Hey, I have a great idea!
Which is a good thing, because this is my ideas blog.
Let’s stop using the word “attractive.”
Stop rolling your eyes and hear me out. I’m not some feminist who wants to ruin all fun and sexiness. I’m a feminist who wants to wear whatever sparkly shit I wanna wear.
I remember dressing like a total prostitute* like it was just yesterday. When I was a teenager, my style icons were Courtney Love and Shirley Manson. I was fond of smeared eyeliner, fishnet stockings, vinyl miniskirts, high boots, leopard print and neon faux fur coats.
Naturally, my parents had a panic attack. They warned me that people might get the wrong idea about my intentions, that I was dressing “suggestively.” They were right – they were only just trying to protect me, and everyone did get the wrong idea.
Still, I knew that I was dressing purely for myself, because the style appealed to me. I was too innocent to know what I would be attracting. And thinking back on my entire life, I’ve never put on an outfit while thinking to myself, “Yeah, this is totally gonna get me fucked.” I might be innocent and alone in that statement, but it’s true. Even if those were my intentions, later in life, I was more focused on how I would achieve that goal with my actions.
Dressing crazy was fun. So I kept doing it. And thinking back, I don’t know why my punk boyfriends could get away with wearing studded dog collars without someone slapping a leash on them and saying they were begging for it.
Adolescence is a turbulent time, with a whole lot of hormones, feelings, confusion, romanticism and striving for individualism. I needed to express myself loudly with my wardrobe.
Fast-forward to when I’m a boring mom who wears high waisted jeans, and I’m watching my daughter Camille grow from taking her first clumsy steps to dancing to the latest Tegan and Sarah video. Despite my new fondness for pastels and neutrals, Camille has a similar clothing palette to my teenage self: sparkles, tulle, bright colors, bold textures. Someone handed us down a toddler dress that I could terrifyingly describe as “skanky,” with sequins and leopard print and little to no coverage. It was her favorite. I actually hid it.
Now it’s my turn to worry about her. She is a great dancer, for being four years old, and when she shakes her hips to the music, she looks like a tiny grownup. She was doing this long before she saw a music video, and at any rate we mostly show her videos of bands like Haim. More pounding on drums, bass face, strumming guitars and maybe a fierce toss of hair, at most.
Watching Camille develop, I am reminded of my teenage self, and I become even more confident in my theory that we would develop these beautiful mannerisms and preferences for shiny things even in a vacuum. A bare exposed shoulder, a coy smile, a perfectly-draped dress while looking back at the camera: that beauty, it’s ours.
Good-looking men are entitled to the rare privilege of owning their own good looks.
Toddlers and preschoolers are much like teenagers: they, too, get a shot of hormones, which results in a whole lotta feelings, confusion, romanticism and striving for individualism. They want to express themselves loudly, hence the constant wardrobe rotation of Princess Sparkle Unicorn Rainbow Fairy.
Cue the sex worker who’s trolling the mean streets of Colfax in a similar getup to my teenage self: ripped fishnets, smeared eyeliner and a faux fur coat. While I question if this is what sex workers actually wear, this is who we think of when we see such fashion choices. “Prostitute.” “Hooker.”
This is incorrect.
Of course an enterprising sex worker, or at least a filmmaker portraying a sex worker, would want to harness the loud vitality of a fun teenage girl with zero fucks to give. It’s good marketing. What better fantasy, for a John, than a confused, spontaneous, vital young woman with a penchant to roam and no desire for children?
These things were stolen from us. Boas. Sparkles. Hip shaking and booty shaking. If no men existed, we would do these things regardless. Hell, I would dress like a total tramp and give out free hugs everyday if men weren’t around.
They stole these things that we naturally do, loaded them into the “tramp” stereotype, and then when we continued to be ourselves, they aimed the tramp gun at us and let loose. Our natural actions, expressions and choices become loaded with intention.
This entire shift in perspective came to me as I was walking out of the bathroom and caught a glimpse of my expression in the mirror. The look that fell naturally on my face in this most mundane of moments was…flirtatious. How many men see that look on my face when I walk down the street, and think it’s for them?
After this rant, it might surprise you to learn that I am a staunch advocate for upholding social norms, or at least breaking them in a meaningful way. So I teach Camille what a functional wardrobe is for school, or the company Christmas party, or going to the swimming pool. She can wear whatever she wants, as long as it’s appropriate – and she can wear nothing at home, if she pleases.
But I make sure to never shame my daughter about skimpy clothing choices or hip-shaking dance moves, and I’m pretty good at it, because I firmly believe in it.
Still, there are challenges. A little secret: I’m no stranger to strip clubs. And man, there is one dance move that she did the other day that reminded me of a very common stripper move. Instead of being horribly shocked, it just confirmed my perspective:
We’ve been doing these things all along. Men, in the typical narrative, came along and decided that it was all about them. They liked what we were doing, because we’re great! And so they decided that things we do naturally are done just to make them happy. Even the body parts stuck on us are there for them.
I’m starting to think that the most dangerous part of toxic masculinity is not testosterone, not sex drive, but narcissism. Dudes coming in and making it all about them.
This all might be a giant given to you, but it was a total change in perspective for me. It was a reversal of the chicken-egg order I was taught. I’ve been against body shaming and slut shaming, but it was only rooted in the feminism of choice: that we should be able to be as slutty as we want, because men can be sluts. Deep down, I still believed that most women who copped a come-hither look were trying to attract mates. And that very well may be true – but it never occurred to me until now that it’s dangerous to assume that’s the case, or that what she is trying to attract is the kind of attention she is going to get. Maybe she wants someone to flirt with her tonight, but she gets raped. Maybe she just has sexy resting face. (Yes, despite taking this seriously, I am still laughing with you). Maybe her look is even more primal than sex. It’s womanly.
So, don’t say a woman looks attractive. Chances are she didn’t put that outfit on to attract anything, but just to express herself.
We can be beautiful, we can be gorgeous, we can be cute. We can even be sexy, because to me, that means we remind you of sex, and that’s your thing. But don’t say that we are attractive or suggestive, because this implies that we can be asking for sexual violence or harrassment with our mannerisms, expressions or how we dress.
Don’t say a woman acts attractively, unless she is actively soliciting you for sex.
Don’t say a woman is being suggestive unless she is currently running her hand up your thigh.
* I use the words tramp, prostitute, skanky and more in this piece to illustrate stereotypes. But I use the words “sex worker” to refer to human beings.