Hey prince! You’re not that charming, don’t assume women need your help

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Photo by Qiau Liu

 

For one of the courses on my exchange, I’m doing a presentation on Christ Crowned with Thorns, a Northern Renaissance painting by Hieronymus Bosch.

It’s housed in the National Gallery, London, so I made a sort of pilgrimage to go see it before I delved headfirst into research, effectively ruining any shine it would have previously held for me.

Being new to the museum, I got a bit mixed up — effectively ending up at the opposite end than where I should have been. That was fine, I ended up surrounded by Michelangelo, Bernini and Botticelli, figures I not only admire, but have often searched out in other museums.

“Did you know that Michelangelo didn’t finish paintings because he was against showing idols?”

Thank you, random man who has no idea what he’s talking about and thinks he knows more than me.

Even just feigning a “that’s nice” must have been an expression of my deepest sexual desires for this greying Italian. I was asked out several times in the span of twenty minutes as he followed me through the galleries.

I left, made up an excuse, but couldn’t escape before the promise to contact him on Facebook. I blocked him as soon as I was out of the shadow of Trafalgar Square.

I still haven’t seen the Bosch.

Furthermore, when I got home a few days later and told the young women in my residence that I had travelled down to London by myself, I got called things like ballsy, adventurous and brave.

I didn’t feel like any of that — I was doing what every exchange student does: travelling.

In fact, I know quite a lot about the history and geography of London — obviously more than the men who attempted to “help” poor, naive, little me.

But it’s not the city and travelling itself that’s seen as brave: it’s the promise of facing my friend, the art historian.

As a young woman, unwanted attention is everywhere. If you’re vulnerable for even a moment, even just getting lost in a painting of a rolling ship by Turner, you’ve got some creep breathing down your neck.

For the record, Michelangelo often didn’t finish paintings because he was a perfectionist, funding fell through or his relationships with the patrons deteriorated. He hated painting with a passion, and would much prefer to sculpt.

If you think it has nothing to do with gender, when’s the last time that you’ve heard of a middle-aged woman targeting a young man and trying to explain to him that the Tate Modern is now in a building that was once on the cover of a Beatles album?

The Tate Modern is in the Bankside Power Station, the one on the album cover is Battersea Power Station, and it was Pink Floyd, not the Beatles.

Thinking about it, I’ve never been approached by a woman in this way, either. It’s always a middle aged man. There’s no exception that I can think of on the contrary to this rule.

There’s this assumption that we young women need the world explained to us, where as young men are allowed to stumble and make mistakes — to learn on their own. Middle aged men are apparently the ones to teach us.

I don’t need your protection. I don’t need your explanation. Unless you’re a tour guide — or if I ask — just leave me alone.

Don’t romanticize meeting your partner at a museum, a book store, a coffee shop or anything of the sort. Women who go places by themselves are not asking for a date. Contrary to popular belief, we exist independently of men.

Don’t assume you know more than anyone else. Don’t let your confidence supersede anyone else’s knowledge. You just come off as an asshole.

But the biggest thing to remember? If she’s uncomfortable in the first thirty seconds, it’s not going to work. Move on. Don’t follow her around.

I can’t believe that really needs to be said.

It’s awful that we can’t even go to an art gallery — a museum, a national monument, a train station — without unwanted attention.

For the record, Michelangelo often didn’t finish paintings because he was a perfectionist, funding fell through or his relationships with the patrons deteriorated. He hated painting with a passion, and would much prefer to sculpt.

He was the best — a master of his work. I would hope all men put as much effort and passion into something in their lives rather than harassing women.

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