“Natasha, you are six, little girls don’t cross their legs!”
“Don’t cross your legs at the table!”
“Don’t cross your legs when men are talking to you!”
“We are in church! Stop crossing your legs!”
“How dare you sit with your legs crossed in my class!”
“Natasha, you are twenty now, grown women don’t cross their legs!”
I hate that phrase. I hate it all the way to my core. I’ve been hearing that demand ever since I can remember and at nearly half of the times I sat down to a family table – the other half I was able to conceal it properly and not get caught.
Coming to England, moving out of my religious and conservative background back in Cyprus, the most liberating moment for me was when I realised that I was finally free from that phrase – free from that conformity. I no longer had prudish old-ladies or sexually-suppressed men trying to subdue my feminine autonomy to choose to do that over-womanly thing of crossing my legs.
It sounds stupid and trivial but it’s true, it is a from of suppression of women and feminine culture. Although a lot of people can contradict the above sentence by saying how crossing your legs is not deemed unfavourably because it is feminine culture but because it gives of an attitude of over-confidence or too laid-back which in turn is not suitable for many social situations. I understand that point but it is also very important to understand where I am coming from. For all the years in my life, no one had given me that reasonable explanation raised above but instead they always explained it to me in the most misogynistic, disillusioned and inappropriate way:
- Shame! Natasha no, you can’t cross your legs when you are a lady! It is bad for your honour, very dishonourable thing to do. It shows you are unchaste. It leads on men. It shows that you want… it. Very rude! Only prostitutes, only sluts do it!
Such a horrible thing to say. It is an attack, an absolute attack on any woman and especially on teenage girls who are undergoing their transition into womanhood and their road to sexual and personal maturity. Getting attacked on your sexuality and virtue for simply crossing your legs is unacceptable, and especially when the demand to un-cross your legs is under the guise that it is rude whereas in actually everyone is concerned about one thing; what will the men think.
“Do you want sex?” aggressive, pushy. “Then why are you crossing your legs when I am talking to you?” superior, paternalistic.
This, very forward, very bold statement was said to me when I was just twelve years old. I hadn’t even menstruated at that age and right across me was an unrelated fifty-plus-year-old man, with his heavily wizened face, who I was expected to refer to him as ‘uncle’ and who had completely ignored my childhood colours and saw me only in woman monotones. Makes you wonder how Cyprus has not really disentangled itself from the phallocratic archaic ideals which still shackle women in nearby middle-eastern countries where girls are still married off at a very young age. When I think of a twelve-year-old girl, an age which in Cyprus means you are attending the senior class of elementary school, I find it impossible to sexualise her in my head. Yet he could.
I was sent to the headmaster’s office when I was fourteen. I had never been to the headmaster’s office before. I was sent there by my thirty-something-year-old male teacher who had threatened me with disciplinary measures because I was sitting in class with my legs crossed while he was delivering his lesson. May I add, I was wearing very long and loose grey uniform-pants instead of the uniform-skirt that most girls opted for. He said that by crossing my legs I was being unchaste and rude. He said that I was leading him on. And there I was, having to go through a disciplinary hearing because a grown man had raging underage-sex fantasies.
Why are crossed legs considered to be something so sexualised and forbidden? Am I expected to leave my legs open and part? My femininity feels more exposed and vulnerable that way. In actuality, I – and after discussing it with many more women who feel the same -, tend to want to cross my legs because that feeling of pressing my thighs together gives me a sense of safety and concealedness. It simply makes me more comfortable. Rather than showing that ‘I want it‘ my crossed legs are a true cross, a big X, saying no. How did a clearly feminine defensive body mannerism turn into a seductive calling for the male? Is it because males have been for thousands of years programmed to feel empowered at the sight of a sexually vulnerable woman? I fail to accept the argument that if you wear a skirt, the crossing of one’s legs, those possible extra five centimetres of bare thigh skin are enough to set off a male’s raging libido. It is only in recent modern times where confident female sexuality is being praised and is slowly shifting into the new sexy. For thousands of years of cultural evolution female sexuality was expected to be readily submissive and undeveloped.
Now that I am in the UK, now I am unburdened from the Cypriot societal pressure, I cross my legs all the time. I cross my legs at the table, at the lecture and at the bus. I no longer have a grandma, an aunt or an uncle slapping my knee and ordering me to undo my legs.