Asking For “Something”

imagesizerCN: Discussion of rape and victim blaming.

[Image: An image of a woman standing with her back to the camera with her skirt pulled up. On her leg reads, from bottom to top, “matronly”, “prudish”, “old fashioned”, “proper”, “flirty”, “cheeky”, “provocative”, “asking for it”, “slut”, “whore”, with marks indicating each level of how high the skirt is and where the judgement will be made.]

I recently came across a thread on Facebook about school dress codes that resulted in pulling girls out of class and forcing them to change into something more “modest” because their shoulders or legs, or midriffs were too “distracting” to male students. I knew I shouldn’t have read the comments, but I did. A male commenter enlightened the original poster that when you dress you are indeed “asking” for something.

Just like someone who dresses professionally for a business meeting is asking to be taken seriously or a bride wears a wedding dress in order to be the center of attention on her big day, a woman who goes out to bars and clubs on ladies’ nights dress a certain way to be noticed and gain male attention. So the girls in school must have been dressing in order to devious distract the male students and therefore, the school was well within their rights to send these wicked temptresses home, right? RIGHT?

Here’s a radical thought for you; not all women dress for men. Imagine that. Imagine a woman going through her wardrobe, thinking about what she want to wear, how she want to look, how she want to present myself. Imagine her not even considering the opinions of men, other women, all people in general, because she’s happy with her outfit and that’s all that matters. Imagine a world where that could be possible.

And really, let’s not mince words. When you start talking about women “asking” for things with their clothing, it’s inevitable the conversation turns to rape and sexual assault. Which then turns to a discussion on the myriad thing a woman not only could have done but should have done in order to avoid her own rape.

It’s not logical or even vaguely acceptable to equate someone wanting to be taken seriously as a professional to someone who wears a revealing outfit to deserve sexual assault or rape. Because… get this… when someone dresses professionally they want to be taken seriously. When a woman dresses in any way, shape or form, she does not want to be raped. No one wants to be raped.

As I asked Verily Magazine in their weedy-worded article about Amber Rose’s SlutWalk, what is acceptable clothing and who gets to decide what that is? Women have been raped and sexually assaulted while wearing all kinds of clothes and guess what, none of the deserved it. Women are not sexual objects to be used whenever a man decides that something arouses him.

It’s time that everyone dresses for themselves and stops assuming that someone else is dressed for them. No one is entitled to a woman’s body just because they can see a part of  it. No one deserves to be raped for any reason. Those who are sexually assaulted deserve to be treated with respect and not asked questions which imply they somehow deserved it.

Making Under The Bratz

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[Image: A makeunder of a Bratz Cloe doll. On the left is Cloe in full makeup with large lips. On the right is Cloe with her face repainted to look as if she is not wearing makeup.]

People have been doing “make unders” on Bratz dolls for a while now. At first glance, it looks like a solid idea. Bratz dolls are sexualized, caked in makeup, and wearing tiny clothes. What could be better than stripping that all away to repaint their faces so they look like “real” girls? But what message are these made under dolls sending and is it the message that should be sent?

It’s one thing to identify problems with the Bratz dolls and entire media franchise and I have done that until the proverbial cows have returned, left again, and come back with McDonald’s. Bratz characters are one-dimensional caricatures of young women who can only think about clothing and boys. It shows femininity and being a girl as something that exists within an enclosed space of superficial wants which allows no room for a girl who likes to read or wants to pay attention in class or dares to do anything with her life other than be a fashion designer.

The problem is not that the Bratz are wearing makeup. That is far too simple a concept to say that makeup is what makes the Bratz bad role models and examples of femininity for young girls everywhere. Because makeup is something that women can enjoy and like to use. It should not be unanimously declared dangerous or problematic. Makeup can be a symptom of beauty standards shoved onto girls at a very young age, but it doesn’t have to be.

Neither does their revealing outfits or the urban style in which the dolls are dressed. Some women wear revealing outfits. Some women dress like the Bratz dolls and do so because it makes them feel fulfilled and empowered. Makeup isn’t the problem and neither are the clothes.

So what’s the problem? The problem is a combination of factors which together deliver a message of female appearance and actions with no alternative presented. It shows there is one way to be a girl and it’s this way. It gives young children role models to think of as extensions of themselves and allows them to play only as one example of femininity. That example is already mirrored all over pop culture and gives children who want something different no other option.

It would be too easy if we could say that banning makeup or short dresses would solve the issue with Bratz dolls. But it goes much deeper into what the dolls represent and how the dolls present adult concepts such as sexualization, autonomy, and identity to their young audience. When young girls look at their dolls and see nothing but one shallow stereotype of feminine behavior with no variety or engagement, the message received is a dangerous one of upholding beauty standards, conforming to societal expectations for women, and never questioning either because the dolls have assured them that this one way of being a girl is called being true to yourself and that following the crowd is being an individual.

I regularly come down hard on the Bratz franchise for setting a poor example for their audiences. But the Bratz are not the Bratz solely because they are wearing makeup and outfits adult women would wear to go clubbing. Girls who want to dress like this and feel empowered while doing so deserve a space in society and a voice in feminism. The message of fake individualism, conformity, and subservience to beauty standards is what makes the Bratz so dangerous.

[Image: Makeunder of a Bratz Yasmin doll. Left shows Yasmin in full makeup. Right shows her with her face repainted to look as if she isn’t wearing any makeup.]

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Making under their dolls does little to combat this massive problem. Making their dolls over to be famous, accomplished women is a step in the right direction, but it’s just a step. We can’t blame makeup or clothing on this societal issue. The more we try to, the more we divert everyone’s attention from the real problem and continue to sexualize women and girls who dress like real-life Bratz.

Like all societal problems of this nature, there is no one simple solution and I’m certainly not going to even attempt to pose one. The Bratz dolls were created in order to make money and make money they did. In the end, the creators are not interested or even concerned about the huge social and psychological burden that has been placed on them when their consumers are so young and impressionable. Selling a sexualized, made up doll in a short skirt made people money the easiest way they knew how.

For any examples of how little the Bratz media team cares about the quality of the entertainment associated with the dolls, please feel free to view any of the thousands upon thousands of words I’ve already devoted to it. When girls are presented with role models, there should be room for all role models. Banning women who wear makeup and revealing clothes does not help anyone, because these women are women as well and deserve to be heard.

At the same time, presenting one type of woman to millions of young girls and not allowing them to see any other representations of what it means to be female in society is a deeply-ingrained issue that will take a lot more to fix than simply repainting a doll’s face. All women deserve to be present and respected, no matter if they wear makeup to make them look more conventionally attractive, or never wear anything on their faces and don’t care what society’s view of beauty is. When it comes to being a woman, there is no right or wrong way and it needs to be made clear to young girls that however they express or don’t express themselves is the right way to do it.

Slut Power

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[Image: A photo of Amber Rose at a red carpet event. She is wearing an outfit that has sexist and slut shaming words emblazoned on it. She is wearing sunglasses and smiling.]

CN: Discussion of rape/sexual assault, victim blaming, problematic views of female sexuality.

I recently stumbled across Verily Magazine through a accident of Facebook. The article which popped up in  my feed was announcing that Taylor Swift could not be both smart and sexual. It bemoaned her GQ cover as negating all of her intelligence, talent, and drive all by wearing a bikini and a cover up with her hair and makeup done. The article writer even decided to body shame Taylor and criticise her very existence as problematic for average women who don’t look like her. As if the issue is that Taylor Swift is slender.

But as I looked through this new-to-me website, I discovered this article, I Wish Slut Walks Didn’t Have To Further Sexualize Women To Make Their Point. Common themes between the two, which were written by different bloggers, were that if women are sexual, they are being exploited. That women being sexual was a bad thing because when a woman is sexual, she can’t be anything else at the same time. It positioned women as pawns in a man’s game of sex and if a woman was being sexual, it was because of and for these men. It gives no thought to the idea that women can be sexual and some women want to express this sexuality through various means. Not because someone is forcing them to, not because someone wants to control them or exploit them, but because they want to.

The SlutWalk article is crouched in feminist language and ideas and announces how much they agree with the SlutWalk’s message that no one deserves sexual assault for what they wear, before quickly contradicting that message at the end of the article.

So why do the groups of women marching on slut walks feel the need to dress hypersexually to promote the cause against mistreatment of women?

Because that’s the fucking point, you fool. The point is that no matter how someone is sexually dressed, no matter how much or little they’re wearing, no one deserves to be sexually assaulted. The point is that a woman wearing a short skirt is not responsible for her rape. These women are showing that their expression of sexuality is not consent to sexual acts with whomever sees them.

It’s as if to suggest that being fully clothed would be part of the problem—almost suggesting that one is victim-blaming for sexual assault.

It’s not as if to suggest that’s the problem. No one is refused participation in a SlutWalk because they’re wearing too much clothing. If they are suggested that organizers and people who have marched in SlutWalks are blaming fully-clothed victims for their rapes then… wow, I don’t even know what to tell you. That is simply so backwards I don’t have the time or the crayons to fully explain just how wrong it is.

On the contrary, I believe that it is possible to refuse to victim-blame and also to think that there are better and worse ways to dress oneself. It is possible to expect men to treat women with respect no matter what they are wearing and also to expect women (and men, for that matter) to dress respectfully. Those ideas are not mutually exclusive.

Nope. Nope. Noooooooope. That’s not how this works.

You don’t get to say that you’re not victim blaming then talk about how women need to “dress respectfully”. Because please, tell me what’s respectful. How high does my skirt get to be before it’s too disrespectful? How much cleavage can I show before I no longer deserve to be treated with respect? Where is this line in the sand that will keep me from being raped and how can I avoid it?

The article clueless ends with this:

I hope we can all agree that Rose and the people who joined her this weekend are absolutely right in saying that “my clothes are not my consent.” But that doesn’t mean that how we dress doesn’t matter.

Fuck you.

The entire point of the SlutWalk is to say that how women dress should make no determination in how they’re treated. The fact that the article goes out of its way to pretend to agree with it then circle back around and say in oh-so-delicate terms that, no wait, it does matter how women dress and women dressed in lingerie are less deserving of respect because they’ve hypersexualized themselves is absolutely disgusting.

This is what SlutWalks are fighting against. This is the problem. This is victim blaming for sexual assault in nicey-nice terms and carefully skirted words to sound reasonable. This is not okay.

A woman expressing her sexuality in any way she sees fit does not mean she deserves sexual assault. Any woman who chooses to be sexual is not automatically being exploited, used, or degraded. Clothing, no matter how respectful or disrespectful, does not make rape happen.

To Verily Magazine: Don’t promote yourself as something intended for and in support of women when this is the toxic message you’re sending. No one deserves to be raped. Not if they’re sexual, not if they’re promiscous, not if they’re not dressed respectfully enough for whatever made up standards you’re applying to women everywhere.

Thoughts on the Body

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[Image: a diagram of organs and anatomy.]

Note: On August 4, 2015 I underwent a breast reduction. Nine days after that I celebrated my 3 year anniversary of my gastric surgery. In the last 3 years I have lost over 100 pounds and had my breasts reduced from a G cup to around a D cup (I won’t know my actual size for several months). It’s been a wonderful, but strange time and I’m still shifting through my thoughts on the changes that have happened to my body. Here are just a few of them.

Being able to walk into a brick and mortar store and find clothing that fits you is a privilege. Sounds ridiculous? It is. But not for the reasons you’re thinking. When I started fitting into clothes in regular stores, I felt so happy and so validated. I was able to do something that I hadn’t before and it felt good. But the truth is that my validation is part of privilege. I am now the size of the average woman and, as a result, I can fit into more clothes.

After my breast reduction, I became acutely aware that I could now wear things that I had never been able to before because of the size and shape of my breasts. My previous breasts were severely asymmetrical and omega shaped. Camis, halter tops, bandeaus, and other forms of clothing didn’t fit my breasts. Now that my breasts are the standard (albeit on the larger side of said standard), I can wear all of the above and more. In fact, I’m wearing a halter dress right now and it looks amazing on me. But it looks amazing because I now have average-shaped breasts and I’m examining my appearance through society’s lens of socially-acceptable beauty standards.

In a sense I feel like my body journey has led me to a point where I’ve reached an incredible amount of privilege and I only realize this because I’ve never had this privilege before. And really, the way I got here, two surgeries, is privileged in and of itself. Not everyone is able to do what I did in order to achieve what I have and I recognize my body has undergone some extreme modifications.

At the same time, I didn’t do any of this to be more socially acceptable. Before I got my gastric surgery I was battling an eating disorder and losing the war. I was out of control and out of ideas and at that point, losing weight was secondary to regaining control of my life and my eating. I had lived with my asymmetric breasts with nipples that pointed towards the floor for years. I hated how they looked, and did consider maybe one day I would get surgery to make them symmetrical and change the shape. But it was just a thought.

What made me get the breast reduction was the sheer amount of daily pain I faced all because of my breasts. I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t be as active as I wanted, I couldn’t go a day at the tea shop without ending up in severe pain all night. I knew my over-sized breasts were the culprit and, sure enough, once I had the surgery, the pain stopped. But with the reduction came the lift and now my breasts are “standard” shaped and symmetrical.

Sometimes I feel guilty. Not just for my former self, who would probably want to slap me for posting endless selfies in backless dresses, but for all of those who don’t have this privilege. Everyone deserves to have clothes that fit them and feel comfortable and happy with what they’re wearing. But clothing manufacturers make clothes for one body type, again and again, leaving everyone who isn’t that one body type to sort through the leftovers to see what doesn’t look terrible on them.

I recently read a post written but a self-identified fat woman who could rarely, if ever, shop clearance. Larger sizes were never stocked well, so by the time garments hit the clearance rack, they were usually all gone. She pointed out how being able to find your size on clearance is a privilege. Days before I read the post I had raided Torrid and Khol’s for their deep discounts and had come away with plenty of new outfits.

Torrid was business as usual. They carry sizes 12 through 28 sizes and I love their style, so I had been buying from them since before my surgery. But Khol’s was different. That was a straight-sized store. I wasn’t even sure what size I was when I walked in. Between my new breasts and the fact that I had been wearing clothes several sizes too big for years now, I didn’t actually know what fit. I wear a large in Misses. I found so many clothes that all looked amazing on me and I bought it all without a second thought to just how privileged I was to be able to do this.

I’ve been hesitant to say this, even to myself, but sometimes a more conventionally attractive body is easier to love. When you’ve been told your entire life that women look one way and this is the one way, and then clothing fits that one body type, and then friends and family validate you for looking one way, and men find you more sexually attractive when you look one way, and all of the other things that happen when you look this one way, it’s easy to fall in love with your reflection. This makes me wonder just how much of it is what I love and what part of it is what beauty culture’s influence.

It would be naive of me to say that society holds no sway over how I view my body and myself. I live in society, I work there, I go to school there, I am a part of this society and whether I like it or not, it will have an influence over me. On the other hand, it would be completely unfair to myself to say that I only accept my body because it looks more conventionally attractive now. When I was 21 I used to be a size 10 (I’m a 14 now), had fewer stretch marks and no surgery scars. I was more attractive and more socially acceptable, but I was completely filled with self-hatred and unhappiness. I feel happy with myself now and it’s not because of what society told me.

When I used to try on clothes it just made me feel sad and annoyed. No matter how I dressed up or found clothing that flattered me, I didn’t feel pretty or satisfied with my appearance. I would hyper focus on my flaws and ignore all of my good points. I would compare myself unfavorably to models and pop singers. My thoughts told me that if I couldn’t look like Britney Spears, I couldn’t be attractive. The misery would compound on itself as my lack of confidence and determination to find fault in myself made me a less socially appealing person.

Today I’m wearing a blue halter dress with my Tardis blue shoes and nylons. I never would have been able to wear this size 14 dress before my gastric surgery or before my breast reduction. As I’m walking around in it, I started to feel self-conscious about my height. I’m 5’7 with my shoes off and with an extra three inches, I feel almost gangly. I also keep checking my breasts. Before, if I wore anything that was low cut I would have to constantly adjust it and reposition my breasts to keep them in position. Now my boobs are on point and they’re staying exactly where they’re supposed to be. Although my body is different, I’m still the same person and I still worry about my body maintaining its appearance. Although there are no easy answers, I do realize that there are questions and I will continue to ask them.

The “Men of OKC” Experiment that Never Happened

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[Image: The photo I’m referring to in the text, just with a large hazard sign over it.]

So I had an idea. I wondered what would happen if I posted a photo of myself in my underwear as a profile picture on OKC. I mean, men treat me like a sexual object when I’m fully clothed, and even in full colonial costume, so what would happen if I actually put something revealing and intimate on the site? I ran it by a few male friends to get their thoughts.

Noah thought it would be an interesting experiment, but warned me of the creepers to come. Which, naturally, I was expecting. I get creepers no matter what I put on my profile or how fully clothed I am in photos. Men on OKC don’t treat me like a human being when I have all of my clothes on, with them off, I’m sure they would drop any pretense that I am actually a people.

Then I asked Yogurt. He informed me that I would be called a whore and a tramp and someone would probably threaten to rape me before I took the picture down. Which, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened either. I had someone threaten to beat and rape me because I politely turned them down after they told me that they had lied on their profile.

But the question remains, why would I deserve to be treated like even less than a person as usual if I post a picture of myself in my underwear? Why is my body inherently sexual and my displaying of it deserving of insults and threats? The picture I was going to post was just me in my underwear. No sexual looks, no seductive poses, I was standing in front of a bathroom mirror in a bra and panties. And really, there are nude pictures that are non-sexual. The human body is not a sexual object and just because you can see more or less or it doesn’t make it more or less worthy of consideration.

I’m not so naive as to think that the rest of the world is aware of this, however. There’s no doubt in my mind that if I posted a picture of myself in my underwear on OkCupid that I would be flooded with sexual messages from men far and wide, all of them wanting sexual favors. But that was part of the point of the experiment. To show how the female body is treated. With disrespect. With degradation. With demands made of it. With the assumption that it is willing to accommodate anyone able to type out a sexual request.

And that fact is sad. It’s sad that the human body has been turned into a thing to be used and the display of the human body is now consent to sex. I wrote a piece for my Chrysler Museum book about a nude statue. I wrote about how the ancient Greeks figured out that nudity is not the same as sex, but modern society is somehow lagging behind on that revelation.

Regardless of how things should be, this is the way things are. I’m sure posting a photo of myself in my underwear would lead to a sharp increase in the flow of dehumanizing, rude, vulgar, and inappropriate messages. And I’m sure that the men that send them would feel completely justified in doing so. After all, my body was visible. Therefore, I wanted this attention. Therefore, it’s their right to treat me without respect or dignity. And that is a very, very sad statement.