Dress codes, slut-shaming, and the male gaze

A friend sent me Ms. Magazine’s article on dress codes and their influence on girls, and ultimately our culture’s respect for women’s bodies. “What Do Dress Codes Say starts an important conversation we need to be having about policing girls’ and women’s bodies.Female Dresscode

The author writes about various middle schools and high schools that keep popping up in the news with stories of new additions to their dress codes for girls. The argument for most of the restrictions is that girls’ bodies are distracting to the boys. The problems with this argument are manifold; we are teaching girls to live their lives based on the male gaze, that they are objects. We are also teaching girls that the way they dress determines their character, and any deviation leaves them vulnerable to slut-shaming.

Not the role model I'd pick...

When we tell young girls that their clothes are distracting the boys, we are telling them that their thoughts and emotions come second to their male peers. When schools tell girls that their clothes are causing problems for boys, they learn that boys’ behavior is more important than they are. By telling girls their clothing is more representative of their selves than their actions and thoughts, we are telling them that they, as people, are lesser.

We accept these rules because they fit neatly into the system of patriarchy, specifically that which allows boys and men to reject responsibility for their actions.

-TW – discussion of sexual violence – When we tell twelve-year-old boys that getting distracted by girls’ clothes is an acceptable excuse for doing poorly in school or harassing students, we are laying the groundwork for telling men that it isn’t their fault if they sexually assault a woman depending on how she’s dressed. It perpetuates the “boys will be boys” argument that allows boys and men to get away with violence.  slutshame–End TW –

Beyond the external harm, the argument tells boys and men that they are stupid and unable to control themselves or act rationally when women are in their presence. I don’t know why we can’t see this idea as incredibly insulting to men’s intelligence; We are consistently telling boys that nothing is their fault because they couldn’t possibly know better. I think it’s time we start talking about accountability.

We need to teach girls that decisions about their bodies are theirs to make so that they can grow up feeling empowered instead of objectified.  We need to teach boys that a person’s outfit does not excuse their behavior in any context. Girls need to grow up learning that their clothes do not necessarily mean something sexual, and if that is their intention, they should not feel shamed for it, nor should it dictate others’ actions. We are suppressing women’s sexuality, and creating tight confines around men’s, so that they are uncontrolled monsters.

Middle school girls should not worry about being harassed or causing someone else’s academics to suffer based on whether or not their dress has straps. The whole idea is absurd, and we need to stop recreating these situations where we constantly police women’s bodies.

Teaching Rape: Bro Culture 101

TW discussions of rape.

An email has been circulating from a fraternity at Georgia Tech about how to “lure your rapebait” at parties. The author is giving advice to the fraternity pledges to ensure they “succeed” at parties because “some bros need a little help.” Before we even get into the really disgusting part, the idea of success for men (especially those in fraternities) is to have sex with as many women as possible, and this goal includes raping them.

The author tells the subjects that if anything goes wrong, get more alcohol. If the woman does not want to have sex, give her more to drink. She says no, changes her mind, never says yes, doesn’t comply with all of your wished, get more alcohol. It’s sickening the language used and accepted within bro culture these days. This expected behavior is a major part of what masculinity means, though it is especially obvious within the bro and frat culture.

Read more of my writings on why bro culture is problematic!

Pledges are always supposed to dance with the women; dancing is step one to bedding them, but only if they’re drinking. If one woman rejects you, move on to the next, because women are interchangeable and who they are is irrelevant to your fraternity brothers. The woman (object) of your story is not important.alcoholic frat boy

The author then tells his pledges that when a woman moves her hair behind her hair, she wants a kiss. ALWAYS. This idea is incredibly problematic because it is incredibly widespread. Teenage girls are taught to move their hair behind their ears to signal attraction. It’s subtle and does not involve any direct action, like a good woman. So now when a man see a woman doing this, he interprets it as an invitation, no matter the other circumstances or what she verbalizes.

Since women are taught to play hard-to-get, when they say “no” it’s also irrelevant. Boys learn from an early age to not take no for an answer, but instead they should interpret benign signals as meaning they should keep trying.

After the pledge decides the woman wants a kiss, he is to kiss her but not rape her (yet), because the kissing will inevitably lead to sex anyway.  “ALWAYS START WITH THE MAKING OUT!!!! NO RAPING.” Because an unwanted kiss is fine, and kissing will always lead to sex because once someone agrees to a kiss, they agree to sex.

The email talks more about alcohol and using it to lure the women, so they are incapacitated enough to agree to have sex. The email also assumes the single standard of masculinity where a man has to always want sex, be ready, and take what is owed to him. It forces men into a box where they have to act a certain way and if they don’t “succeed,” they might as well be women.

No Punch Line in Sexual Exploitation

A new study from the Parent-Television Council’s campaign, “4 Every Girl” shows that sexually exploitative scenes on television are overwhelmingly more likely to focus on underage girls than with women. Of course the countless sexually exploitive scenes with adult women are a problem, but the way television uses young girls and exploits their bodies, often for humor, is abominable.  Audience-Laughing

PTC conducted an analysis of 328 episodes of prime-time television to determine the level of sexual exploitation of women and girls. I didn’t get more than a paragraph into the study when I found these astounding results:

1). The appearance of an underage female character in a scene increased the likelihood that the scene would include sexual exploitation; and 2) the appearance of an underage female character in a sexually exploitative scene increased the probability that the scene would be presented as humorous.

I think the second part of those results especially bears repeating: Having an underage girl in a sexually exploitive scene makes the scene far more likely to be presented as humorous. So now prime-time shows are not only sexualizing, harassing, and exploiting children, but it’s a joke! The study analyzes how television shows promote and trivialize sexual exploitation. The article explains that humor reinforces stereotypes; this point is so important because when something becomes a joke, it means it’s harmless. People won’t view sexual exploitation as a problem if they’re taught to laugh about it. I see the parallels here to using period TV shows to incorporate racism and sexism (et al.) as major comedic plot points. If we’re laughing about it, the problem must be over. We solved the sexism problem.

tv productionAnother hugely important point that I cannot help but take away is to look at the way the media portrays grown women as infantile and young girls as hyper-sexualized creatures. So let’s make the connection. Women are infantilized while girls are sexualized – these seemingly contradictory issues serve to reinforce patriarchal notions that women aren’t to be taken seriously.

And what are the immediate consequences here? Beyond the atrocious way women are treated as sex objects to be thrown away after first use, these images are so harmful to girls and women. PTC’s study cites, “The average age for minors entering prostitution is 13,” and “80% of female victims who experienced their first rape before the age of 25, almost half experienced the first rape before age 18 (30% between 11 – 17 years old and 12% at or before the age of 10).”  I don’t mean to throw a ton of statistics at everyone but these numbers are staggering.

The bottom line is that we sexualized girls and we infantilize women, which reinforces notions of control and sexuality in which men control women. I can’t believe I have to write this sentence, but we need to stop looking at child sexual exploitation as a joke.

Dude is so Wasted: Drinking to Reinforce Masculinity and Bro Culture

Bros Get Wasted; Girls Get Tipsy: Why Boozy Talk Matters, posted on NPR on July 10, 2013,  discusses a recent publication in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, picks apart the ways in which men and women in college are described while intoxicated. I was unable to access the full text of the article, so I am relying on NPR’s analysis and Alcoholism’s abstract for my insights.

A-little-TipsyNPR’s article begins by discussing the problem of students’ perceptions of other students’ drinking habits.  People tend to assume that everyone else is drinking more than they are – people tend to also assume the same about sex.  The article opens up for a discussion of the way people perceive levels of intoxication for men and women separately. The study in Alcoholism, “Gender Differences in Natural Language Factors of Subjective Intoxication in College Students: An Experimental Vignette Study” had 145 participants and examined the terms they used to describe the drunkenness of students.

Participants in the study read scenarios in which the characters were described in varying levels of intoxication. The student participants were asked to describe the character. Students overwhelmingly underestimated moderate drinking, quite possibly because students assume their peers are drinking much more than they are. Students also were far more likely to use words such as  “tipsy, buzzed, light-headed,” when describing even the most intoxicated woman. When describing men, on the other hand, students used, unsurprisingly, more harsh and strong words, such as “plastered” and “obliterated.”

Bro Party

The leader of the study, Ash Levitt, says that the “trashed and wasted” view of drinking men have leads to sometimes deadly consequences. When students assume everyone drinks more than them, and that men must drink significantly more than women, it creates a competition that inevitably ends badly.

The study concludes that college students are putting themselves at great risk, and highlights the threats to men. Studies such as these illustrate just one of many downsides to the singular view of masculinity we have. Men become much more likely to over-indulge if they feel their manhood, their sense of self, depends on them acting out and becoming belligerent. One commenter on NPR’s website mentioned the effect this has on consent for women – the commenter noted that if women are always described as “tipsy” than they can always be faulted for assault and rape.

I believe this is just another way that society perpetuates the dichotomy where men should not be held accountable for their actions but women are always in control. This viewpoint is an easy way to explain victim blaming and the “boys will be boys” attitude that gives men the freedom to avoid responsibility.

Bros Drinking

The type of behavior perpetuated by college drinking culture is a dangerous one for everyone. Students police each other to ensure their peers are in near-constant drinking contests, whether outright or implicitly. Creating this competition forces people to go far beyond their personal limits, and as the pressure is more intense for men to prove their masculinity, it makes them even more vulnerable to harm.  I took a screenshot of the google image search, “bros drinking,” and the first row of pictures shows men hypermasculinizing themselves and each other while drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

The Twitterverse Responds to Sexism

Last month,  #thingspeopledontsayaboutmen was trending on Twitter. I feel like I’m constantly biting my tongue when I think about the frequency with which I hear things like, “lady doctor,” “female doctor,”  “woman CEO,” “male nurse,” “lady contractor,” etc.

What is particularly frustrating is that the same people will tell you that all of these occupation titles are gender neutral. Each of these assumed gender-neutral titles conjure up images of who should be in that job – who would be the ideal person. A “male secretary” is someone whose masculinity is in question because he is in a lesser-respected job, long-held for women. A “lady scientist” is subversive to the hierarchy of professions.

 

As women outnumber men in colleges, some feel this is a threat to the status quo. It is in some way, but looking deeper at the outcomes of these scenarios will show you that women continue to be at a disadvantage when it comes to position in the corporate ladder.  When a woman gains even marginal success, she is either too masculine, or she used her femininity to dupe men to promote her. It’s something I notice on TV a lot – women are gaining some recognition as potentially successful in their careers – but it always comes at the price of their family or love life.

sleepingto the top

 

 

When men succeed, they are often viewed positively, but when women succeed, they are hated for it.

vindictive

Women are hated when they try to break out of the role of nurturer; suppressed time and time again. I like how this hashtag looked at how people question a woman’s decision to work outside the home, but never consider that men are making a choice to be away from their families, same as women.

career men

Issues of success and careers are only the tip of the iceberg when you think about the way we view men and women.  Victim blaming was another major topic on #thingspeopledontsayaboutmen.

 

trousers

 

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The saddest part of these instances, to me, is that these are some of the most mild examples of victim blaming I’ve encountered.

 

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Unfortunately there are enough examples here that I could write books on, so I’m going to leave it here. I’m glad to see that a hashtag like #thingspeopledontsayaboutmen could gain some fame, though it really is not enough.

The more we begin to catch ourselves when we tell our friends about a “lady engineer” or a “male social worker,” the closer we can get to accepting that one’s gender does not create an intrinsic need or ability to do one particular job over another.  And hopefully we can soon stop teaching boys and men that women’s bodies are property that men effectively own.