Lao Tzu

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Women and the Symbolic Garb of Repression: Whether Taliban or Western Slut Fashion, Women Lose

Awhile back Thom Hartmann* asked a question on his show: "Does slut-shaming mark the return of the Christian Taliban?” Interesting, but I didn’t hear anything resembling my opinion on the subject, so I thought I’d bring it up here.

The framing of Thom’s question assumes a choice of Yes or No: either slut-shaming reflects puritannical, Christian repression, or it doesn’t, and slut fashion gets a pass on behalf of Western women’s liberation. But wait— maybe there’s another choice. Maybe slut fashion deserves a critical look from the progressive feminist’s point of view. It may be possible, given that neither Taliban patriarchy nor Western patriarchy get a five-star rating for women’s equality or liberation, slut fashion represents repression as well, that is to say, it’s the other side of the coin of religious repression.

If, in America, women learn to hide their intelligence and their unique personhood underneath a heavy mask of make-up and clothing designed to define them according to their sexuality alone, can we seriously insist that slut-pride and slut-fashion represent true liberation?

If women define themselves outwardly solely by their value as sexual ornaments, haven’t they cooperated in their own represson; haven’t they agreed to wear the symbolic garb of male rule and patriarchy?

Don’t get me wrong— I get the standard feminist argument against slut-shaming: Slut-shaming works by a double standard. Men not only do not have to present themselves in society as sexual ornaments, but they also will not be shamed for being sexual. Men are “studs;” women are “sluts.”  It’s an old story, and it’s an infuriating one. Inspired in part by fear and hatred, and, yes, loathing, of female sexuality, it shames women for owning their sexuality, for celebrating it, and for being shameless about it. Shamelessness, after all, is among the worst of sins a woman can commit— “You shameless hussy you!” We’re supposed to behave ourselves, and strutting our stuff still inspires shudders among those who would control women, as it enrages the would-be-rapists. Thus, the Slut Walks appear, where “sluts” resist the sexist paradigm in a defiant celebration of the body and its wholesome meaning.

Also, slut-shaming puts the responsibility for male behavior onto women, rather than where it belongs— on men.

I get it. And, yes, that argument has validity. It works for me too.

Just the same, looking at these with-and-without-make-up pics of porn stars, I see a contrast between the real and the fake, between individuals —whole persons with unique characteristics— and standardized dummies fabricated according to the values of our culture, values which do not include the freedom of women to be independent of the demands of men.

When women dress in “the slut look,” —and don’t tell me that’s not a costume— don’t they leave out an awful lot about themselves? Don’t they wear a sign saying, “Hey guys, I’m not a person; I’m an object,” and don’t they express their submissiveness in doing so? Haven’t they hidden themselves behind the metaphorical burqa required by the most sexist of male standards and preoccupations?

It doesn’t matter that they haven’t had to hide themselves, head-to-toe, under fabric; they’re still hidden.

So, even while Western society shames women for their sexuality, Western society also, as represented by advertising, violent pornography and other media, relentlessly presents women as low-status sexual beings, or as beings predominantly useful as status symbols (women on Hefner’s arm along with his fancy car and mansion), as creatures solely intended for male amusement or abuse, or as second-class decorative elements: Is that not the Western version of a burqa?  Moreover, where women buy into it, can women be blamed entirely?  (See The Codes of Gender / documentary.) 

When women feel pressure, or even the desire, to have breast implants, nose jobs, lip injections and the rest of what passes for face and body enhancement, that is, to the point where all evidence of the unique person they once were disappears, and what is left can only be described as Barbiesque for young and old alike, what is that if not a Western burqa?

For example: Nicole Kidman before, au naturale; and after, in her American, or Western, burqa.

Most disturbing of all, commercial indoctrination in slut-conformity begins quite early: One Google group dedicated to the subject of kids, a girl/woman posted this question and comment: “Can anyone fill me in on this Junior Slut fashion for Girls?... Geez.  "Junior Slut?"  What next?”

How about a happy medium? Anybody for wholesome, self-respect and dignity that does not deny one’s sexuality but also does not allow it to define oneself entirely?  How about starting early with that; how about Disrupting the Pink Aisle!?

(related topic:   )

(* website note: