Last weekend, my guy friend (let’s call him John) came over to hangout with my boyfriend and me at our apartment. We were chatting about his love life, when John turned the conversation to an old subject. He brought up a mutual girl friend of ours that he would totally “fuck” (let’s call her Jane). John asked my boyfriend if he would also “fuck” her, before listing and comparing “fuckable” women. The girl he went on a date with recently? Not fuckable, but total cutie, definite girlfriend material. Jane on the other hand? Fuckable, 10/10 body and face, 10/10 boobs, but not girlfriend material.
I remember feeling uncomfortable with the conversation, so the next day I called John. I told him I felt bothered that he would talk about our friend that way. He was baffled. “Eunice, you realize that this is how we talk all the time, right? I just tell you what’s on my mind. And I’ve said these things before. You know what kind of person I am, you know that Jane and I are just friends, and that I’m only joking. Why now? Why does it all of a sudden bother you now?”
I hesitated to respond, because he made a good point. It’s true, he has called Jane “fuckable” multiple times and I never said anything about it. It was just this past weekend that I suddenly didn’t like it.
I processed my change of heart out loud. I told John that maybe it was because he said it in front of my boyfriend, and that he also tried to involve my boyfriend in it. Maybe it was a jealousy thing and I didn’t want to believe my boyfriend would think about other women as “fuckable.”
But I think another big reason it bothered me, a reason I didn’t articulate as well, is that I’m much more of a feminist now than I ever was. I am more aware of the need to treat women, and people in general, with respect.
Strange as it sounds, I wasn’t always a feminist, I wasn’t always a woman for equality. Back in high school and even the early years of college, I had no interest in feminism. In fact, I thought feminists were extreme and exaggerated the problem. I scoffed at people who used language like, “stop objectifying women,” because I thought they were making a big deal out of nothing.
Back then, I also liked to consider myself as “one of the guys.” I had a lot of guy friends, and that made me think I was somehow cooler than your average girly girl, that I could totally get down with the bros and their lingo. My guy friends would start to talk to me about girls they thought were hot, and I enjoyed that I was privy to this knowledge. At one point they created code words with me to let me know when they were checking a girl out. Calling a girl a “tomato” meant she was hot stuff. A “potato” meant she was ugly to the point of being a joke. Don’t ask me why they picked these vegetables, it was related to some Chinese slang–another language I didn’t fully understand. But I pretended I did, and I also engaged in this activity, checking out other girls, commenting on their butts and legs, and laughing along with my friends’ crude remarks.
Back then, I didn’t consider this kind of guy talk problematic, I just thought we were all joking around as friends. I was being cool, chill, one of the boys. So what changed?
I think I finally woke up to the fact that I am a woman when I was victim to someone who just thought I was “fuckable.” My ex-boyfriend was once a guy friend who would check out girls with me. When he became my boyfriend, he started talking to me about me in terms of my body parts. To him, I had nice legs, a nice butt, but I needed work on my waist. “You look pregnant,” he would say, “If you just got skinnier and wore crop tops, you would look a lot hotter. And then I can show you off to people.” Like some kind of “fuckable” trophy. I think the fact that he thought of me this way also probably made it easier for him to eventually force himself on me, even when I said I didn’t believe in sex before marriage. After all, who cares what the girl thinks of her own body and purpose, when she’s just meant to be fucked?
Of course, I don’t think all men actually mean to say women only amount to their sexual value when they’re talking guy talk. I didn’t think of it that way either whenever I joined in. But the truth is, this is language that posits that this kind of mentality is okay. That it’s okay to look at a girl and to think of her as a pair of “nice legs,” “cute ass,” “huge tits.” It’s okay to erase a girl’s identity in the duration of a conversation and just think of her as a sexual object. When John started talking about how “fuckable” our friend was, he was not really thinking of her as our friend, or a person, just an object to pass around, a product for some survey where he asks each person, “Would you fuck her? If you didn’t have a girlfriend, would you?”
It’s the kind of language that not only affects how men view women, but how women view each other as well. As John pointed out, he talks about Jane like this all the time. To John, and to some of our other guy friends, Jane is the epitome of the perfect female body–tall, long legs, thin waist, huge eyes, symmetrical face, small head, and big boobs. The more the guys talked about her over the years, the more I noticed I became anxious around Jane. As they were defining the perfect woman, I started to compare myself to this standard. Relative to Jane, I was short, had small eyes, small boobs, etc. I felt inadequate next to her. And then, I felt jealous of her. This definitely affected my friendship with her to a great extent. I started seeking out her flaws and delighting in them. I found myself feeling satisfied when a guy like John mentioned that although Jane is fuckable, she is not date-able because she was too “dumb” or “spoiled.” Because of this language, I no longer saw Jane as a friend. I saw her as my competition. When she moved away to a different country, rather than feeling sad to see her off, I felt relieved because I didn’t need to worry about comparing myself to her anymore. Whenever I saw her, I felt tense, as if I was subconsciously thinking to myself: Who was more of a woman based on some guy’s standards? Me or her?
John’s guy talk bothered me this past weekend, because I also became more aware of my negative feelings towards Jane recently. Jane moved back to the States a few months ago, and although a part of me was anxious to see her again, when we hungout, I was surprised to find that I truly enjoyed her company as a person. She is sweet, she is cheerful, she is giggly, she is silly. Memories of her kindness suddenly flooded back, like the time she gave me a wooden rose for Valentine’s Day, the time I broke her mirror by accident and she told me to think nothing of it, or the time when she wanted to buy fish filet sandwiches from McDonald’s to offer them to a homeless woman who roamed her block. She is so many things besides “fuckable,” or a guy’s “perfect standard.” She is a friend that I adore. How did I forget?
I let myself get carried away with the guy talk and I let it take over my perceptions of both my friend and of myself–of what a woman is supposed to be. It’s a problematic language, it poisons our relationships with women, but it’s also considered the norm, a tradition among boys. The night I talked to John about why our conversation bothered me, I mentioned that I felt he “objectified” Jane. He scoffed. “Seriously, Eunice?” he asked, his tone taking a sarcastic dip. I felt my shoulders shrink, caving into my chest. I felt like I was being pinned as a dumb, social justice warrior. And the scary thing is, I almost believed it. I almost thought I was overreacting. Even now, I have my doubts. Am I making a big deal out of nothing?
I’m writing about this now because at this very moment, I have decided that that the way John and I have talked about Jane for the past few years has been a problem. And it disturbs me how I used to think it was fine. In the end, John said he understood where I was coming from. He agreed that friends should not talk about each other in that way. Although he was defensive at first, he probably just didn’t like being told he was wrong about something he never considered to be a problem before. Years ago, if someone else had told me to watch my language, even when I’m just joking with my close friends, I guess I’d be mad too.
I almost got mad at myself actually, because I was worried I was making things awkward with John. That he would no longer see me as a bro he can just open up to anymore. At some point in the conversation, I also told him that I love him, as a way to say that I knew he wasn’t a bad person, and that I was bringing this up because I care. When he didn’t say it back, I panicked, thinking I was being too “girly” and “emotional” and I had weirded him out. Eek, I wasn’t being cool! I wasn’t being a bro! But I know thinking that way is wrong. I know I shouldn’t worry about being one of the guys. Because I’m not a guy. I’m a complicated-ass woman with opinions, and I need to speak in my own language, especially when I feel that something is not right.