By: Annie Atwater
Recently I spoke with the grandfather of a friend of mine after a basketball game. The game had just ended, and we were standing around, waiting for the team to emerge from the locker room, making the usual sort of losing team whiny small talk that one might expect, when a cheerleader walked by. We had seen her all night, selling raffle tickets, flirting with the guys’ team, doing her cheer thing, but mostly, we saw her wearing that uniform.
Now at the end of the game, she’s walking to her locker room, minding her own business, and this sweet little old man looks at me and comments, “I guess she likes that uniform.” “Uh I guess so” was all I could say, not really feeling like having a conversation, and feeling uncomfortable already. I looked at the floor, crossed my arms, leaned away, sent all of the antisocial nonverbal cues I could muster, and yet still he continued – “I’m glad my granddaughter doesn’t dress like that.” He’s staring me down, wants a response of some kind. “Umm well I’m pretty sure it’s a uniform” I respond, trying not to be rude, just trying to get out of this awkward conversation. Of course he keeps talking. “Seems to me that if a girl wears basically nothing, like that one is, She’s just asking for some boy to knock her down and rape her. Wouldn’t even be his fault – walking around dressed like that.”
This is the part where I wish I was Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I wish I was, Gloria Steinem, or Bell hooks, or any other of the gutsy gumption filled women I look up to, but in this moment I am not, in this moment I look at the floor and feel the tips of my ears turn red. “No comment huh?” I look at him, and he’s smiling. I manage to make my mouth move, and squeak out “I think that’s a bit harsh.” Without looking at him, I scuffle away.
As I leave I am shaking with anger, with frustration, with compassion for the cheerleader, but mostly I’m filled with shame. I’m ashamed that a comment like that can shake me and fill me with fear. I’m ashamed that I let myself be silenced. I’m ashamed that I, the loudmouthed self avowed, in your face, Feminist, couldn’t find my voice. I’m the child of a pastor and a lawyer. I was born to be opinionated, and yet in the face of blatant sexism, I swallowed my voice.
I can’t get it out of my head – I can’t stop thinking of that girl, God’s beautiful creation, spilling out of her cheerleading uniform. I can’t stop thinking that this grandfather has a son, and a grandson, and from his example, they are learning that when a girl dresses “like that” she loses her right to say no. They learn that a girl’s body is an object, to be casually picked apart in conversation, they learn that there is nothing deeper, nothing pure or true or good about this girl because she’s ” just a slut”. She’s asking for it, dressed like that.
It filled me with fear because I have been that girl. If I put on that cheerleading uniform, I would look “indecent” to this man. Because nearly every girl and every woman has felt that at one time or another. It filled me with fear because this man was justifying rape while looking right at me, and what separated her from me was that for all appearances sake, I am a “good girl”- and her “badness”, her open sexuality made her inhuman, made her unworthy of respect, or of feelings, or emotion.
Feminists call this slut shaming, teaching that society views women who do not fear their bodies, and their sexuality, as inherently worthless, dumb and dirty. That they are “bad girls” and therefore deserving of rape and violence, because after all “they asked for it.”
This is a lot of rambling, about a 45 second conversation, but I thought you should know, that this is why I fight. This is why I don’t laugh at rape jokes, this is why I read feminist literature and refuse to back down.
Because 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime (to understand this , pick 3 women in your life and try to pick one.)
Because sweet old grandfathers instill in their sons and grandsons (intentionally or unintentionally) the common “boys will be boys”mentality that they have no responsibility to control themselves because a woman in a short skirt is no longer a person, but merely a sexual object.
Because a 45 second conversation can make me feel afraid and ashamed when I have done nothing wrong.
I am a feminist because this is not ok.
I am a feminist because this can be changed.
interested? check out In Defense of Sex Workers