It’s nothing new to us. We’ve perfected our sarcastic comebacks in response to unoriginal one-liners. Our I-can-open-the-door-myself-thanks stare is fine-honed in response to a ‘gentle’ hand on the back, or rather, bum, as a door is held ajar. And our I-don’t-care-that-you’re-all-talking-about-me walk while passing that boy at the bar who jeers: “Look at the tits on that one,” is down to a tee. (Yes, this has genuinely happened to me on more than one occasion. And just a heads up – it’s not a compliment).
They say the best defence is a good offense, and so we’ve learnt to put our sassy pants on. And no, it’s not because we’re on our period. It’s because when you’re up against Page Three and the like, you need some damn good pants.
After a lifetime of this, I wasn’t particularly daunted by the prospect of standing up in front of 150 men who hadn’t been around womankind much recently. I did think about the reception I would get as a female violin player, but it wasn’t my biggest concern. So I was surprised to find the reality of playing at Sunday morning chapel in a prison was refreshing.
There was no staring or glaring. No flirting or smurking. No jeering about the ‘other places I could fiddle’. There was just a group of broken people – myself including – praising God for what had been done in our lives, asking for forgiveness and healing, and praying for guidance. No bravado, no show, no knickers-in-a-twist, awkward encounters. Peace and reconciliation. Laughter and tears.
I learnt more about the heart of God in 45-minutes there than I had in 100s of hours of Sunday School and endless episodes of Veggie Tales. Not that there’s anything wrong with a little Veggie Tales.
One of the men said that being away from society is helping him get to where he needs to be; no mobile phones, no women, no distraction. It has got me thinking; in a society that glorifies women as sexual objects – not exclusively, but often – how do we help our boys grow up to be godly men who can form healthy, loving relationships? How can we help the next generation grow up to see women as equal partners, rather than something of objective beauty and sexual pleasure?
Everywhere we turn, the media tells us what a women should be and what she should do. Flick through a newspaper or magazine and you’ll find women praised more for their appearance than their talents – whether they are young models, or well-established politicians. Turn on the TV and you’ll find panels full of males talking current affairs, while women are wheeled in just for the lifestyle slots. The music channel displays fully-clothed male singers or rappers, surrounded by scantily glad females, all looking the same. This is obviously not an exclusive picture of the media, but certainly a large proportion of it.
Additionally, the pornography industry is full to bursting with films of overt male pleasure; of males dominating females; of female pain and male pressure – the weaker and stronger sex. It teaches us that sex, and therefore relationships, are about male control and female submission. Excessive exposure to this destroys how we think, act on, and talk about sex. It has a toxic effect on the way males and females interact. Many experts are suggesting that porn has serious effects on young teenagers’ psychological health. Statistics suggest that 93 per cent of teenage boys have watched porn. We are foolish to not be talking about this more.
I wonder whether the lack of exposure to normalised sexism in society is why being in prison was so refreshing. I have a friend who spends a lot of time in rural Tanzania, and he says he notices how differently he looks at, and thinks of, women here compared to there. If there isn’t a sexy shot of a half-naked woman plastered over every bus stop, poster, and billboard, then you don’t think about women in those terms. Although I understand there are lots of subtleties surrounding this, I think there’s something to it: we see the world through a lens the world gives us to look through.
It’s wrong that I felt less afraid of walking the prison corridor than I do walking to the corner shop. I want a better world for tomorrow’s girls.