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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

9

You Are, Was, and Always Will Be Pussy Control

"i love you and want you to be happy" -princeHere's a good Times op-ed from last Friday about the contemporary battle over school dress codes, in which "girls, particularly those with ample hips or breasts, are almost exclusively singled out, typically told their outfits will 'distract boys.' As if young men cannot control themselves in the presence of a spaghetti strap." Peggy Orenstein writes:

Addressing leering or harassment will challenge young men’s assumptions. Imposing purdah on middle school girls does the opposite.

Yes! Oh no, here it comes.

Even so, while women are not responsible for male misbehavior, and while no amount of dress (or undress) will avert catcalls, cultural change can be glacial, and I have a child trying to wend her way safely through our city streets right now. [...] More than that, taking on the right to bare arms (and legs, and cleavage and midriffs) as a feminist rallying cry seems suspiciously Orwellian. 

Emphasis mine. I find nothing Orwellian about chasing and claiming the right to bare anything you want. I also find myself consistently irritated at any suspicion, leveled with any intentions, from any perspective, at what a woman wants to or doesn't want to wear. Who cares? Why care in any way that's not to celebrate? Who even has the energy?

Girlhood is too sexualized, cautions Orenstein; sure, yes, I've seen the baby shirts that say "Future Hooters Girl," I saw that press release last week suggesting I share with Hairpin readers that girls should start waxing their eyebrows at age 11 (??). But I never wore all the gross glitter-bin thongs I shoplifted in middle school anyway, and to automatically equate wearing tight or skimpy clothing with "embracing sexualization" or "stressing self-presentation over self-knowledge"—two phrases from this column—is to make the exact, violent theoretical mistake promulgated by men who'd say she was asking for it. It's a conflation of intent and potential consequence in a very particular arena where the two things have often been divorced for young women by others from the second they realized they had a gendered body at all. I'd suggest that most of these middle-school girls are not fighting for their right to embrace sexualization; they're fighting for their right to count it as optional, and all of the individual potentialities that will follow. 

Anyway, I quite like the solution that Orenstein's daughter's school reached. They're developing a curriculum about how sexualization affects both genders, and:

They are also revising the definition of “distracting” apparel. Clothing must allow students a full range of motion — sitting, bending, reaching, running — without requiring perpetual readjustment. It cannot, in other words, pose a “distraction”: to the wearer.

Isn't that great? That's my wish when I see girls at festivals and other Baby's First Thotwear occasions: if you're comfortable, carry on; if you're not, take off your heels and put on an XXL t-shirt and keep living your life to the fullest. But even when they don't—even when girls are obviously experiencing the too-small American Apparel struggle for the sake of being attractive to a patchy-faced boy in tube socks—even in the hypothetical where a woman embraces sexualization and self-presentation above literally everything else, then what of it? One of the lessons of living inside this gender is understanding that that shit is going to be thrust on you no matter what. In the end one must turn to Prince for the answers: "And the moral of this motherfucker is, ladies, make 'em act like they know. You are, was and always will be pussy control." [NYTimes]



9 Comments / Post A Comment

Mariajoseh

YES. THIS. THE END.

vittoriama

I am so happy that I found this.This is so amazing.@v

14719851@twitter

BOOM. You won the third wave. GENIUS.

ru_ri

Preach it, Jia!!!! This is so well put, and all bonus points for the Prince quote.

commanderbanana

I always thought it was weird that dress codes were framed in the context of "girls distracting boys" rather than "this is a quasi-professional environment, or at least a structured one, dress accordingly."

Or to quote my favorite character from my favorite movie, "Please cover your bosoms, Miss Shane. This is a learning institute, not a brothel!"

pamb

@commanderbanana Exactly.

lyzl@twitter

I just read that op-ed and I was all, "Interesting and thoughtful. Okay." But then, I read this and I was all, "OOOHH RIGHT!" So, what I'm saying is Prince always makes things so much clearer. Love this.

pamb

You know, I have a 13 year old daughter. Her middle school doesn't allow spagetti strap tank tops, and shorts must be fingertip length. I'm fine with that. If she's wearing leggings, her shirt must cover her butt (my rules, not the school's). IMO, it's not so much that she's distracting the boys (she's small and underweight for her age) as learning that there's a time and place for certain clothing. Bike shorts are for the weekends, not school. If we're going to the theater, she's not wearing ripped jeans. If you're never told how to dress appropriately, how will you learn? And then you get the office intern in club wear because no one ever said "you can't wear that here". And yes, my son has clothing rules too.

mockingbird

I helped start a group that fought against our local school board's dress code. This was the 80s, in the south, so we didn't even know to get into gender issues or sexualization problems or any of the much smarter arguments girls are now making. We were just mad they changed the acceptable skirt length from mid-thigh to knee weeks before school started, when we'd done most of our back to school shopping. And that none of us, boys or girls, were allowed to wear shorts in high school. In southern Louisiana. We lost. We made USA Today because girls were allowed to wear culottes so a boy wore his mom's to school and got sent home as fast as you'd imagine, and the story got picked up. They didn't cover all the times girls like me had to sit and wait in the office for a parent to bring us "acceptable" clothes when our skirt was half an inch too short, when the same skirt had been fine at the other school we'd attended that year. That was sophomore year, they finally allowed shorts when we were seniors, but still, to the knee. The fact I refuse to wear skirts that hit my knee to this day makes me err on the side of letting kids figure out what is appropriate attire by screwing it up a few times. They're going to have to conform to corporate dress codes soon enough, give them time to figure out who they are and what their personal style is first. And learning how to pick things up off the floor in a possibly too short skirt without flashing anyone is an important skill to acquire, good to get it down before you have to do it in front of coworkers. (Bend down at the knees, not over at the waist).

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