Thursday, May 9, 2013

"Decency": A Synonym for "Slut Shaming"?

Last month, a New Jersey middle school banned girls from wearing strapless dresses to prom. Administrators claimed that the dresses were “distracting” — though they refused to specify exactly how or why.
These options are not available to boys.
Boys wear pants. Boys who don't
would quickly be dismissed from most proms.
Thus begins a screed on ThinkProgress about the chauvanistic practice of “slut shaming.”

Apparently, if this logic of ThinkProgress is followed, if one believes that a 13-year-old female shouldn’t wear clothing that reveals too much of her body, one therefore believes that females who dress provocatively or in a sexualized way “deserve” to be raped.

(Side Note: Apparently, middle schools now have proms now? WTF? Is this like my son “graduating” from pre-school?? Can we f*#king stop with this rush to give young kids experiences that are supposed to be special and unique to a later moment in their lives?)

As someone whose penis makes him a sexist pig regardless, I find this if-then debate somewhat troubling. Men are regularly accused of generating and encouraging a hypersexualized environment. Girls under 18 are most decidedly off-limits. Yet if adults get in a tizzy when girls under 18 wear revealing, potentially sexualizing outfits, then we’re “slut shaming.”

If we approve of these outfits, then we’re pervs or bad parents. If we disapprove, we’re rape apologists. I feel like WOPR: “The only way to win is not to play.” But how can any parent or educator avoid playing this game?

These shorts are distracting.
Am I "slut shaming" The Great
White Hope??
Meanwhile, no one seems to suggest that the reason girls are singled out for these conversations a bajillion times more than boys is because boys mostly wear clothing that covers their junk. Boys at prom tend to have slightly more flesh exposed than Muslim women in strict countries. Outside of gay pride parades, boys stopped wearing junk-hugging short shorts once Larry Bird retired from the NBA.

When your barely-adolescent daughter arrives at the damn Middle School prom, she really should wear panties and enough textile material to cover the lower curve of her bottom even when sitting down.

This is not because I think of a 13-year-old girl as a sexual creature; It’s because SHE thinks of herself as a sexual creature. One in five teenage girls have sent a sexually-suggestive or nude picture of themselves to someone else via phone. More than one in three have sent sexually suggestive messages.

So isn’t the bigger problem here that we’ve created (particularly in girls) a young generation so hyperaware of their own sexuality, yet so incapable of wielding that power with maturity or responsibility, that they and their parents think they should be attending middle school dances in clothing barely suitable for Lady GaGa?

I’m not arguing for an Amish dress code, although a part of me would be fine with that. But I do believe that whatever fashion choices can be defined as “respectful of others” and “decent,” we’ve gone several standard deviations beyond that, and it sure would be nice if we let the pendulum swing back a bit.

At what age are girls no longer free to choose, on their own,
what constitutes "inappropriate" or "distracting"?
Do 11-year-old girls own the right to express themselves
and their bodies however they see fit?
Is that freedom and equality?
Part of me worries that Girls Gone Wild didn’t die because it was scummy and disgusting, but rather because our culture found ways for girls to go wild without needing some greasy pervy video collection to do so.

Again, none of this is excusing or defending male assclowns who mistreat, abuse, or attack women. That someone could jump to that conclusion is what pisses me off in the first place.

I’ve included, for anyone bored or wishing they could continue the debate, the Facebook discussion I jumped into on an acquaintance's page. I welcome anyone who wishes to jump into this with me, as I don’t pretend to have all the answers on matters of slut shaming and rape apologia:
MOM/FB Friend’s Original Status Post: The behavior of these school administrators makes me so %$# angry. "Rape culture is . . .evident in the attitudes that lead school administrators to treat young girls’ bodies as inherently 'distracting' to the boys who simply can’t control themselves."
TEEN DAUGHTER: Furthermore, I, as a teenage girl, am able to control myself when I see a boy in a loose tank top (which oftentimes slide, revealing nipple) and tight jeans and/or shorts, and can remain undistracted. However, because I'm a girl, this "control" is expected of me. Using the excuse that "boys will be boys" not only lends preference to them, but it teaches them that it's acceptable for them to have no control-- which feeds into rape culture, and the objectification and subjugation of women.
MOM/FB Friend: Double like, [daughter].
ME: By this logic, females should be allowed to go outdoors topless wherever they wish? I'm just trying to figure out the parameters, the conclusion of this logic before I decide whether I agree...
FB Friend I’ve Never Met: Billy, I'm curious to know what you think would happen if women went outdoors topless wherever they wish?
ME: Ma’am, I couldn't say anymore than I can say whether licensed hunters would shoot unicorns if they existed. I'm curious why you seem to judge my attitude based on what seems to me a reasonable question. Is it reasonable for me to conclude you are Pro Nude Prom? If so, hurray for you, but I'm not ready for that world yet.
FB Friend I’ve Never Met: Yep, I'm the chairwoman of the Pro Nude Prom advocacy group.
ME: OK, so if it's reasonable for lines to be drawn -- clothing at Prom, for example -- then ultimately someone must be an arbiter of taste and "appropriate." Someone must draw the line somewhere, and that place will invite disagreement. While the line in this particular NJ instance seems dubious, it also seems unfair to conclude it's therefore obviously "slut shaming." That is, unless anything short of Nude Proms is also "slut shaming."
MOM/FB Friend: My point is that any office, restaurant, school etc can determine what is appropriate attire but we wouldn't tell boys and men that not wearing a coat and tie is "distracting".
Teen Daughter: First of all, women going topless is almost the same as a fat man going topless. If it's extra breast tissue that invites such strong reactions, some men should have to wear bikini tops. The anatomy is the same, it's merely the fact that women are objectified and degraded more than men. The use of breasts isn't sexual enjoyment. I'm all for "females going outdoors topless whenever they wish". It's slut shaming because it's apparently acceptable to demand a kindergarten girl change her skirt--the female body is hypersexualized even at that age. Also, I bring up the double standard again. Men may be aroused by breasts, but what if I'm aroused by abs? They wouldn't be asked to change. Furthermore, I find the fact that you seem to believe that women have no sense of propriety to the point that they would attend prom, an event that in many cases is based solely on attire, naked incredibly offensive. Women aren't scheming to constantly show as much skin possible.
Teen Daughter: Also, this arbiter of what is "appropriate" seems to only target girls for their "distracting" clothing. Interesting. Wouldn't want the boys getting distracted from their studies by those wily females. If the girls are distracted, too bad.
Teen Daughter: Please pardon me if I come off as rude.
Teen Daughter: It's just that this issue is so important to me because it tells me that my body, whether or not I want it to be, even if I just want to be comfortable during the eight plus hours I'm away from my home, is a sexual object.
Mom/FB Friend: You don't come off as rude you come off as incredibly smart, nuanced in your thinking, and able to make your point strongly without being rude.
Me: [Name], bravo to you for your eloquence and confidence. As the father of two beautiful girls on the verge of adolescence, this is not an issue to be taken lightly. Perhaps let's consider both sides of this gender issue. Young men (at least at the proms I know of) are required to wear pants. This isn't due to slut shaming, nor it is because we're worried about male junk flopping around in front of everyone (although isn't that a reasonable concern?). Am I prudish if I don't want boys wearing their wrestling singlets to the prom? Even if so, I can promise that just because it would be "distracting" doesn't mean it is in any way sexually appealing to me.
Teen Daughter: I understand what you're saying, but it's difficult to examine both sides when both genders are treated so differently. If a boy wore his wrestling singlet, would he be ogled and objectified, possibly even grabbed and pinched? From what I've seen in my time, his attire would be viewed as "classic schoolboy antics" and might even be laughed at. Males in small amounts of clothing may be "distracting" but it probably wouldn't be filed under something of a sexual nature. However, a girl in such a small amount of clothing would not be laughed at. It would not be "cute". Even if it was a joke, it would be interpreted sexually. The issue I'm trying to get at is that everything a woman puts on her body ends up having sexual connotations, no matter its purpose. When the "distracting" label is applied to women, it almost automatically means that they are dressed too sexually, which not only reinforces this dehumanizing mindset, it also contributes to shaming women about their sexuality in all aspects of life.
Teen Daughter: I also think that the pants rule seems a bit restrictive, but then again I am a hippie.
Me: If I as an adult male find both a 17-year-old girl's over-exposed backside or a boy's junk-hugging attire "distracting," it is possible for both observations to have nothing to do with whether I'm a horny sexual creature. It seems there's a rush to accuse me (or "male society" and me guilty by semi-involuntary association) of sexualizing, as an adult male, in situations where that accusation might be unjustified ... That said, I thank [Mom/FB Friend] for tolerating me totally hogging her post and you [Teen Daughter] for engaging me in an enjoyable discussion. My goal for my own daughters is not for them to grow up agreeing with me, but for them to grow up capable of thinking deeply, learning to justify their beliefs, and also being willing and open to consider (and sometimes adjust to) the counterpoints of others. I'm betting you can handle all those and untold other challenges sublimely.

5 comments:

stowstepp said...

Billy, while I see where you are coming from, I totally agree with the teenage daughter in the FB thread. Society has totally sexualized girls to the point where the result is a completely different, gender-specific treatment of behaviors. I wish it weren't true, and in an ideal society your point would hold true. But we are not there, and we continue as a society to move further and further away from that (my) ideal.

Billy said...

Thanks for the comment, stow. I included that convo because I'm conflicted, and I admired that teenage girl's passion and points. I also agree with you that we live in a society that has sexualized pretty much everything, but especially females, and increasingly girls.

But what does a 12-year-old girl (or 16-year-old girl, for that matter) wearing cleavage-revealing or booty-revealing attire to do fight this problem? Doesn't it exacerbate the problem? Teen and pre-teen girls who send photos via text message and obsess with "sexy" Selfies are not going to fix this problem by revealing more at younger ages.

That's what confuses me. The first adjective women's fashion magazines use when describing these kinds of dresses is "SEXY." And then they sell these dresses to girls who haven't or have barely reached puberty. It's not heterosexual men making those mags, and it's not dads (for the most part) buying these dresses and putting them on their daughters.

Nothing about my "discomfort" with these dresses or the oversexualized way we treat young women (or the way they treat themselves) makes me a rape apologist. At least, I don't think it does. But that's why I'm trying to work through it all...

stowstepp said...

I totally agree that your "discomfort" (and mine!) with the way these very young girls dress in any way makes you a "rape apologist". I'm on exactly the same page with you there.

But to try to generate an effective solution of how we (as a society) try to fight this problem is extremely difficult. The very reasons we are uncomfortable with these young girls dressing this way make it difficult for them to make mature, reasoned decisions about how they dress. I only have (teenage) boys, so I don't have the life experiences you (or other dads of girls) do. But the teenage girl you quote seems incredibly mature. Most girls I know between 13 & 16 have no shot of formulating such thoughtful opinions and backing them up with such confidence. They are much more interested in following their peers (and the trashy magazines) who tell them it's cool to be "sexy" even at such a young age.

I feel I'm rambling, so my apologies. The end of a long Friday (and week) are my excuse. Thanks for the post and the reply though. This will be a topic of discussion with some friends this weekend who have teenage girls and I'm interested to hear their take on it.

-Dave

Sara said...

Here's where your argument falls apart, Billy: "if one believes that a 13-year-old female shouldn’t wear clothing that reveals too much of her body, one therefore believes that females who dress provocatively or in a sexualized way “deserve” to be raped."

No and no. The problem is when a governing body (ha - pun not intended) makes decisions, instructs, implies, or otherwise singles out girls based on what it ASSUMES others will think of their bodies in those clothes. It's the assumption and the fact that the onus falls on the girls rather than on those looking. It's like the amazing thing I saw and wish I had a t-shirt of: I need feminism because my university has a class on "how not to get raped" rather than "don't rape."

I do agree that individual girls AND THEIR FAMILIES should be making different choices. I also believe individual boys and their families should. Rather than singling girls and their clothes out, school administrators could be helpful by holding required information sessions for parents that focus on gender roles, hypersexualization, and objectification, and how to approach it with your child. Help them make better choices, but DO NOT imply the "distracted" students don't have a role to play here.

Finally, and I'm sorry to challenge you further, but your comment in the fb convo about women going topless is evidence of the problem. We've only decided breasts are taboo because they have been so ridiculously sexualized. It is why so many breast-feeding mothers are treated like common whores when they are attempting to feed their child in public. It's wrong and stupid. In many countries, women do go around topless, and they are not considered sexual objects for doing so.

Billy said...

Sara - First, this would be a much more enjoyable debate in person and over beers. And I waited 'til Mothers Day was basically over before replying. Happy Mothers Day!

That said, I can give a little ground on your observations but not much. Regarding nudism, we can discuss until we suffocate how much better off we'd be if we were comfortable walking around nekkid. And, in the theoretical, I agree. But while we're at it, let's talk about flying cars, teleportation, and all kinds of magic powers, because if we're going to live in fantasy land, let's get the most out of it. Otherwise, I'm not letting my 13-year-old girls walk around nekkid just to support my belief in The Way Things Ought To Be. And I'm not in favor of a society where I have to tolerate other people's 13-year-old kids walking around nekkid just because some crappy parents don't want or care to help their children make better choices... even after taking classes on gender roles, hypersexualization, etc. You can't educate away or wish away crappy parents, some of whom go beyond apathy, some of whom even aid and abet the hypersexualization of their children.

I had more, but it's no fun going that far down the rabbit hole without beer and dialogue rather than 1-at-a-time rants. But I'd titled it "As The Onus Falls," which I thought was quite amusing.