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On What Women Wear

In many circles I am known for the colorful long gowns I love to wear. Even in environments in which the unspoken dress code is thigh-high cocktail dresses, or legging-like jeans, or pum pum shorts.

On my first day of high school, I wore pumpum shorts with a tight t-shirt. There were a lot of hormonal high school male eyes on me. Similar outfits continued for weeks, with similar attention. My Muslim friends were confused. Before then I had been so modestly dressed. They couldn’t comprehend my excitement at finally having immense curvature to show off–thanks to the McD’s hormones I had consumed all summer.

Within a few weeks, the looks that had turned to actions and then to exaggerated rumors–lies–about what my 14 year old self was doing behind closed doors were no longer something I appreciated. I understood quickly what it meant to get that kind of attention and to be perceived in that way, and decided I would opt for the respectful looks–and treatment–that my Muslim friends took for granted. Thus the pum pum shorts disappeared overnight.

Even when my inner wild was liberated years later, I was more comfortable in long, loose and sexy. There were the same number of eyes on me, and surprisingly, many of them were just as hormonal. Although I exercise my right to an occasional thigh-high.

I know women who believe that in order to get male attention, they must dress provocatively–the more cleavage the better. Then I know women who feel liberation is equated with their right to dress provocatively and have no men look at them, especially not the would-be rapists. Intelligent, powerful women on all rungs of the spectrum. From half-naked heterosexual, to fully cloaked Muslima, to half-naked homosexual. Its interesting that most of our dress culture is influenced directly by what the opposite sex (or the attractive sex, for a homosexual) likes, or appreciates. There are Muslim women and Jewish women who are presumed un-marriable if they aren’t fully covered in public at all times–not that this full covering is synonymous with piety as many Muslim women and their boyfriends will tell you.

I have never called myself a “feminist”, just a Radical Black Wombyn. Although much of my ideology agrees with feminist thought, not all. Lesbians powered the feminist movement to a large extent. So when people said “Feminists hate men,” its because they thought that any act against patriarchy–and heterosexuality–is an act of war against men. There is a sense in which this is true, if “man” means patriarchal oppressor and feminists are fighting that. Many people–men and women–subconsciously hate the opposite sex, often due to molestation or abuse experienced at the hand of one of its members.

I say that to say that if indeed there is a feminist “war” on “manhood,” that that can translate into disgust at the opinions of men on what women wear. And if a woman is not attracted to men, then certainly she doesn’t care what men think about how she dresses. In fact, she demands that he cease to comment on the topic whatsoever.

But as a raging heterosexual, I am very comfortable with the man’s contribution to opinions of what women wear. Not every man, obviously, since the chain-toting rapper with the naked girls at his side would have no place in my heterosexuality. But since I am attracted to men, certainly the right type of man’s opinion of how I present is important to me, just as a lesbian would be affected by what the lesbian she likes is attracted to.

So the debate on what women wear does not have to be about what men think. It does not have to be about patriarchal white-male-owned media outlets projecting images of half naked Black women in order to destroy a people. It could simply be about the kind of person you wish to attract and what attracts them.

Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.

I am involved in many ongoing conversations regarding what women wear. The most problematic aspect of this conversation for me is that women should be able to walk down the street naked and not get raped and/or–if they did get raped–not be blamed for it. Feminists are tired of the onus always falling back to the woman, so that is is “our” responsibility to dress in such a way that will not get us raped.

There is an extent to which I don’t mind taking the onus. It is documented that ancient societies were matriarchal because they recognized the woman’s superior abilities in leadership, supernatural manifestations; wisdom and leadership. They saw the woman as the superior gender and treated her as such. These characteristics have not completely vanished over thousands of years. Women still intrinsically possess abilities that men do not. However because the world has generally shifted into male-dominated, patriarchal systems, the woman’s role has been relegated to something which serves the males who dominate. Thus, the lesbian counter-culture, the feminist counter-culture which seeks to either remove oppressed women from the grips of male domination or demand equal treatment. I don’t know that the latter can be successful because an oppressor can almost never hand you equal rights–this eliminates his ability to oppress. So the oppressor subjugates you so that he can continue to dominate you, often because he knows that you could easily dominate him if given the chance. It is this fear of feminine superiority that has been endemic to so many middle age cultures and persists today, that makes me somewhat comfortable with taking the onus on how I present myself.

So why do I prefer long dresses? Not as immediate protection from rape or mistreatment from men. Because, God help me, I plead the Blood of Black Jesus and Mami Wata over my vagina, and faith is often the only thing that protects us from anything. But I wear long dresses because this male dominated society can not dictate to me that I am only desirable if my skin is showing. I would rather end up single than to submit my life to a man produced by this system, who thinks my body is literally his property to dominate and dictate customs to. I wear long dresses because as beautiful as I feel my body is, it belongs to me and God and so it is not available for any one else’s viewing, ogling, drooling or dominating. I protect my sacred temple from male domination by keeping it mostly to myself, saving it for that person who would be so lucky…

Does this mean women who show off their beautiful bodies don’t consider them sacred? Don’t value their imperial woman-ness? No. Each woman may choose to honor her temple in the way that she sees fit. It is just important that she do this with a full understanding of what she comes from, and what it means to her to own her temple. Every woman must arrive at her own informed conclusions about how to protect, own and honor her body.

I am lucky. Coming from a backdrop of silent molestation, rapes and attempted rapes so pervasive in many African cultures, I could have easily become a lesbian. Had I been subjected to the level of violence that many women suffer, I could have come to hate men. I am glad that I do not, even though I recognize their infinite weaknesses 😉

Categories: Articles, Blog, Womanism

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