Saturday, August 10, 2013

Short Skirt, Full-Metal Jacket

I've never considered myself much of a feminist.  That word - to me - always conjures up images of burnt bras, women dressing butch and protesting that marriage is enslavement.  While at least one guy I dated labeled me as such because I opened doors for myself if I got to them first, I don't have a problem with marriage, I like to wear skirts, and can't live without a good bra, so feminism never has held any appeal.  I also don't consider myself to be particularly political.  This angers some people, but there's not much that gets me bent out of shape, and I don't really see much difference between republicans, democrats, and the rest of the power-grubbing liars.  Maybe that makes me a bad person, but I really don't care.  While I don't post articles on Facebook every hour on the hour, there are a few causes out there that I do feel are worth standing up for, ones that, by and large, are not voter issues, but cultural ones.

The complex stew of problems that continue to face women - not the so-called glass ceiling or equal funding for women's athletics, but ending abuse, changing the culture we live in so that it doesn't blame us for being victims - is one of these causes.  Like I said, I've led a pretty charmed life; I have been extremely blessed as a woman.  I have parents who have loved and supported me in pretty much whatever I wanted to do, and who somehow raised me to be confident and independent enough to do it.  I have never been a victim - I pity the person who would try it - and when I was bullied briefly in high school, I went to the vice principal and ended it.  But I know I'm lucky.  On the last day of school I was talking to one of my students, and she told me she wasn't sure how her summer was going to go, that her mother didn't want to let her out of the house (according to Domestic Goddess she is about the right age to be kidnapped and sold into human trafficking, which I wasn't aware was a problem here) and often said that she wished she'd never had a daughter.  This was one of my best girls, who is kind and considerate and a natural leader...but that wasn't good enough.  The fact that she was a girl was a problem.  It often is, in Asia.  Not as badly as in China, which has the worst, man-made gender gap in history, but even in more moderate countries there is still often a preference for boys.  One of the reasons I respect my Dark Lord and Master so much is because of how much he loves his daughter; he wouldn't trade her for all the boys in the world.

Now, if you were to go in for slut-shaming, if you were to blame women for what happens to them, there would hardly be a better place to do it than Asia.  Maybe I just don't go out often enough back home, but I have never seen girls dress as scantily in the States as they do over here.  The outfits that some of the Chinese staff wore to school back in Shanghai could easily be used in another, much older profession.  I've almost never worn skirts so short, or bared so much skin, and their dress is occasionally frustrating because it's hard to be modest (and fat) and compete with gorgeous Asian women.  You're never going to win.  But that's my problem, not theirs.
And that was kind of the point of the "My Short Skirt" march last week that was being put on by Young Women for Change.  When Facebook told me about it I decided the time had come for me to get political. See, a colleague (a male colleague, I don't mind saying, since I do feel like that has some bearing) last year posted a "satirical" article on his Facebook page about a rape festival in India.  There is no such thing, but I think there are some subjects that are too serious for such treatment.  The author says it was written to raise awareness, but the way it was written made me and my female friends sick, and since the way this colleague played off our protests about what poor taste it was with a comment about how "some people don't get satire," rather than reacting as the women did, I have a feeling that he was actually the one that didn't get it.

"My Short Skirt" is one of the Vagina Monologues, written by Eve Ensler.  My university, UMKC, puts on a performance of it each year for V-Day, and I was there for what seems like it must have been the first, although I can't tell you what year it was (I'm guessing 2002, but can't be sure).  It is, by turns, funny and disturbing and empowering, and I'm glad to know my alma mater is still doing it.  Young Women for Change did a performance of it here in 2011, and performed "My Short Skirt" for last Friday's march (you can see the first couple of stanza in the video below, but they are in Mongolian, so you might not get much out of it).  The point of the piece is that how a woman dresses has nothing to do with anyone but herself. 
Here's where I may get a little controversial...  While I agree that it should have nothing to do with anyone but herself, we are only human.  Most of the time what we choose to wear does send a message, whether that message be "I value my job," or "I'm trying to get your attention."  And while women are NOT responsible for men's thoughts or actions and should NEVER be blamed when they are victimized, we ARE responsible for our own safety.  We have the power to choose where we will go, who we will go with, what we will do.  Don't make choices that take control out of your hands.  It's easy for me to say, I know - I don't drink, and as an introvert I've usually had enough interaction and am ready to go home long before other people get to their "bad decision making" stage - and the fact is that bad shit can happen, no matter how careful you are.  However, it's a lot less likely to happen if you don't ignore the fact that you have both the power and the responsibility to protect yourself.  Drink moderately.  Don't put yourself in bad situations, such as going out alone.

In a perfect world, a girl could walk down any street at any time of day wearing whatever she likes and be perfectly safe, but we don't live in a perfect world.  Events like this march are important, because they do help raise awareness, and bring us a little closer to that perfect world.  Until then, we don't do ourselves any favors by pretending that our choices have no bearing on what happens to us. Let me finish by saying how difficult this post was to write.  There's a reason I don't usually do serious.  It's hard, it's not natural for me, but while everyone is saying - correctly - how wrong it is to blame victims, and how bad slut shaming is, I think there is also a need for voices that tell women that they have power over what happens to them, and (as my Dad would say) to pull their heads out of their asses.  I hope I haven't offended anyone, and if I have, I'm sorry, but I still think it needs to be said.

Insh'Allah next week will bring a return to lewd jokes and gratuitous swearing.

p.s. For the record, my experience with safety as a woman in Mongolia has been completely positive, and I would go so far as to say that female expats are safer here than male ones.  I can't speak for Mongolian women, and I haven't done the research to tell you about them.  I guess I could, but I'm tired of hammering this thing out, so we'll leave it at that.

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