24.10.07

whorish

RANT Disclaimer: In this discussion I use the word "men" in a general way, mainly referring to non-feminist men and those who are perpetuating a violent, systematic (at times, even unconscious) suppression of women's various rights, freedoms and responsibilities, - not, indeed, to every individual man. I have known and have dearly loved a great many men who truly give women a voice, and safe space to stand tall. I do not hate men, so if any males are reading (and if you are, please speak up!) please do not take this personally; but let us all consider our own behaviour and thought patterns for the purposes of personal growth and edification.

Since I wasn't able to properly articulate what I was thinking (read: feeling) during a conversation I had with an old friend, I'm going attempt some thinking-out-loud here. My old friend is actually an old friend of the family, and one whom I would consider a distant cousin - not by blood, but by the spiritual connection of our families.

We were just casually discussing a mutual friend who has only been around a short while. Old friend, A, and new acquaintance, Z, (funny...a-z) recently had a rather turbulent falling out. But we both agreed that she tends to dress provocatively. Z has a sister whom I went to high school with, who in fact had larger breasts than Z has, so it runs in the family. Anyway, Z is quite bright but A made a comment about how she always has these crummy boyfriends that end up screwing her over. A decided that it was because of the way she dresses.

Now lemme tellya, that really pisses me off. Most importantly, social acceptance of different modes of dress differ across lines of time, place and culture. But what she said was very revealing about the fact that our, and all, cultures have a set of standards for women's appearance that somehow communicate a message about the woman. Women who show more skin are automatically deemed to have low moral standards, they are grouped into a lower social class, and also assumes that she's easy. This is only one example of how appearance can miscommunicate. Appearance is a means of segregation - male from female, homeless from working class from upper class, gay from straight, trustworthy from untrustworthy, normal from eccentric... And of course although we think we can judge people's character, or race or class, or sexuality or whatever, from their appearance, most of the time we're dead wrong and don't actually know it.

everything i do is judged,
and they mostly get it wrong

Ani Difranco, "Joyful Girl"
(and one of my most favorites)

Our clothing would be totally, completely inappropriate in the context of some (but not all) Muslim cultures. For example, in Turkey (Scroll down to "Turkey") it might have been okay for a girl to wear a t-shirt and jeans, but never a tank top, and never, ever shorts, which is basically the only thing A ever wears. Here's another example from Indian culture.

So why do we say that Z only attracts trashy men by dressing in a manner that accentuates her breasts and legs? A said it's because a respectable young man doesn't want someone who's "easy". Or a tramp... That because she doesn't cover up and dress nice, she'll never find a guy who's respectful and respect-worthy?

I don't know, this just doesn't sit well with me. It doesn't sit well at all. Because there are times when I dress provocatively, not because I'm easy (heh, although that may be the case...) but because I enjoy being in my body. I want to revel in that confidence. I guess I don't mind a little bit of attention, [friendly, appreciative, non-threatening attention - like when someone recognizes that I like what I've got] but I hate that I get read as a whore, (informally, if not formally). A few months ago, and I don't remember if I mentioned it here or in another space, I was out buying gasoline for the car after having visited a friend. I was wearing a seriously, seriously short skirt. Something I would not worn in public except for driving in the car, but I had run out of gas so I had no choice. As I was leaving, this large, hairy, burly man said, "how you doin?" as if that were going to attract my attention. AS IF I WOULD TAKE THAT AS A COMPLIMENT - THE FACT THAT YOU THINK I'D GO FOR YOU JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE A DICK, JUST BECAUSE YOU MISREAD WHAT I WAS TRYING TO SAY WITH MY BODY. Ugh. This gets me into the argument about being femme and being straight until proven guilty. Which I have beat into the ground, and will continue to do so until I have completed my paper for one of my exit courses.

And for all my years of feminist training and learning to love my body and in all the volumes of feminist rhetoric stored in my head and on my shelves, all I could think to do was give him the femme-eyes-of-death and say, "You don't need to be talking to ladies like that." Seriously? I didn't even tell him why he shouldn't be talking to me like that. I didn't even tell him that the fact that my skirt showed the panties over my rear a little bit does NOT JUSTIFY his patronizing, sexist comments. Would he have said the same thing if I were wearing a swimsuit at the beach? Unlikely. So he said, "well, fuck you too." And I should have said, "not in a million years, in fact, never, not ever."

AND ANOTHER THING: Anyone who thinks I was asking for it can fuck off. A man is not an animal. If we give him the mind to think and reason (as we deny that to women) on the sciences and the arts, can we not allow him the exercise of his will in the realm of sexuality, too? By calling them chauvinist pigs we're dehumanizing them and stripping them of 1) the right to choice and of 2) civil responsibility. That's one another reason I have a problem with Trojan's Evolve campaign. Yeah, men should be prepared if they are going to sleep with someone, but the ad automatically assumes that just because the man has a condom (whoopdeedoo!) in his back pocket (not a safe place for condoms) that the woman he's trying to talk to is into men (problem number 1) and going to fuck him that same night (problem number 2). I'm glad someone's saying use a condom, I'm glad a condom company finally figure out that they could use their commercial adverts as a public service announcement [edit: BUT do it in a way that respects women and gives them the brains to make a choice - of course what kind of an advertisement sends that message... "use our product, but you still might not get laid...". And by the way, she is just as responsible for the condom as the guy is.]

I keep typing things and then deleting them. I don't have sufficient words and phrasing and presence of mind to explain how I feel about this. I just feel like screaming. What a fucking insult, really, to say that someone isn't worthy of a good man because she enjoys the sensuality of her body. There's no winning this game, when the winner is supposed to be fucking Martha Stewart at home, the blessed virgin mary, and Jenna Jameson --- oh, and don't forget Joan of Arc when men's lives are in shambles and only the strength, resourcefulness, and tender care of a woman can salvage him. I'm just fighting for sexual agency and my environment doesn't want to give it to me. I just want to wear whatever I want, and not have to explain and excuse and prove myself. A single woman is either a prude or a whore but I just want to have a healthy sexuality that doesn't compromise my standards or my safety. Is that so much to ask? It is, and it has been for centuries. And I'm fucking done with it.

7 comments:

lady brett said...

good rant, but i'm not really content with this vein of the unconventional wisdom.

"But what she said was very revealing about the fact that our, and all, cultures have a set of standards for women's appearance that somehow communicate a message about the woman."

first - also men. they have 'dress codes' too. on the other hand, men are very seldom described as slutty (they're players, right?), which makes this kinda irrelevant to this discussion.

but the real issue i have with this complaint is that i like 'dress codes' - i think they're important. (i am, of course, a terrible queer/feminist - i like stereotypes too.) i dress the way(s) that i do because i want to be percieved a certain way. the way people percieve you affects how they interact with you, and it's nice to know that you can control that to some extent.

that is, if i'm feeling crummy i tend towards baggy clothes (i find them comforting), and, y'know, people leave you alone when you're grungy. if i'm feeling flirty, i'll dress flirty, and, well, people are a lot more likely to flirt (or, at least, interact). i think a lot of that has to do with clothes affecting how you carry yourself, but it also has a lot to do with these messages we communicate through our clothing.

basically, what it comes down to, for me, is that i don't have the time to explain who i am to everyone i meet. stereotypes (including clothing and style) allow me to drop (and pick up) hints, and give us a starting point for our interactions. i love that.

now, don't take that to say that i disagree with you on the rest of that. for one, flexibility is important - the messages we read from each other are assumptions, and you must recognize that you might be wrong.

and, some things are just not appropriate - no matter what messages you think you read on someone. that is, it's never okay to just assume that someone's "asking for it," so you can be a jackass (or worse). you might be (and in that case, probably are) wrong!

conclusion? i think you should be willing to explain or excuse or prove yourself - but you should never have to compromise your standards or your safety. ;)

Ms. Avarice said...

Yes, I think I agree with you. I'll paraphrase what I hear:

1) men have dress codes, but are they ever judged upon their sexual availability simply by their appearance?

2) dress codes do give us a "framework" in which to interact with other people and in general we use them as a tool of non-verbal communication and

3) inappropriate behavior is never justified regardless of why anyone might have thought it was appropriate.

I feel like my argument from last night is really disjointed and incomplete. I think my frustration is in the fact that I'm struggling to define myself in a new way and I feel like I can't break out of my assigned category as hard as I try.

lady brett said...

look at you...turning my blathering into something coherent and concise =)

regards #1, though, i think that men's and women's sexuality are viewed so differently, that it's almost not applicable. like, men are assumed to always want sex, so there's no "available" or "not available" to show off, and no stigma attached to wanting sex.

and, eck, yeah, that is totally difficult and frustrating - good luck

Alia T said...

...but because I enjoy being in my body. I want to revel in that confidence.

This is exactly how I feel. I want to just be able to lounge around naked without the roommates or the neighbors thiking I must be a damn slut or somehow immoral. My body is imperfect, but I am proud of it. I don't know if I want to flaunt it exactly, but I like the option of saying "here it is, it's a work of art."

That saying, I have given Z's sister advice along the same lines... that she'll find it easier to end up with a guy who wants her for more than sex, that takes her seriously, if she dresses less provocatively. I know there are men that are able to see past the surface and the stereotypes, but it's a lot harder to run into that for the same reason that lady brett said she embraces stereotypes. It's an easy, quick way to communicate so most people use it.

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mortarandpestle said...

I just came across this after reading your comments on my blog. I feel like this is a long-standing argument that I'm having sometimes verbally, sometimes silently, incessantly, every single day. I don't have any answers, but it's nice to see it articulated like this.

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