Short skirts and sluttiness

Like Brian Edwards, I hadn’t planned to write about the “you look like a slut” story; mostly because some kick-ass bloggers I adore have already tackled it. But then I read Brian’s post, and just about lost my shit. Unsurprisingly, I don’t agree with Brian. Specifically, this is what I take issue with

My own view is that no apology of any sort was necessary. I know about teenage daughters. I know that they can dress and behave inappropriately, often provocatively. I’ve had calls from the headmaster. And if one of my daughters had come home and said to me that a woman teacher had told her to pull down her skirt because she ‘looked like a slut’, I would have said, ‘Well, she was perfectly right, wasn’t she? Don’t expect me to stick up for you.’

So if Amethyst did indeed ‘look like a slut’ when her skirt was riding up around her thighs, the proper thing, the responsible thing, the thing that was in her best interests, was to tell her so. To be upset by the word, she had to know its meaning. Is she such a sensitive plant that her ears would be offended by hearing it spoken?

(Bolding is my own).

I’m not going to tackle the rule breaking, and whether the skirt length rule is good or bad (QoT does this better than me); what I can’t believe is that a sensible and intelligent man would actually agree, and say to his daughter “Yeah, teacher said you look like a slut? Well, in that short skirt you do”. I genuinely cannot believe that a parent would agree, and say that his child looked like a slut. If you really don’t like the short skirt, could you not at least say “I don’t think that’s appropriate”? (I am not going to tell parents what they should allow/disallow as parents…) But the issue of words and phrasing aside; more importantly, what message are you reinforcing if you agreed and told your daughter that she does look like a slut? You’re saying a short skirt=looking slutty. Does it? I wear short skirts frequently; do I look like a slut most days of the week? Is that what people – my parents included – are thinking? Maybe I’m at an age where I can wear a short skirt and not look like a slut; I don’t really know how it works because none of it makes any sense to me, really.

So what you’re saying is wearing a short skirt means looking slutty. You are reinforcing the idea that certain items of clothing or certain outfits make one look like a slut; the term for someone who has a lot of sex. Having a lot of sex is a problem because lots of people still think it’s some sort of indicator of character. Society hates sluts; it hates women who have sex a lot, or with lots of different people, or casually, or outside of marriage, or some other arbitrary standard that varies form person to person. We call someone a slut when their sex life differs from what we personally consider acceptable or when it differs from ours. So we don’t want people we know to be sluts, or even look like sluts; and we especially don’t want our daughters to look like sluts. Because then what would people think of them? People would see them at school, or on the street, and think to themselves “that girl looks like a big ol’ slut, like a girl who fucks a lot”. And that would make them think your child is a bad person.

But the real problem with agreeing with a teacher and saying yes, you do look like a slut, becomes apparent if you even give rape culture a cursory thought. Maybe Brian didn’t do this because as a man he has more privilege than many women do to ignore or be unaware of rape culture. But it brings up the big problem with saying a girl in a short skirt looks like a slut. See, short skirt=looks like a slut. And a lot of people wouldn’t say “looks like a slut”, they would say “wearing a short skirt is slutty”; we hear message reinforced often: sluts are depicted as wearing short and/or revealing clothes, and women who are raped are judged if their outfit is “provocative” or “revealing”, or “slutty”. And there are people out there who believe this; people who would say “look at that chick in that outfit…damn…. I bet she’s up for it”. Because sluts love sex, and if you look like our idea of what a slut looks like….amirite? And there are people who would then be angry if that woman turned them down, or refused to fuck them. And not all of those people will be decent enough human beings to accept a no and move in. This is why it’s still ok to ask what a rape victim was wearing: short skirt? Slut. She was asking for it. Stilettos? Skimpy dress? We have lots of “slut identifiers”, and as a woman it is terrifying to know that I (a frequent short skirt wearer)  could be blamed for being victimized because of an outfit choice. When a woman is raped, there are still people out there (maybe only a few, or maybe they know better than to voice this opinion out loud) who think that her outfit somehow makes her to blame (even if the rapist is blamed too). This is why telling a girl in a short skirt that she looks like a slut is awful in a way that maybe Brian Edwards has not considered. Because if we reinforce that certain clothing choices make women look like sluts, we are reinforcing the idea of certain things being slutty, and these things are then associated with sluts; women who fuck a lot and in ways we don’t like. And if this kind of clothing looks like something a slut would wear, then maybe that woman is a slut; why else would she wear it, because surely nobody would intentionally want to look like a a big dirty slut except someone who actually is one? And if something look likes a duck, maybe it is a duck. So maybe this women who looks like a slut actually is a slut, and behaves like one. Maybe she loves sex, and would do it with anyone, so you think you must be a sure thing with someone who would do it with any and everybody. And why would someone who would do that say no to you? Surely she means yes (because women are meant to be coy, and act hard to get), or maybe you just think her appearance is making a promise she should follow through with or it would be false advertising. And so you rape her. And then say “well in that outfit she was asking for it”.

Maybe Brian has never thought about these things; possibly because he probably isn’t ever going to be that person who gets blamed for inciting their own victimization because of something they wore.

I realise that the original comment was “you look like a slut”, not “you are a slut”; and I realise that Brian said he would agree with “look like a slut” and did not say he would call his short-skirted daughter  slut. But not everyone thinks “looks like a slut” and “is a slut” are different, and for some it can be an easy path of rationalization from “looks like” to “is”. And this is where the danger lies, because society’s shitty and backward ideas about women and sex come into play. Ideas about sluts – who they are, what they do, the idea that sluts are something nobody should be – come into it, and ideas about sluts can be damaging and dangerous; not only because they control and shame women for their behaviour, but also because they can play a role in actual crimes.

So I don’t think it’s ok to tell your child that yes, she does look like a slut. Not because being a “slut” is bad (because what’s wrong with sex?) but because it is buying into societal conceptualizations of what women are meant to dress like and behave like, and how women are meant to have sex. Not only that, but it makes no sense: what does a slut (if we take this as women who self-identify as sluts) look like anyway? I’m sure that there is no uniform, or item of clothing they all wear. A self-confessed slut could wear absolutely anything. It’s like saying “you look like someone who likes cats” or something equally as silly. Unless the person has a t-shirt on that proclaims their identity or love of a certain thing, in which case it’s a fairly safe observation to make. Although given how often people wear t-shirts “ironically”, maybe not…

22 Comments

  1. Monday says:

    Ug, in the past I’ve enjoyed Brian’s more thoughtful posts, but he appears to be spiralling into some weird mean-spirited screeching lately that make me want to click ‘unsubscribe’. His latest contribution to the blogosphere is somewhat lhaws-ish…

    Thank you for your post. It seems like such basic stuff but it obviously needs to be said and I truly hope Brian reads it and reconsiders his position.

    • steph says:

      Hi, and welcome to LadyNews!

      Yes, I have enjoyed posts by Brian in the past, which is why this one got me so annoyed I think; I suppose I had expected more of him, and so hearing his sexist and outdated ideas was more surprising and more annoying than if it had come from someone I expected it from. Further to fall in my esteem, I suppose.

      Glad you enjoyed my post 🙂 I dashed it off far too fast in the heat of my annoyance, so it is a bit rambling. But I just get irritated when people don’t make the connection between small ideas and the wider context that these ideas have been created by and exist in.

  2. Boganette says:

    The whole thing is just revolting. Funny how shaming sons and making young boys feel judged and insecure isn’t nearly as much of a hobby to certain folks. Of course it’s different, right? And it’s not sexist to judge your daughter on her clothing and appearance because she’s female. So often when I read about elderly men talking about young female sexuality there is such a massive undercurrent of fear. They’re literally terrified of the ‘power’ of teenage girls. And the girls suffer for this ridiculous fear. Daddy issues are in there somewhere too. Ick.

    • steph says:

      Yeah, we’re all so worried about our young girls, but shaming boys isn’t really a national hobby is it? I guess because we’re so scared of what kind of trouble our girls could get into…by getting involved with boys. Yeah….

      The shaming and the sexism is just old, and boring. And I expected better. But I guess privilege can really affect people.

      • Boganette says:

        Yes, I have to say I am actually kind of surprised that people feel comfortable publicly stating that it’s OK for a teacher to tell a 14-year-old girl that she looks like a slut.

        I would love it if they would list their reasons for why they’re so mortally offended by a short skirt. But I’m guessing that won’t happen in a hurry.

        • Monday says:

          Boganette – Excellent! I had been trying to find succinct words to say exactly that when I commented at Brian’s place.

    • Amanda says:

      Ya know, I’d really like a societal conversation about what’s so slutty about boys and the way they dress, so we have something comparable against the girls.

      Because I’m thinking saggy pants, undies showing, shirt open to the waist, biceps showing, or a type of hair would in no way be classed as “slutty”. Silly (snerk) maybe, depending on your ideas about fashion, but in no way would they be told to “cover it up for the sake of modesty”.

      In fact, the only thing boys would have to show via clothing that would be getting ANYWHERE near sexually “inappropriate” would be their penis. And while cod-pieces have not been in fashion for a few centuries, tight or low riding pants are certainly allowed and appropriate, again depending on your fashion aesthetic.

      Tight men’s clothing, showing bare skin, rippling muscles, great abs, a hint of fluff are seen as sexy, actually even required, as markers of masculinity. So yeah, this ridiculous bullshit hurts men too.

      • steph says:

        Hells yeah, it really does hurt men too. Sometimes people don’t get that when feminists talk about the sexy/slutty issue we actually care about standards for/portrayal of men too.

        And I personally think that low riding jeans revealing underwear should surely be considered slutty; they’re showing their underwear, for goodness sakes! Imagine if a women did that- in fact, I’m sure a g string showing over the top of jeans/a skirt would be consider a total sign of sluttiness. Sigh.

        • Amanda says:

          I know! What do people say about boys wearing their jeans low/hip hop style? “Pull it up, you look UNTIDY”
          And when girls show a g-string/a bit of bra? “Cover it up, you look like a SLUT.”

          If the worst a man can be is “untidy”, then we have a serious breakdown in standards between men and women. And men wonder why we get peeved about it.

          • steph says:

            Even if the untidy comment is applied to g-strings/bra straps, the slutty comment is too (not necessarily together, but I mean that both are arguments for why it isn’t ok). For exposed male underwear, it’s only the untidy argument, never the “it’s slutty” one. The slutty thing is hugely gendered.

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  4. QoT says:

    *headdesk* I don’t want to go there on the man’s own blog, since he’s talking about his own daughters, but seriously, Brian, why the f*ck do you think so few women report their rapes, and do you honestly think saying shit like this is going to give your daughters the confidence to be honest with you when they don’t feel sexually safe?

    • steph says:

      I agree; and I guess this is what I was trying to get at when I said maybe he doesn’t get it (this stuff) because he’s not likely to ever be on the receiving end of it and has had the privilege to never have experienced it and not needed to think about these aspects of the situation. As someone who’s isn’t part of the target group for “looks like a slut” judgements, it could be easy to not think about how a comment like that could be tied to bigger (and nastier) ideas reinforced by society.

  5. I’m sorry you disapprove of the way I brought up my teenage daughter. She, along with her oldest child, my grandaughter, who has now just graduated from university, are the apples of my eye, and I the apple of theirs. The frankness of our exchanges were and are a product of the very closeness of our relationship. Both strong feminists themselves, I suspect they would find most of this dialectic rather overblown if not downright silly.

    • steph says:

      I don’t think I said I disapprove; my general reaction was surprise that someone who has impressed me in the past would be ok with someone (in a position of authority) saying such a nasty thing to their child. Telling a girl she looks like a slut is a nasty thing to say. It’s nasty because looking like a slut is considered an awful thing we want to avoid, and because it is an insult used to bring women down by bringing sexuality into it.

      If the issue is what is appropriate or not in a certain context, then why would the comment not be “outfit X is not appropriate in context Y”: in this situation a short skirt was flouting the rules of a school dress code. Saying that she looked like a slut is an incredibly inappropriate thing for a teacher to say to a student, and it is a very judgmental thing to say to anyone. That is what I take issue with: it is a hugely judgmental thing to say, and it is meant to make women feel ashamed of the way they present themselves.

      In the context of breaking the school rules, tell the student it is against the rules. But apparently it also needed to be said that the girl looked like a slut, due to her short skirt. Is it short skirts that are slutty, or only because it was a 14 year old? Who gets to make that call, and why do we need to deem any item of clothing as indicative of looking like a slut? If your daughter and granddaughter would consider asking these questions silly, then that is obviously their prerogative. I do consider these question important, which is mine.

    • Boganette says:

      Haha really? Your response to all of this is – “well my feminist daughter and my feminist grandaughter think you’re silly!”

    • Amanda says:

      It is entirely possible for dads, grandads, brothers, any male family member really, to be nice and well meaning but say nasty things. It’s an extension of male privilige and authority.

      Ask yourself this: why are you afraid of a girl wearing a short skirt? Is it because she could be sexually assaulted? If so, who’s fault is it? (I’ll give you a hint: not the girls’) Are you afraid because they might be sexually competant, active or powerful? If you have no problem with a woman being sexually competant, then you would have no reason to feel fine with calling them a slut.

      Also, who is a male father/authority figure to speak for the women in their life? I thought a woman should be quite capable to do that herself. Any male who uses “Oh but the women in my life agree with me” is seeking unchallenged validation. They might agree with you, but I’d like to hear it from the woman themselves, and not as an extension of defending the male, which creates a bias.

    • QoT says:

      Shaming your women relatives into conforming with patriarchy =/= “frank and open relationship”.

      Now, I hope to one day have daughters, and I hope to have a frank and open relationship with them. And if my daughters choose to go to school in a short skirt, I will be frank and open with them and say “Hey hun, I support you in your adolescent experimentation with sexuality and fashion, but I need to warn you that other people will be judgemental assholes about it and will probably try to shame you into mindlessly following the crowd. Know that, make your choices, and know that your parents will tear new assholes for any figure of authority who calls you a slut.”

    • Craig Ranapia says:

      Actually, Brian, I’m wondering how your wife would react if I walked into a meeting at the media consultancy you both own and suggested she go home and pick out an outfit that doesn’t make her “look slutty”? I hope you’re not so short of clients that you’d swallow me be gratuitously obscene, insulting and totally unprofessional.

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