I’m exploring the things that women do to other women that hold us all back and keep us down. Today I want to talk about body shaming, slut shaming and how we give each other toxic ideas about consent.
Women can be very quick to blame other women for sexual abuse and harassment. Choices of clothes, makeup, shoes and how a woman presents are long standing targets. There’s a long history on calling a women ‘no better than she should be’ – being a roundabout way to slut shame another woman. It has been women, historically, who have particularly alienated from their social circles the ‘fallen’ women, where men with mistresses and illegitimate children never faced the same consequences.
Clothing, hair, shoes and makeup are never a person’s consent. No one gives sexual consent to a total stranger or a passing acquaintance, or even a friend or a boyfriend by wearing clothes. Or not wearing clothes. No one is asking for it. And yet, I saw only last week a whole bunch of women on facebook agreeing that a topless woman was just asking to be groped by a stranger and that it was her fault for not covering up.
When we make male behaviour about female clothes choices, what we tell each other is that men can’t control themselves. It’s a pretty shitty attitude to men. We teach our daughters to cover up, look demure and not act sexy so as to avoid rape and other assaults, when we do not tell our sons not to assault women. If a woman is sexy, we blame her for any negative consequences that can be associated with that. I think this is because there can be a tendency to give jealousy a lot of room in these situations. So often it seems to be women who do not suit the conventional male gaze shaming and blaming women who do. But that keeps it all about the male gaze, and doesn’t get us talking about healthier and broader takes on beauty and not making invisible women who are not young and curvy.
We tell stories about women who we think have slept their way to career advances. We haven’t told stories about male abuses of power, but about women using their sexuality to get results. Those stories need to change, and I think they are changing.
We tell stories that suggest we don’t have the right to own our own bodies.
The thing about covering up is, remember what happened with the Victorians. Swathe a woman in fabric, and suddenly a flash of ankle becomes the erotic focus of the male gaze, and the woman who shows too much ankle is just asking for it and is no better than she should be. The problem is not what we wear – no matter what we wear. The problem is that the female body is sexualised, and treated as an object. So long as we keep telling each other that women who get attacked were asking for it, we let this sort of thing continue unchallenged.