9.16.2012

Interlude - WTF, SFist. WTF.

It's no secret that I happen to think that fashion (and fashion blogging) is a tool with great potential for a feminist reclamation of self-image. It's baffling to hear young women today dismiss feminism, as though it lacks cultural relevance. You, young women, need feminism. You need feminism because of situations like the below.

Photo credit: Sergio Ruiz

This is a photo that was posted on the SFist (a San Francisco online news source) to accompany an article about a woman who was molested on public transportation. What do you see in the above photo? I see a picture of a woman waiting at a train stop.

What did commenters on this article see? They saw a woman who was dressed like a "prostitute", a woman who was "asking for it", and demanded to know why the SFist would post something in such poor taste.

There are multiple issues here.

Any time a woman is sexually assaulted, it is a crime, regardless of what she is wearing, regardless of what side of town she was in, regardless of her physical characteristics, regardless of how much money she makes, regardless of how she makes her money, regardless of how much money her attacker makes, regardless of how nice she was being to her attacker before the assault took place, regardless of her relationship with the attacker. Sex crimes do not cease being sex crimes because you wore a miniskirt instead of jeans, or because you are transgendered, or because your attacker is well-respected in the community, or because you smiled at a man when you got onto a bus, or because you danced with him at a club, or because you dated him for a year, or because you're married to him. If someone performs a sexual act upon you without your consent, you have been sexually assaulted. No peripheral issues are relevant, and no woman is "asking for it" unless she explicitly, clearly, verbally, and with true intent, asks for it.

Now, let's look at how socially "appropriate" the outfit in the above photo indeed is. The woman above is wearing a skirt, high heels, and a blazer, carrying a purse. She looks like she is on her way home from work. Perhaps she works in the merchandising department at Levi's corporate. Perhaps she works as an illustrator at an urban planning firm in North Beach. Perhaps she works in the call center at Bebe corporate. Perhaps she is Kim Kardashian after a perfume launch and her driver went MIA with the Town Car. Perhaps she works in HR at any number of San Francisco's private colleges. Perhaps she is a contract attorney. Whatever the case, she is wearing what all of mainstream society's bullshit fashion magazines tell us we have to wear when we, as young women, go into a work setting. "Look cute! Wear heels! Look feminine! Just throw on a blazer! From day to night!" This, society, is what you've told us we SHOULD look like, and in professional settings in metropolitan areas, no less. If you are just out of college and entering a semi-creative field, this is a pretty standard thing that you would be EXPECTED to wear to work.

I find it perplexing that anyone would associate this outfit as being something "prostitute attire" for three reasons. First, it is ignorant to assume that there is just one way a sex worker dresses. Second, even for those without real-world encounters with actual sex workers, the image of a sex worker that we see thrust upon us by mainstream media does not correlate with the above image (when I see sex workers portrayed on television and in movies, they are not wearing a fucking blazer and carrying an oversized purse -- they are actually dressed a helluva lot more interestingly than this photo). Third, if men in our society cannot tell the difference between the "prostitute" caricature society has created and the "young working woman" caricature our society has created, that tells you a lot about how patriarchal society views all young women.

This is a really fucking socially appropriate outfit, and one that every fashion magazine and many fashion blogs tell us we should emulate. This is how society wants women to dress on the day to day barring specific workplaces and environments, which are actually deemed conservative rather than normal. I don't happen to think there is anything inappropriate about anything a woman chooses to wear (or not wear, for that matter), but I find it especially infuriating when society tells us to dress a certain way, then says we look like "prostitutes" who are "asking for it" when we do. Society wants us to dress up like feminine Mad Men Barbie dolls when we enter the world, but if you're sexually assaulted in that attire, it's really not anyone's fault but your own because sexual assault is only socially considered valid if we're dressed in a baggy sweatsuit when it happens. We wonder why so many women do not report sexual assault or rape?

You, young women, need feminism because this shit is getting old. Women make up 52% of the United States' population, but only 17% of its Congress. We are most of this country, half of this planet, and still regarded as objects of male fancy. Feminism is the fight for equality, and part of that is the fight for all of us, regardless of where we fall on gender or sexuality spectrums, to be able to wear whatever the hell we want without being deemed worthy recipients of sexual aggression.