The clothes that you wear

A few days ago I was in our neighbourhood cafe around dismissal time for the local junior high school. The cafe is frequented by a lot of the neighbourhood kids and that day was no exception. It was one of our first VERY hot days of the summer and slushy drink sales were at an all time high! I was in line behind two teenage girls ordering said slushy drinks and I couldn't help but notice what they were wearing. One had on a tank top and the typical short shorts that one wears when your hips are still narrow and you are mostly legs and the other was wearing a very loose black tank top that had very wide arm openings that went all the way down to her waist and cropped black leggings. Underneath her tank top, she was wearing a sheer black bra. And in my head, two voices started battling it out. One was saying, "OMG! I can totally see ALL of her bra! That is so inappropriate! Why would her mother let her wear that! Stop staring at her bra!"

The other was saying, "Shut up already. It's hot outside and she is obviously very comfortable in what she is wearing. YOU are the only one who seems to have an issue here, get over yourself. You are not the fashion/modesty/appropriateness police, so just get your coffee and move on lady."

You see, I am a product of my society, the culture that I grew up in and in that culture, a woman's body (regardless of her age), and how she dresses it, are for others to comment on, to admire, to admonish, to assess and to judge. As much as I hate to admit this, a part of me did judge and I felt uncomfortable that I could see so much of this girl's underthings and went to that familiar, ingrained place of "has she no shame??".

I then hung my head in my own shame.

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This week my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filled with story after story of young girls being shamed and punished for what they are wearing. Tank tops seem to be causing the most issues, because of those terribly distracting bra straps. Last week, 28 girls (and two boys - just so no one feels the need to point this out and then tell me this was not about gender discrimination) were sent home from a high school in Newfoundland because they wore tank tops to school on a hot day and this was distracting to some of the male students and teachers. A 17-year old was kicked out of her senior prom because her dress-code conforming fingertip length sparkly dress was making a bunch of 40-something dad chaperones feel uncomfortable and a Utah High school decided to arbitrarily photoshop year-book photos of female students who were showing too much skin.

All of this is happening in the wake of Elliot Rodger and the UCSB shooting and numerous posts being written about the insidious levels of sexism and misogyny that exist in our world. We've spent the last few weeks trying to come to grips with this tragedy and the very real fears that #yesallwomen have for themselves in this world that continues to want to make sure that women know their place in it and know how to dress and behave appropriately in that place, and now this. This shaming of teenaged girls. For what?

Having boobs?

And legs?

And skin?

The message here is loud and clear. YOU, oh girls and women of the world, must be ever conscious of your evil, tempting, womanly ways of instilling lustful thoughts in the minds of others (mainly men), by merely existing in this world. You must do this by covering your bodies, because otherwise, what is presented to the world is obviously meant for the taking. Or the judging, or the leering, or the cat-calling, or the grabbing, or the assaulting.

All these dress-code issues are really just thinly-veiled perpetuations of the kind of culture that we live in that blames girls and women for the thoughts and actions of other people. We have a name for that you know. It is called rape culture. It's the line we often hear that goes... "well, if she didn't want people to look at her like that/touch her like that/make rude comments to her like that, she shouldn't dress like that." It's the cop-out that many people default to when they say, "In an ideal world, it wouldn't matter, but we don't live in that world, so just be smarter about what you wear/where you walk/how much you drink, and those things won't happen to you."

The thing is, we are not talking about dangerous alleys in the dead of night here, we are talking about supposedly safe places like the hallways of high schools and parent-chaperoned prom dances and the pages of school yearbooks. And the people who are having issues and condemning these teens  for their attire are the grown-ups in these situations.  People who are having all kinds of "uncomfortable" feels because they are being turned on by, or disgusted by teenaged girls bodies. So, who exactly is the problem here??

One particular quote from a school board administrator in the Newfoundland case really made me ponder this issue. He said,

"Our focus would be around wearing clothes that's appropriate for a learning environment, making sure that we help students learn that as you transition through school and onto the workplace that the clothes that you wear respects the values of people around you, respects the diversity of the community that we live in ... so it's really about respecting others, as well as respecting yourself," said Pike. {emphasis is mine}

The clothes that you wear must respect the values of the people around you. Hmmmm....

I can see where this statement is true to a certain degree. When my husband and I visited Zanzibar in 2005, I was well aware that the area we were visiting was primarily Muslim. Out of respect for the customs and norms of the local people, I did not go out without covering my arms and legs and with a scarf on hand if I needed it to cover my hair, even when it was well above 30 degrees Celsius. So yes, I admit that there are situations that call for a certain kind of dress code, but the above statement also made me wonder. At what point do people around you respect you as a person, REGARDLESS of what you are wearing? Or is it as Mark Twain said, "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society."?

Personally, I have to disagree with Mr. Twain on this one. I think that naked people, or naked women to be more exact, have had a big influence on our society. Pick up a magazine, watch TV commercials or browse online for a bit and you will find images of naked women, or parts of a naked woman (because it's not like women are ever portrayed as whole human beings), being used to try to sell you something.

Need a new suit guys?

suit_supply_ad_sexist

{image credit: Suit Supply}

A constant barrage of images and messages constantly showing us and telling us that any or all of a woman's body is primarily a sexual "thing", makes it hard for society at large to see women as anything else. It is the reason that Facebook and now Instagram too, consider breastfeeding photos nudity and pornography and routinely remove them and ban the users posting them, yet will leave pages like "Big Boobs", which contains photo after photo of breasts in all states of undress, well enough alone. It is blog post after blog post telling women that leggings are not pants, and tumblr and Pinterest sites shaming women with people posting pictures of strangers to illustrate their arbitrary policing of others bodies. It's Robin Thicke thinking it would be "fun" to objectify women in his Blurred Lines video and not understanding why people were upset about that. While so much of this kind of thinking may be commonplace in our world, none of it is OK or acceptable and we should be doing all we can to challenge and change this status quo.

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This past weekend in my city it was the 4th Annual Slutwalk, an event that since it's inception in 2009 following remarks from a Toronto law enforcement official that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized", is pushing out the message that there’s nothing a person can ever do to deserve sexual violence. I did not attend the walk this year, but heard from the organizers about a group of angry teenaged girls walking who got all up in the face of a member of a men's rights group protesting the event. I can't help but feel a bit of hope when I hear about things like that or watch videos from the young, bold, and super smart Laci Green, or read Claire's story about her prom experience, or know what Malala Yousafzai is doing for girls all over the world. Girls are speaking up, are saying ENOUGH and fighting back against a culture that is so reluctant to change the status quo. This new generation of young women, of young feminists, are giving me hope and teaching me a few things as well.

Back at the cafe, once the voices in my head had finally had it out with each other and there was a clear winner - I realized how much I still have to learn and UNlearn in this life. My thoughts were my own and I had to own that and admit my own shortcomings in this regard. And I know I have to do something about that. I have to do it for my children, because they are watching me and like the tiny little sponges they are, they are absorbing all the messages I am sending. What I say and do matters more now than it ever has before. And today's message is this: NO, clothes do NOT make the {wo}man, the person she {he} is does.

 

tanktopbrastrap

 

Now, go ahead, tell me that my bra strap is too distracting for you.... I dare you!

 

natasha~

 

 

feminist fare fridays: edition #3

Well, thanks the the VMAs last Sunday, there was no lack of fodder for everyone on the internet to write about this week. Slut-shaming, cultural appropriation, misogyny, the faces of the Smith family. It was a regular free-for all for anyone with an opinion and a platform with which to share it! Psst, we may also on the brink of a huge international conflict/war, but that doesn't seem to get as much airtime as a giant foam finger these days. So, in true hypocritical style, I give you your weekly round-up of Feminist Fare (not all of it is about the VMAs).

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1. There seems to be a new thing going around on the internet. Steal someone's photo (from their website, Facebook page or Flickr stream) and make it into a supposedly disparaging "This is what a Feminist looks like" meme. I have seen it done twice in the past few weeks and both times, the victims of these cowardly and juvenile acts have responded with class and SASS and put these basement dwelling, high-fiving each other over their oh-so-witty-mysogynistic meme-making, {ahem} teeny-weenies, well back in their places.

The first was Kelly Martin Broderick whose picture was stolen, altered and then posted back to Facebook as a fat-shaming, anti-feminist meme. Read her story here on xoJane. I am sad to say that I not surprised at Facebook's lack of response to this and I LOVE what Kelly herself has done in response. Please visit her new We Are What Feminists Look Like tumblr page and if you like, submit a photo too! Feminism is not a fashion sense, it is not a colour, it is not a gender, and it is not backing down when someone thinks they can use mean words or memes to "hurt" you!

The second was a BRILLIANT response by John Scalzi to a "dudebro" who took a photo from John's website and made it into the not-as-terrible-as-he-thought "This is what a feminist looks like" meme. Scalzi took the time to address this issue and in doing so utterly schools the "dudebro" in what a feminist actually is, how to do a meme right and gives said "dudebro" an good kick in the pants all the way around his 5 acres of wonderfully manicured lawn! I am pretty sure that my feminist hero this week is a

"...slightly chubby, slightly balding, middle-aged dude in a mint green regency dress."

 

2. Blurred Lines. Yes, yes, I know, I have already posted about how I feel about this song and the artist, but I had to share this. After viewing countless parody videos about the song, I think Melinda Hughes has finally hit the nail on the hammer so to speak! By completely rewriting the song and rearranging the context, there should be no more blurriness here. It is about consent folks, and NO, you don't know if "I really want it" unless I say so!

[youtube]http://youtu.be/WVI9PfBzsA8[/youtube]

 

3. I wrote last week about my worries with both of my babies being in school this year. I chalked up my misgivings and anxiety about school to my past and my own experiences and while those reasons are still true, this week I read a post on Everyday Feminism from Walker Karaa that made me really examine the concept of feminist parenting and the culture of gossip and the "double-binds" that exists on our schoolyards. And I don't mean with the kids!

"The small talk that women have with which to socialize with one another on the school yard is language of comparison and complaint, not connectivity or co-constitutive relationship."

The article is an interesting analysis of the parental school yard dynamic and has cleared up a few things for me. 1)Why I often feel like I don't "fit in" with some of the other parents at our school and 2) Why I don't ever want to!

*Of note: The only objection I have to the article is her take on home- or un-schooling and the reasons why families choose this form of education. None of the families I know who homeschool are doing it our of fear and mistrust.

 

4. I know you want to see something about Miley Cyrus here this week. Something about how awful her VMA performance was (it really was), how she is guilty of misappropriating black culture (Oh yes, she did, and not very well either), of being a terrible example to our children and of just being far too sexual a being for national television (all signs of Hannah Montana are GONE, gone, gone).

Well, here you go. I know, this is the second time "Blurred Lines" and Robin Thicke get a mention in one round-up, but I think you will all appreciate what Eric Clapp has to say on the subject.

"It starts with understanding that as men, our value does not come from how much power we hold over women. Our value comes from being respected and being loved as we respect and love the people who matter to us."

And if you want, you can click on all the links in his post to see what everyone else has been saying about this too.

 

5. And the winner of this week's  'Thing that happened that makes me weep for humankind' award, is by far the judge in Montana who technically sentenced a rapist to 15 years in prison and then suspended 14.936 of that sentence so that this 50 year old man, a teacher, who raped a 14 year old girl and was CONVICTED of this crime, will only serve 30 days in jail. His reasoning you ask? Because the victim (who later committed suicide) was "older than her chronological age", oh and just so you know, "It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape, like you see in the movies."

Sigh... People, I can't even begin to say all the things that I want to say here. Luckily (and unfortunately at the same time), Emily at xoJane was brave enough to tell everyone WHY this is beyond wrong.

"The fact is, a 14-year-old girl may be capable of agreeing to sex with a 49-year-old man, but she doesn't have the emotional and mental maturity to consent.  I was 25 before I realized that every man I'd slept with as a teenager was a pedophile."

...............

 

And on that note, I think we should all take a little break from the internet this long weekend. What say you?

natasha~

 

Not as blurry as it seems...

Some days its a struggle not to become a big judgemental fuddy-duddy in my old age. I hear that voice in my head and wonder who the hell it is? You know, the one that says shit like:

"WHAT. ON. EARTH. is that girl wearing?"  or "Are you serious? THIS is what kids call music these days?" or  the ever popular "Well, I never (insert thing you never have/will/or would do in your lifetime)...."

Its hard to look around some days and NOT think that the world is going to "hell in a hand-basket" (that's fancy for really fucked up!) and we had better just hold on for dear life and hope we don't all fall out of our baskets and into the proverbial lake of fire!

I can't help but think that every generation feels this way when they see all the new fan-dangled ways that the younger generation goes about their business. The way they dress, the way they talk, the kind of music they listen to and the way the world (and primarily technology) is changing, which these days is kind of like one of those crazy super exponential math problems that I for one, could never quite figure out!

The kids these days love their Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke. I loved Madonna and Billy Idol. They have Edward and Bella and we had Keifer Sutherland in 'The Lost Boys'. Short shorts or leggings are the uniform du jour for most teenage girls right now and in my day, it was mesh crop tops and fluorescent hammer pants. I am sure a lot of "grown ups" thought we were a bunch of crazy kids, listening to our devil music and wearing our clothes backwards (Kris Kross will make you JUMP! JUMP!!) and rolled their eyes at us just as much as my generation does today seeing some of the things the kids do that make us all go, HUH???

Being a parent brings all of this front and centre in your life. You become painfully aware of the world you live in and the influences that exist outside of you and your home on your children. Things that never bothered you before, all of a sudden become the things that keep you up at night wondering how/when or why it may or may not mess up your children's lives.

Ok,I am sorry.

Enough vague-blogging...

(I am taking full credit for that one, as Urban Dictionary only lists vaguetweeting and vaguebooking as actual things!).

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I've got a problem with Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines song. And the YouTube-banned video and the subtext of the lyrics and the fact that the lines may be blurry, but the message (at least to me) is NOT! You can head over to read Julie Green's post at Yummy Mummy Club for a sampling of the lyrics and Thicke's explanation that all three of the contributing artists are "happily married with kids" to justify that it's just a song and they are just having some fun objectifying women, something they don't get to do in real life, because they have "...always respected women".

Seriously???

Here is my issue. These LINES can get VERY blurry for a lot of kids, the primary consumer of this particular brand of pop culture. Oh, I don't know, how about a bunch of drunk boys at a party in Ohio, thinking that it would be fun to just objectify and follow around and subsequently sexually assault a passed out sixteen year old girl. Supposedly "good boys" at that, who didn't realize that what they were doing was a crime. That in the end, what they did, was in fact NOT funny at all, NOT actually that blurry of a line and didn't make any of them, the perpetrators of said crime or the filmers of its extremely offensive and objectifying play-by-play commentary, cool, hip or particularly date-able in any near or far distant future!

I am not saying that THIS particular song has anything to do with that incident, but its hard to deny that there is a theme in a lot of today's music that degrades women, making them seem more like objects to be won, fondled, man-handled or "torn in two". It exists in television and in film as well and the Internet and our easy access to so much media and in so many forms makes these images and these songs lyrics just part of a normal days entertainment for most kids.

It's easy to just brush it all off with a casual, "Oh, it's just a song, he/she is an artist and doesn't mean anything by it." or "That's just a TV show/movie/video game, it's not REAL." And that my friends, is where the lines really start to blur. WE, as the grown-ups may be able to understand or more clearly see those lines between artistic license and reality, but our impressionable young ones? Maybe not so much.

“Adolescent brains don't cement up as fast as we thought they did," observes Gordon Neufeld, a child psychologist in Vancouver. “For a long time we thought that the brain's hard-wiring was finished by the time kids hit their teens, but we now recognize it has a high degree of plasticity, which means that young adults are still highly adaptive creatures that can learn from example and experience."

If the examples that they hear on the radio or on their Songza playlists and see on TV or Netflix on a regular basis are ones of objectification of women, violence, and sexism, this kind of stuff gets stored in their brains and then ALL the LINES start to get really BLURRY! Girls may start believing that their only worth is tied to what they look like or what they are or are not wearing and boys may start to believe that no means maybe, or maybe means yes, or passed out means fair game. If you don't believe me, check out the Instagram feed of anyone under 16 years old.

Look, I am not trying to be all soap-boxy here and saying that Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I. are single-handedly contributing to the perpetuation of rape-culture in our society. I am saying that "I" have a problem with this particular song and its message and it is not something I want my kids to listen to. Kids who, by the way, have somehow become very good at picking up song lyrics these days. The "Mom, what does he mean when he says "I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two?" is NOT the conversation that I EVER want to have with my child!

So for now, for this song (and for a few others as well) I flip the station or turn off the radio.

Also, I have convinced them that Daft Punk is not "staying up all night to get lucky", they have actually "grown up with Mexican Monkeys!"

I win at "Parental Controls" and utter fuddy-duddyness this week!!

parentalcontrols

Natasha~