unnecessary, cont.

by Liz on 04.05

Sixty-two comments, several emails and a few hours on Twitter later, I feel I have my thoughts in order enough to dig deeper. I originally wrote this when there were only 62 comments on last week’s post and I was afraid the meaning was lost in all the tangenty commenting. Now we’re up to over 160, so perhaps this second round is needed more than I first assumed

Last week, I anticipated that post to be sort of a softball, easy post. “These things still happen, so we still need feminism! The end!” to be met with, “Go on girl!” and “You’re right! Rawr!” When there was some opposition, I think I tried to make sense of all of my thoughts and instead just started sputtering, “THINK OF THE CHILDREN,” or something similar. I hadn’t anticipated needing to explain myself more than I had. So, why not follow up a good discussion by capitalizing on the controversy taking a step back and more carefully explaining the backbone to what I was saying? I’m responding to several different lines of thought represented in the comments, so I’m going to break this into chunks.

On Rights vs. Treatment: As a whole, I think we assume that equal rights represent a sort of finality. An accomplished goal. And there are accomplishments! Progress has been made! But, equal rights are not the same as equal treatment. And law is not the same as social perception. (Besides, I’d argue the law is still dramatically farther behind than you’d imagine.)

On Where to Draw the Line: When we sit and watch the fellas on Mad Men openly discuss the cup sizes of their secretaries and uncomfortably laugh, we need to be aware that 1) that stuff still happens and 2) it’s not okay. It’s not simply a matter of being gross, rude or inappropriate. It’s a matter of making someone feel unsafe and vulnerable- a much bigger deal than simply, “Aw, get a sense of humor,” or “You need thicker skin.”  Making general positive comments about someone’s appearance is not the same as commenting on specific body parts, making sexual remarks, making lewd gestures, or physically touching someone. As the things I just listed are more common issues for a female, I consider them feminist issues.

On Defining Feminism and Its Relevance: Knowing that there are women who everyday feel unsafe, it seems callous to blatantly say, “We don’t need feminism any more.” Perhaps your life is unaffected by sexism, but that doesn’t mean that these things don’t still happen daily. It’s important that we all- women who have been victimized in the past, women who haven’t, men- all of us, consider it a personal cause to fight sexism in all its forms.

Some are opposed to the term “feminism,” connecting it to specific politics or man-hating or baby-killing. I use the word to simply mean “fighting for the equality of genders.” Whether you use the term “feminism” or “equality” or “antisexist” or whatever else, fine. The point remains that saying that, “We don’t need feminism any more,” dismisses the current, real struggles of too many women. I prefer the term “feminism” because it highlights the empowerment of women. Not the empowerment of women beyond men. Not the submitting of men to the wills of women. The empowerment of women to be equals with men, in both rights and treatment. By using the term, I don’t hope to pit genders against one another, but I do hope to highlight that sexism against women is still very much prevalent.

On Modesty: I could rant all day about how I wish more women would dress modestly. I think it harms, rather than furthers, the cause of feminism when we ignore the connotations of specific varieties of dress. I wear certain clothes to work, certain clothes to the beach, certain clothes to jog. Wearing appropriate clothing with respect to functionality but also connotation is important. However, modest clothing is not enough to end sexual harassment. As many have mentioned, most instances occur while the victim is not dressed provocatively. As with any wrong, the problem is with the perpetrator, not the victim. I’ve found that men who are gross will say gross things regardless of what I’m wearing. And men who are not gross don’t say anything regardless of what a woman is wearing. Your choice of dress may dictate how much attention you receive (and, more importantly, from whom) but it does not justify the type of attention you receive.

On Responsibility: Certainly, we should be encouraging victims to speak out against what happens to them, but the truth is that it is often scary, dangerous or seemingly impossible  to do so in the moment. We can’t shrug and declare that it’s every woman’s responsibility to defend her own self. That’s both impractical and unfeeling. Feminism is a social cause like any other. Those with a voice need to use it for the sake of those without.

 

These are the points that stuck out to me. Did I miss anything? Why do you think this is such a heated discussion on both sides? What makes the term “feminism” so loaded?

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Your Comments | Add a Comment

Rachel T. says:
Apr 5, 2012 6:37 am

I appreciate all of your points, but I take issue with the point on modesty. For me, I wish more PEOPLE would dress modestly, not just women. As a high school teacher, I can’t tell you the number of boys who walk around with their pants around the bottoms of their butts. I see boy underwear all day long. It’s SO uncomfortable. For me, dressing modestly is about just not exposing yourself to people around you, not that women should dress more modestly in order to help quell negative attention. As far as I’m concerned, “my short skirt” screams in my head with stuff like this – a woman should be able to walk down the street NAKED and still it wouldn’t give someone the right to touch her, attack her, or even comment on the size/shape/variety of her specific body parts. I prefer modesty because it’s just more tasteful, but not because women should dress so more often. I think everyone should. But more importantly, I think that problem I have with girl’s dressing provocatively is that so many of my female students do it to gain male attention. That’s what makes me so sad and want change for them. If they wanted to dress provocatively because they loved their body and were proud of their sexuality, have at it! But almost always, for teenage girls, it’s to gain male attention with their body, in a way that doesn’t ask that man to appreciate her for more than her body. And more importantly, it gains attention for her that she isn’t necessarily always prepared for or proud of. She does it because she sees it’s what she is supposed to do to be “liked”. That makes me sad.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 7:19 am

Agreed with your point, Rachel! Young people generally don’t understand the connotations behind certain ways of dressing.

I think we’re essentially saying the same thing. At the end of your comment, you mention that young girls dress provocatively for male attention- and that is exactly what I mean when I say provocative dress sets the plight of feminism back, instead of furthering it. Not only do these girls not realize that they’re attracting attention for the wrong reasons and probably from the wrong people, but that system of looks = attention from men = worth is horribly sad and wrong.

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Sarah says:
Apr 5, 2012 12:05 pm

Hey Liz,

First time de-lurker here :). Thanks for both of these posts, and the one on APW recently. I’m a huge fan of your writing. Even though I’m super slammed at work and though I’ve been trying to ignore the need to comment, I feel I must respond to the modesty point.

First, I’m a law student who works with sexual assault victims, who are consistently blamed for attacks based on not dressing modestly (along with a plethora of other crazy things). I’m not implying that you are doing that, but it does seem like focusing on the wrong end of the problem.

To me (and I’m fine if others don’t agree), advising women that they should dress modestly to avoid a large amount of attention, and thus retain their self-esteem = still smacks of victim blaming. It’s not really different than saying that dressing a certain way can lead to rape, assault, etc. Receiving unwanted attention from men as a girl = will happen anyway. Just like most sexual assaults happen by people we know, w/o a correlation to what we are wearing.

I received A LOT of unwanted attention as a teen, and I still do today in my late 20s. I also had size DD boobs by the 8th grade, but weighed about 100 lbs. So I stuck out – and at various times I tried to avoid attention by wearing baggy clothes, and honestly this DID NOT change the way men constantly harassed me. It still doesn’t. In this country, breasts have become so over- sexualized that if they are sticking out (even while covered by a baggy shirt) there are still men that comment and harass. In my experience, it does not matter what I wear. So if chose to wear a tank top in hot weather, and I get harassed, this is not my fault or my problem.

Look, in our country, it’s breasts. When I studied abroad in Senegal, it was legs/butt – women advised me to cover myself with long skirts (and my hair), but breasts weren’t sexualized at all – often women walked around topless, but geez, never show knees/ thighs. Why? Because men just can’t control themselves, etc. I’m sorry, but this type of thinking (not saying you think this, but many do) is victim blaming. Actually, men can and should control themselves. Pretending otherwise contributes a the rape culture we have now. The problem is not the girl in a tank top or with her hair uncovered.

Feminism to me includes the choice to dress in a way one feels sexy/ comfortable/ beautiful – whatever. Without being admonished by men or women, and without being harassed.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 12:22 pm

Hey, Sarah! My point wasn’t to admonish at all! Gross guys will be gross no matter what a woman is wearing, nice guys will be respectful no matter what a woman is wearing. That’s what I said above, and I think that best summarizes my opinion on it.

But I do think that in this country (Yes! You are so right about pointing out our culture’s oversexualization of nudity- something I’ve written about before!), we should be training young women to understand the connotations of certain kinds of dress. I think the majority of women who dress a specific way don’t understand that different clothing has different connotations. (Most of the women I know who expose a lot of skin aren’t women at all, but are GIRLS) Avoiding those connotations is a matter of self esteem, in my opinion. Wearing certain clothes to work demonstrates to my students that I have a certain position that I deem worthy of respect. If I were to wear sweats to teaching (and, ha, I wasn’t a gym teacher), I think that would demonstrate a certain lack of respect for my job or myself in my position. Avoiding provocative clothing doesn’t mean that I’m ashamed of my body, afraid that showing it will cause some kind of harassment, etc but it does allow me to define who I am to strangers. I think many young girls don’t understand that- which isn’t their fault. It’s ours, for not teaching them.

As a sidenote, when traveling, I think it’s best to respect other cultures’ definitions of modesty (I certainly would wear a headcovering if I were to travel to the Middle East). Not out of protecting oneself from gross men (because gross men will be gross no matter what), but to avoid certain connotations associated with certain kinds of dress.

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Sarah says:
Apr 5, 2012 12:46 pm

Oh, I would always respect the culture of where I was traveling – you bet I covered my hair out of respect.

I just meant to point out some how our cultural/ religious backgrounds, etc, can lead to ideas of how a women should present herself to men, what is acceptable, who she is, etc.

But I guess what I don’t agree on is that because society has assigned clothing has the “connotations” that you are referring to, we should abide by this above our own comfort. This too just goes to my own experience wearing various “types” of clothing and being responded to in the same way – so I’m just going to wear what I like.

I don’t agree that wearing a provocative shirt while walking in the park necessarily explains anything about me, other than it is hot outside. It doesn’t mean I’m super sexually active/ available, any of these things.

While yes, a doctor’s white coat leads us to understand s/he is a doctor, there are SO many people telling women what is “professional” v. “unprofessional” it makes me crazy. I wouldn’t wear many of the “professional” outfits in women’s magazines t work out of discomfort. However, in my off time, (and at points when I was a teen), I do/did wear form-fitting clothing, and I bristle at what exactly this “defines” about me.

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Tory says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:53 pm

I am late to this party so maybe it’s irrelevant, but could it be possible that there are two separate definitions of “dressing modestly” at play here? I don’t think of tank tops and form-fitting clothing as necessarily immodest, but I did once see a girl wearing shorts so short (I work on a college campus) that I could literally see her butt cheeks hanging out. That, to me, is uncomfortable. And immodest.* I would never pretend to know what Liz or what Sarah mean by modesty, I just want to point out that there may be different constructs at play.

*In saying that, in no way do I imply that she deserves anything less than the utmost respect from men or women.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 2:17 pm

Agreed. Really good point when we’re using a sort of vague term like “modest.”

And further, there’s a big difference between something that’s flattering and something that’s revealing. If I find clothing that makes my body look good, makes it clear that I have a waist and hips and even (gasp) boobs, that’s fine. And it’s different than displaying a whole butt cheek for public consumption.

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Ms. Bunny says:
Apr 5, 2012 12:47 pm

As someone who studies dress habits for a living, I think there are two discussion points going on. The false assumption that dressing a certain way encourages harassment, which I don’t believe that Liz agrees with, and the idea of dressing with modesty as a sign of self respect.

I feel that many young women dress immodestly to get attention, because they feel exposing their bodies is the only way they can get attention. This is not empowered dress. Nor do I believe these women dress this way to “get harassed.” They dress this way because they believe their worth lies in their bodies, and not in their head. They have been led to believe by a patriarchal society that their ideas and skills are not worth much, but their youth and sexual appeal are.

And as a side note, I do not believe these young women deserve any harassment they receive or that they cause men to harass women on a larger scale.

But I do believe it is worth teaching them that they are worth more than their bodies, and that they should only be exposing flesh when it makes them feel good, not that they should do it to be playing to the male gaze.

We need to encourage people to understand the ramifications of their dress — modesty, immodesty, or otherwise. Dress impacts how people react to you. People make judgements about you based on how you are dressed. Cultural norms impact dress habits and reactions to certain types of dress. I do not think it is victim blaming to say that people need to learn more about how their dress is perceived in the world and to make better choices.

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Emily says:
Apr 5, 2012 12:53 pm

Maybe it would be better to focus on girls’ motivation for dress, rather than the ramifications. Discussion of the implications, connotations, or perceptions of dress can easily become blurred into victim-blaming territory. (For the record, I don’t think ANYONE here is doing that, though).

I think the points being made about why girls dress the way they do actually provide enough reason in and of themselves to encourage more modesty. As a teen, I certainly made clothing choices purely to get boys’ attention – and that attention made me feel important, valuable, loved, etc, more than my academic success or talents or interests ever did. Encouraging young girls of their intrinsic value, aside from how they look to boys and men, might sometimes mean encouraging modesty; but that’s because it’s an exercise in self-respect, not because they’re responsible for male reactions.

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Sarah says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:13 pm

Well said!

It’s just a personal issue of mine – I have self-respect (and always have) whatever I’m wearing, and a baggy or tight shirt should not be perceived as an indicator of this. I know we all agree it shouldn’t be.

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Erin says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:37 pm

Bunny nailed it.

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Erin says:
Apr 5, 2012 8:36 am

You go girl. Rawr!

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 9:06 am

YOU’RE A WEEK LATE, ERIN.

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Erin says:
Apr 5, 2012 9:12 am

Damn… Sorry! I was saying it for you in my heart.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 9:13 am

The mental image of you snarling and making claws with your “rawr” makes up for it, I guess. ;)

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Erin says:
Apr 5, 2012 10:36 am

It’s true. I did that. :)

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meghan says:
Apr 5, 2012 9:09 am

I too am a week late. Out of town missing the controversy.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 9:23 am

NO EXCUSE.

(Okay, that’s a good one. So is Zoe.)

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ShotgunS says:
Apr 5, 2012 10:07 am

Well said!

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Beth says:
Apr 5, 2012 10:26 am

Killer synopsis of last week’s post Liz.

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Beth says:
Apr 5, 2012 10:26 am

Post and comments, that is.

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Emily says:
Apr 5, 2012 10:30 am

I think the connotations and implications that have grown with the word “feminism” are a big problem. Virtually everyone will respond in the affirmative when asked, “do you support equality between men and women?” – even the very same people who have just said, “I’m not a feminist!” or “We don’t need feminism.” I don’t think this means we should ditch the term, but I feel a bit lost with regards to how those connotations might be changed. What can I do, as a feminist (who is also quite friendly and rather likes men and babies and etc), to rewrite the assumptions/perceptions that people around me have of that word?

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 10:52 am

I feel torn about this, too. It was no more stingingly clear than the other day when a few women yelled at me for not being “feminist enough.” Of COURSE I don’t want to align myself with those women who have a very strict definition of what “feminist” means and what equality looks like. But I do want to find a way to label myself something that makes it clear that I think the mistreatment of women should stop.

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one soul says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:29 pm

I think the difficulty is that prominent feminists got caught up in a bunch of side politics and went off-message for a while, or rather incorporated a lot of stances under the umbrella of feminism that weren’t necessarily key issues, hence turning a lot of today’s young women off the term. Which is a damn shame.

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jwhittz says:
Apr 5, 2012 10:46 am

I would just like to say that I love this post is tagged “fist shaking”.
Also, excellent summation of last week’s post and comments.

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ShotgunS says:
Apr 5, 2012 11:03 am

Crap, I’m gonna stir up some (semantic?) controversy up in here. As someone who uses the “Mothers’ Room” at work – and feels very blessed to have one so I don’t have to pump in my car or the bathroom – I do want more empowerment than men. It’s not exactly “better than equal” since there’s a special need, but it doesn’t analogize to a disability since it’s (1) temporary and (2) a pretty common occurrance in half the population.

Babies!! Ack!

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 11:46 am

Haha, I have a similar yet sort of opposite request. I’d like men’s restrooms to have changing tables when the women’s rooms do. So often, we’re out eating or shopping and Josh goes to change the baby and has nowhere to do it. So I have to take him into the ladies’ room. Which is fine, but sometimes I like to have an uninterrupted dinner. Just seems weird. Don’t dads take their kids places without the moms around?

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ShotgunS says:
Apr 5, 2012 2:59 pm

I am right there with you. Even in places overflowing with babies + our local Le Pain Quotidien coughcough – no changing table in the men’s room. What gives?

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Liz F says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:07 pm

I don’t think this is “better than equal” at all. I think this is a observation that equality =/= the same. True equality, in my opinion, recognizes that people have different needs and all of those needs are attended to.

Men will never need to pump. Women may need to. It is gross and humiliating to have to pump in a bathroom stall or your car. The biological reality is that only women can get pregnant. There is no “equality” in pregnancy and to structure laws around creating this mythical equality is nonsense. That being said, there should absolutely be paid paternity leave in this country. Momma can’t do everything.

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Sarah says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:17 pm

Exactly!!!

Okay, I’m getting off this lovely blog for realz now to work :(.

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ShotgunS says:
Apr 5, 2012 3:03 pm

Equality does not equal the same.
Truth! It’s not like I want a urinal in the ladies room.

Oh Liz, I have such a lady blogger crush on you.

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tirzahrene says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:09 pm

A lot of what you’re talking about under modest dress is what I consider to fall under the heading of appropriate dress. I’m going to wear a bikini at the beach this summer. It’s completely appropriate in that setting. I am NOT going to wear that bikini to the store, to mow my lawn, or in non-swimming public settings; it’s not appropriate dress.

To me, this stuff falls under social norms, and that’s definitely something that we lean as we mature.

and yes, there is attention-getting involved in how people dress, but isn’t part of feminism having the option to choose to dress to look like sex on two legs if that’s what we want? Maybe the key is informed choices in how we’re going to dress.

I try to dress appropriately, although it’s a conundrum because the idea that it’s okay for people to judge me for what I wear – although it is a Real Thing and it happens – offends my idealism.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:39 pm

I think you make a lot of really good points! I think often about context when deciding what dress is okay (including geography and culture, as mentioned above).

I’m not sure about your last paragraph, though. I like having that outlet of expressing myself and when I’m willing to own people’s assumptions about me based on dress, I’m fine with the idea. But I can see how sometimes it’s detrimental. (like the way my husband is perceived differently because he has gauges and long hair) So, hmmm. Something for me to think about today.

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Ms. Bunny says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:55 pm

I agree that feminism means that we have the option to dress like sex on two legs if that’s what we want in appropriate settings. No it is not ok for you to dress like sex on legs to school. Yes, it is ok if you are going to a night club.

But, feminism is not dressing like sex on two legs because you feel like you must dress for the male gaze. Again, it’s all about choice, and many women without self-esteem feel like the only way to get male attention is to dress provocatively. They don’t have a choice.

And as another side note, I have no problem dressing in a pleasing way for men if I feel empowered enough to recognize there are other ways of getting positive male attention. Dressing for the male gaze and dressing in a pleasing way for men are two different things.

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tirzahrene says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:58 pm

Yes.

We ALL have the right to be inappropriate, and rude, and otherwise potentially embarrass ourselves and maybe be less than pleasant to be around.

And yes. It’s the CHOICE.

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ShotgunS says:
Apr 5, 2012 3:13 pm

Sex on legs = fave new phrase.

And I totally dress more ‘hipster’ sometimes to please my husband. He says he doesn’t care what I wear, but it always works. Other times I ignore his fashion sense entirely. Yay choice!

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kc says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:25 pm

The modesty arguments always make me ranty. I think it’s because I’ve seen it too often used to excuse diminishing someone else’s worth. We (I am as guilty as the next person) make a lot of assumptions based on how a person dresses. But I think it’s a slippery slope from fashion judgement (your butt hanging out of your shorts is tacky) to personal judegment (you must have self esteem issues).

I think the greater problem in our current culture is that we equate sex with self worth. Young girls grow up wanting to be thought of as hot and young boys grow up wanting to be looked at as studs. Everybody loses.

Anyway! I’m not sure what my point is or even if there is a solution in this over sexualized internet age. But I do take issue with saying immodesty sets feminism back.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:41 pm

Hm. I think my point might be that it’s the wrong fight. “I can show my boobs all I want!” ….okay. Go for it. Shrug. We have bigger fish to fry.

Meanwhile, women who cater to the norm of showing skin = attractive are perpetuating it.

The kinds of immodesty that I’ve seen have been like everyone has mentioned above- a means of gaining self esteem based on attention, which is just. Well, can I say that’s antifeminist after Tuesday’s discussion? ;)

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Ms. Bunny says:
Apr 5, 2012 4:12 pm

I think the issue is that conservatives generally decry immodesty and loosening of morals as the fault of feminism, which is what sets feminism back. Feminism gets blamed for a whole host of social and cultural problems, which makes feminists want to disassociate themselves from those with the “looser morals.”

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nikki says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:46 pm

Just out of curiosity, is it bad for feminism that my primary motivation for working out and eating healthy lately has been to look hot? Is that shallowness or crumbling to societal expectations or am I damaged? Is that considered dressing for men? (sorry that was a lot of rapid-fire questions; this thread has me thinking a lot)

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nikki says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:52 pm

wanted to clarify before a possible firestorm – I wasn’t insinuating any of you said that, I’m just trying to learn how to be a better feminist!

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Ms. Bunny says:
Apr 5, 2012 2:05 pm

Who do we dress for? Ourselves, other women, or men? — this is assuming a heteronormative and stereotypical context where only women care about fashion and only men care about the attractiveness of women, so perhaps the better question is ourselves, those who care about fashion, and those who care about attractiveness?

I don’t think it is wrong in any way to dress to be attractive to those you are sexually interested in. It is not wrong to want to look hot.

What I think is a problem is when a woman feels the only way they can feel good and have value is when they dress for the male gaze.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 2:18 pm

Dangit, I answered before reading this.

So, basically, what Bunny said.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 2:13 pm

Nope! Is the fact that I wear mascara to look hot antifeminist? NOPE.

I think what it comes down to (FOR ME- I won’t speak for all of feminism, hahaha) is healthy perspectives. Am I ___ because I want to look good or am I ___ because my self esteem depends on looking good?

And that goes for working out, mascara, and booty shorts. All of it.

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one soul says:
Apr 5, 2012 1:49 pm

Oof, the modesty thing is tricky.

Firstly, I firmly believe that the key message should be that it’s not OK for women to be treated purely as sexual objects, and that the onus for controlling one’s sexual responses lies with the individual who’s doing the responding. In other words, learn to keep that shit in your pants unless it’s explicitly invited out to play.

However, while this is sometimes uncomfortable to say and even think about, and while I am in no means trying to justify victim-blaming, I do also firmly believe that we should be able to at least think about the role we play in inviting sexual attention, no matter how unconsciously done. Of course, this unhelpfully gets thoughtlessly turned into victim-blaming, which is bullshit, but I don’t think there’s a problem with inviting people to at least think about and be aware of how they present themselves in the world, not just in terms of dress, but more subtly as well.

I’m deeply uncomfortable with the choice of the word ‘modest’, though. It has connotations (to borrow your turn of phrase, Liz) of quiet, good, demure, obedient, passive, chaste women, which irk me hugely. Women have every right to be bold, loud, unabashed, sensual and even brazen in how they dress. Although, goodness yes, one can be bold, loud, unabashed, sensual and even brazen while still being socially and contextually appropriate.

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Ms. Bunny says:
Apr 5, 2012 2:08 pm

Agreed that perhaps “modesty” is the wrong word here. Wracking my brain for a better one. Because you are right, it does have connotations of being demure.

I think one can dress is a bright pink dress that covers the lady bits — not exactly modest because it is loud, but not immodest because the lady bits are covered.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 2:14 pm

You’re right there. I’d like to go with “appropriate” instead of “modest” but it loses some of the meaning. Hm.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 2:22 pm

Not REVEALING?

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Kristin says:
Apr 5, 2012 3:00 pm

I just wanted to throw my (personal-anecdote-laden) two-cents in about the modest dress, and how much I appreciate that you say that gross men will say gross things no matter what you’re wearing. It’s true – I rarely leave the house without covered shoulders or knees, and I am constantly harassed.

But, I also wanted to point out that I’ve found what seem to be the two biggest triggers for me – wearing sunglasses and wearing shirts with words on them – and try to avoid those things whenever possible. I think it has something to do with men not having to look you in the eye to say something, and having an excuse to stare at your chest.

I’m not getting rid of the sunglasses (I love them too much, plus my eyes hurt without them when it’s too sunny), but, I’ve decided that wearing a shirt saying where I or Roger went to college isn’t worth dealing with all the men in our neighborhood, so either I cover them up with a sweater/coat, or I don’t wear them unless I’m in a group. Sad, but true. One day, I’m hoping to live in a world where I can where whatever damn t-shirt I want.

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Emily says:
Apr 5, 2012 5:07 pm

Okay, another thought that’s been rumbling around for me throughout the day on this…

It seems like we’re in agreement that looking hot because you want to, rather than out of a lack of self-respect, is totally fine – even if you also happen to garner male attention by doing so. We can be feminists wearing burlap sacks or booty shorts, hooray!

But, okay, there’s this thing that I sometimes do when my Macbook or iPhone need some fixing. I’ve noticed that the Apple store employees have a ton of leeway in what they can give for free/cheap – I once witnessed a regular old nerdy Mac man give a FREE NEW IPHONE to a very good-looking gal who was “so silly” and had “accidentally” sat down with hers in her back pocket ’til it broke, “heehee!”

So, now I do this maybe-not-super-feminist thing, where I wear some butt-loving pants and a bit extra makeup and act real friendly when I bring my technology to the Apple store. And perhaps I scout out the dorkiest looking guy there who seems a bit on the nervous side. And no, I don’t flaunt any cleavage or do any flirting or make any physical contact, but I almost always get what I want for free or cheap. Cracked screen? Replaced! Dead charger? Here’s one!

The reality is, men pay a sh*tload of attention to how women look. It’s damaging, horrible, and wrong. But is it similarly wrong for me to make that into their weakness and take advantage it for my own benefit? Is that empowering, or long-term is it damaging?

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 5:57 pm

My perspective is probably awful, haha. I figure that’s the system? I’m gonna take advantage of it, then. I know I’ve been all MAD MEN lately, but I think of Joan Holloway. She’s stuck in this terrible system, but you have to respect her a bit for knowing what she has, how the system works, and how to use the one to get over on the other. I feel terrible even as I type it which probably means I need to give it further thought lol.

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kc says:
Apr 5, 2012 6:52 pm

I don’t think it’s ok on one hand to critisize men for objectifying women and then on the other justify using sexuality or attractiveness to manipulate men. There is a double standard at play there that rankles me.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 7:10 pm

It doesn’t sit well with me either, which is why I want to think about it more.

I think it has something to do with who is setting the system (men) and who is being forced to find success within it.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 7:22 pm

I don’t like the way I worded this. It sounds like I’m pitting all men everywhere against all women everywhere, which isn’t what I intended.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 7:13 pm

Also, I don’t like the word “manipulate” in this situation. It doesn’t seem exact. It’s not that men are helpless to our charms, it’s that men have established a broken system and women can either choose to work within that system or work against. Working against it is good, yeah, because we want to dismantle it entirely. But gaining success through that system- I don’t know think that’s manipulative.

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Emily says:
Apr 5, 2012 7:16 pm

Yep, the word “manipulate” makes me a bit uncomfortable here – unless we always also use that word to describe how women are treated within this whole system.

If the dude had a bit more self-control, or maybe just didn’t view me as an object, my yoga pants would not wield such crippling power.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 7:27 pm

Interestingly, I think this is very connected to what we were talking about with appropriate dress in a different sense. A few people mentioned that they don’t want to live in a system where assumptions are made because of dress. But, because they are, I do conform to a certain style of dress to create the correct connotations. It may be wrong that my students don’t respect me as much when I’m not in heels and a skirt, but nevertheless, I’ll play along with the system and wear those heels and skirt to gain the respect that is already due me anyway.

Same for the “hot girl” stuff. It’d be better for women to not be judged as more/less important (worthy of free Apple stuff) based on looks, but until they aren’t, playing along with the system isn’t terrible.

But I’m still thinking and mulling! So I reserve the right to retract.

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Cathi says:
Apr 5, 2012 6:02 pm

My gut instinct says “damaging”, but as you say…it’s an odd situation.

I don’t go out to super social, nightclubby bars all that often, but when I do, you bet my friends and I cute ourselves up a little more than usual, and don’t immediately send away men who approach us. The ones who are there to make a real connection and find a nice girl to talk to and maybe start dating, we turn down nicely, cheers them with the beers we bought for ourselves, and go back to chatting with each other. But the slimy, weasely guys who begin the interaction with “daaaamn girl!”? Thank you for the $15 shots of Patron. Suckers.

It’s probably wrong. Sometimes it feels a little wrong, but most of the time we just laugh at these asshole dudes whose Affliction man-armor is seemingly impenetrable, and pat ourselves on the back for taking away from them the only way we know how–via his wallet.

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liz says:
Apr 5, 2012 6:25 pm

That’s defying the standard, though, isn’t it? Because those slimy dudes are working within a sick barter system- assuming that buying you a drink means that they’ll get something from you. To take that drink, guzzle it, and then say, “Kay, gotta go meet up with my husband now! Thanks so much!” works to prove that that’s not how it works.

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Rachel T. says:
Apr 5, 2012 6:06 pm

I have always loved the idea of female empowerment (particularly sexual and sexuality empowerment). However, I haven’t thought this through entirely and so cannot explain how this might work out, but I would say until we get to a place where society can differentiate between revealing dress that makes us feel good and revealing dress for men, as well as women can wearing revealing/provocative clothing without being sex “objects”, I think perhaps I personally will steer clear of the “using the system” thing. It’s not to pass judgement on you or anyone else who disagrees but more so to point out how complicated that game is and how even though we here agree that provocative dress is not the same as inviting sexual advances, it seems the rest of the world/country/whatever still doesn’t see it that way. So until they do, perhaps, for me, I don’t want to reinforce a system that gives them a chance to throw that back in my face when I start this conversation with them (i.e. people who don’t see this from my perspective). Does that make sense at all?

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Emily says:
Apr 5, 2012 6:21 pm

Rachel, that totally makes sense! And I don’t feel like you were passing judgement with your answer; I threw out that example because it’s not really a big deal. Honestly, we’re on a similar page – I typically do not dress in a way to intentionally garner male attention for any reason, but I have always found my little Apple Store trick to be sort of funny and sad and odd. There is a sense of empowerment that comes from using a system that typically harms me to my own benefit, but I recognize the problems of buying into a larger structure that I believe to be wrong.

Maybe the question is: after recognizing the reality of the system, how do we balance working it and trying to change it? Can we do both at once, or just at different times without being hypocritical?

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Jo says:
Apr 6, 2012 7:53 am

Love this whole post. Let’s unlock the modesty bit in a full post of its own sometime?

I’m loving these posts. I rarely get to comment, but I’m backing you up.

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