Three quick stories, and then we’ll get down to what really matters.
Story #1: The Girl with the Granny Panties
When I was in the 7th grade, I signed up for a computer education class. My best friend – a girl from Ecuador named Betty – sat at the computer station beside mine each day, and at the start of every class, we’d pull on matching pairs of headphones and then begin working on interactive typing exercises together.
“Do not look down at the keyboard while typing,” the stoic female computer voice would remind us, periodically. I was very studious and did my best to follow her instructions, but Betty disregarded them entirely. By the end of the semester, our varying strategies had produced very different results, as my WPM average had reached a whopping 136 while hers sat at about 52.
During one of these classes, a fellow 7th grader approached me at my computer station, leaned down, and whispered into my ear: “So.. do you wear GRANNY PANTIES with your long dresses?” Then she walked away towards her group of friends, laughing.. all of them, laughing.
I kept my eyes glued to the computer screen and tried my best to look unbothered.
‘Granny panties’? I questioned myself as I typed. DO I wear granny panties? My mom buys my undergarments from Walmart. Is that what she’s asking: If I wear WALMART PANTIES? ..is it bad to WEAR Walmart panties?
After consulting with Betty, I realized, that day, that there is an entire WORLD of underwear out there for girls to peruse and choose from: there was the underwear that I wore — garments whose tops rested just under the belly button and which reasonably clothed the entire buttocks (these are, FYI, commonly referred to as ‘granny panties’) — and then there were mysterious others. Like bikinis. And thongs. And g-strings and boy shorts. Some of these types of underpants were, I discovered, cotton-based (which I was already familiar with) while others were lacy, or silky, and some of them were even (partially or fully) see-through.
…but why would someone want to wear a see-through THONG? I exclaimed. What would be the POINT? It sounds horrible, weird, and GROSS. I was appalled.
Still, I was ashamed of my secretly worn granny panties, so the next time my mom mentioned taking a trip to Walmart, I asked to accompany her. We entered the store together and then I slipped off into the girls’ clothing section. There, I quickly and secretly leafed through dozens of plastic packets of Hanes and Fruit of the Loom underwear before settling on two packages: one contained 6 pairs of boy shorts (they looked cool), and the other, special package featured bikinis (just so that, if mean girl asked about my undergarments AGAIN, I could honestly tell her that I owned bikinis). I tucked both of the packages underneath my right arm as I set about locating my mother in the store; after spotting her long, denim skirt floating down the laundry detergent aisle, I tossed them into the bottom of her shopping cart and felt a gigantic surge of relief pass through me as I did so. Problem solved.
But she – mean girl – never asked again, and I never liked wearing them. Today, I just wear boxers all of the time.
Story #2: Get your MFing hands OFF of me.
In the 11th grade, I transitioned from executing a few somewhat successful years of self-guided homeschooling to attending a public school in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Gym class, I quickly discovered, was a division of the sexes.
Girls walked the track or sat on the bleachers. Boys played football or basketball. I didn’t have anyone to walk with, and I didn’t want to sit by myself and be bored, so I wedged myself into the boys’ games. They were resistant, at first, and ignored me entirely, but after a few games where I consistently showed up and actively tried to participate, they began passing me the ball, and we were all amazed when I landed my first successful hoop and, quickly afterwards, touchdown.
So one day, during a game of basketball and completely out of the blue, a guy friend walked up to me and put his hands over my t-shirt, cupping both of my (very small) breasts. I was stunned. He smiled at me mischievously, dropped his hands slowly, and then ran towards the other side of the court, where the game was moving.
I continued standing there, speechless.
I felt violated. I was angry. I was scared. This had never happened to me before. I didn’t know what to say or how to say it, but I knew that I had to say something quickly.
Instinct took over; I tagged along, anxiously, as my body marched itself over to where he was standing. Once I was close enough to do so, I nudged his shoulder, making him look me in the eye.
“Don’t you EVER.. do THAT.. AGAIN,” I commanded, looking very serious, and then I walked away.
I felt like I’d just reproved my dog for jumping up and sneaking a slice of pizza off of the kitchen counter while my back was turned, but this was my friend, and the offense was way bigger than a stolen slice of pizza. Why had he done that to me?
He never did it again, but I could never look at him without remembering that he had done it before.
People have had far worse happen to them than an isolated incident of unwanted groping from a classmate.. many of us have fallen victim to unrequested, unsolicited, and unwanted advances. It’s never, ever pleasant, and you never, ever forget it.
Story #3: Oh no he didn’t..
During this same school year, I spent my weeknights skateboarding inside of a concrete warehouse with a bunch of boys. Most of them became familiar with my presence and accepted me into their clique of cool skater dudes.. but one day, a boy I hadn’t spoken with before skated past me and gave me a mean look.
“You’re a doorknob, you know that?” he asked.
Clueless, I responded: “What?”
“Everyone gets a turn.” He raised his eyebrows at me pointedly and then zoomed away on his board.
I didn’t understand right away. I couldn’t figure out what he meant. But the way he’d said it – so negatively and demeaningly, like I’d done something wrong – conveyed the message.
But I haven’t even KISSED a boy before, I defended myself inwardly, let alone do OTHER stuff.
But who cares? That’s extra, ‘inside scoop’ knowledge for you, reader. The fact that I’d never kissed a boy before doesn’t matter, because even if I’d kissed 17 boys that year, he still should not have said that.
Why all of this matters.
I watched a video yesterday morning that caused a miniature emotional meltdown. I sat there in my room, sobbing, while the short video played; my fat and clumsy German Shepherd came barreling up the stairs, wailing loudly in response to my grief.
If you care to see it, this is the video.
Why would a child do those things, say those things? Why is she screaming at a doll, calling it a stupid whore and sneering that it needs to get its life together as she kicks, punches and tramples it?
“Obviously, because she’s hearing those things herself.. they’re either being said to her directly, or she’s picking up on it indirectly, hearing other people being talked to or talked about this way,” a friend answered when I shared the disturbing content with them.
And six-year-olds aren’t the only ones who’ve thrown the “whore” word around before. I’ve used similar words myself; I’ll admit to the fact easily, AND I’ll tell you all about it.
I told three stories at the beginning of this post. There was a “central point” to each of them.
- Women are judged by how they dress.
- Women are blamed for what happens to them because of how they dress.
- Women are judged when they express themselves sexually.
Let’s talk about #1 first: Why do we judge women by the way they dress?
It might be easier to admit, first, that I’ve judged women for how they’ve dressed.
A couple of years ago, Chris and I were hooked on a Netflix show called Weeds. In it, you follow the riveting story of a suburban housewife whose husband has just died and who is now left with the responsibility of making a living to support herself and her children. Her game plan? Sell marijuana. That’s pretty much it — the overarching “plot” of the show.. so you plop down onto the couch and binge-watch as she deals with the best of them and gets into some pretty messy escapades along the way.
“I love this show,” I told Chris once, over a pint of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream,”but she is so freaking SLEAZY.”
“You mean empowered?” he challenged me, raising his eyebrows.
I rolled my eyes.
“Hooookay. Really though; she is so unnecessarily sultry with the way she carries herself.. she’s overly sensual.”
“You mean she’s confident?” he corrected me once again.
It infuriated me.
“YOU JUST LIKE THAT SHE DRESSES SLEAZY AND ACTS SLEAZY,” I accused him.
He raised his eyebrows at me and paused the show. Very calmly, he turned to me and said: “No, I do not; I just don’t think that a woman should be judged for her appearance or reproved for carrying herself with confidence.”
I felt like a jackass, so I just stopped talking and continued watching sleazy Nancy Botwin weasel her way out of yet another miniature crisis, wearing daisy dukes and stupid heels. How impractical, I thought to myself. Good luck running away from the bad guys in those.
It’s something I struggle with to this day.
Whether it’s in real life or on a television screen, I just don’t like seeing half-naked people. I honestly don’t. Going to the beach this year was just as stressful for me as it was pleasurable, because while all I wanted to see was waves, sharks, and burritos, shirtless dudes and bikini-clad gals kept getting in my way. Call me asexual, but nudity isn’t attractive to me. Eyes, hands, and smiles.. those are attractive.. but now we’re getting really off-topic. Back to scantily clad people: Seeing so much of someone you don’t know that well seems overly intimate, inappropriate, and awkward, and this is mostly because of the society we live in. We’re clothed the second we’re born, and the porn industry has done such a fantastic job objectifying and sexualizing the human body that, unfortunately, we have to remain covered throughout our lives, even as we’re lowered into our graves. As a result, when someone is wearing an outfit that I would refer to as being revealing, I automatically – without even realizing I’m doing it – dip out of the no-judgment-zone and find myself criticizing them inwardly. Some of it is justified; some of it isn’t.
“How can they walk around in public like that?” I ask myself, awestruck. “It’s so inconsiderate! OTHER women are going to feel self-conscious, comparing THEIR decently concealed bodies with her brazenly EXPOSED body, and if these other women are out and about with a significant other, they are going to be paranoid that THEIR person is checking out THAT girl. It’s all a mess; a great, big, stupid mess. Just put on some damn clothes.. ALL of you. Forever.”
There you have it. That’s some real talk. Now, some of that is true, and some of it has resulted from conditioned thinking. I was, after all (and as you may recall), raised in a very conservative environment where even showing an elbow (or showcasing an ankle) out in public was considered provocative. But how does one tell the difference between someone being comfortable and confident and authentically and creatively expressing themselves and them dressing or acting indecently? The answer: It’s not up to you to determine the difference. Conduct yourself in a manner that’s consistent with your internal, moral compass, and accept that others are going to do the same thing. It’s as simple as that. The key thing is: Don’t malign the intentions or characters of others who have a different perspective on the matter than you do. For me, putting on a button-up shirt and a tie makes me feel good about myself; if that’s different for the next girl and wearing a short dress or a push-up bra makes her feel confident, am I entitled to judge her for that? The answer: I’m totally not. We’re all doing the best we can to make peace with ourselves and the world, so be a supporter,a promoter, and a lover of people.. not an asshole.
And check this: I’m not saying that girls or women should be able to just prance around NAKED and that no one should say a gosh darn thing about it, because NO ONE should be prancing around naked; if you see someone of ANY gender – girl, boy, or otherwise – trotting around the mall or neighborhood in their birthday suit, kindly phone your local clothing authorities, because the United States isn’t USED to that kind of living (topic for another time).. but please realize that anything other than nudity is going to be judgment-based, and that, outside of places of business and certain parks, people are allowed to dress themselves according to their own moral compass and comfort level. There are so many other things to focus on outside of a person’s appearance, so try to redirect your gaze and appreciate those things instead of getting caught up in someone’s outer gear.
#2: And whose fault was it? Survey says..
I grew up in a religion where tasteful women who wore long skirts and long-sleeved shirts would point at scantily-clad women and sneer that they were just asking for it.. that they were tempting men to be inappropriate with and take advantage of them, and that they shouldn’t be surprised when it happens. To be more explicit, I basically grew up believing that a woman could cause rape to happen to her. Isn’t that devastating to read? Archaic? Unbelievable? Now, as a reasonable adult who has undergone a hell of a lot of unbecoming and who has sorted through literal barrels of shit, I believe that a woman could walk around an entire city for MONTHS shirt-less AND pants-less and that she still wouldn’t DESERVE rape. She wouldn’t ever ‘deserve’ it for a single SECOND no matter WHAT.. and for anyone to even imply that she does, or that she is to be blamed for it happening to her, or that she WANTED it to happen because of how she was dressed, is lunacy. It’s despicable. I don’t care if a woman spends her whole life naked; wearing lots of clothes or no clothes at all, she does not deserve to be taken advantage of, and the responsibility for rape happening will ALWAYS lie with the offender. The predator. The depraved asshole – man or woman – who forced someone into something they were NOT asking for.
And finally, #3: Why do we judge women when they express their sexuality?
I have a friend who has been married to her high school sweetheart for 13 years and who has been – during that time – with him only, and then I have another friend who dated and slept with 5 guys in one summer. Is either girl more respectable than the other? If you answered yes, you need to rethink your answer, because I have had to rethink mine.
Sexual promiscuity – which is what we’re talking about right now – is a subjective term.
Subjective (n): of, relating to, or emanating from a person’s emotions, prejudices, etc.; relating to the inherent nature of a person or thing; belong to, proceeding from, or relating to the mind of the thinking subject and not the nature of the object being considered.
In other words, sex – in and of itself – is entirely meaningless. You assign meaning and value and rules to it based on who you are and what you view it as being.
And some people take sex very seriously: “Wait until you’re married.”
While others are more lax with their approach: “Ehhh.. try to wait until the second date. If you can. Or not. Whatever.”
For some, it’s a very meaningful and emotionally-laced activity (sacred, even), while, for others, it’s valued for being more of an experience than a show of love. For some, sex is casually viewed as a ‘pastime’ (and is grouped with other pastimes, like going to a movie, baking a dessert, or painting a picture).
Pastime (n): a diversion or recreation which serves to pass the time agreeably; an activity done for pleasure rather than work; a hobby; a sport, a game.
Depending on your viewpoint, that last bit may be weird to read, but that’s reality.
And it’s a judgment call either way.. one that’s riddled with feelings and fine details, like how you grew up, what you witnessed in the world of ‘love’ as you grew up, and who or what you believe in. To some people, the nutritional content of a meal or the price tag on a new Harry Potter book is a weightier matter to consider than who their sexual partner is going to be that night. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Did you catch that? Do you disagree vehemently? Are you mortified and appalled? That’s fine; the solution is simple: Don’t sleep around. But remember: That’s YOUR choice. You can’t decide for everyone else.
Now.. is it dangerous to sleep with lots of people? It sure as heck is if you aren’t careful, and I wouldn’t exactly recommend sleeping with every Tom, Dick and Jenny that you meet.. but I also wouldn’t judge someone who wants to live that kind of lifestyle, because they’re living according to their own morals and standards — not mine — and that is respectable. Their actions aren’t hurting, affecting, or at all impacting me, so why should I have any say in how they live their life? You’re correct! I shouldn’t.
“But the more people you have sex with,” you argue, “the less meaning it will have!” I don’t disagree with that statement. As it stands right now, I’m actually one of the least ‘sexually promiscuous’ people I’ve ever known (I didn’t have a legit boyfriend until I turned 18 and, to this day, I’ve kissed two people). But that’s me and my take on the matter.. and mine is no better and no more correct than the next person’s, however liberal their approach or conservative their take is. Period. Newsflash: Morals are subjective; stick to your own, and lay off of judging people whose morals vary from yours. Remember, also, that lifestyles are fluid and malleable.. and that however much you want there to be one, there is no “one-size-fits-all.” All you can do is you, boo.
But alas; even though we’ve all finally agreed that people have the right to live according to their own morals and standards (including managing their own sexuality), still, we call them sluts. Whores. We refer to women who sleep with lots of men or women as being sleazy and loose and we make it very obvious that we don’t respect them because of their poor and morally-corrupt decision making. And guess what? THIS is PRECISELY what the verbally and physically abusive six-year-old has already witnessed in her short lifetime. Just consider the repercussions of being exposed to that kind of negativity, judgment and name-calling at such a young age; when will she begin to think of HERSELF as a whore, and when will she lose respect for herself? When someone, at some point, decides to call her a doorknob, will she unquestioningly believe them — wearing the blame and feeling the shame — or will she have the confidence and sense of self-worth needed to cast off such an outrageously inappropriate label that she knows will never apply to her? A huge variable of whether or not that confidence and sense of self-worth will exist is her environment. What are her parents, teachers, and friends like? How do they speak to each other, to her, and about other people? And as she grows older, how will people at church, work, and the grocery store treat her and look at her? How are you going to treat her and look at her? Will it depend on how she’s dressed or how many sexual partners you know or THINK she’s had?
We have to pause and consider the power of our words before speaking or writing them, and we would do well to be more hesitant and thoughtful before casting our judgments. Myself very much included.
I don’t have time to talk about how horrible cinema and magazines are, but check out the following song lyrics (from various years, genres, and artists) and explanations as to why I hate them so much.
I heard your dreams came true. Guess she gave you things I wouldn’t give to you.
You’ve probably seen memes that guess at what Adele could have been referring to here; I don’t need to spell it out for you. These two lines alone create an expectation for girls: ‘If I want this person to be interested in me, I need to be willing to do this.’ No ma’am. You shouldn’t do anything that you aren’t comfortable with, and you certainly shouldn’t agree to do anything that you don’t want to do.
Do I have to keep up the pace to keep you satisfied?
This could imply that a woman should possess a sex drive that matches her partner’s expectations. That’s a very bold assumption, and it’s a wrong one; no one should be made to feel that they need to muster up a more competitive sex drive that just isn’t there in order to keep their current partner loyal and in order to be accepted, liked, and loved by them.
I’ll be your daydream; I’ll wear your favorite things.
Why? Why do you have to play dress-up to make this other person happy? I call bullshit. Dressing up for a special occasion is one thing, but make it habitual and you may end up recreating yourself into a version of you that is difficult to maintain, totally unauthentic, and – worst of all – completely unhappy.
Long overdue, here are my ‘super major’ overarching points:
- Judging girls and women for their appearance, behavior, or sexuality.
- Making girls and women feel subservient or accountable to men (or any romantic partner) in any kind of capacity.
- Nurturing, affirming, respecting and protecting girls and women.. because by doing this — by acting like a supportive, cheering audience and serving as a dependable backdrop for the grand stage of their lives — they will be able to more easily nurture, affirm, respect and DEFEND themselves, and that’s the real goal. It makes sense, doesn’t it? When you’re able to stop worrying about your external appearance or the way people are interpreting you, you’re able to begin considering more productive and intriguing things.. like what you’re interested in, what you’re passionate about, what kind of career you’re gravitating towards or what new hobby you’d like to pick up.
Watch people adorn themselves, express themselves, and direct their own lives without submitting your judgment, because your judgment won’t just negatively impact that person you’re directing it at; others will notice, and some of these others will adopt your prejudice, your words, and your stares, and soon enough, little, baby girls will be calling other girls, and their own selves, whores, because of how narrow-minded and suckish you are. Don’t contribute to the downward spiral; be a positive, life-giving force in the lives of girls and women. I can’t tell you how, exactly, that mission will play out in your life, but you’ll figure it out.
Nurture, Affirm, Respect and Protect: Four verbs girls and women need RIGHT NOW.
One last story:
I drove downtown yesterday afternoon for my 7th tattoo. Aaron was in the back of the shop, sitting down on a stool and drawing up a sketch, when I opened the front door to Aerochild.
“Hi!” he called out cutely. He’s my favorite tattoo artist in Birmingham.
“Hey!” I responded, smiling and tossing my backpack onto the couch in the lobby. “I baked cookies last night,” I began immediately, unzipping my backpack, reaching my hand in and then producing a small, lightweight Ziploc-baggy as I withdrew it, “and I brought one for you.”
I walked into the back room and placed the baggy on the same table he was drawing at.
“Oh wowww.. thanks!” he exclaimed.
“No problem!” It’s not like I was wondering all morning if it’s weird to bring homemade cookies to your favorite barista or tattoo artist. As I wandered back over to the couch, I thought of mentioning there’s no marijuana or anything crazy in there — you know, to be reassuring,in case he was wondering — but instead, I decided to say: “It’s a chocolate chip- and peanut butter-flavored cookie with coconut oil swirled in.”
Moments later, I was flipping over to the fifth page of Gone Girl when he called out that the sketch was ready for review. I jumped up eagerly, ran over to look at it, and my first reaction was: laughter.
“Oh my god.. it’s perfect, Aaron. You captured Bruster exactly as he is; the dumbest-looking Shepherd on the PLANET. And Panda!! Her beauty mark; it’s right there!”
Happy that I was so pleased with the first creative draft, he motioned for me to go ahead and trek upstairs and step into his “surgery room.” I did so, nervously hopping up onto the medical chair, adjusting my back, crossing my legs, and then setting my wallet and cell phone on my lap. He sat down on another (smaller) stool and asked for me to bring my arm closer to the edge of the chair. I did so, and as he shaved the invisible hairs off of my bicep and sanitized the area with disinfectant, he commented:
“So.. I put a cape on the rabbit, in the sketch. You noticed that, right?”
“OH MY GOSH, I DIDN’T! That’s awesome!”
“Good.. so what color do you want the outside of her cape to be?”
I paused.. this was going to be a big, last-minute decision. Princess Panda: The Bunny Rabbit; what is her most favorite color in the whole entire world?
“Pink,” I responded simply, feeling amused. “That’s the color she’d want.”
And this coming from someone who hated the color pink for a solid DECADE because they thought it was too girly and stereotypical. Well.. I went and changed my mind again. Funny how often that seems to be happening these days. Pink is, actually, a very lovely color, like many other colors are.. and it doesn’t belong, exclusively, to either gender, although it’s consistently, arbitrarily assigned to one. Out of all of the colors in the spectrum, it’s Panda’s absolute favorite. Why would I choose anything else?
A former granny-panties-wearer with pink ink,