A post by Bust Magazine on their facebook page called "Seems Like a Touch, a Touch Too Much" really got me thinking today. For those who don't want to go read it, Mary S. is talking about the seeming availability of women to touch. I'm 5'1.5" (gotta get that half an inch in there when you don't have many to spare), and people just touch me. Constantly. Apparently, I'm just so tiny and adorable they can't help it. However, when people I don't know start touching my body in public (or private, for that matter), I honestly have trouble not vomiting.
When I was a child, I had very, very long hair. Supposedly, I was putting a sign on my back that said "Please touch my hair! I don't care who you are, where we are, come on over and run your hands through my hair and give me your opinion on it!" I had a nasty trifecta back then-- child (I'll come back to that), female, and unusual. It got to the point where I contemplated shearing off my braids myself, just to make it stop. I finally cut my hair in eighth grade, and cut off 37 inches. However, it didn't fix the problem, because I had a new conglomeration of problems: just past puberty, which meant that in the eyes of society I was now sexually available, female, tiny, and when I started dyeing my hair pink and blue, back to unusual. Now that I've shaved my head, you'd think that it would make people give a second thought, but no, the sign now reads "My head has an unusual texture! Rub your hands ALL OVER MY SKIN."
It's not just hair, either. If I say I'm tense, instead of offering tylenol, strangers will start rubbing my shoulders. When I can't reach something on a high shelf (and believe me, I often can't), people will wrap their arms around my legs and lift me up to grab it. If I'm in the way, instead of politely asking me to move, I am picked up and moved out of the way, often suddenly and from behind. Those are the most egregious instances, but small ones are just as awful. People just disregard my need for space. I'm not sure when they're disregarding it because I'm small or because I'm a woman, but they'll sit too close on the bus (I'd follow Mary's advice from her article and shove on their legs with mine, but I have the feeling they'd take it as a sexual advance), shove up against me in lines or concerts, throw their arms around me shoulders or lean in too close while talking to me, pick me up to see how much I weigh, and as previously stated, rub their hands all over my scalp.
I always give people at least a dirty look when they do this. Sometimes I will go so far as to place my hands on their back (I figure that if they're invading my space to this degree, they deserve it) and shove them the fuck away from me. Most of the time, however, I just let it go. Sometimes I am just so damn tired of everything that I deal with (rape, homophobia, misogyny, etc, not to mention all of my daily responsibilities) that I can't handle one more thing and I just get away as fast as I can. I just can't take the "humorless feminist, god, I'm just trying to be nice, you said you were tense" one more time. I can't do it. In Spectrum Center Ally Training, the idea was that if we train enough people to stand up, it'll take the weight off of others, but nobody really seems to talk about this. The closest thing is sexual assault, and even then we don't really talk that much about commonplace touching of strangers when it isn't groping butts or what have you. More people need to talk about this.
One place I'm planning on starting is with my children. My own experience with my mother's refusal to let me cut my hair has convinced me that my kids can do whatever they damn well please with their own bodies. Blue hair? Sure. Down to their waist? Who cares? Polka dot shirt and striped pants? Go right ahead. Furthermore, kids are subjected to touching all the time. Go hug Grandma, we say. It'll make her sad if you don't. Come sit on my lap, I want to hold you while I talk to your mom. Ride on my shoulders. Of course, I'm not saying that kids don't often like this, because they do. I'm saying that we don't give them a choice. It's what we want, and children are taught that they have to acquiesce to it even when it goes against everything their bodies are telling them. Then they grow up, and it's ingrained into them. Do we really want our kids learning these things? Grandma can suck it up when Junior doesn't want to hug them, in my opinion.
Now excuse me while I go throw up from someone rubbing my head, and no, I don't want your shoulder rub.