Singer Birch On Learning About The Male Gaze And Reclaiming Her Body As Her Own

By Birch

I was 11 years old when I first understood that my body was not my own. That I did not exist for me, but for the opposite sex. In a moment I understood, all at once, that boys and girls do not coexist, but girls are there for boys.

“Young lady, your back is showing! I won’t have you in here distracting the boys” she said. I turned beet red, standing up from the shelves having simply leaned over to grab a library book, accidentally exposing a small section of my back. The librarian stood there scowling at me, challenging my small, young frame with her big, elderly frame. I will never forget the expression on her face; an expression of judgement and a harsh, desperate cling to the status quo.

I remember feeling shocked and confused. Too young to have been outwardly sexualized yet, I couldn’t understand why my body would somehow distract the boys from learning. All I knew was a sense of shame I hadn’t felt before, and I vowed to never let my back show again.

Now, I know that a story about a school librarian chastising a young girl about her clothing and body isn’t breaking news. It’s common. It happens all the time. It probably happened to you and you didn’t think twice about it.

But while I was writing my feminist concept album ‘’, I tried to recall the first time I felt body shame and/or objectified. I was disturbed to find that this was the first of a long lineage of experiences that made me feel like an object. It was the first experience of many that would make me feel like I didn’t belong to myself, but somehow only belonged the male gaze.

Fast forward a couple of years to ninth grade on the cross country team. Running down the streets of a very safe suburban town, we would regularly hear horns beeping, turning to see men licking their lips and catcalling from the cars and trucks passing by. My most frightening experience like this was during a solo run. A man in a red convertible slowed down next to me, starring expressionless at me, and would not leave my side as I ran through the quiet, tree lined streets.

I remember my heartbeat quickening, the sweat on my brow morphing from a glisten of exercise to a rainstorm of ‘fight or flight’. I remember thinking, “Do I stop?” “Do I confront him?” “Do I flick him off?” “Do I scream?”. I did none of these things. I just kept running, eyes on the sidewalk ahead of me, pretending not to notice the man in the car. Pretending not to notice the pangs of fear creeping up from my stomach and into my throat.

Eventually, another car came up behind him. He drove away. I turned around and ran home as fast as I could thinking “maybe I should purchase some longer shorts”.

When I went to college, even though it was a very progressive school, I still felt the weight of those societal lessons. Don’t drink too much. Don’t wear a short skirt. Be nice. Smile, but don’t lead him on unless you intend to sleep with him. Why? Because then he won’t attack you. Because then he won’t act on his instincts. Because then you won’t distract him or cause him to “act inappropriately”.

The idea that a woman could “tempt” a man into acting inappropriately with her body alone is a deeply internalized social truth that have been proven over and over again. It has been this way for so long that it’s almost impossible to see another way. But the real truth is this: I should be able to wear whatever the fuck I want, and this should not put me in danger.

So how do we make a societal shift from this old truth to the new one? I believe it starts with school lessons. We need to unlearn the lessons that have been imprinted upon us since childhood – the lessons that teach girls to back down and boys to stand up. In the #metoo era, we can call out adult men for their behavior all we want (and we should), but in order to fix the systemic problem we need to start with the kids.

It’s time to stop telling girls to cover up and start teaching boys that women do not belong to them.

NYC-based indie pop artist Birch, the moniker for musician and producer Michelle Birsky, produces music that passionately deconstructs societal norms. Birch’s sound puts a synth-driven twist on tracks reminiscent of Bon Iver and St. Vincent. Birch has been releasing music and making waves in the Brooklyn scene for a few years now. Incredibly motivated by raising the female voice in society, Birch brands her music as feminist synth-pop. Female empowerment and gender equality are two causes very important to Birch. She often participates in marches and protests, donates regularly to Planned Parenthood and strives to use her platform to make a difference in the community. Birch is not afraid of using her voice in a positive, impactful way. Her record,, is set to release everywhere in the Spring of 2019.

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