My Body Is Not and Ornamented Surface

While walking down the streets of Gascue in Santo Domingo, my sun dress is flowing, legs showing, hair swinging as I enjoy the warmth of the sun. As I move across the street, there's a group of men standing in the calle, watching every bounce in my step.

"Pssssssst! ¡Oye Morena! ¡Oye India! ¡Mi vida, vamos!"

With this, I am no longer a free spirit. I put my head down, try to make my dress go down a little bit longer. I go from staring at the beauty of the malecon to worrying about my physical appearance. It’s as if the moment they spot me, I become an object striped of my humanity. I am no longer associated with my person-hood; I am reduced to an object that exists solely for the approval of men.  

In the Dominican Republic, as well as other countries throughout the world, patriarchy (or in this case, machismo) impacts how women are treated and deprives us of our ability to thrive. Women are constant victims of objectification, and as a result are reminded of our subordinate status in society internationally and at “home”.  This treatment against women is normalized and victims of it –specifically Black women – are expected simply to ignore it or shrug it off. Yet in doing so we internalize and perpetuate our own subordination. Patriarchy manifests itself through this very cycle.

The Dominican Republic is an underdeveloped nation, therefore many men in the neighborhood that I stay in do not have economic independence. Hence, the only way some men are able to exert their power over women is through how they treat them. When I am followed and harassed, it is an effort to make a statement that I am subordinate despite my comparative economic stability. This is why I do not know what it’s like to walk down the street in Santo Domingo without being hollered at by male passengers in car. The aggression inhibits my sovereignty; I am powerless to prevent the experience from happening over and over again.   

Experiencing objectification in a different country has made me realize that women of African descent share common struggles that follow us everywhere we go. Our femininity, and subsequently our humanity, are constantly at risk due to the legacy of colonization which continues to instill the myth that we do not belong to ourselves. The struggle to continuously maintain autonomy over ourselves in places where we were once enslaved is difficult to grasp, let alone accomplish.

Nonetheless, my body is not an ornamented surface. My body does not exist to be decorated and marveled at for the male gaze. My existence is purposeful, and I can only hope that one day I will travel as a Black woman free of being viewed as an instrument for pleasure.