Sunday, August 06, 2006

Strong and warm and wild and free

Jody at Raising WEG has triplet four year olds, and her blog is probably favourite blog that mostly uses the author's experience as a starting point (which is generally the type of blog I like to read the most, which is funny, because it's not what I write). She just wrote a great post about the ways in which she hopes her girls will experience their sexuality. You should go read it, because I don't have one baby, let alone triplets, so this post is going to vear rapidly off into my own tangent. Jody prefaced her discussion with a referance to other ideas about sexuality for girls:

Right around here, I wanted to link to a long discussion I read (possibly on Feministe) in which many commentators defended today's fashion choices by teenage girls, and rebuffed those who would criticize girls' clothing as anti-feminist folks who want to deny girls their sexual freedom. But I can't find it. You'll just have to trust me that it's there. Somewhere. The main argument: girls are sexual beings, their clothing choices reflect their awakening sexual selves, and anyone who critiques their choices is anti-feminist.
What I find so deeply disturbing about that argument is that it reduces women's sexuality to a performance art. We express our sexuality not through our desires, words or actions, but our appearance.

This explains why it's only women who express 'sexuality' through clothing. Men express sexuality through what they do - they have sexual agency. Women aren't supposed to have sexual agency - they're objects for male desire - so the only way to express sexuality is passively.

The idea that women express their sexuality through what they look like is a pretty deeply ingrained idea in our culture. To the extent that I think many (most? fucked if I know) women do experience at least part of their sexuality through their appearance and their ability to attract male attention. Covering ourselves up isn't really a solution. When I was a teenager I didn't dress to attract attention, because I didn't believe anyone could ever be attracted to me. I did experience a form of power when I realised that I could dress sexy (I still own, and treasure, the first top that I ever thought looked good on me). The problem is that no matter how women and girls dress they're still dressing in a world that sees their appearance as their main way of expressing themselves sexually.

I don't think any good comes of telling a woman that they're experiencing their sexuality 'wrong' or upholding the patriarchy with their cleavage. But I do think that we have to be careful not to reinforce the idea that women's main outlet for sexuality is through their appearance. In fact we need to go further and fight that idea, until women and girls experience their sexuality as something that is first and foremost for them.


  1. A very nice post. I too am deeply bothered by the equation of female sexual expression with skimpy dress, and the equation in turn skimpy dress with "girl power", particularly as marketed to teen and preteen girls.

    I wrote about this some previously, here.

  2. Well, I guess it's no big surprise that I agree with most of your opinions!! I am dismayed too at the pressure on girls to dress skimpily, especially in New Zealand's unkind climate. (God, how can they stand to walk around with bare legs and exposed midriffs in the middle of one of our southerly storms?) I hate how sexy clothes have become equated with "empowerment". What the fuck is empowering about seeking the approval of the male gaze? Yuck.

    And by the way, I don't know what you mean when you thought no one could find you attractive. I've always thought you were beautiful, even in the days when we had to wear that hideous blue school uniform, which would have made the cutest girl look like a woolly blue haystack. So there.

  3. Anonymous9:51 am

    Just yesterday I saw many girls in Toronto with skirts that barely covered their butts. And you're right in that I hope they don't think they have to dress like that to get attention either from men, or acceptance from their friends (as each girl in the group was wearing the exact same thing).

    I hope they want to look good for themselves, and I couldn't care less how short their skirts were, but at the same time, I hope that a short skirt doesn't equal a lack of self-respect and self-esteem. Not to say that covering up would either.

    A catch-22.

  4. There's an article on women's clothing in the magazine in yesterday's Sunday Star Times with a clothing designer. Her opinion is that women do not dress for men, they dress for other women. I agree with that. It could be considered a form of competition. I personally have never dressed for men, I've always dressed to either feel comfortable or to look good. Dressing in a sexy way makes me feel exteremely uncomfortable, so I don't do it. I also tone down what I'm wearing, even if I like the effect, if it gets me too much attention.

  5. (God, how can they stand to walk around with bare legs and exposed midriffs in the middle of one of our southerly storms?)

    This has been a constant question in my mind.

  6. I have never understood the truism [sic] that "women dress for each other." It would be more acurate to say that we are dressing against each other, attempting to express individuality in a sphere (the male gaze) that inherently limits any true individuality. Precisely because (as others here point out) the most important and powerful arbiter or our sexuality is still the male. That doesn't change just because we try to wish it away.

  7. Anonymous10:57 am

    i've never touched a razor in my life and when i was 8 my mom tried to get me to shave my legs but i refused now i'm 16 and the hair i've never shaved is wild full bush and super hairy armpits everything i also have 48dd's to add to that and i wear what i want cause i don't care what people think. carebear i'm wit you!

  8. Anonymous4:47 am

    Let's just look at history(The last 45 years)and we now see that the older female looks on the younger(12-15 and above)as competition to their "Sexuality".Why;when 13 year old girls were at marriageable age(45 years ago)was there no outcry Re:Preteens and their "Sexuality" ??and the exploitation thereof??Jealousy of the "Older" Female!!!To finalize the clothing or minimal clothing/skimpy or whatever,I would imagine that the very young and waking up girl perceives the older generation type lady as competition and thus dresses accordingly.It's a power-play thing."I can attract anyone" syndrome played by the preteen girl.jaez