it is suitable and necessary to leave her house, she knows the type of clothes that are acceptable, and to apply just the right amount of make-up, so as not to look too loud and give the wrong impression. But most of all, a good woman accepts her place in society for her own safety and protection.
Rebecca Solnit writes about how women are divided into two castes in Wanderlust; women are separated solely by whether they are a commodity or a consumer. For example, if your body was not for sale, you would have to prove it, by shopping. A woman’s sexuality was, and largely still is, used as the source for which to control and demonise women.
Previous to the 20th century’s women’s rights victories, a woman’s reputation was all that mattered. Women who frequented the streets, without good reason, alone or during unsocial hours could wave goodbye to the prospect of ever marrying well. Even the majority of our most adored feminist-activists did the majority of their work within the confines of their homes (while they weren’t being arrested and force fed by authorities), due to restrictive laws.
In Victorian times, women were divided according to two categories: ladies and public women. Both previous and current understandings of what ‘ladylike’ behaviour is hasn’t changed greatly over the years. However, the definition for ‘public woman’ has always been very subjective, though it was often considered synonymous with prostitute. You didn’t have to commit a crime to be considered a public woman, and there was no trial, but if any man saw you ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ (out of the house and alone), you could find yourself thrown behind bars. Essentially, the term was used to control the movements of most women, especially the working-classes, throughout the 19th-mid 20th century.
Society has come a long way since then, but traces of these traditions and expectations for women still linger; ideals and expectations for what it is to be a lady hasn’t changed much in recent times, though we may not pay much attention to how these ideas are constructed. Additionally, although the term ‘public woman’ is rarely used in modern Britain, that does not mean that she has become extinct – though she has changed her appearance somewhat. She’s often still a member of the lower-economic social-classes, she’s still regarded as being overly sexually promiscuous, and the public shaming of her is largely encouraged; she is the female chav.
The purpose of giving these two groups of women a clear difference in appearance is to make it easier for society to regulate them. Yes, now we don’t even need police on the streets arresting any woman they suspected of being a nuisance, we beat them into conforming ourselves!
We, as a society, aren’t supposed to hold female chav’s up with high regards; they are degenerates that threaten the status quo, dressing inappropriately and engaging in a level of sexual promiscuity that is reserved for only men. But would I really be less intelligent if I decided to wear hoop earrings and fake tan? As I would certainly be assumed to have no morals or intellect. Furthermore, is it any wonder that a woman feels so uncomfortable on the streets, with this public gaze looming over her shoulder?
In recent times, women-priority venues have become a popular hotspot for women of all sexualities. Perhaps this is due to the relentless harassment of women in all other public spaces. Over the last year, I have both worked within and visited some of the very few women-priority venues that exist in London (just three to my knowledge). Despite the fact that these venues are very sparse, some people take great discomfort in their mere existence.
I have witnessed men that are refused entry to these venues, having arguments with security and door staff, accusing them of discrimination, despite the fact that men are welcome in the venues, so long as they are accompanied by a woman. This outrage symbolises male-entitlement in modern Britain at it’s simplest form; we’re not advised to go outside, but we’re not allowed inside either, unless any man is free to come and go as he pleases.
On the rare occasions where men have gained entry, through uncertain means, they are often left bitterly disappointed, having expected to find themselves in the center of an exclusive brothel-esque setting, and swiftly exit. This, again, highlights how women are overly sexualised and viewed as temptresses, with women’s venues being considered as an extension of this, teasing and luring men inside by telling them that their advances are, in fact, not welcomed.