eternalsojourn: Legs (Legs)
[personal profile] eternalsojourn
I was on facebook first thing in the morning and stumbled across a post by my sister linking to a story about Muhammed Ali and his daughters.

Muhammed Ali Slut Shaming Advice

This is my sister posting this, thinking about how to discuss the issue with my nieces. While sometimes I might let this kind of thing go as it gets exhausting constantly calling everything into question on Facebook, I really felt a responsibility to say something for the sake of my nieces, and for my sister's sake. Because I know she grew up with the same ideals I did, and has internalized the same sexual and body shame I have. So here was my response:

No, I'm compelled to say something, because this is the sort of thing that sounds like wisdom but hides something darker underneath. And it's the attitude we all grew up with, and I think it needs challenging.

Women aren't diamonds or pearls or gold. We're people with minds and the power of choice. We are not our bodies; there's so much more to us than that. "Your body is sacred. You're far more precious..." So wait. I'm my body? That's all I am? A gem or an object to be literally uncovered if some prince of a man comes along and decides to treat me like a Tiffany bracelet instead of costume jewellery? How about someone who treats me like a human with a voice and a brain? A peer not a prize?

I have an idea for an alternative way of viewing "revealing" clothes". How about we teach our girls that clothes are THEIR choice? Whatever image they wish to project to the world, that's their choice. It can be strategy, it can be honed, it can be fun. Whatever else came out of The Hunger Games, I'm glad that Suzanne Collins chose to make fashion a political strategy, because it so often is. It's a tool people (see how I include women in the "people" category?) can use to set the tone for how people deal with them. It is not the sum total of who they are, nor should it be mistaken for that.

Underneath all of this well-meaning story of Muhammed Ali's advice is the notion that women are valued for their bodies and are the gatekeepers of sexual desire. An extension of that is the belief that men are mindless animals who evaluate women based on their clothes, and determine a woman's sexual availability and overall value by what they wear instead of just ASKING them about it. I don't know about you, but that whole notion is scary to me.

Let's teach our kids (boys and girls and all the shades of gendery grey around that false binary) some better messages. Maybe their generation can grow up without teaching women sexual shame in every aspect of what they do.

So that's it. I just wanted to capture this somewhere where it won't just disappear under a bunch of other mundane crap as it will on Facebook. If you have any input, I'd welcome an open discussion here.

Date: 2013-01-06 06:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I really love that response. It's exactly how I feel about it. It's hard, sometimes, as parents to find the line between boundaries and oppression. I want my daughter to express herself, but I also want to make sure she's dressing age-appropriate and whatnot. Especially when she gets to that pre-teen and early teen age when most girls want to be older than they are. It's hard to find the balance, but I don't want her growing up feeling ashamed of her body or sexuality.

I'm curious to see how your sister replies.

Date: 2013-01-06 06:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Me too. She's a thoughtful, intelligent person, but I don't think it ever occurred to her to question what was underneath the post. She saw that women should be valued, and agreed, which she can hardly be blamed for. Most of us do this.

I know how you feel. I'm starting to think more and more about how I want to frame things to my own daughter as she grows up. I don't want her vulnerable to the kind of advantage-takers I was, but like you say, I don't want to shame her either. It's tricky, which is why I included the paragraph about an alternative view. It'll take some honing, I think, but there are other, more powerful ways to approach the situation.

Date: 2013-01-06 06:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It's easier in the beginning because you're the one buying their clothes and they don't really have a say in it. One thing that really works with L is to give her choices (and not just choices for clothing). I give her 3-5 choices of clothes and let her pick her outfit. That way she doesn't feel like I'm FORCING her into one thing or the other. She's starting to get old enough to hint at the things she likes and I know that'll change it, but hopefully I'll figure out how to do that when the time comes. We all just sort of learn as we go, really.

I'll probably have to combat the well-intentioned things that will likely come from my MIL and SIL. They're lovely women, but there's a lot of the typical judgement re: body image and slut shaming. Could be an Irish Catholic thing, but it's more likely just a product of their environment and how they themselves were raised.

Date: 2013-01-06 06:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
brilliant response ::nods::

Date: 2013-01-06 07:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well said.

Date: 2013-01-06 07:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Underneath all of this well-meaning story of Muhammed Ali's advice is the notion that women are valued for their bodies and are the gatekeepers of sexual desire. An extension of that is the belief that men are mindless animals..."

That entire paragraph is GOLD. You said it so much better than I could. <3 <3 <3

Date: 2013-01-06 08:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Definitely agree.

(Though I suppose it was at least a nicer way of saying it then my sister's grandfather had, which was just telling her she looked like a slut.)

Date: 2013-01-06 09:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
As ever you are eloquent and classy.

A peer not a prize

I loved this line especially, because that's what it boils down to. Is half the population capable of thought and feeling and decisions of their own? Or are they just hanging around waiting to be acted upon, with no personal agency?

Really love the way you framed it all, too. It seems nowadays it's in vogue to scream at people who are unknowingly perpetuating harmful stereotypes, which has always seemed backwards to me. "A teaspoon of sugar makes the medicine go down," as Merry Poppins says, and I think it's true. Even if your sister doesn't agree now, your nonconfrontational, questioning comment surely will make her think a little bit more deeply about the issue. And if nothing else, at least your niece will have you.

Date: 2013-01-11 05:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! It helps that this was posted by my sister, who is ever-capable of civilized discourse so I knew she wasn't going to dig her heels in as a knee-jerk reaction. It's easier in those cases to approach as though the question is still open.

And yes, what bothers me so much about the whole original idea is although it sounds like it genuinely values women, it gives them no voice. Why do I need to wait for someone to come along and 'discover' what a valuable gem I am? The more I think about it, the more irritated I get. And the more I think about it, the more I see things that assume this. "You should be with a guy who messes up your lipstick, not your mascara" was the most recent post I saw. Yeah, sure, affection/passion is better than misery. DUH. It still assumes the woman is the object to be acted upon. BAH. *punches things*

Date: 2013-01-06 10:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
God, that is such a great eloquent response, it's something that makes me all HULK SMASH. I'm mem'ing this for future reference.

Date: 2013-01-06 10:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That was an great response. It hit all the key notes that you can still value the way someone dresses without the idea of women being an object or a prize for sex. As awesome as it is to teach girls that they can make their choices and their value isn't their virginity, or their body, they're still going to grow up in a world where that idea is true. I hope she can teach them how to make strong decisions, because people around them are going to be idiots.

Date: 2013-01-11 05:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes! (Sorry for the delay; my hands are a mess these days so I type when I can and rest in between.)

I was hesitant to swing in the other direction and say a woman should dress however and fuck the world's reaction. That's not practical, either, and I think the important thing is to teach people who to make conscious decisions that work for them. Me, I know that when I wear a shirt that reveals a lot of my cleavage, I'm taken less seriously. It's not fair, but I know that and can decide when I'm prepared to deal with that side effect. It doesn't stop me from dressing how I like, but I can consciously choose when and where I do that.

Anyway, thanks for your input. I know you're someone who's particularly savvy in this area, and I'd like to think that my own daughter will grow up seeing people like you and realizing it's all in her power to shape her own image. ♥

Date: 2013-01-07 12:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Excellent response xx

Date: 2013-01-07 03:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

I think that most men tend to think that women are objects and that women accept that and lean into that suggested idea. I feel fortunate that I don't feel the need to succumb to it although unfortunately objectification is very present in everything we do.

Date: 2013-01-11 05:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I don't think that's really true. I know a lot of men who treat women like people and value them for other things than their bodies. However, even among those, and among most women I know, there's a tendency to confuse image with inherent value. I think by reframing our attitude towards image (clothes, makeup, general packaging) to seeing it more as a tool that can be used however we like, that empowers everyone and puts us in a better position to separate the notions of image and human value.


eternalsojourn: Legs (Default)

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