Two summers ago, Slate contributor Katharine Goldstein made a wave in the blogosphere by offering unasked for ‘matronizing’ advice to the young women who flood Washington D.C. each summer, and I gather, in particular, the Slate.com offices. I was, as was the blogger I link to above, appalled at the casual sexism on display in what was likely a tossed-off piece, making entertainment from women’s bodies, by one of us. In the couple of years since, it seems there has been an uptick in reportage over incidents where young women and girls are being punished for their clothing choices. This trend culminated for many in a post on Jezebel a few days ago, where an 8 year old was sent home for wearing a shirt in the wrong Pantone number. Oh the horror of wearing 18-5418 instead of the far more decorous 18-5424! I mean, it is not an outrage like showing your collarbone, but still, pretty bad!
Sarcasm aside, even worse are those incidents where racism rears its ugly head, sending girls of color home for wearing their hair in its natural state. There are also the incidents censoring the expression of LGBTQ identity, like this recent one. Moreover, need I forget, heavier women tend to get it worse, for wearing the same outfits, than thinner peers. Mostly, these are young women being summarily pulled out of their classrooms, having their educations disrupted, suffering humiliation, and seeing their parents’ workday similarly compromised, because they were peacefully wearing clothing that someone, somewhere, very likely another woman, did not like.
Meanwhile, what odds do you want to place on how often these women have been sexually harassed, catcalled, groped, and their assailant went completely unpunished? Oh, boys will be boys, say school administrators, cover up those shoulders girls; you wouldn’t want to tempt them. Yet, there has been no time in history where women’s dress choices have stopped men from assaulting them. You can wear a djellaba and still get catcalled and followed through the streets (take it from one who knows) or a burka and get raped. It literally, absolutely does not matter, there is zero correlation between what a woman (or girl) wears and whether or not she will be sexually harassed (spoiler alert, she will).
I think on some level we all know this, but at the same time, we may find it hard not to be complicit with body shaming/policing when it is baked into the structures at work or school. The compulsion to obey these arbitrary rules becomes even stronger when it goes along with what seem to be our own personal preferences: to cover up, to go unnoticed, to not breastfeed at work, to not go topless in the summer (perfectly legal in 33 states!) We can take all of those areas that have become shameful to us (likely through the same sorts of body policing incidents described above) and put them on someone else, someone like the ‘skintern’. They become the problem. Or, for a change, we could do a little work on ourselves, and maybe find a little freedom in the process?
Have you ever been body policed, or policed someone else and now regret it? Tell us in the comments!