Sunday, April 24, 2016

In Which I Piss Off Some of the Feminists Who Follow Me...

When I was in college, I worked with the orientation program for new students. There was this video that we showed the kids from a guy named Mike Green (aka "Greeny") about making responsible choices - specifically about alcohol and parties, but the wisdom could be applied to many of the situations that we are presented with in college life. What stood out to me was a line that he repeated throughout the video:

"Be your brother's keeper, be your sister's keeper."

In college, and really in the whole world, we are a part of a larger community. We need to watch out for each other and make sure we are taking care of each other in as many aspects of life that we can.

So now we cross into the territory where I get absolutely infuriated when I see memes or posts or whatever posted on social media that basically say that we women should be able to dress as provocatively as we want. That when a young lady goes to school dressed in clothes that are too revealing that it is detracting from her education to send her home or send her to the office for a change of clothes that are less revealing. That our first amendment rights of expression are being violated because men can't just control themselves and not rape us. Or some other variation on this general idea that we should be able to wear whatever we want, whenever we want and everyone else in the world - namely men - should just kind of deal with that.

Before I get into this - let me be abundantly clear about a couple of things:

1. I do feel that no matter what a woman decides to wear be it a full-on burqa or a g-string bikini - no one has a right to violate her body, or cat call, or otherwise treat that woman in any way disrespectfully. Rape is despicable in all instances - no means no, and wearing an outfit (or not wearing an outfit) is not an open invitation for anyone to force themselves upon another person.

...ok really that's it. Rape is horrible and I don't think that dressing provocatively is an open invitation to be raped. There is never an excuse to that deeply abuse a fellow human being. Ever. For any reason. At all.

I just want to make sure that's clear before I begin my rant.

And friends, I AM going to rant. Buckle up.

I can remember as a teenager wanting to dress in a certain way because I wanted my boyfriend to be attracted to me. I didn't understand what all that entailed, but I knew that I had a certain amount of appeal to him and I wanted to... exploit it may not be the right word, but I'll use it for now.

There were a handful of times that I would leave for school in the morning and be turned right around back to my room. But... My mom had a fingertip-and-bra rule: If she could see my bra, a shirt needed to be layered underneath or the one I had on changed altogether and if the skirt/shorts I was wearing did not extend past the tip of my middle fingertip when my hands were at my sides then I had to change that too.


Because having your boobs hanging out isn't exactly appropriate for school, nor is having your behind hanging out when you bend over for your pen. Also because my mom cared/cares very much about me and didn't want me sending out an unintentional message. She explained this to me, and I understood. I didn't go off on a free-speech rant, and she let me choose what the substitute or replacement was - but those were the boundaries. Because she cared. And wanted to protect me. And I understood her boundaries existed because she loves me.

At no point did I think that she might be violating my first amendment rights or insinuating that I was a slut. She was just being her daughter's keeper and watching my back.

Let me extend this a bit further. Dress codes exist in high schools, I think, for a number of reasons. The BIGGEST one that I can think of is that when students get into the real world they are expected to dress in a certain professional manner. They cannot wear "F**K YOU" t-shirts or "GARAGE BAND WORLD TOUR 2013" t-shirts to work, nor can they wear jeans ripped to shreds, or have their underpants hanging out, or wear incredibly provocative clothing. If the purpose of school is to prepare you for the real world - then that should include clothing. A lot of jobs that these kids are going to work force you to wear a uniform, or adhere to a certain dress code or an expectation of a certain level of business attire exists in the culture. The odds of a student landing a job where excessive amounts of cleavage OR the donning of a "F**K YOU" hat are acceptable are pretty darned slim. As such - dress codes prepare students for the real world where real rules apply for real reasons.

The memes that are out there defending the rights of women to dress provocatively miss this point. Instead they say it's distracting from a girl's education or violating her first amendment rights. Well... to me this smacks of "Yes, but just because you CAN run into a crowded movie theater and shout 'FIRE' doesn't mean you SHOULD". Is it responsible to dress in a way that sends a message you're not looking to send, potentially putting ourselves and our fellow human beings - in this case, likely men - at a risk of being in a situation where intentions are misconstrued and a relationship or a person's emotional well-being can be destroyed?

But Danielle - you're bordering on "slut shaming"! But Danielle - it's not our responsibility to make sure that other people behave appropriately!

Is that really true though?

Let's go with the commonly accepted notion that men are more visually stimulated sexually than women. Whether this is truly engrained in them biologically or created from a society where physical appearance is elevated above internal beauty does not matter, studies have supported this in one capacity or another and so we'll start from here. If that is indeed the case, then if Suzy Student walks into class one day wearing loose-fitting jeans, a standard t-shirt, and a pair of Converse - would you not say that it is less likely that Peter Pupil notices Suzy than if she were to walk in wearing a low-cut midriff shirt with a mini-skirt and a pair of boots that carry the nickname "f**k-me boots"?

Now, if Peter is a stand-up human being (which most men are believe it or not) even if he IS distracted by Suzy it won't affect his studies and he can go on with his day. Suzy feels empowered or beautiful or whatever with what she's wearing and no harm is done.

But Danielle - what if Suzy really DOES want people to look at her physical beauty?!?! What ever happened to "if you've got it, flaunt it"? WHY ARE YOU STOMPING ON HER RIGHT OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION????

Welll... because. The reality is that no matter what her intentions, Suzy is going to turn heads with the latter outfit. She's probably going to get attention both positive AND negative from both boys AND girls at the school. It's possible that while walking around with her backpack on that her skirt creeps up the back of her bag and her behind will be flashing everyone. It's possible that some of her male friends will notice that her low-cut shirt creates the perfect "basketball hoop" for potato chips during lunch (both of those things happened to me).

It's possible she'll get cat-called. It's possible she'll be sexually assaulted or sexually harassed or raped.

Dress codes exist to teach kids that there are boundaries for what is acceptable to wear in the real world. A lot of this is professional - but a lot of it is personal. And in this instance, the school is protecting not just Peter from "being distracted" - it's protecting Suzy too.

Because Suzy doesn't understand as a teenager whose brain is not fully developed yet that she is indeed taking a risk by dressing that way - and the school needs to be its sister's keeper in this instance.

I stopped choosing revealing clothes after a time. Sure, I got tired of having Fritos chucked at my chest, but mostly I realized that I wasn't doing myself any favors. I watched as girls who dressed certain ways were thought to have certain behaviors and I didn't want to send a message to anyone that I was someone I wasn't. I began to dress more to represent who I actually was and not who the pages of Seventeen stated I could be.

I have a daughter now - and so a lot of this really hits home and is part of what infuriates me about these memes and posts. I know - some of you are reading this thinking "Well what do you want to teach her? That she needs to dress in a certain way so that men don't go fawning all over her?"

Good question. What do I want to teach her? Three things:

My daughter. She's awesome.

1. How you dress should be an expression of who you ACTUALLY are - not what whatever the magazine or social media of the time when she's in high school says she should be or look like. The people who will love her the most in her life and cherish her for who she is are the ones who will find her attractive in sneakers, a sweater, and khakis. Right now her preferred outfits are dress-like shirts, leggings or jeans, and a pair of sneakers because she loves to run. She's active. She needs to dress to express who she actually is - not what she thinks will appeal her to someone.

2. I'll finally close on my Greeny point that I've skirted on several times. For better or worse, our male counterparts are sexually visually stimulated. I want my daughter to understand how the male mind works and how she can be her brothers' keeper. How she can help men out there to see women as more than just sexual objects and see each one of us for our true depth of beauty. I want her to help the men in her life to disspell this reputation they've gotten as pigs who "only want one thing". I want her to blow up social media with how strong and awesome people are. We're not going to destroy rape culture by elevating the rights of women to dress however they want - we're going to destroy it by empowering real men to speak up and make it harder and more uncomfortable to sexually harass women. I want her to be a part of that.

3. We're a Christian home, and we believe in God and we believe in Jesus. In Stasi Eldridge's book "Captivating", she spends page after page after page describing how we are so beautiful just as we are created by God. Each one of us is unique and beautiful and amazing regardless of how we look or dress. God has designed each of us and Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that God has great plans for us of hope and a future and not of disaster. Psalm 139:13 describes how we were beautifully knit together in our mothers' wombs. We have lost our ability to place our intrinsic value in how God sees us - and I hope and I pray and I desire for her to base her worth in that.

In a world where we scream for equality and for the rights of the individual, we have lost the need for true community and we have forgotten how to be our brothers' keeper and our sisters' keeper. We will not beat rape culture or rape mindset by downplaying our very real role as women. Feminism might seem to some to be about our rights to do whatever we want and not be abused by men - but really it's about being strong, being independent-minded, and being able to be counter-culture and changing the culture. It's about rising above societal norms and not perpetuating the same ones and just changing the soundtrack of reasons.

So, social media - enough with the pseudo-feminist memes about free speech and distractions from education. Enough with the "You Go Girl!" rants and double-standards when we then post pictures of ourselves and expect men not to virtually cat-call us when we do. Enough slut-shaming and enough of not loving ourselves and respecting ourselves and others.

Let's ACTUALLY empower our daughters, our cousins, our BFFs, our sisters to actually do something about it on a personal level. Let's become activists.

Let's DO something. 

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