Alright, my dears. You know I try to not get too serious on this blog (mostly out of fear and laziness), but this time I can’t contain myself.
Most of you probably know that I live in a largely conservative society, and I am absolutely not conservative. Generally, this works out really well. I attribute the success to a general atmosphere of respect, my tendency to not give a damn what most people think of my personal decisions, my ability to ignore what I might interpret as unimportant flaws in other people, and my propensity for seclusion.
But today I saw the ugly side of being an outlier, and was hit with the recollection that I’m still swimming upstream.
Tonight while alone at the grocery store, a man approached me and asked why I look the way I do. I was taken aback by the question, and simply responded “Excuse me?” Then he said he was curious why I was wearing immodest clothing and had tattoos, when (verbatim) he nor any man he knew was attracted to such a brazen display. And that it would be easier for me to find a good man if I dressed modestly.
(Context: I was wearing a sleeveless dress that came to mid-thigh, and sandals. Showing about this much skin. This is the standard modesty rule for Mormon women – which most women around here adhere to.)
Frankly, I am infuriated by this stranger’s comments. It seemed like he was a recent ex-missionary, and I know he didn’t intend harm; he was just continuing his missionary work. But his approach, the ideology behind it, and the assumptions he made about me have filled me with indignation. It also angers and embarrasses me that I was too taken aback to respond with any wit.
All I could say before walking away and leaving the store without purchasing anything was that I didn’t dress myself for people like him; that I don’t base my clothing decisions on what people think or on my desire to find a mate. No additional explanation. No assertion of pride. For that I’m really ashamed of myself.
But luckily, the internet will let me air my grievances here. Let’s address the three I mentioned above:
- His approach: I’m assuming that this stranger’s intention was to hit me with an unexpected “truth”-bomb; to perhaps make me realize I was on what he thought of as the wrong path. Instead of doing this with love, he made it a personal attack. A condescending belittlement. A scoff, a dismissal, an expression of pity. Hint: That will never work.
- The ideology behind it: It is absolutely hideous to me that this man thought I was dressing for him. That my physical appearance had a single thing to do with his desires, and the desires of those like him. I dress to express myself. I dress to be honest about who I am. I dress as a physical reminder that I am an awesome person deserving of my own love. I dress to practice courage. I dress for comfort. And sure, frankly I dress to not alienate people or to help gain friends sometimes, but the foundation of that desire is to give myself the confidence to attain those goals. It is so incredibly ego-centric and narrow-minded to assume that a woman’s all-encompassing goal is to impress men. Other annoying bits that I won’t get into: I am more than my skin. There is more than one way to respect and love your body. And judgement based solely on appearance is discrimination.
- The assumptions he made about me: First of all, this man assumed that I couldn’t get a good man looking like I do. But I already have an excellent man, thank you very much. A man who was smart enough to know that I am more than a sexual object, who noticed and appreciates me for more than just how I look. It seems that he assumed my life wasn’t going in a good direction. And certainly, I have troubles and am prone to bouts of depression – but in general, my life is goddamn excellent. I have a wonderful relationship with my family, I’m doing a great job raising my daughter, I’m healthy and intelligent and strong. And I can attribute most of these bright points to my ability to be honest about myself and go against the grain. Also, this man assumed that I might be interested in his brand of enlightenment. But, sir, I have already walked that road. I tried my damnedest to be a good Mormon, to exert complete faith, and it did not work for me in any way. I respect those who are able to live as meditative, sagacious Mormons, but I am not one of them.
I have been blamed in this way before, and in a way much more disturbing. I don’t have the courage/desire to share that experience, but I guess I should mention that my current rage is about more than this particular instance. From what I’ve seen, there is a definite trend around here to dehumanize women; to make them an object of the man, a thing to be protected, a thing to not be trusted, a tool for sin, an empty vessel, a 2-d mind.
And frankly? I pity this guy for the awesome interaction he is shunning by being so pseudo-virtuous, condescending, and judgmental. Because he refused to see them, he will never know about my incredible qualities, or the incredible qualities of other girls who bare their shoulders.
I can see that one might argue that perhaps my appearance was offensive to his sensibilities. I have in the past tried to be respectful of this phenomenon, but have recently gotten entirely sick of it. I feel that by respecting the will of the majority, by lying about who I am and hiding my fabulous self, I do a disservice to others like me. I am proud of who I am, I want to make my true self available to those who can relate, and this man took that desire, something I see as beautiful and near-sacred, and turned it into a sexual disparagement. In assuming that my appearance was for him, he temporarily stole it from me.
It is frustrating when society expects women to be responsible for not being disrespected/assaulted/harassed – instead of expecting men and other women to not do those things. It’s like saying we should constantly wear bulletproof vests, instead of saying that people should just not shoot each other. I should be able to express myself without fear of being disrespected, assaulted or harassed; and in Utah County I am often robbed of that right.