Friday, January 17, 2014

What Girls Should Wear

It's happened! I'm now the mother of three teenage girls. There's a secret that most of our society doesn't seem to know: having teenagers in the house can be awesome! One of the amazing things my girls have done is to help me understand topics that are important to them, while being patient with me when my "Aha!" moments are slow to come. From the time they were babies my daughters have been helping me understand that the way they dress is part of their exploration of who they are, a form of self-expression, and an integral part of how they interact with the world.

It was my daughters who introduced me to the issue of slut shaming, and opened my eyes to the double standards our society accepts without thinking when it comes to the messages for boys vs. the messages for girls. "Boys will be boys," but girls need to understand that one mistake can ruin their whole life. Boys can wear shorts and no shirt, but girls need to cover up, if boys who play football rape a girl who is drunk it's her fault - WHAT?!?!

My girls have helped me understand that the parents of boys need to be talking to their sons about the importance of consent, just as the parents of girls need to talk to their daughters about the importance of consent. And my girls have helped me see that freaking out about the dangers of the world and things that might happen is not helpful - it doesn't protect them or help them protect themselves. What does help? Talking about issues, looking at the facts, staying rational, and keeping the communication lines open. But equally as important is supporting my girls in becoming women who have a strong sense of self, and feelings of confidence and competence as they make their way through the world.

The way that clothing relate to my daughters' sense of self has been on my mind after a conversation with a parent who was concerned that my daughters don't dress modestly. And again, because of a visit with extended family. My oldest daughter and I talked about her clothing choices before that visit, as in she was checking in with me to ask my opinion and to make sure we were on the same page, not as in I was lecturing her on what she "should" wear.

In my conversation with another parent, that parent said, "I really like how you ultimately respect your children to make the right choices about their bodies, and I think that this is generally a good idea, however, I feel that children need guidance, especially about when they get older. For example, clothes for girls usually has more potential for being what I consider "inappropriate," and in general I think that parents need to set the standard for their children and give guidance and explain the reasons why something isn't approved of by the parents (telling a child the "image" that a certain item of clothing gives to other people, and how that image guides people to treat us and think of us)."

Here's the thing, my daughters get to make Choices About Their Bodies, and that means those are their bodies about which they get to make their own choices. I do not expect my daughters to make the "right choices about their bodies," which generally implies that there is right choice and a wrong choice. When it comes to bodies there is personal choice. My girls get to make their own choices and I don't get to judge the rightness or wrongness of them, I get to support them in making their own choices.

Now before someone takes that paragraph out of context, let me remind you of the previous paragraph where I said, " What does help? Talking about issues, looking at the facts, staying rational, and keeping the communication lines open. But equally as important is supporting my girls in becoming women who have a strong sense of self, and feelings of confidence and competence as they make their way through the world." My girls make their own decisions, but not in a vacuum; but also without guilt trips, drawn out sighs of disapproval, or other subtle forms of coercion.

In our house children may be guided when they are young, but that generally means guiding them in looking both ways before they cross the street, and guiding them to the bathroom when they need to go potty. By the time the "get older" they should know how to look both ways before they cross the street, use the bathroom, and choose their own clothing. Because they have been choosing their own clothing since they were old enough to express their preferences, at my house that was at least by the age of 18 months.

As for the clothes of girls having the potential to be "inappropriate," let me remind you that clothing is optional. The reason we began wearing clothes was to protect our sensitive parts from things that might hurt us, and then as we moved around on the planet it was to keep us warm. From the start, clothing has been a way of decorating our body. What those decorative adornments look like varies widely across the planet, what one culture might consider modest another culture might find scandalous, because what we consider appropriate is a social construct.

As for what other people think, my daughters are not, hold on - I feel the need for emphasis, MY DAUGHTERS ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK.  And no matter what my daughters are wearing, they should be treated kindly.

I do not get to decide what clothes are inappropriate for my kids, and I don't get to decide what clothes give the "wrong image" because that would mean that I had decided that there was a right image, that there was a way my kids had to present themselves in the world, and that decision is not mine to make.

Slut shaming is a concept that I struggled to grasp. The idea that girls should dress certain ways so as to avoid unwanted attention, or that how men responded to women who were dressed a certain way was the responsibility of the woman because of the clothes she was wearing, was deeply ingrained in my grey matter. The belief that girls who dress certain ways were at greater risk for assault or rape was also very clear in my mind.

Now I know better. How a man responds to a woman is the man's responsibility. Even if a woman is walking down the street naked that doesn't mean men have the right to make lewd comments, touch her, or rape her. It does mean that someone might offer her a coat if it's cold outside. If a girl is drunk or high it does not mean she's fair game for any guy who happens by, it does mean that someone should make sure she's in a safe place or has a ride with a sober driver to a safe place. How a person is dressed does not change the fact that they are a person and we should be treating them respectfully and with kindness.



Trigger warning: I'm going to talk about rape statistics, including those that involve children.


I looked up statistics on rape, it wasn't pleasant, but I wanted to know the truth.
Here's what I found:

clothing is not a significant factor in increasing someone's chances of being raped.

People of all ages, genders, and sexual orientation are raped.

Women are most likely to be raped in their home, by someone they know.

Children are most likely to be raped by a parent, including a biological parent. (Yes, that's horrifying.)

Less than 10% of all rapes are perpetrated by strangers.

Rape is an act of violence, relating to control and domination, it is not sexual or about gratification.



Resources:

 Rape Myths and Facts 

The point of clothes, from Dances with Fat

Costumes and beauty: Dear Fat Nutritionist - You're Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl) 

See the Raising Allies Resources Page for more information.




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