To my daughters: you’re both beautiful and please don’t let the world convince you otherwise.
There’s something you need to know.
Every square inch of you is perfect to me and to your mother. You are made of the same material that makes up the glowing night sky. That is truly special.
Here’s the kicker, sweetheart: we have all been raised to shame you for being born female. From what you wear to how you sit, your sex life to what you eat, how many children you have, if you even have children; our society judges it all.
Every person is compared to others in one way or another, but our multifaceted scrutiny of women goes much deeper than that. This is a global and concerted effort of oppression that regularly violates the basic human rights of every mother, daughter, and sister on this planet.
It’s an epidemic, and it starts early
A few weeks ago, I read an article about a teenager being suspended from school because her shirt-dress wasn’t an acceptable length in which to cover enough of her legs (she was wearing tights or yoga pants). Statements from the administration essentially called females wearing tight clothing, specifically tight pants, provocative. Seriously?
Did they even know the definition of provocative? Just in case, here it is -
causing annoyance, anger, or another strong reaction, especially deliberately.
I may not be a doctor or a physicist (I’m an engineer) but I do fancy myself at least partially coherent. Let’s examine this further. First, let’s look at the basics of the administration’s statements in their words:
A girl wearing tight pants is provocative.
Okay, that’s a word we all know and that statement probably doesn’t raise flags for most people. Let’s fill in provocative with its definition:
A girl wearing tight pants is deliberately causing a strong reaction.
Now that one seems a little icky. In fact, it sounds awfully close to:
A girl wearing tight pants is asking for it.
The truth is, that’s exactly what they were saying and it’s exactly the sort of subtle oppression peddled by a society and legal system very much descended from morality mostly based on archaic religious beliefs and centuries of misogynistic patriarchs. Honestly, it’s a damn miracle women can even vote.
After all, the Bill of Rights still reads “all men are created equal” because you know the “creator” and rich, white men owning land and all. I digress.
Body shame is the name of the game
Technology is great. It has given us tools and reach we had previously only dreamed of. As our smart phones become more powerful, our hard drives balloon, and our network speeds multiply, we like to believe that our societal values keep pace. However, even our most evolved and philanthropic success stories don’t go far enough. At times our white knights even contribute to the oppression by censoring what we’re allowed to share in “our” own space (here’s looking at you Instagram and Facebook) while advertisers print money on the backs of overly sexualized girls because “sex sells” and “if the people didn’t like it, they wouldn’t keep buying it”.
In the United States especially, we see ourselves as a beacon on the hill, a glowing symbol of democracy and equality for all.
But David, women can vote. They can drive cars without a man. Women can even own property! Right.
It’s true, women in America enjoy many freedoms and rights not afforded to them globally. However, the absence of obvious wrong does not imply the presence of obvious right. We may not be physically assaulting women, at least not publicly, but women regularly endure emotional abuse and outright oppression through blatant double standards.
For example, advocates recently attempted to overturn the public statutes in Fort Collins, Colorado. They sought equality in allowing women the same right afforded men: to take their shirt off in public. That’s right, in 2015 it is still illegal for a woman to show her nipple in the public domain. Man nipples, hilarious. Woman nipples, pure poison.
Reasoning for the Fort Collins City Council continuing to support female oppression included:
- “allowing women to go topless would damage the community and its reputation”
- “permitting exposed breasts would decrease respect toward women and potentially put them in danger” aka they’d be asking for it
- according to disgusting councilman Ray Martinez, allowing women to go topless would turn “Fort Collins turned into a strip club” (because a topless woman is obviously a stripper)
Probably the most inherently prejudice statement -
“men and women are equal in the eyes of the law, but they and their chests are inherently different and should be treated accordingly.”
Not only does that statement imply that a woman is only as much of a woman as her body permits (emotional abuse), but replace women with coloreds and chests with skin colors and tell me that statement has never been shouted emphatically by a bigot in a white sheet. I’ll wait.
Bathing suit blues
Let’s play a game. The game is called Double Standard Bathing Suit (I’m terrible at names). We need two photos to play.
Here’s the first photo, a shirtless Kliff Kingsbury posing between two bikini clad women. After being posted to Twitter, the photo made the rounds, bouncing between sports, gossip, and general news sites.
For all intents and purposes, Coach Kingsbury is a teacher. He is a leader of young people, trusted by parents and other adults to act in the best interest of those young people.
No one with any authority has called for his resignation or demanded an apology. In fact, this photo was met with headlines like Ladies, Here’s Kliff Kingsbury Shirtless, Dreamy College Football Coach Kliff Kingsbury Has Killer …, and Kliff Kingsbury Shirtless Serves Six Pack Of Abs To Twitter.
The bottom line: a man poses in his bathing suit and is declared dreamy while obviously doing women a favor by taking his shirt off.
Next, we have a photo of 37 year-old, divorced, single mother Mindi Jensen in her bathing suit. Like Coach Kingsbury, Ms. Jensen posted this photo to social media. Yet, her post has primarily featured on more general news sites like Yahoo News.
Also like Coach Kingsbury, Ms. Jensen is a leader and influencer of young people as a teacher at North Sanpete Middle School in Moroni, Utah. Apparently, the people Ms. Jensen answers to aren’t fans of body building (as she was posing for her competition work) nor do they appreciate swimsuit season as much as Coach Kingsbury’s bosses.
According to Yahoo, officials at the school “gave her the choice of making her posts private, taking them down, or being fired” after declaring her photo(s) “immodest.”
The bottom line: a woman poses in her bathing suit and is declared immodest and is obviously a threat to the well being of children.
Just to put that into context: a man in a bathing suit is a dreamy gift to women; a woman in a bathing suit is immodest and a threat to children.
That. Is. Insane.
Susan B. Anthony once said, “Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputations can never effect a reform.”
That’s the crux of it. In order to protect our daughters, respect our wives, love our sisters, and honor our mothers, we must put them above ourselves. We must care more about their emotional wellbeing than how others see us. It’s going to be uncomfortable and it will be difficult.
But people will follow and the game will change.
For every young man we bring up in a landscape of respect, an old, fickle man will fade away. Eventually, oppression will turn to celebration and all of us will be better for it.
It sounds scary, doesn’t it sweetheart? Don’t worry, change is the only constant. Remember…
Speak when they demand your silence.
Stand when they call on you to sit.
Be free while they struggle to bind you.