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What are you supposed to do with an article that claims to discuss sexism and is filled with sexist clichés? Because that’s exactly what that first article about ‘Sexism in Flanders’ in the newspaper De Standaard of 4 February 2013 has become. A poor excuse for an impartial article in a series that claims to unravel the clichés. But maybe that’s just the problem: the sexist discourse is so deeply ingrained in our culture that even a “quality newspaper” like De Standaard falls for it.
I have a couple of problems with that article. Firstly, it reduces the problem of sexual harassment to “getting attention”. The tone of the entire article seems to be: “so aren’t we allowed to give attention to women any more?” News flash: sexual harassment is NOT a compliment. It is intimidation, it is a power game, it has nothing whatsoever to do with seduction. It is disrespectful and humiliating. It is so NOT just some women unable to cope with the attention they are getting.
Getting? According to some experts quoted in the article, they are even asking for it. Here’s my second problem. “Those who choose to wear a very short skirt may hope for more attention and should not complain when they get it.” – so it says quite literally in the article’s conclusion. Dear journalist of De Standaard. Dear experts. Dear stranger in the street. I do not know you. You do not know me. I am a young woman with a wardrobe filled with skirts in all shapes and sizes. If I happen to choose to wear my flashy pink miniskirt, which barely reaches mid-thigh, I do not wear it to send a message to the thousands of strangers who cross my path every day. I am not wearing it for you. I am not wearing it for the horny guy sitting on a bench in the park I happen to pass on my way to work. I am not wearing it to satisfy any sexual or other desires of whichever known or unknown person. How dare you presume I am thinking of you when I am standing in front of my wardrobe in the morning? You mean nothing to me. Because I do not know you. If I happen to choose to wear that skirt, I do it because I happen to feel like wearing it that day. Because that skirt matches my black blouse with pink polkadots so beautifully. For me. Not for you or any other stranger whatsoever.
The clothes we wear, according to one of the quoted experts, always convey a message about the person wearing them. They express their identity. Let me explain something to you: whether I’m wearing that pink miniskirt, or a black skirt to just below the knee, or a jeans or sweatpants… I am still the same woman. The only thing that changes, is the image you have of me, your judgement of me. And you know what? That means the problem – the way YOU interpret MY clothes – is YOU.
In the article, an expert states that women just have to act in accordance to many more rules about clothing than men. It is stated as if it is a given and we’ll just have to grin and bear it, so defending patriarchal ideas and rules women are subjected to: to dress in a certain way so as to avoid provocation, “because the female body carries a higher erotic meaning”, so they say. That’s just how it is, so too bad. Did you ever stop to think, dear expert, that a “female body” may be carrying a greater “erotic meaning” especially for many men? And that a male body may just as well carry great erotic meaning for many women? Confirming a sexist status-quo is also sexism. Did you know?
I have the right to wear what I want, whenever I want to wear it, however late it may be or however dark it may be outside, without endangering myself, without judgements, without prejudices. I claim that right. And nobody will stop me from proudly walking the streets in that pink miniskirt, and show the proverbial finger to whoever dares to intimidate me.
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