Feminism | Posted by Annie A on 05/2/2011

My Reasons Why

Tonight I spoke with the grandfather of a friend of mine after a basketball game. The game had just ended, and we were standing around, waiting for the team to emerge from the locker room, making the usual sort of losing team whiny small talk that one might expect, when a cheerleader walked by. We had seen her all night, selling raffle tickets, flirting with the guys’ team, doing her cheer thing, but mostly, we saw her wearing that uniform.

Now at the end of the game, she’s walking to her locker room, minding her own business, and this sweet little old man looks at me and comments, “I guess she likes that uniform.” “Uh I guess so” was all I could say, not really feeling like having a conversation, and feeling uncomfortable already. I looked at the floor, crossed my arms, leaned away, sent all of the antisocial nonverbal cues I could muster, and yet still he continued – “I’m glad my granddaughter doesn’t dress like that.” He’s staring me down, wants a response of some kind. “Umm well I’m pretty sure it’s a uniform” I respond, trying not to be rude, just trying to get out of this awkward conversation. Of course he keeps talking. “Seems to me that if a girl wears basically nothing, like that one is, She’s just asking for some boy to knock her down and rape her. Wouldn’t even be his fault, walking around dressed like that.”

This is the part where I wish I was Inga Muscio, I wish I was Andrea Gibson, or Gloria Steinem, or bell hooks, or any other of the gutsy gumption filled women I look up to, but in this moment I am not, in this moment I look at the floor and feel the tips of my ears turn red. “No comment huh?” I look at him, and he’s smiling. I manage to make my mouth move, and squeak out “I think that’s a bit harsh.” Without looking at him, I scuffle away.

As I leave I am shaking with anger, with frustration, with compassion for the cheerleader, but mostly I’m filled with shame. I’m ashamed that a comment like that can shake me and fill me with fear. I’m ashamed that I let myself be silenced. I’m ashamed that I, the loudmouthed self avowed, in your face, Capital F Feminist, couldn’t find my voice. I’m the child of a pastor and a lawyer. I was born to be opinionated, and yet in the face of blatant sexism, I swallowed my voice.

I can’t get it out of my head – I can’t stop thinking of that girl, God’s beautiful creation, spilling out of her cheerleading uniform. I can’t stop thinking that this grandfather has a son, and a grandson, and from his example, they are learning that when a girl dresses “like that” she loses her right to say no. They learn that a girl’s body is an object, to be casually picked apart in conversation, they learn that there is nothing deeper, nothing pure or true or good about this girl because she’s ” just a slut”. She’s asking for it, dressed like that.

It filled me with fear because I have been that girl.  If I put on that cheerleading uniform, I would look “indecent” to this man. Because nearly every girl and every woman has felt that at one time or another. It filled me with fear because this man was justifying rape while looking right at me, and what separated her from me was that for all appearances sake, I am a “good girl”- and her badness, her blatant sexuality made her inhuman, made her unworthy of respect, or of feelings, or emotion.

Feminists call this slut shaming, teaching that society views women who do not fear their bodies, and their sexuality, as inherently worthless, dumb and dirty. That they are “bad girls” and therefore deserving of rape and violence, because after all “they asked for it.”

This is a lot of rambling, about a 45 second conversation, but I thought you should know, that this is why I fight. This is why I don’t laugh at rape jokes, this is why I read feminist literature and refuse to back down.

Because 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime (to get personal, pick 3 women in your life and try to pick one.)

Because men who initially seemed sweet instill in their sons and grandsons (intentionally or unintentionally) that a woman in a short skirt is no longer a person, but instead a sexual object.

Because a 45 second conversation can make me feel afraid and ashamed when I have done nothing wrong.

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  • Liz @ at 1:44 pm, May 2nd, 2011

    Great post! This is really a hugely problematic attitude and is only one facet of America’s rape culture. It’s is hard to talk about, but recognizing it is the first step.

  • A.Y. Siu @ at 2:12 pm, May 2nd, 2011

    I’m think if a grandfather says that kind of BS, he should be knocked down and raped himself, just so he knows what it feels like and that that is just not acceptable!

  • Alexa @ at 3:38 pm, May 2nd, 2011

    Annie- this is an amazing, amazingly brave piece!! I think I would react similarly, and I’m SO outspoken, but if it was a friend’s grandfather… well, I don’t know if I could do it either. This is definitely going to be on my mind quite a bit the next few days.
    & the one in three statistic is SO frightening to me. When I read it, I always think of my immediate group of friends, which contains nine girls, and think that that could be three of us… *shudder*

  • Bill @ at 3:49 pm, May 2nd, 2011

    “Because a 45 second conversation can make me feel afraid and ashamed when I have done nothing wrong”

    Vow to do better next time (there will be a next time).

    Be ready. Have a planned response that suits your personality: something that you would say naturally, not something artificially harsh. Practice that response with right-thinking friends and relatives, especially male ones. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice regularly. Be ready when it happens again.

    Next time it happens, be able to say: “A 45 second conversation made me feel courageous and proud because I did something very right.” I know that you can do it!

  • Alexa @ at 4:07 pm, May 2nd, 2011

    @Bill- I know you’re talking to Annie, but that’s excellent advice for all activists. I may try that myself too.

  • allie @ at 4:08 pm, May 2nd, 2011

    i hate to see stuff like that but its true, we live in a misogynistic world where women are sex objects not sexual beings who deserve respect. stuff like this gets me going to, in fact i’m doing a paper on the harmful effects of sexual objectification of women in our culture.

  • allie @ at 4:08 pm, May 2nd, 2011

    side note i’m not agreeing with the old man but with the writer!

  • Rosemarie @ at 5:43 pm, May 2nd, 2011

    My mother was assaulted while wearing a sweater and jeans. She was most certainly not “asking for it”. When I hear people make comments like the one your friends grandfather made, which is quite often at my school, it makes me want to scream. I hope the next time you encounter a situation like that you’ll tear them a new one.

  • Katherine C. @ at 6:41 pm, May 2nd, 2011

    Annie, what a post! It was pasionate yet not cliched, and beautifully and powerfully written. We’ve all been there, I think, either in your position or in the cheerleader’s position, or both. It’s awful. And, yes, this is why we all fight- this is why we need a shift in consciousness.

    I’ve even been in the position of the girl who’s told she “deserves to be raped” because she’s a feminist… I think that says a lot.

  • Kristen A @ at 1:15 am, May 3rd, 2011

    Interestingly enough, I read this post before I went downtown to treat myself to a screening of a French film and some French cuisine and while on the bus down a black woman with a stutter was talking on the phone. Sitting catty-corner to me was an elderly white couple, and at one point I had my ipod paused I heard this older woman turn to her husband and say “She’s speaking ebonics.” in relation to the black woman. I was infuriated, this woman clearly had a speech impediment that was not her fault, however I too was unable to speak up.

    I hate that people make excuses for elderly people as “being raised in a different time”. That’s not a relevant point, it’s still blatant racism/sexism/etc. And especially to make that sort of comment in a public place such as a SEPTA bus in the heart of the very racially diverse Philadelphia, I was appalled to say the least.

  • Tejal @ at 4:42 am, May 3rd, 2011

    Wow…So people have misogynistic attitude everywhere! But at least, in the US, it’s comparatively less than in India. Trust me, a girl is labelled loose by some even if she is wearing jeans (not even tight ones) in some places! And,I believe dressing has nothing to do with how you treat a girl/woman!! I have been harassed when I was wearing Salwar kameez, and it’s supposed to cover you from head to toe x-(….Maybe i’ll write a detailed post on it someday and post it here…

  • Marta @ at 9:01 am, May 3rd, 2011

    Great post, thank you for writing it!

  • Natalia @ at 10:52 am, May 3rd, 2011

    We’ve all been in that situation for sure. I’m usually outspoken but I think we all have those days where we think, “what’s the point?”. Is this old man really going to stop making those comments? Instead they call you a radical Feminist bitch. I’m saying this because no matter how many times I tell a person that rape jokes are horrible, they still do it.

  • Jennifer @ at 7:30 pm, May 3rd, 2011

    Wow, I thought this was very powerful and truthful. I like the fact that I can call myself a feminist but I will admit that for a while I was scared to speak up but then I realized if people doing this sort of thing are allowed to share their views without shame then so should I. This piece has reenforced my belief that just because my view is different does not mean that I should not voice it. Thank you

  • Spit your venom or swallow your voice? « Figuring Out Feminism @ at 8:48 pm, May 3rd, 2011

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  • Quinc @ at 11:09 pm, May 3rd, 2011

    Unfortunately there can be a lot of pressure NOT to speak up. Certainly if that person if voicing what most of the people in the room were merely thinking, making such a comment would just get you labeled as the “crazy angry feminist” or whatever. Ideally one would find a way to appeal to that person’s values and sensibilities. Maybe in this example explaining that his daughters/granddaughters are in the same danger regardless of what they wear. Explaining how such ideas pose a danger to all women, even the ones he cares about.

    Of course it is easy to think up an argument after the fact, but reacting cooly and super-intelligently, formulating perfect arguments on a moment’s notice isn’t a reasonable expectation of one’s fellow feminist. Expiecially considering that sexists don’t necessarily listen to reason. Even in this example, it seems that the man was looking for a reaction, possibly, to see if the author was a “crazy feminist”.

    So maybe you’ll reach the person, or maybe you’ll give them a reason to dismiss everything you say. Speaking up takes courage, but courage doesn’t eliminate the risk.

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 10:10 pm, May 4th, 2011

    Annie, thank you for this piece. It is beautiful. You are concise, you know what you’re saying, you have an opinion and you show it! *end teacher bit*

    But really, thank you. You might not have called that man out in person, but you did it here, and you are brave for that.

  • firefly @ at 5:34 pm, May 7th, 2011

    “(to get personal, pick 3 women in your life and try to pick one.)”

    This line got to me. I was reading through this piece, and I came to this line-and thought, “Oh my god.” And I’m not even extremely religious. I just stopped and just freaked out. With Mother’s Day coming up, these statistics really hit me in the heart. Any woman you know, be your relatives, friends, or random strangers-might be assaulted. How do people feel about supporting rape when they think of that?

  • Jen @ at 3:06 pm, May 8th, 2011

    Linked here via a friend’s blog update. I think what makes this worse is the double standard which suggests that not only are women who dress ‘provocatively’ somehow worth less, but also women who don’t dress to look sexually available are worth less. It all boils down to the way that a woman’s worth is valued, first and foremost, on her appearance. A woman has to be attractive before she can be anything else, but a woman who tries to make herself obviously attractive (such as putting on a provocative cheerleader’s uniform) is therefore after sex and doesn’t need to be considered for anything else.

  • Feminism – My Reasons Why « Capitol Hill Gang @ at 7:06 pm, October 3rd, 2011

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