I’ve been thinking once again about something I considered a year ago. At that time SlutWalks had formed and gained great momentum with women across the country and beyond. I am not wholly sold on the idea behind the SlutWalk. I agree with the idea that women should not be shamed because of their sexuality or because of what they choose to do with their bodies or because of violence enacted against them. However, I don’t fully agree with taking half of a cultural dichotomy and re-defining it while leaving the other half of the dichotomy in the dictionary. Granted, slut is a much more common (too common) insult used to keep women down than prude is. However, in this culture of hypersexuality, to be labelled a prude, to be labelled anti-sex is also shaming.
In thinking about this issue, I became interested in the idea of modesty. There are two young women in my life (one a “celebrity” I don’t really know and one a friend I’m getting to know) who showed modesty for religious reasons. It fascinated me. A year ago I was seeking out “sexier” clothing (i.e. clothing that made me feel sexy/attractive) — and who would make such clothes for fat people? That’s another rant altogether. This year, however, I thought, what’s the point? Women are under continual pressure to make themselves sex objects and are constantly being made into sex objects. I suppose my curiosity about modesty was a backlash reaction to the culture at large.
However, I quickly came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter if a woman dresses or acts modestly. If you are modest, you are deemed to be frigid or a prude or sex negative or closed-minded. If you are less modest in your dress, having some or lots of sex (or if you look at a man a certain way), enjoy sex, are outspoken, etc., you are deemed to be a slut or a whore. In other words, however you dress and however you behave, if you are a woman, you cannot win. Our culture says, Women Cannot Win.
To win would mean we are equals in society. To win would mean we have bodily integrity, just like men do. To win would mean that respect is a two-way street (or a three-way street, as I am aware there are those who do not fit into the box that is gender binary).
I was reminded of this idea recently in a discussion with an acquaintance. His stance is that women should not breastfeed in public, because seeing a bared breast turns him on sexually which makes him a “pervert” when the breast is attached to a breastfeeding mother. Therefore, breastfeeding mothers should hide away in those special nursing rooms some stores provide or in washrooms or cover themselves in the nursing tents you can purchase.
So if a woman breastfeeds in public, she is shamed for showing a part of her body that has been over-sexualized and is told to hide herself away for the disgusting act of feeding her child. If a woman bottle-feeds her baby in public, she is seen as more acceptable. However, I would argue that some people also would shame her for bottle-feeding. Before I experienced breastfeeding firsthand and had to supplement my child’s feedings with formula due to low milk production (and a lack of knowledge about Human Milk for Human Babies Global Network), I did look down on women who bottle-fed. Breast is best! That is the mantra women are told. It is correct, but it can obscure the many different situations and circumstances a mother faces in the realm of feeding her baby. I look on bottle-feeding mothers/fathers with more compassion now. I don’t know their stories. I need to have faith that those parents are doing the best they can for their babies in their given situations. Just like my spouse and I are.
To get back to the point, though: whatever a woman does, she cannot win. Her body is a sex object. Her body is not her own. She must obey these cultural rules, or she will be shamed.
So what do we do? If we can’t win, why try? We must try, we must fight, because “women can’t win” is a lie. It pretends to be the glue that holds this society together, but why should we want this society to stay together the way it is? Break it. Break the rules. Break and bend the culture, because I know there is a better way, a better world.
And refuse to participate in woman-shaming of any kind.