Wednesday, June 18, 2014

On clothing and respect

Dear Mom who's biting her tongue,

This open letter to you is simply a response to the appalling blog post that you published on your web site a few hours back. Yes, the blog post where you so kindly expressed your disgust over the fact that a teenage girl chose to wore short shorts to Starbucks.

First off, I a̶m̶ was a huge fan of yours. I find you incredibly fun and wonderfully real. Which is why writing this is tougher than I thought it would be. In your latest post quite admirably titled "Dear teenage girl who’s wearing hooker shorts", you say quite a few things. And some things that are uncalled for. And some things that are outright WRONG. Yes, wrong. Because you, like millions of people in this world chose to slut shame a young girl, a teenager, for her choice of clothing.

Imagine my absolute shock when I read this bit of your post - "Yup, somewhere in Utah there’s a boy who’s mentally undressing a girl who’s wearing a floor-length flannel dress with an ugly braid in her hair. All you’re doing by wearing less clothing is making teenage boys work less and training them to be lazy."

Are you serious?

Teenage girls choosing to wear what they want makes boys work less? Is that the best defense you have? Do you think the ONLY reason teenage girls wear shorts is to earn attention from boys? Do you remember being a teenager? Did you forget all those times you wore shorts because damn, it was a hot day? Because it was comfortable? Do you remember wearing tank tops? Do you think every time women wear something, it has to be for a guy? Did you forget she could choose to dress simply for herself?

And you say dressing in shorts makes boys lazy. And he isn't going to work for it. Enlighten me, what is your point here? That a boy is going to respect you more if your legs are covered up? That girls who show more skin are less worthy of respect purely based on their clothing? Is that the actual message you want to send out to girls (and their mothers) everywhere? And I'm curious, do boys actually respect you more if you're covered from head-to-toe? If how it holds is that the amount of clothing is equivalent to respect, I think we all missed the bus on that one.

It may have also escaped your notice, but girls don't exist to be an object of male attention. You can't jump in and say that the only reason a girl wore a particular outfit was to attract a boy's interest. You're a woman, haven't you dressed several times only for your sake and comfort and not for someone else's? And this was at Starbucks, a coffee shop. She has every right to be comfortable in her outfit. Why police it?

Even if the girl chooses to be sexually promiscuous or show off her legs to get attention from boys, it's none of your business. We shouldn't be shaming girls for the choices they make. I thought women were uniting worldwide in getting people to stop slut shaming, not blame clothing for rape, etc., but you seem to be doing a fine job yourself in choosing to be judgmental over a pair of shorts.

Wearing short shorts does not mean someone is a hooker, and she definitely didn't deserve that name from you. What can you tell when you see someone wearing shorts (man or woman)? That it's hot and they felt like wearing it. Literally, that's it. I didn't think glancing at a teenage girl's clothing was sufficient enough to cast aspersions on her morality.

WHY are you sexualizing women's bodies so much? The media does it enough for us. Some stupid politicians do it for us. Weird rapping music stars do it for us. You're a woman so many look up to and respect in the social media scene and yet, you chose to shame a girl for her choices.

To top it off, this is the description you used to post it on Facebook:

Source: Official Facebook page of Baby Sideburns

Skanky slutbag. Wow. I'm younger than you and have probably never heard that phrase in my life but kudos to you for calling a teenage girl that on your Facebook page with nearly 200K followers.

What a girl chooses to wear is her business. Not yours, not mine. But hers alone. If her clothing bothered you so much, you should have just looked away. But you decided to write a blog post about how judgmental you are on a teenager's clothing.

The world isn't safe for girls, I agree. But what you're effectively communicating with this blog post is that a woman who wears less clothes isn't worthy of respect, isn't worthy of a man, and this might loosely translate into "Rape is caused when women dress provocatively". Not for you, not for me, but for someone else, it might.

The message shouldn't be "Cover yourself up". The message should be "Respect everyone equally". The more you propagate the former message, the more you let your kids and people around you believe that women's clothing is linked to morality, to promiscuity, to rapes and ultimately make them believe that women bring this upon themselves because of the clothes they wear.

You're witty, you're smart, you're beautiful. But don't choose to shame anyone for their choices in clothing (or anything for that matter). I can't remember the last time a teenage boy was shamed for wearing his pants too low but the comments on your FB thread clearly show how many people condemn a teenage girl for wearing shorts.

Shaming someone for their choices is never alright. Always, always remember that. And, while you're at that, maybe you could stand up for more women. We could do with some more solidarity.

A 25-year-old who loves to wear shorts and will wear them as long as she has legs.


KARAG said...

I think her followers are down around 186 last I checked ;)

Thanks, this is wonderfully written.

Agratha Dinakaran said...

Thanks, Kara! I haven't blogged in a while but reading that post upset me. We need more women to stand up for each other than shaming each other.

Meri said...

I found this in the comments on that post and I want to say thank you for taking the time to write this. It needed to be said.

Agratha Dinakaran said...

Thank you for taking time to read this, Merideth! I do appreciate it.

Saroja said...

Hi, Agratha. I'm an Indian living abroad, and stumbled across your post in the comments to Baby Sideburns' FB page. Honestly, I could see the same response coming from me as well, albeit with a few changes, since (I hate to sound like a cliche here), my thoughts on this subject are complicated by my being a parent. While I'm not justifying or downplaying her name-calling, you have to remember that she does use quite a bit of sarcasm, and inherently runs her blog to counter more PC stuff, esp. with regards to parenting. What this post does call attention to is the stress that parents face (yes, esp. in the West) as they navigate the rather steep divide between bringing their daughters up without the fear that they will be violated based on what they wear, and the day-to-day reality that they do see-- the hypersexualization of young (even preteen) girls. I think the emphasis of the post, all the faffing and fluff aside, was to encourage younger girls (not fully formed adult women) to make their choices in a fully informed manner. I'm not sure what the implications of this are, but as a parent, until my kid is 18 (the legal age for informed consent/ being an "adult" with respect to sex) I will exercise my responsibility to make sure that my child/teen who may not fully understand their own sexuality lives by my code. And if that makes a parent a prude, I guess we'll just have to live with it! On the other hand, if my grown adult daughter (Miley Cyrus anyone?) chooses to flaunt her sexuality, that's her business, and hopefully, I've taught her that she has the right to dress how she wants regardless of how men may perceive it.

Agratha Dinakaran said...

Hi Saroja, thanks for your comment.
I completely get where you're coming from, and understand the rationale behind it.
I know Karen uses lots of sarcasm in her posts, but even here, the name calling she has resorted to is unreasonable, particularly for a teenage girl. And even her line of thought on how she should make boys work for it is a big problem, that also contributes to the shaming.
She writes about this on a public blog, criticizing a teenage girl's choices on clothing. I don't think it's our business. Would Karen really be okay with someone writing a blog on Zoey's (her daughter) clothing choices?
We're not here to judge, and definitely not to name call. And this was at a coffee shop. I think shorts are the norm, sans judgment.

Monster Kids said...

I love it! T hank you for this. I wrote a response yesterday as well.

Saroja said...

Hi, Agratha. Thanks for the response. I do think that while it's not her or anyone's business to judge an adult's choice of clothing, I do think that if a child is dressed in a hyper-sexual way (and I'm not talking of boys wearing polish, or a child choosing to wear non-gender-identifying clothes, I'm talking of blatantly sexualizing clothes), she has every right, as a parent to judge. Heck, I do think the right to judge is protected by the constitution. If this were, say, a visibly younger child like a six-year old, a fellow-parent could report the child's parent too. (Not that I'm all for helicopter parenting, but abuse is hard to detect in such desensitized social setting). How this "judgment" is conveyed, and if that is conveyed at all, to the affected party becomes more important. Yep, it was passive aggressive to not address the teen herself and to vent on her blog, but she's in the blogging business for eyeballs. But on the flip-side, even if the teen had been there with a parent, she would still not have approached the parent and given her two cents, since, of course, that would be crossing the line in a very patent manner. How she expressed it was definitely not tasteful. However, she neither identified the teen, nor would she, I presume, mind, if someone were to write about her daughter's clothing choices anonymously, without of course, naming her or providing any details. I do think that she's pretty forgiving when it comes to other parents' judgement of her, as acknowledged by her posts on her children's general rowdiness (for lack of a better word).

Basically, my point is that saying something/ having an opinion (even a badly worded one) isn't necessarily always a negative thing, esp. in the context of those who are not in a position to ward off sexual harassment or abuse. (I recently read a piece, the link to which I will post if I can find it, by a woman who saw a grown man approach a teen girl on a train in CA, and intervened and stopped his approaches, thereby doing what most people don't do if teens are being harassed or sexually approached in any manner, regardless of what they are wearing, etc). After having a child, I also feel a similar, greater responsibility in a hands-off social setting to do what I can to protect other children and young non-legal-adults from predatory behavior. If that means one appears judgmental, so be it. Btw, shorts displaying one's butt cheeks are not the not the norm. Not yet, and not, especially, for teens, even in this country.

Agratha Dinakaran said...

Thanks for the response, Saroja.
In principle, I agree with most of what you've said, but I do have a problem with certain things that Karen has written about in her blog. Addressing a teenage girl as "hooker" and "skanky slutbag" is downright unacceptable. Yes, I expect people to judge, but I would prefer if they keep those judgments to themselves. Not just that, she proceeded to tell the young girl that she is making boys "lazy". This was a point I raised in my blog as well, are girls who wear more skin revealing outfits less deserving of respect? If not, she certainly is making it out to be so.
And yes, not everyone has to submit to the norm. I'm sure spaghetti tops weren't the norm 30 years back in India. Should writing about it along with calling girls who were wearing them as sluts and hos be a wise decision? Telling them that they're making boys lazy is a smart idea? I think not.

Other than that, I believe in "live and let live". What someone else chooses to do with their life is none of my business. Show skin, be covered up, have pink hair, have no hair; none of my business. While it's practically impossible to even have an iota of judgment to sneak in, I also find it disturbingly immature and wrong to write a public post that assassinates the character of a girl solely for her choice in clothing.

Agratha Dinakaran said...

Monster Kids - Thank you! I read your post too. Very well-written. :)

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