The only thing stopping me from burning down billboards is the fact that I don’t drive around with gasoline and a flame-thrower in my trunk. I’m talking about billboards with images of women lying with a bottle opener by their open mouth (is she the bottle or is the opener a penis or is it that if you open the bottle you get to open the woman?) or sprawled across a shower with tiles over their breasts (as if that’s what tiles are for) or lying topless next to car batteries (because this is something women actually do when they go to the mechanic).
I’m not a violent person. This is a rational response to the violence being done to my daughter who I see watching these billboards as we drive by them, the same violence that was done to me by these entirely inescapable images. It’s a rationale borne out of being a survivor of such violence and knowing exactly how Ziya will have to learn to survive amongst it and with it within her, despite everything I try to teach her and almost no matter what I do.
I was not given a chance to grow into womanhood without having to learn that women should be sexy and what that ideal means, that only some bodies are considered really beautiful, that some skin colour and hair are more valued, and that being a well-adjusted woman means keeping calm in a world ruled by others, who define your worth through their eyes and define even your resistance, because one day you can no longer see yourself free from how they see you.
Every woman knows the effect of growing up in this world. Every woman knows what that has done to her sense of self, to her confidence, to what she now loves and totally hates about her body, to the fact that when she looks in the mirror, she is evaluating herself in terms of these standards, ones most women cannot ever meet nor should ever have to. Sometimes for years at a time, sometimes for her whole life, every woman battles with her body and her beauty as if they let her down. Every woman knows the damage done, the secret insecurities she carries, her feelings of not being good enough if she is not attractive enough, of wishing to have another body besides her own or look like someone she is not. Every woman knows. Every girl learns.
In a world that didn’t constantly churn out airbrushed, narrow images of women, maybe Zi could grow up just valuing herself because she is, not devaluing herself because of how she looks, not learning first self-loathing and then, with age, difficulty and concession, something approximating self-love. Maybe she wouldn’t learn to try harder than she needs to simply to be loved for who she is, to spend more money on make-up than helps her be beautiful, to fall for the myth that high heels empower. Maybe I wouldn’t have to try so hard to remind her that a pedestal may look seductive, but what it ultimately does is make you afraid of stepping out of place. Why not let her grow up in a world where these images have been burned to the ground, rather than being burned on the minds, bodies and psyches of women? Don’t Ziya and a generation of girls like her deserve that chance? Fire bun these billboards and their violence.