Shoulder shaming? Yet another WTF moment in sex (mis)education.
(Trigger warning: this post touches on abuse.)
My youngest daughter, (15) had to take Speech 101 this year. Her latest assignment was to write a two-minute debate about an issue she felt strongly about. She chose to talk about the strict dress code enforced by her high school. These are her exact words:
When I was only 5 years old, I saw another kindergartner get dress-coded for wearing a top with spaghetti straps. Girls are so over sexualized that we can’t wear certain kinds of clothes because “it will disrupt the learning process.” What are you worried about when we show a little skin? That people will harass us? Why don’t you teach people to control themselves?
I’m also attracted to girls yet somehow I manage to keep my hands to myself. Maybe clothes aren’t the problem.
This issue matters because girls of all ages shouldn’t have to hide their body because people can’t control themselves. Girls shouldn’t be afraid to walk down the street. My clothes aren’t my consent. Respect me, respect my body.
I am proud of my daughter for speaking her mind, not only about her feelings regarding sexism, but her public announcement regarding her gender preference. At fifteen years old, she has more bravery and insight than some people will achieve in a lifetime. The last sentence of her speech buried me.
“My clothes aren’t my consent. Respect me, respect my body.”
At fifteen, she understands this concept. The public school system in my district does not. Let me give you an example of how deep their well of ignorance actually goes: My daughter was reprimanded for wearing a halter top that I, (Her mother!), considered modest. The halter in question is black and barely reveals her midriff, with a shallow neckline that reaches her collarbones. So, why was my daughter forced to keep her jacket on all day? Because the halter top revealed her shoulders.
Maybe I’ve been misinformed, but since when are shoulders considered sexually titillating? Back in the 1700’s maybe? Meanwhile, on this very same day, two boys walked into math class with their pants hanging so low, 75% of their boxer shorts were visible, (which incidentally also breaks dress-code). According to my daughter, the teacher laughed and said something like “Oh, you boys and your baggy pants.” Conclusion: when my daughter breaks dress-code – she gets a reprimand. When boys break dress-code – it’s high comedy.
What is really being taught here? The same old same old. Girls are inferior sex objects but boys can do what ever they want. What year is it, again?
And what about sex education?
My older daughter and I wrote a piece about that very subject (and also reviewed Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Sex and Cupcakes together). In our state’s school system basic sex education is touched on, but the majority of schools are preaching abstinence. Does anyone else see the ridiculousness of this? A female is considered so highly sexualized she cannot reveal her shoulders, but our schools preach abstinence. Consent is never mentioned.
My friend Happy Come Lucky wrote a brilliant piece on virginity this week. (The post contains a trigger warning, please use caution if necessary.) In her piece she states the following:
I do strongly believe that active consent is the most important thing that we can teach our young people. We need to stop focusing on the first time and focus on the skills that allow us to make good choices every time.
Eloquently said, Honey, and I could not agree more. From the time our children are old enough to understand the concept we need to teach them the importance of consent instead of abstinence. And I’m talking about all children here – sexual abuse is not gender specific – anyone who has a physical body can suffer abuse. We, as parents and guardians, need to teach our kids to respect others and also themselves.
It’s all about shame.
Children are still being taught that sex is shameful, that their bodies are shameful. This is a notion that carries through to adulthood. Case in point: I used a service that videotapes a random individual critiquing your blog, supposedly to give the blogger insight on what is working or not working in terms of their website. A male critiqued my site from a mobile phone perspective. He said things like “Oh, this person clearly is a writer. Look, here’s a book tab where we can find her books, great.” Next, a female critiqued the web version of my site. At first, she liked the design, and then, she saw my face.
“This looks unprofessional,” she said, moving the cursor around my head shot. “Wow, I’m not sure what she’s trying to convey here. Oh, my.” She was looking at my face. From the neck up. Next she pointed the cursor to my menu. “Dirty? Oh, wow, I’m afraid to click on that. Let’s try ‘about’. What? Selfies? No, I just can’t even, wow. I’m not even sure what I’m looking at here.” Basically, she was implying that I was wrong to show my face. My face. I felt like I was being shamed.
My daughter (15) and I had a discussion about selfies recently. She, like me, loves art and uses self portraits as a mode of self expression. Like I said in an article I wrote last summer, artists have been creating self portraits since mankind first put brush to canvas. Apparently, some of her “friends” have been giving her a hard time about her selfies, in other words, shaming her for creating them. I do not understand this attitude. My daughter photographs her face at various angles and then adds filters, colors and typography – she is creating art.
Why the shame?
It goes back to the beginning – sex is such a dirty, disgusting act, we can’t even discuss the subject. Taking photos of your body, your shameful body? Horrifying! We are fucking up our children and ourselves and it’s time to stop the madness. What can we do as individuals? We can teach our children pride instead of shame, for starters. We can stand up, speak out and (where applicable) use our right to vote.
Does your child’s school have an unfair dress-code policy? Feel free to leave a comment. Want to brag about your kid? Please do!