SEX AND SEXUALITY

Miniskirts are not about sexualising the body

By Charlotte Fischer

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.

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2 thoughts on “Miniskirts are not about sexualising the body”

  1. Let’s talk a bit about “sexualising”. It’s something that other people do when they interact with you — be it visually, aurally, by touch, or in any other way — and you don’t have any say in it. Which parts of the body are conventionally considered as sexual is also something that’s culture-specific. In Western culture, a woman’s legs are considered to be sexual (along with feet, hips, stomach, breasts, back, throat, ears, lips, eyes, cheeks, hair, … come to think of it, there’s not much of a woman that isn’t considered to be sexual in Western culture).

    Now, you may not “OBVIOUSLY” be trying to be sexual. When I wear underpants on my head, I’m not OBVIOUSLY telling the world that I’m crazy. Nevertheless, I don’t get to have a say in it, since the culture I’m in claims that people who wear underpants on their head are a couple of cards short of the full deck. And you don’t get to have a say in it either.

    Good luck with changing the status quo by telling people that they shouldn’t look at things that are clearly sexualised in their culture. I’m sure that if you work really hard to make ogling women in revealing clothing a taboo thing, that will stop people from doing it, because nobody finds taboo things to be sexy.

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  2. Well said Sweeedish Chief.

    To be frank, the whole idea of “sexualising” is nonsense (as pointed out by the Chief: unfortunately you can’t control how people react to you and it’s just fact that men are aroused by viewing certain parts of a woman. Whereas woman may not be as turned on by my hairy legs, as amazing as they are.) Your total refusal to believe that woman habitually wear sexually-arousing clothing to get what they want is naive at best. It’s a well known secret that the flaw with the drivers-test system is that officers testing are usually men and are likely to be more favourably disposed to someone who sexually arouses them. Women take full advantage of this.

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