It’s been a long hot summer, combined with the popularity of Katy Perry’s California Gurls, has seemingly inspired more bare leg than a waxing school. I freely admit to having had fashion emergencies as a young un’ including my share of too short shorts, skirts, etc. Even these days, between the heat and the fact that I am a dyed in the wool Northern Girl who frequently doesn’t really care what I look like on errand running day, I can be found saggin’ with my tummy showing or in a tank top is a bit a size ago.
And in honesty, some women have the figure for Daisy Dukes, et al. I guess maybe it is just having lived now for nine years in a fairly conservative part of the world, I find it a bit startling when I am confronted with (not necessarily so young) women walking around in public in something roughly the same dimensions as a one piece (or two piece?) swimsuit. Plus, some of them (waxed or no) just do not have the figures for these outfits, adding to the aesthetic shock. The first rule of (Fight) Dress Club is always dress to flatter your own figure; never be a slave to trends.
Certainly, women have the right to wear short shorts and short skirts and tube tops, etc in public. Thus the recent “SlutWalk” movement, which reached Milwaukee last weekend when I was back in Wisconsin. I would never deny the right of any woman or man to walk around at any hour of the day in shorts and a minimalist top, and if you want to throw in some fishnets, some glitter lotion, visible bra straps or thong line, that truly is up to you. No, one should not be subject to unwanted physical contact and no one is “asking” for anything simply by putting on a particular outfit. No one should be harassed on the street for any reason, and plenty of sexual assaults involve victims wearing conservative clothing, so the conclusion that the outfit is the causal agent seems weak at best.
That cop in Toronto certainly is out of contention for the Silver Tongue of the Year Award. However, the message of, “Don’t tug on Superman’s cape; don’t spit into the wind,” and think a bit about how you are presenting yourself, where you are going and who you might encounter, should not be lost. Some guy may not have the emotional maturity to understand your outfit, or come from a background where that outfit means *one thing*–not necessarily what you mean, but nonetheless, are the consequences worth it? I *completely* agree that freeing women from harassment and assault for any reason *should be* a feminist priority, and that men have a lot of work to do regarding their own roles and responsibilities in this.
Clothing does send a message. And that message is not only about what the sender means to convey, but what the receiver interprets. An individual may be dressed up for a costume party, or to attend a trendy club or simply because they like edgy, revealing outfits. However, someone else in the community who is coming from a different context may perceive that the person is a prostitute, a criminal, or “out trolling.” It is certainly true that the guy *should* know better, but what people do and don’t know and what people do and don’t do is not always what we want it to be. People do run red lights, drive drunk and knock over liquor stores. So, drive defensively, wear your seat belt, and don’t be surprised when the clerk at the corner store is secured behind bullet proof glass.
But, Ladies, let’s also be honest with each other about the message we are sending with Daisy Dukes, et. al. In some cases, we are saying, “come hither.” If a guy perceives, “me, up close and personal” when we meant, “the other one, arms length away,” we have to keep communicating. “Excuse me, I have to go meet my dad and brothers in the Church van down the street,” can be an effective verbal cold shower. (I’m an only child.)
I agree that historic concepts of “appropriate” dress are often biased against women—from pants versus skirts, to the advisability of a pink shirt for either gender. It’s OK for a man to walk around bare-chested at the beach or a park or such, but women are expected to have a top on at all times. Off the rack women’s clothing also tends to be more heavily influenced by annual trends than men’s clothing, especially office dress, regarding cut and color. This also affects a woman’s pocketbook as well as how she is perceived by her community.
When I think about the feminist movement my sense of the long standing priorities are things like health care, including anti-violence, access and family planning; pay equality; equal treatment, opportunity and representation in educational institutions, the workplace and professional standing, community leadership and other civic institutions. I agree that control over our bodies is a huge priority. There is a difference between control over one’s body and control over one’s wardrobe choices. There are basic community standards that we all conform to when out in public regarding dress, nudity as an extreme is generally not considered OK in public.
So with all due respect to the Washington Post, I have to depart from the position that thumbs up to skimpy clothes should be a feminist priority. Thumbs down to labeling, negativity and violence, and set higher expectations for men? I’m on board all the way. That splits the difference, right down the Middle.