… and no matter what we want to think, we are the driving force behind a solution.
Let’s be serious here, the “shopping list” of things not to do, and things to always do, to avoid rape, sexual harassment, street harassment, etc, is a joke. Travel in pairs, don’t walk alone at night, don’t leave your drinks unattended, don’t wear your hair in a ponytail, it’s too easy to grab, wear sensible shoes so you can run away, take self-defense classes (that one I endorse), learn to use your keys as a weapon, always have your keys in hand before you walk out into the parking lot … god the list just goes on and on … don’t wear short shorts or skirts, don’t wear revealing clothes of any kind, call or text someone when you leave and when you get home, talk on your phone if you do have to walk alone, wear a wedding ring even if you’re not married, tell them you have a boyfriend … sigh
Look, I fully believe in equality for women. I fully believe that if a dress code can’t be or isn’t being applied to both genders it shouldn’t exist. I fully believe that women have the right to safety no matter how they’re dress, where they are, or who they’re with. BUT those beliefs don’t reflect the reality of our world. Yet.
I know it’s unfair that people tell us “Don’t dress like that, you’re asking for it”. No woman is asking to be raped.
Here’s a photo of myself at the Richer Roughstock Rodeo this past summer (with the talented Barbara Ann Derksen) at the Authors of Manitoba table. Trust me, I had to keep tugging at the back of those shorts to make sure my ass wasn’t showing. But it was hot and muggy all weekend. It was a party type atmosphere, people just chilling and running free, it was awesome all around. And believe me, I would never dream of wearing something like this to work. I never would have worn shorts that short to school. And while there is a dress code involved in both those situations, it wasn’t the dress code that made me think twice about what I wore there.
I work in a daycare and before that I spent a few years working in schools. I dressed like teachers dressed, casual but professional and modest. Yes, I wear skinny jeans at work, but they’re high rise (because that’s what I like) and when I wear the low rise jeans it’s with a LONG shirt. Because I work with kids. I’m crawling on the floor, bending down all the time to pick up kids and toys, sitting on chairs way too small for me, running, chasing, tumbling, dancing, playing … (I love my job by the way) and it’s just not practical to wear clothes that I might fall out of or that I have to constantly readjust.
When I was in school my mom told me something crucially important to my academic success. “School is your job. You go every day. You attend every class. You dress like you would for a job. You hand in your assignments. Because it’s your job.” She was right. School is a training ground for the working world. There’s a lot more room to fuck up. You don’t get fired for missing a few shifts, you don’t get fired for breaking dress code on occasion, you don’t get fired for not completing work. You might fail. You might have to retake a class. But they don’t fire you. You have time to explore life, to explore who you are, but it’s still work, it’s still your job.
Yes, I work spaghetti strap shirts, generally under a button down plaid while in the building, but I played full contact football on the community field at lunch and a button down was too easy to grab so I played in just the skimpy top. I wore tight pants. I wore crop tops and had to remember not to fix my hair when teachers were around so I didn’t get busted. Yes, I was a typical, if very well behaved, teen. I didn’t follow ALL the rules ALL the time.
And this isn’t about self-respect. Self-respect does not equal dressing like a nun. I wore those shorts because of self-respect. I love my body and I have only recently come back to that place of self-acceptance. After two kids my tummy is soft and stretchy, I have very distinctive stretch marks on my thighs, and my thighs are thicker than they were ten years ago. But I made a decision to love my body again, to wear what I want to, stretch marks be damned! Go look at that photo again. I’m not dressed like a “slut”. My boobs aren’t hanging out. Just my butt sometimes. I felt sexy and confident and still self-respecting in my choice of clothes.
What women wear is dependent on where we are, what the occasion is. You can bet that if a guy showed up to a fancy office job in Bermuda shorts and no shirt, and it wasn’t casual Friday, he’d be reprimanded. He might even get told to put on a shirt even if it was casual Friday. If women want equality, we can’t use our gender to claim a double standard. We have to dress appropriately for our jobs. Unless you’re a stripper, cover up a little! It’s professional. Look at what men in your profession are wearing – suit and tie? All buttons done up? Yup, that means you should be wearing pants or a skirt of a decent length, and your blouse shouldn’t have a plunging neck line. Equality, remember? Doesn’t mean you have to be “frumpy”, just professional. And not THAT profession.
For the most part, most of us women are physically weaker than most men. There was a time that I had abs and a toned athletic body. I worked with concrete lawn ornaments. At 105 lbs I could lift 90 lbs of concrete. My husband (then boyfriend) picked me up by the ankles once, I did a hanging sit-up to fix my socks. We were wrestling (yes, actually wrestling, not having sex and trying not to admit it) and I got my legs pinned against my chest. Somehow I got both feet against his chest and I kicked. I guess he wasn’t expecting me to be able to put that much power behind it because I knocked him across the basement. Don’t ask me to do that now. I’m an out-of-shape writer and the only reason I’m this size is good eating, moderate will power, and a high metabolism that’s going to slow down any day now (and then I’ll be in real trouble). If a guy grabbed me, there’s not a lot I could do but scream and struggle. If he doesn’t want me getting away, I won’t be. And I know it.
As I said before, I fully support equality between genders. We deserve equal safety and the ability to go wherever we want whenever we want safely. But the truth is that there are situations, times and places, that will put us at greater risk. The guy going home on a crowded bus in a pleasant suburb at 4pm is less likely to be mugged than the guy walking through downtown alone at 10pm. No one should put themselves in potentially dangerous situations just because they have the right to safety. What’s not fair is that jogging in the park before or after work is a potentially dangerous situation for women, but not so much for men. What’s not fair is that going to a bar is more dangerous for women then for men, even small bars in good neighbourhoods. Women will be groped on the subway at rush hour, even if they’re travelling with friends. Girls in the hallways at school will be bullied and harassed, boys will ask for blow jobs and call them cruel names when they refuse, even with the hallway packed with people.
All those rules boil down to nothing. It’s the same as wearing bubble wrap into a war zone. It may be comforting, but it’s not going to stop the bullets. So yes, culture needs to change. Men’s thinking needs to change. But a large part of the onus is on us. We need to change too.
Stop being afraid. We need to stand up for each other. We need to stand behind #yesallwomen and #freekesha and #standwithJada together. Don’t lower your voice because you’re making men uncomfortable. Don’t laugh at jokes that you don’t find funny and speak out against the ones that support rape culture. Don’t take “it’s a joke, get a sense of humour” as an answer when you do speak out. Don’t be afraid of being assertive, don’t be afraid of being a bitch sometimes. Don’t be afraid of saying no.
Be yourself. Dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable and confident. Dress appropriately for the situation you’re in (and yes, that means it’s okay to dress in a way that makes you feel sexy when you’re going to the club). Don’t let anyone shame you for dressing too slutty or too modestly.
Be smart. Don’t put yourself at risk just because you have rights to safety and equality but don’t hide in your house until the world changes either. The buddy system is smart, so is texting someone to say “I’m leaving the club/party/ work, home in 15”. Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be home so your loved ones know you’re safe. And honestly, you should be teaching all teens, all genders, that these are good practices.
Women face a lot of challenges in this modern world. They are our challenges, our problems, and we have to take the initiative and responsibility to solve them.