the Male gaze: a blood-stained shadow
I have to put Lolita down, torn between disgust and arousal, my mind confused, memories slipping back under my skin. I slip into two-piece swimwear, and throw on a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, because we have seven builders about the house. I walk over to the pool, feet bare on the drying summer grass. The pool is bright blue, glistening, and when I let myself in, the pleasure is sensuous.
There are many kinds of pleasure to swimming, just as there are different pleasures to running. Sometimes, when I swim, I feel powerful, like a shark, like a woman. I plunge, I dive, I strike. I climb the horizontal waves, feeling more triumphant with every lap. Today, I feel a different kind of pleasure. As I close my eyes and drown out life around me, I am consumed with the caress of water on my skin. I could float here. My mind rivets with the sexual tension between those pages of Humbert’s narrative.
As we grow older, as we learn to reason, we become righteous and aware of our own power. The fetishisation of young girls is abhorrent, and as we, women, grow older and more confident in our sexuality, we shudder at the possibility of anyone having corrupted our youth.
The tragedy, is that young minds do not know the consequences of corruption, and watch wide-eyed at any possibility of falling further into the core, the beating heart of life. My schoolfriends and I used to whisper wide eyed about the wars, the deaths, the fighting the lovers, the knights, the passion.
When I was twelve, out at a restaurant with my family, I noticed a man watching me. Perhaps it was the self-consciousness of that age which made me notice. The inevitable introduction to over-sexualisation of young girls had already happened. I had been wolf-whistled by men in a park, I had watched and consumed popular culture and I had also, by that point, read Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, in which the young Mary becomes mistress to the king.
There is a possibility that I am misremembering, that it was my own perverted curiosity that led me to feeling uncomfortable and flattered. I remember thinking that he looked like the descriptions of a young Henry the Eighth, large blue eyes, a ginger-tinted beard and a wet, rose-bud mouth. I can still see him now, sitting across the leafy terrace, talking to his friend. Whenever I would take a quick glimpse at him, our eyes would meet.
Had I read Lolita at that tender age, I know I would have felt no repulsion at the contents of Humbert’s mind. I would have been intrigued, even, by his plans to sedate and seduce her at night, if seduce really is the right word. With no preconception of sexual immorality, I would have normalised the story. I remember how impressed I was when my school friend, a year later, told me her boyfriend was eighteen, almost nineteen.
I am thankful I never laid eyes on it.
Sexuality, like any unfolding thought, is vulnerable. We attach to it what we see, what we hear, what we never understand. For a long time, my sexuality, and therefore a component of my identity as a person, was defined by the male gaze. The thing about this male gaze is that it is internalised. As if I am no longer simply a woman, but man behind a window, watching me play out the part of a girl, of a woman. This, is my blood-stained shadow.
Still now, part of my pride in myself can be influenced or manipulated by how sexually appealing the blood-stained shadow finds me. When I swim, I can be overcome by the idea of myself, of the droplets of water which skim my limbs, the way they will glisten down my legs when I step out.
I am not a narcissist, I’ve taken the test several times. I have been led to believe that many young girls, who, like me, are fed the narratives of white male supremacy, have thoughts about their own body. The first time I read a description of a nipple, and the thirty-fourth, do not result in a direct comparison, but I become more aware of the youth of my body, of its flaws, of its beauties. Before we all seek to stop every young girl from reading any book ever again, I will add that this perception of women exists not only in literature, in film, in art, but in real life, too. Which teenage girl has not had older men breathe down her neck and been told how beautiful she is? Seen the eyes of an older man run appreciatively down her body?
I don’t see how this will ever change in our current systemic policies, nor is it the greatest tragedy that ever was. There are far worse prejudices, far more important battles to fight. But I was reading Nabokov and thinking how easily I suspect my younger self would have been entranced by this narrative. And I could not shake it from my mind.
This, of course, is not an accusation to every man living and breathing. It is a narration of my own experience, of how a blood-stained shadow was born inside of my mind and has followed me ever since.
Do Not Reopen Schools This Fall
There’s a reason we are called “marginalized”.
We are not the words, we are not the lines, we ain’t even the goddam footnotes.
We are pushed aside to the outskirts of the page so that the story can continue without our pesky needs being met or addressed.
Black, brown, southeast Asian, low income, lgbtq+, immigrant and undocumented students: We are fed up with our school systems not taking our needs and our safety seriously.
We are fed up with having to demand for things because we know that simply asking will get us nowhere.
And we are fed up with being seen as dollar signs on one hand and statistics on the other.
The educational system has never chosen to side with the narrative of the marginalized, and so today, we beg, we plead, we demand, that now, in this life or death situation, the story does not continue without us.