So I like to think that I’m a pretty good judge of what’s sexy. And I like to think I’m somewhat of an expert when it comes to what makes me sexy.
So tell me why, even when I’m actively trying not to be sexy, is it still the thing people see when they look at me?
Which sounds like a great thing, right? Sexy without even trying, right?
Except I wasn’t just not trying, I was trying to not try.
For Halloween this year, my exciting plans consisted of handing out candy with my seven-month-old niece so, instead of the sexy goddess costume I’d planned to wear to a party, I’d gone with a more family-friendly porcelain doll costume instead. And, as I work in a small and a little eccentric office, I also wore my cute, sweet costume to work.
And, while a little taken aback, I was okay with the catcalls I got on my way to and from my office. I work in an area where women routinely get catcalled. A lot. Add a costume...yeah, I ought to have just expected it.
Rather, the thing that really bothered me were the disapproving looks from other women. The proud assertions from these other women that they’d grown past the need to dress sexy. The assumption that looking, feeling, and being sexy is somehow a symptom of immaturity or insecurity. I was even told, albeit a bit jokingly, “Way to set back feminism.”
I didn’t even know what to say to that.
But I think I do now.
1) If you think that’s too slutty to wear in public, you ought to see what I’d planned to wear.
2) If one woman wearing an even remotely provocative outfit can “set back feminism,” we haven’t come very far at all, have we? If our answer to sexism and gender discrimination is to be sexist and discriminatory toward each other, call me crazy, but I think we may be going in the wrong direction entirely.
3) If my dress had been longer or my outfit less gender-conforming, would that really have made me a better or made me more of a feminist? Is that how we’re judging that now? Not by my beliefs or actions or words, but by the hem of my skirt or how much cleavage I’m showing. So, by this definition, am I more of a feminist on the days I wear jeans and a hoodie than the days when I wear a dress and heels? I was unaware that one could judge a level of feminism by looks or a change of clothes. I was under the assumption that, as feminists, we were actively trying to be judged, not by our looks, but by our character. Silly me.
And what’s really funny is that all these assumptions completely discount me as a person. These women don’t know me. Just like the men who catcalled me on the street, not understanding that I didn’t dress this way for them but instead for my seven-month-old niece, these women—these so-called feminists—didn’t even stop to think that there may be other reasons for my fashion choices than the ones they ascribe to me.
If feminists really want to change the way the world looks at women, we’ve got to stop seeing each other through the world’s eyes. If you want to be seen as a whole person—with a history and a context that wasn’t written by someone else—you got to be willing to see other people that way too.
But these women weren’t willing. They saw a woman in a china doll costume and saw infantalism, saw feminine frailty, saw attention-seeking pride.
I saw an aunt trying to make her niece’s first Halloween special.
That dress—that was somehow construed as sexual—I’d sewn that in the remains of my burned apartment from a salvageable slip and two Target discount maternity shirts years ago during one of the lowest points in my life because I wanted to have one night where my problems weren’t my own. I remember sitting in my smoke-ruined living room stitching together my own sanity in budget-bought, yellow-fabric form.
And I wore it to work because I like the holiday. I like finding ways to insert a little magic into the everyday, because this world can be stressful and hurtful and horrible and disappointing. And I believe in doing what I can to counter that.
And, yeah, it was easier to get costume-ready early in the morning than rush through the process after work and before candy-time that I’d reserved to spend more with my niece than my mirror.
But none of that mattered to these women, who had me pegged with one tongue-clucking look. They looked at me and saw what they wanted to see. They looked at me and saw weakness.
I like to think I costumed myself in strength.