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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]

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