ULTIMATE RANT | You Are Not What You Wear

By Allison Perry | Telluride

This week’s rant was, as usual (and much to my continued chagrin) deleted. The rant was about the way young girls are dressing these days, and was something to the effect of “I’m sick of seeing girls in those shorts where their entire asses hang out the bottom, don’t they have parents, don’t they know what kind of attention this invites,” etc.

And I am not sure whether in the rant itself or the comments section, but I am positive amidst the countless “hell yeahs” from people who live in town – sadly, mostly women – someone used the word “tramp” or “trampy.”

In response to the removal of said rant, Bo Bedford stated “The “inappropriate dress” thread was valid. “We’ve all witnessed this activity in town and people would like it discussed.” The commentary spurred by the original rant then continued under this new one.

The way teenage girls dress brings up issues that have nothing to do with fashion, or even parenting, and everything to do with culture, both as pertaining to the way women are viewed in general, and the way women are portrayed in the media. While I agree with the rant that shorts designed to expose roughly 3/4 of each of the wearer’s butt cheeks are a rather unsavory and ill-thought-out choice, it is not because they make the wearer look “trampy.” I take issue with that word, but more on that later.

Today’s new trends are symptomatic of a culture that tells women that their worth, more than anything else, correlates to their body parts. Look at the “role models” splattered all over the media, on television, in music, in magazines, on billboards, on iPhones, iPads, droids that girls have to “look up to” as pinnacles of success.

Hmm. Well, Kim Has-No-Talent-Whatsoever Kardashian. There’s a good one. Not only is this dead-eyed moron famous for NOTHING, her likely soulless PR and marketing team encourages her to project an image as being famous for her ASS. Do we all remember how she “broke the internet”? Oh, yeah, it was because she was 1. half/completely naked in a series of pictures for Paper Magazine, including the cover, and, 2. because of her ASS.

Dear little girls everywhere: this is how you get famous and earn money and “respect”. Pick a body part to be known for (and god forbid it be your goddamn brain) and then pose nearly or fully naked as often as possible. Not only will you be rich and be able to marry self-aggrandizing, stupid, hypocritical, overrated, lazy and narcissistic rich male celebrities who will help you exploit yourself (and make babies with you, whom you can both then also exploit), you will also be able to buy any material items you desire, and have your own television show.

Who else do we have for our teenage girls to look up to? Who else is everywhere they look? Venus and Serena Williams? Nope. Angel Collinson? Nope. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hilary Clinton, Annie Leibovitz? Nope.

They look at Miley Cyrus humping a foam finger and sticking her tongue out, watch reality shows where women are told to look pretty, dress a certain way, and only say things the Bachelor or the Millionaire they’re trying to date wants to hear. They read magazine articles telling them to look as sexy as possible, to use their sexuality and the promise of sex as a bargaining chip, but that actually having sex makes them whores, while promiscuous males are to be exalted and pursued because they are virile, hot, desirable, and “just doing what nature intended.”

Don’t even get me started on Fifty Shades of Grey. What a stinking, filthy, stupid and horrible piece of garbage. Apparently the new way to get on the bestseller list is not to be a talented writer and storyteller. Rather, it’s to tell women everywhere that being defiled, stalked and abused is okay as long as the guy doing it is a handsome billionaire.

If I have a daughter, images of Tina Fey and Ingrid Backstrom will be all over her room, and I’ll probably have to forbid television and magazines, and blindfold and earplug her when we go out in public.

Well, I digress. The point is, teenage girls are told and shown constantly that the way to be liked, the way to fit in, the way to be cool, is to play by a certain set of rules. And those rules usually involve dressing a certain way and acting a certain way. Clothing companies know that sex sells just as well as celebrities know it. And they capitalize on this just as much as the Mileys and Kims of the world do.

You can get rich and famous for your ass now? Well, let’s make shorts that expose most of your ass. Wearing corsets that push your boobs up to your chin is sexy in music videos, so let’s make that into a shirt. The clothes appear in magazines, cool girls buy the clothes, and all the other girls copy them.

When I was younger did I think my baby-doll tees, knee socks, and pleated Catholic-school style skirts from Urban Outfitters made me look like a porn star, jail bait, or a fifty year old pedophile’s next obsession? Nope. I thought I looked like Alicia Silverstone and Liv Tyler in Aerosmith’s Crazy video, and I wore those clothes because my two newest and most popular friends thought they were cool and wore similar things.

Had my parents told me I looked like a “tramp”, would I have taken them off? Nope. Because my parents, to me, knew nothing, and being popular was everything and I would damn well do what it takes to have friends. Girls making poor fashion decisions do not represent their “slutty” instincts or bad parenting skills.

In fact, the use of words like “slutty” and “trampy” troubles me because it’s the same reasoning many boys and men use to take advantage of women and justify forcing them or coercing them to do things they don’t want to do. “She looked like a tramp.” “She was asking for it.” “She’s easy, how was I supposed to know she didn’t want it.”

Here’s what we’re telling our collective daughters when we use those words, especially to describe how they dress. 1. Not only does dressing a certain way make you look like a person who might welcome all sexual advances, unwanted or not, but it’s okay to levy these judgments on other girls who wear certain things as well. 2. By all means, judge books, and people, by their covers. 3. We have control over being victimized as women, as long as we don’t “look the part.”

Dangerous, dangerous, dangerous lessons to impart on teenage girls, and women in general.

Predictably, the rant about girls dressing like tramps quickly devolved into a discussion about rape culture, with Jordan Mowry advocating the feminist point of view, and Rabit Morabito giving her tons and tons of ammo.

One of Morabito’s first comments, the whole “I can dress myself with as little clothes as I can and if you get turned on you’re the pervert. Remember there is a primal set up in the brain to ensure reproduction. Please remember to include the elimination of that in your feminism movement,” really got the ball rolling.

I don’t think anyone has a problem with guys getting turned on by girls. Thinking a woman looks hot, and even telling your friends, is not a crime. Looking at a woman and thinking “I’d like to…” is not a crime. I get turned on when I see a hot tele skier skiing bumps on Make ‘Em faster than Johnny Mosley, or when a shirtless guy happens to walk by at a festival, all shoulders and biceps and abs, and that’s not a crime. ACTING on that feeling in a FORCEFUL or THREATENING way is a crime.

More to the point, as Mowry responded, “…young girls should not be called ‘tramps,’ and no generalizations about their sex lives should be made depending on what they wear. The point is that society’s celebration of objectification, entitlement, and male domination is causing problems – and it’s not the victim’s fault.”

Morabito then replied, “My point is stop being a victim! There is a study that shows rapist can pick out a victim based simply upon a photo which is an initial impression. A girl who dresses to impress screams that she wants approval and never received it at home and presents a good victim.”

So let me get this straight? If you dress a certain way, and act “meek”, you are an automatic victim? Interesting. I’m pretty sure rape victims are not all dressed the same, don’t all look the same, and because rape is about control, it would be pretty darned boring for a rapist to select the weakest girls, who presumably “wanted it anyway”, because they’re not going to fight back and where’s the fun in that?

To win control you need to have something TO control, right?

Tell me, Rabit, why wasn’t I assaulted when I was a teenager dressing like Drew Barrymore in Poison Ivy, attending parties with my friends, drinking beer, and basically wandering around unsupervised houses filled with drunk, stoned, entitled, horny teenage thug-wanna-be’s? I wasn’t very popular, I was tall, skinny and blond, and if you looked up “seeking approval” in the dictionary, my Freshman year picture would have appeared…?

Why are several of my friends rape victims? Friends who prefer modest clothing, or jeans and hoodies, to booty shorts and halter tops, friends who played on various sports teams in college, including with me on the lacrosse team? Friends who were drugged, date raped (and date rape is a thing, dude, it’s not “date rape”) by men they trusted who then forced them to put up a fight, and scream “no” to no avail?

Were they all playing the victim by acting weak and wearing the wrong outfit? You do say, after all, that “…Women who are victims present a certain attitude. The woman who avoids an elevator because it’s occupied by three men is not a victim. The woman who confronts a person staring at them is not a victim.” So are women making themselves victims by hanging out with a guy who, up until one night, treats her with respect and refuses to do anything more than kiss her, and then another night tosses a roofie in her Miller Lite, or pins her arms down and decides he doesn’t feel like stopping that night?

Perhaps women should never leave the house at all if dressing a certain way and allowing themselves to be in the company of men without a chaperone is akin to “playing the victim”. Maybe I should tell my father to move in with me in case my boyfriend goes away for a weekend and I want to go to a bar (or get in an elevator) where men might also hang out. Perhaps he should make sure I don’t wear anything “too slutty”, thereby rendering me partially complicit in my own assault.

Women who judge other women for what they wear, aligning with the view that one who looks the part “deserves what she gets” are not only hypocritical and anti-feminist, but also fearful of our lack of control, as humans, to dictate what happens to us. It’s a lot easier to pretend we have control over becoming the victim of a violent crime, in this case, a rape, if we convince ourselves that how we look and dress can determine whether or not we will be harassed, assaulted or raped. Because then we can opt to look the opposite, thus our safety will be guaranteed. Sadly, that’s not how the world works.

Mowry continued the debate, “Rabit, we aren’t on the same side. I believe that a woman should be able to wear what she wants and not be blamed for the crimes and harassment committed against her. I believe a woman should be able to wear what she wants and not have to be called a “tramp,” “slut” and a “whore” because of it. That’s what I advocate for. I support women, no matter what they wear. I do not support men who harass and commit crimes against women.”

Girls who wear short shorts are following a trend that has been set by people who don’t give a shit about anything other than making money, a trend which is built upon the archaic yet somehow still ubiquitous notion that a woman’s worth is the sum of her body parts, beauty, sexuality and what she can do to please men. I stopped following the crowd in high school and dressing how they dressed when I became obsessed with sports, and female athletes, and musicians and people who couldn’t have cared less about being mainstream and popular. I began to internalize the way they acted and dressed, and how they drew their power, fame and success from challenging stereotypes, being strong, confronting fear and pain, and shattering personal goals, rather than what they looked like (at least for the most part).

While I never really dressed in a way that bared a lot of skin, I’m not sure my parents enjoyed my sloppy borderline homeless skater or goth looks in high school much more than they would have enjoyed that either.

I like fashion and I believe dressing is a way of self-expression. It is not up to parents, or anyone, to tell their children that dressing in any certain way allows us to judge and make assumptions about what’s under that fabric. It is up to us, women AND men, to educate our kids about what self-worth is, and to provide them with access to role models who embody strength, intelligence, grace and different kinds of beauty.

Perhaps instead of telling a daughter her booty shorts look “trampy”, a mother could suggest an alternative that is far more flattering, and make sure she peppers the house with examples of famous women who dress and act the opposite of the brainless celebutards who use nudity, sexual innuendo and butt cheeks to compensate for a lack of anything remotely resembling talent.

And if she still insists on the booty shorts? Well, more power to her, because we ought to be in a place by now where she can wear whatever the damn hell she wants without being endangered, judged or harassed by men OR other women.

I absolutely love the way Paula Eaton attempted to end this conversation, inserting a quote from the late (and great) Kurt Cobain: “Rape is one of the most terrible crimes on Earth and it happens every few minutes. The problem with groups who deal with rape is that they try to educate women about how to defend themselves. What really needs to be done is teaching men not to rape. Go to the source and start there.”

He got it.