On glittery boobs and translating clothing into meaning

On glittery boobs and translating clothing into meaning May 30, 2013

Trigger Warnings on this post and the links in it for rape and violence against oppressed groups

UPDATE: I’ve closed the comments section for this post because I don’t even wanna know what’s going on down there anymore! Everybody (including myself) be accusing everybody of everything, and no one is discussing the actual content anymore. Anyone who still wants to chat can pack it up and move it to Twitter.

Today I read a post on the blog  Rage Against the Minivan (which I don’t read often, but usually appreciate and agree with) that honestly made me, well, rage. Against Rage Against the Minivan. I’m here to talk about that, because I think the post in question is actually really harmful and, to quote the author of the post, the post “isn’t a roundhouse kick to rape culture.” In fact, I think it unintentionally supports rape culture. It makes me nervous though, not only to see a post like this on a website that I usually agree with, but to see many people that I also usually agree with sharing and promoting this post.

So, sit down, fellow Christians. We really need to talk.

If you haven’t read the post (and I suggest you do read it for context’s sake, but trigger warning because it contains victim blaming language and a video that uses derogatory language toward women/sex workers), the author (who is a woman) tells a story about going to the bar with some friends and seeing another woman there who was wearing a low-cut top with glitter on her chest. The woman with the low-cut top caught the author’s male friend staring and told him off for it. The author’s response?

Let me say it again. She had glitter. On her tits.

What she did isn’t an act of female empowerment. It isn’t a roundhouse kick to rape culture. She set a trap and blew a gasket when my friend fell into it.

This is a post by someone who claims to be anti-rape culture and anti-modesty culture referring to women’s bodies as traps. 

She continues to assert that her male friend is a “pretty nice guy” and says:

But when a woman wears revealing clothing, then gets angry when men notice, that’s not cool either. It makes her a hypocrite . . . Women can wear whatever they like. I’m just asking that they not treat all men like predators when it gets noticed.

This whole post ended up reminding me of the Christian dating books I’ve been researching (which reminds me, I need to get on with that series don’t I?), especially the book Dateable, which tells women, “if you dress like a piece of meat, you’re gonna get thrown on the BBQ.” Though neither the author of this post, nor the authors of Dateable promote rape and sexual assault, they both blatantly tell women that their clothing choices can forfeit their right to bodily autonomy. Rapists and those who support them use THE SAME thinking to get away with rape and it works. Time and time again it works.

This line of thinking doesn’t start with “that girl in the mini-skirt was asking to be raped.” It starts small. It starts with the idea that women don’t have the right to define their clothing choices. It starts with the idea that clothing can take away someone’s right to complain when they feel violated. It starts there.

Clothing is a form of communication. I think we need to talk about that.

But we have to start with the fact that clothing is not a universal language. So, if it’s not universal, who is doing the translating? We need to ask that question. Too often, the answer is privileged people in power.

This happens to women often. They don’t have the right to define their clothing for themselves, and instead have to submit to definitions that serve men in power and take away women’s autonomy. Definitions like, “Glitter boobs means you’re a whore. Glitter boobs mean you’re asking for men to stare. Glitter boobs mean you don’t get to express yourself when you feel a line was crossed between normal attention and ‘creepiness.'”

It also happens to other oppressed groups.  People in power translating clothing into meaning often leads to sexism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, classism, and religious persecution. People in power translating clothing into meaning often leads to violence.

Women facing victim-blaming because of what they were wearing during their rape.

George Zimmerman’s defense trying to use the fact that Trayvon Martin had gold caps for his teeth as proof that Martin was dangerous.

The hate crimes that Muslim and Sikh people face because of the head-coverings they wear. 

The media talking about trans* people who suffer from violence and murder as “oddly dressed.”

Do you think this justification of violence based on clothing starts with these extremes? I don’t.

I think it starts when we say that oppressed groups don’t have the right to define their clothing. I think it starts when we say that a person wearing a certain outfit can’t get mad when her boundaries are violated. I think it starts when, like Dianna Anderson says, we fail to trust these people to know the difference between normal attention and something that violates their boundaries. I think it starts when we assume the worst of under-privileged groups based on their clothing, while assuming the best of the “nice” privileged people who made them feel uncomfortable.

People–especially those in groups that face systemic violence–have the right to express discomfort. They have the right to “shame” those that they feel violated by. YES, even if they have glitter on their boobs. A truly “nice” guy who truly means no harm will respect that, apologize, and look away.

Saying that clothing can take away the right to bodily autonomy is dangerous, and it is participating it rape culture.

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