I was excited to read Ritsie Mashale’s post attacking the Minister of Transport Sbu Ndebele’s comments on women who wear miniskirts whilst taking their driving test. Hooray! I thought. First of all, I’m always in favour of people being nice about women taking driving tests (I didn’t pass till I was 21). Secondly, I thought about how great it was to see a feminist response to the Minister’s sexist comments.
Until I got to this line
In the case where women choose to wear miniskirts to their driver’s license test, women are exercising choice to use their bodies as objects of desire to acquire a license to freedom [emphasis mine]
Women wearing mini skirts – in this (or any other) situation are automatically using their bodies to try to get ahead? When did this become an acceptable feminist thing to say?
Feminism is and should be a broad movement that allows for many voices, and many points of view, so I’m all for supporting the conversation, but this is why I disliked Ms Mitshale’s opinion. It’s not acceptable to assume that a woman wearing a miniskirt is, automatically trying to sexualise her body.
In fact, it has several problems. One is that when we sexualise women’s bodies like that, we’re not treating women as if their bodies are their own. You may have picked that miniskirt on your driving test day because you feel comfortable in it, because you like it, because it doesn’t interrupt your freedom of movement when you drive in it, or because even – heck – because you don’t have any other clothes in your wardrobe and it’s laundry day. But according to Ms Mashale’s, the only reason possible is you view your body in terms of the sexual desire you can elicit in a negotiation where you (presumably?) show your legs in return for a driver’s license. Where does this idea come from? Where are its limits? Am I trying to show off my sexuality if I show my knee cap? My ankle? My hair? Why isn’t it just mine? (Sidenote – you may also be wearing the miniskirt because you feel sexy in it. That’s also okay. It doesn’t mean that you are using your body, aka Ms Mashale’s “object of desire”, in order to try to bribe your driving instructor).
Sexualising women’s bodies is a major problem – and more than that, it’s also bollocks. For the Victorians, the ankle was deeply risqué and very hot (people used to cover their table legs, for fear of what the sexual frenzy of seeing some polished wood known as a ‘leg’ might do) . In Indonesia, Dayak, Javanese and Balinese adult women were all historically topless without it having a sexual edge. There’s nothing innately sexual about a part of your leg north of your knee – at least, no more so than anywhere else on your body (and we rarely tell men off for being so sexually manipulative by trying to barter their bodies by wearing shorts).
We still have a culture that tells us that women are such innately sexual and manipulative creatures that if we show said parts of our body we are OBVIOUSLY trying to be sexual ERGO should be treated as someone wanting to be interact sexually. It’s not true, and it’s not okay for other people to judge us like that. It’s particularly not okay for feminists to judge us like that. My legs are my own.