If I was to go to a convention wearing revealing clothing then, based on what I hear of the experiences of other women, I could expect lecherous advances from total strangers. It would not be unthinkable that some of them would decide it was ok to grope me, as well. If I was raped by a total stranger and got as far as court, I could expect to be questioned about what I was wearing at the time, in case my attire somehow offered a justification for what had been done to me.
Perhaps if a woman went out in a t-shirt that read ‘I would like to have sex with every man who reads this t-shirt’ then there would be some grounds for taking the clothing into account. Otherwise… what on earth are we doing? Clothing might suggest availability or a willingness to be asked, but no woman dresses up with a view to being insulted, assaulted or raped. Why is this such a hard concept for so many people to grasp?
If a man is mugged, do we ask in court whether his clothing suggested that he was inviting it? Did he deserve it for dressing too wealthy? Of course not. If someone is beaten up because of the colour of their skin, do we blame the skin colour, or the sick prejudices of the aggressor? Well, once upon a time we’d have considered that skin colour was a reasonable justification for violence. Go back to Hitler’s Germany and it was deemed a perfectly good reason to harm people. We used to consider gypsies fair game (identified visually), and gay-bashing was the business of the authorities. Western culture has evolved out of something where prejudice-based violence was not unusual. Where women are concerned, we still haven’t got it sorted. Plenty of places it’s not entirely safe to be transgender, either, or black, or some other ethnicity.
We see a surface, and some of us take that as a justification for aggression. It’s back to that dangerous concept of entitlement again. Something about how you look entitles me to behave in a certain way. This is not a healthy thought form.
One of the ones I’ve found on occasion in the pagan scene is a willingness to patronise: Directed at the young, the inexperienced and those we tar with the brush of being ‘just a bunch of fluffy bunnies’. I happen to like bunnies and other fluffy creatures, but there we go. Why is it wrong to be soft, gentle, harmless and well meaning? I think the world could use a bit more of that, and if the price is more dolphin adoration and conversations about Atlantis… I’ll take that over the condescending attitudes and put downs any day. The one thing fluffy bunnies can be relied upon to do, is play nicely and not attack anyone else. That’s a virtue well worth celebrating.
How do we handle gender issues in the pagan community? I’ve seen an awful lot of scantily clad, nubile young women in ‘goddess’ artwork. I’ve got to say that aside from the Neolithic fat women, the Venuses, there are very few western goddess images out there I can identify with. Pagan archetypes are a step up from the starving supermodels of the mainstream, but they’re still a long way from what real women look like as most of them have large, gravity defying breasts only achievable for the rest of us with surgery. I don’t feel comfortable about this.
From experience, I don’t like the kind of male attention I get if I flaunt my cleavage in public. I’ve not been molested by strangers, but I’ve had plenty of comments that have made me feel uncomfortable, and a bit like an object. My response has been to mostly cover up. I feel more secure out in the world when I’m dressed very deliberately not to draw attention. I very much like the fact that the man I’m with fell in love with my mind first. Flirtation can be fun and playful, but it so often isn’t. It can be threatening, invasive, and then it paves the way to much darker things.
Once you start relating to someone else as not a proper person, but a bit of pleasing meat that exists to entertain you, then it’s a slippery slope. A culture that condones verbal harassment and minor assaults is hardly equipped to deal with rape or domestic abuse. These are not separate issues. It all comes down to looking at a surface and imagining that something we see entitles us to do what we should not.
In the meantime, someone, please, point me at a feminist goddess, because I’m sick of the babes and beauty queens who seem to be far more about male fantasy than female power.