Sunday, August 5, 2007

Empowerment Vs. Acquiescence (That Never Ending Debate)

Today I feel like discussing a topic that has been much on my mind lately. With summer nearly in full swing, clothing is getting skimpier and skimpier (mine included). Some of this is of course a product of necessity and some of it is just for fun. On Friday morning I wore my cute little shorts and a very revealing tube top to see my therapist. While I was walking around downtown (Milwaukee) I felt so good getting all sorts of attention. I cannot remember a time when I felt more physically confident. Anyway, this got me to thinking about why we wear what we wear. My tube top was certainly not inappropriate for the 80 degree weather, but it was perhaps more revealing than it had to be for my comfort. Still I felt amazing because I was getting (male) attention. Sometimes I feel the very opposite. Often when men look at me in that very sexualized, objectifying way it makes me want to lash out. It makes me wish that they could feel just how extremely uncomfortable I feel because I just do not believe that there is a male equivalent. So I feel very conflicted. While on the one hand I love the attention, on the other hand it is creepy and scares the hell out of me. This is just another of the many double binds that women must navigate on a daily basis.

So, why do I like male attention?

Because it is emotionally and economically beneficial. Stereotypically attractive (SA) women are much more likely to land jobs than non-stereotypically attractive women with the same qualifications.
SA women are more likely to land rich husbands or gain access to other money-making ventures. I work with a young women who is slightly over weight and a bit frumpy. All of the other waitresses I work with are tiny and thin and quite SA. Interestingly, the less SA young woman makes significantly less in tips even when she works the best sections. The point here being that being SA = a better, more financially stable life.

Why do I hate male attention?

Probably for all of the reasons above. And because I know that male attention can also be dangerous. Because "she was asking for it" is still used as justification for rape. Because short skirts and skimpy tube tops "cause" erections and erections are all powerful and almighty in the phallocentric society. The erection can and does have whatever it wants regardless of the personal integrity or bodily sovereignity of the actual person in the short skirt and skimpy tube top. This is a danger that I write about a lot because I feel it all the time! Mostly I fear wearing a short skirt or a reavealing top because that action has very serious consequences.

Why do I still wear the tube tops when I dislike the male gaze that they invite?

This is a question that my partner actually brought up and it is one that I feel very unable to reconcile. I love my tank tops, my cleavage revealing shirts, and my tube tops. I anxiously wait for summer just so I can have the opportunity to wear them. And I know that I am not the only one. Clothing is such an immediate and obvious indicator of the self. It is very personal and individual. In a society where we are inundated with choices, the clothing that we adorn ourselves with is very revealing of our personalities. Even when we do not think that much effort is put into a particular 'outfit' it is still a reflection of our selves. The point is that with so much effort placed upon clothing choice we must certainly want (at least in some ways) to be looked at. I think that this transcends gender, though, of course, women are much more aware of it and are more often targeted because of it. If we (specifically women) do want to be looked at, then why do we get so upset when men do look? I think that it is because the male gaze denies women agency relegating them to the status of objects. Objectification is demeaning and dehumanizing. And men do not experience this the way that women do.

I guess I have not really made any revelations or breakthroughs on this topic but it is one that has been on my mind. Perhaps others have pearls of wisdom to cast my way....

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