I was on 'vacation' from Chicago sitting in the living room in my parent’s Green Bay home when my father said “You would think that a feminist would wear a shirt that covered her cleavage. You should wear t-shirts and sweatshirts not tank tops like that.” I could not believe my ears, my father is usually fairly liberal guy and I have never heard him criticize me like this before. This elicited quite a debate between both of my parents and I.
My parents seem to believe that when women dress a certain way they make themselves targets for abuse. This is classic victim blame. As if changing the way that women dress would change the entire institution that allows for their systematic abuse to begin with. I have argued, time and again, that all of the pepper spray and self-defense classes in the world are not going to ‘protect’ women. Women will not be safe in this world until we are considered autonomous human beings with full bodily sovereignty as men are.
I am a feminist. I also like to wear low cut shirts, high heels (occasionally), mascara and skirts. I do, of course, understand that these are tools of the patriarchy. I know that painful shoes force women to walk slower and limit their movement. I know that cosmetics are a huge industry that survives by making women feel ugly unless they are made up. I know that low cut shirts might catch male attention and cause some people to take me less seriously. I also know that men are not restricted in these same ways. These are all reasons that some feminists do choose not to adorn themselves that way. But is that really the answer?
This is one of the many gross double standards that plague women every day. Are my parents right, should I not wear revealing clothing because it puts me at risk? Or should I not allow the terror tactics of the proverbial man to keep me down? It seems to me that most women are not consciously aware of the subtle ways that they alter their lives to protect themselves from male violence. Yet we still live by a strictly prescribed ‘rape schedule.’ As much as I fought my parents on this issue, I know that when I am at home in Chicago I will not wear my mini-skirt out at night. I know that I will not wear low cut tops when I have to walk alone. I know that I will carry my pepper spray in one hand and my cell phone in the other every time I hop on the L after dark.
Whether we like it or not, fear of male violence infiltrates almost every aspect of women’s lives. Even seasoned feminists have to maintain a delicate balance between fighting the patriarchy and protecting ourselves from it. Until the day that women are considered to be autonomous human beings capable of giving and denying consent, until we live in a world that is free of male sexualized violence against women, until women are no longer the sex class, we will never be able to wear our mini-skirts and cleavage bearing tops without even a shred of fear.
I wonder how other women deal with this double bind....