Let’s NOT talk about Michelle’s dress

First all-woman delegation

In the wake of Election Day, women emerge victorious! History was made in the U. S. Senate when women secured more seats than ever before. In New Hampshire, they added two female Representatives and a Governor to their two women Senators for the first all-woman delegation. Let’s hear it for strong, smart women leaders! What an incredibly inspiring thing—especially for our young women and men—to experience. Progress!

*(insert record scratch)*

And then I see the “news” about Michelle Obama. Apparently, she committed a fashion faux pas on election night and wore a repeat dress. Even Sasha and Malia were not immune from fashion commentary. The point is—I saw nothing in the news about the First Lady’s prospective work for the next four years. Nothing about how she might continue her ground breaking work on the health of our youth, or how she could expand her work on food justice for the poor (OK, maybe that’s just my wishful thinking…) Anyway, there was nothing of substance discussed. But women have secured more seats in the Senate than ever before, you say. This is progress. What’s the harm in a little fashion commentary?

By focusing on what important, smart, powerful women are wearing and how they look, we are sending the message to young girls: this is what you should spend your time, energy, and money on. Don’t listen, girls and boys!

It’s time to move forward, and what better inspiration than last week’s election results. We have work to do and ground to gain, but we are headed in the right direction. Women’s voices will be better represented and that creates both policies and a culture where women are more respected, have more good choices available, and are ultimately safer.

The great sports bro debate of 2012

Like many kids, my son likes to dress up. He has a special fondness for very tight-fitting clothes. For example, he yearns for a wrestling singlet. I think his fashion sense is quirky, imaginative, and overflowing with childish joy—as it should be.

So I was not the least bit worried when my son developed a fascination with my sports bra and decided to fashion one for himself out of a cut up pair of boxer briefs. In fact, I was quite in awe of his intuitive skill at working the fabric.

He was so darn happy about his new “sports bro,” that I didn’t even bat an eye the next morning when he chose to wear it under his t-shirt. We did have a short chat on the way to school about the fact that some of the kids might find it unusual, and did he have a plan for what he would say if anyone asked him about it? He confidently and enthusiastically replied, “I’ll just tell ‘em it’s my awesome sports bro!”

Forward to that night, when I found out my husband was very worried and strongly believed that our son should not wear it to school. He wasn’t constitutionally opposed to boys wearing anything that resembled “girl” clothing. He wasn’t second-guessing what this meant for our son’s gender identity or sexual orientation. But he was terrified that other kids—and especially their parents—would make those assumptions about our son, and that our son would face terrible teasing and bullying.

I was not bullied as a kid. I definitely wasn’t part of the popular crowd—anyone who knows me now will not be surprised to learn that I was a solid member of the dork crew—but I wasn’t teased or bullied. My son has such a solid self-assurance that I am usually more worried about making sure he is paying attention to other people’s feelings. So it never occurred to me to fear for him and the sports bro.

But my husband WAS bullied and teased growing up—terribly so—and those memories have stayed with him. He knows intimately how life-altering it can be to get teased for how you look or dress.

We did not arrive at agreement about how to handle this. I felt very strongly that we need to live in a world where our son can wear a sports bro and not have it be a big deal. My husband felt just as strongly that we do not yet live in that kind of world, and he was very unwilling to put our young son forward as the trailblazer. We are both coming at it from a place of love. And I think we’re both right.

At the end of the day, the only thing I could really think was, “Sexism and homophobia ruins everything!!”

And that is also true. Sexism and homophobia ruins everything.

Olympic fever

Wilma Rudolph, OlympianI stayed up way too late last night. I love the Olympics and cannot break away once I start watching. I’m so proud of the women from all over the world who compete—women on every team this year for the first time in Olympic history.

There is so much to say. I could write about Title IX, and the opportunities it created for women athletes. Or about the research that shows that girls who engage in sports are more bomb-proof when it comes to abuse—with a stronger sense of self and their own personal power. Or about the great ways that men are engaging in violence prevention campaigns through sports.

Nah. I’m going to write about fashion.

Don’t you think Misty and Kerri were looking a tad overclad as they took to the sand for their volleyball match? I wondered if it was just too chilly for their regular “uniforms”—as the pair calls their bikinis—or if jolly olde England is imposing a dress code.

Watching the pair muscle through their matches reminded me of a recent conversation with my brother-in-law. He’d just finished up work on a dissertation committee for a woman researcher seeking her degree in fashion design (who knew?). Turns out activists come in all professions.  God knows we need someone shaking up women’s clothing.

She studied active adult women and their experiences shopping for athletic wear—clothing for running, walking, cycling, etc. Can you imagine? She found a lot of dissatisfied women. And a gigantic untapped market of those of us who will never fit into a size 0, or 00. Women who strive to stay active—even as companies don’t even try to make clothes that fit our bodies and that we look good in.

This particular researcher took a teaching job in West Virginia—with the stipulation that the school purchase plus size manikins for her students to use when designing.

How about it Nike, Columbia, Adidas? If you make it, we’ll leap tall buildings in a single bound to buy it. And maybe we’ll smash some sexism along the way.

It matters to me

What an interesting crazy-making time we live in.

We have a country blowing up about birth control and rolling back reproductive rights at the same time as fashion trends and pop culture role models continue to impose sexy sexy sexy on our girls.

I am so tired of the heavy burden girls bear; to be sexy, young-looking sex objects, but not have sex. But if you do have sex, don’t get pregnant. But don’t use birth control. And definitely do not have an abortion.

Photo by michelleavitia@gmail.com at SoCalFeminist

We are giving girls the message: we only care about your uterus and what might grow in it. What happens to you before a pregnancy―rape, relationship violence, poverty, lack of access to sex education and birth control―does not matter. What happens to you during your pregnancy―besides the continued growth of the fetus―does not matter. What happens to you and the baby after it’s born―does not matter.

Why are the dominant messages so simplistic, so binary, so… stupid? How are we as a populace putting up with ourselves for being such liars―professing to value families, while simultaneously whittling away all the resources that support families?

I am eager to see us shift towards talking about healthy, positive sexuality, based on individual preferences and (where applicable) faith. Without imposing one (tiny, revealing) size fits all.