I'm not sure if it's my age or what has happened but I've been experiencing an uncomfortable world view shift lately. Uncomfortable because it's not in line with what I've believed for most of my life. And uncomfortable because I'm not in a place yet where I am sure what I believe or think on this subject anymore. So I will contradict myself on a daily basis in my own head. It's confusing enough up there without adding this to the mix. So what that means to you is a bumpy read today. Ready?
I was watching the Rose Parade a few weeks ago and was struck by something I've seen hundreds and hundreds of times and never thought much about. The high school bands were marching by in their dorky outfits with the tall hats and the uncomfortable looking jackets and then the flag corps girls would go by in their spandex and bra tops, if they were wearing that much, or basically the same as a bathing suit and boots. The float for the teams playing in the game went by with the cheerleaders, the guys in their pants and short sleeve shirts and the girls in their bra tops and mini skirts, I guess you can call it a mini skirt though if you have to wear bloomers does it keep counting as a skirt. And I thought, this is normal? Why is this normal? Why do we not even bat an eye at the fact that we dress our young girls in very little clothing and parade them (literally in this case) down the street?
Some of those high school girls could have been as young as 13 or 14. Dressed in next to nothing. And how proud their parents were to see them in the parade! Call the grandparents and all the friends! Same as the kids in the band, but they were fully clothed. Because, you know, there are boys in the band so we don't automatically undress them and make them wear next to nothing to hold our attention.
How do we expect to raise women who don't think a large part of their self worth is tied in to their sexuality when we are constantly proving otherwise? I mean constantly. That's the message we are hitting them with. And not just performers. Like our rock stars who have decided that the way to get attention is by adopting stripper culture in to their acts. Not just movie stars who are always a little more glamorous than the rest of us. When the "frump" really means puts on glasses and overalls, maybe puts their hair up in a messy ponytail.
And this is where it's tricky for me. I've always been of the mind that it's your choice to do what you want with your own body. I have a little more va va to my voom and I dress to accentuate it. If I don't I look a bit ridiculous. Like a child playing dress up in adult clothes, baggy stuff looks bad. But there are times when it's appropriate to show a lot of cleavage and times when it's not. And there are things I can't wear because I don't look cute in them, I look trashy, and when I am dressed in my tight jeans and form fitting shirt and my boots do I get to throw you shade because you just looked at me "like that?" And what message am I sending out to the girls I cross paths with every day? That even at 45 you better make sure you are still working it, because it's important?
And was it, is it really my choice?
And that's where I am struggling right now. It's your choice if you want to grow up to be a stripper. Or a beauty queen. Or just someone who always wears makeup and sexy clothes. Isn't it? Maybe not.
If I tell you that you can have any flavor of ice cream that you want but you only know that there is chocolate or vanilla in the world was it really your choice not to order rocky road? Sure, I said you could have what you wanted, I didn't tell you that it had to be chocolate or vanilla but if that's all you've ever seen?
As an adult I can explore the world through any number of venues and see all of the choices out there. All of the ways things can be different. But as a child? Your world view is pretty limited. Maybe not as much now with the internet, but most kids don't (and shouldn't) have free access to web surfing. And pictures aren't really the same as understanding differences. So I can look now and wonder why we think it's okay to parade our girls around in very little clothing and view it as wholesome family entertainment, but if an 8 year old girl sees it what is she seeing? Sparkles. And a parade. And fun.
So then you say, "Well it's your problem then, not ours." That's a common one you hear from the parents who have their 4 year olds in beauty contests. "If you see a sexualized person up here in the make-up, wig, teeth veneers, tight dress, shaking her booty to a song she shouldn't probably even be listening to, then that's on you!" Hmm...no, I don't think so. I think it's on you. And on all of us that think this is normal. Or maybe just a shade past normal.
I grew up in a church that made me responsible for not only my own sexuality but also the boys around me. We were taught that we should dress modestly and act modestly so as not to "make" them have impure thoughts or actions. It was on us. Because well you know boys, they just can't help it. I thought it was bullshit. I still do. But even though at 15 I thought it was bullshit already it was ingrained in me enough that I didn't say anything when someone tried to rape me. So I wonder what sort of disservice we are doing to women from a really young age with the constant message that we are our looks? Even though I know I'm smart and funny and fabulous in a hundred different ways I still have a hard time leaving the house without makeup.
Brent and C will both tell me I don't need it. And they believe it. Because they are more liberated than I am. Brent was raised by a really strong woman as a role model and I like to believe so was C. But my mother in law and I both polish up and fancy out. "But do I look good" has been my rally cry for any number of situations. I can't bowl worth beans but do I look good when I'm doing it? Then fine. I can't shoot a basket, but do I look good on the court? It's heavily ingrained.
So much so that people don't notice all of the ways it is normal. Talk to a large majority of men around you and they will say that inequality isn't an issue. Because they treat women as equals. And they don't even realize that they don't. When they are at the hockey game watching their team play and the Ice Girls come out to clear the ice on dead puck plays. You are sitting there with your son and your daughter and he is seeing professional hockey players in full gear who are getting cheered for their athletics and she is seeing women in tiny little outfits cleaning up after them...
So then we are back to nobody forced those women to take those jobs. But she's been told since she was born that this is something to aspire to. That she should WANT to be an Ice Girl. Because, well, pretty.
Now there are going to be people who try to point out the ways that we send bad messages to our boys as well, and yes, there is that, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking completely and totally about the constant barrage of "be pretty" "wear little" "act sexy" messages we send to our girls. You know why Magic Mike got so much buzz? Because the guys were stripping. Name another movie where that happens? Oh you've got one? Let me guess The Full Monty. Now do another...oh are you stumped? But women stripping? The movie doesn't even have to be about strippers. Hell, the you can see it on prime-time TV show doesn't. You need to find the bad guy? Where else would you look besides a strip club? And this is so normal you don't even notice anymore. That's why it's a big deal when a movie that strictly treats men as sex objects comes out. Because that's not normal. But to shock you with a woman? Man, I'm not even sure anymore what that would take...
No I have no answers. And I'm not even sure if I've settled on exactly what the problem is. But I'm starting to notice more. And I'm not really comfortable with what I'm seeing.