How do feminist mums of dds square the circle of bringing them up to feel they have the right to wear what they want, have a positive attitude to sex, etc AND stay safe at the same time?

(104 Posts)
breadandbutterfly Sun 30-Jun-13 19:14:32

Finding this hard now my dd is a teen - she wants to wear micro-minis and make-up etc - she knows she looks good and enjoys the positive attention from boys as well as other girls. As a feminist, I don't want to tell her she can't wear what she wants because people might get the wrong idea etc ie akin to blaming the victim - but as her mum, I want her to be safe, and not give boys the impression she's up for all things sexual because she isn't.

It was easy for my mum's generation - she could just say that 'nice girls don't' and that basically sex was not nice and best avoided until obligatory in marriage grin - not correct,but at least unambiguous. 'Nice girls' also didn't wear short skirts etc. But trying to give positive messages about sex whilst also making it clear it's best left till lots older (she's 13) and about the right to dress to please herself whilst also understanding that other people will judge you on the basis of what you wear, is a rather tricky balance to express.

How do other mums deal with this, please?

breadandbutterfly Mon 01-Jul-13 10:57:35

Thanks PromQueen - thought there was an acronym I'd missed!

Good point about teacher (she's loathesome and yes, I was cross).

And what annoys me is that I do frequently have 'feminist' discussions with my dd about how clothing is and has been designed to restrict women eg she knows about Chinese foot binding etc! And I do practice what I preach - wear comfortable shoes and short skirts only on a beach holiday-type thing ie where culturally and weather appropriate.

Maybe what this comes down to is that I don't really 'get' third wave feminism (is that the right term?) ie the 'right' to wear non-existent clothing, pose without my clothes on in men's mags etc etc. I can't really see Katie Price as a role model. if she wants to do that, fine, but I can't get how that is supposed to be a role model for women generally, or my dd.

yamsareyammy Mon 01-Jul-13 11:05:18

I think there are 2 ways of looking at following fashion.
Foloowing fashion sheeplike, bcuase everyone else is wearign it, doing it etc,
and following fashion because actually, you like the clothes, or earrings, or whatever of the moment.

yamsareyammy Mon 01-Jul-13 11:06:49

In the first example, some self esteem may be lacking.
In the second example, it may not be lacking.

breadandbutterfly Mon 01-Jul-13 11:07:15

Just re-read your last sentence, PromQueen - "Teenagers have more to worry about in terms of finding their way through life than we do, I think, and so I would be conscious of adding to that burden as well." - and am feeling guilty now that I should just let it go. blush

You're right - and she should have the right to wear short skirts if she wishes without me or anyone else commenting. I think the fact that even her (female) teacher was commenting on it did upset me. Because dd is super-bright and has a beautiful face too - even if she wanted boys to fancy her, she'd probably get that effect in a ground-length skirt anyway. But I'd rather her esteem didn't come from how many boys fancy her (she has so many other good qualities). Is that an unreasonable expectation for a 13 year old?

PromQueenWithin Mon 01-Jul-13 11:08:29

My mental narrative runs thus: short skirts and heels are there to truss up women and present them for male titillation. So, women should wear comfy practical clothes that make them feel good. But comfy practical clothes do not make many women feel good, and anyway who has the right to tell women what they should wear, that has been used as a tool of oppression for centuries. So, if they want to wear short skirts, they should do so and not feel shamed. But, why do they want to? Who sets these standards of attractiveness? Oh dear...

And back around I go. Do let me know if you find the answer!

breadandbutterfly Mon 01-Jul-13 11:16:34

I think we do have the answer, as adult women. I - and I'm guessing you too - do not feel the need to go out in micro-minis or high heels all the time to attract random men. We might enjoy wearing either on an appropriate occasion but not out of a need to 'fit in' or to please men. I certainly don't get dressed hoping I look 'hot' today. hmm I wear what I like - within limits of appropriateness for the occasion/weather and don't really give a damn if it's fashionable or what anyone else thinks.

So that's all I'm asking. Maybe I'm being too ambitious for a 13 year old, though...?

PromQueenWithin Mon 01-Jul-13 11:17:18

Everyone enjoys the boost that comes with people finding you attractive, I wouldn't judge her for that. I suppose I would be talking to her about what she sees as valuable about herself, is it her: her personality, intellect, values and moral compass etc, as well as her looks? Not just her looks and the number of boys that fancy her.

I'd also be asking her about whether she feels her behaviour is acceptable in terms of is she being kind and fair to the boys that fancy her? Sort of a if you can like yourself and be proud of who you are and wear short skirts and be popular with boys, then fine. If only the skirts and the boys, then there's a problem here.

But it's hard and my dd is only 6. So come back to me in 7 years and see if I sing the same tune!

breadandbutterfly Mon 01-Jul-13 11:22:05

Agree, PromQueen, I have said it's not fair on the boys - I feel kind of sorry for them...

Enjoy the next 7 years - before teenage years hit. Aaargh!

PromQueenWithin Mon 01-Jul-13 11:23:45

I use heels as armour. I wear them if I want to feel powerful. I recognise that if people are looking at me and thinking I look hot (in a professional Alicia Florrick or Dr. Addison Montgommery way blush) then I will have power that I won't have if I look comfy. Sometimes I want that, even while recognising that I am colluding in patrichal values by doing so.

I guess my point, like yours, is that if grown up (ish) women still feel these pressures and are still struggling sometimes to navigate them, then a 13 year old will. A 13 year old will make mistakes and learn from them, and needs support to do so. smile

Dunno if I am helping

breadandbutterfly Mon 01-Jul-13 11:32:39

Yes, you are - lots. smile

breadandbutterfly Mon 01-Jul-13 11:40:32

Am now wondering if what my career has been missing is my being prepared to dress to look 'hot'. grin

Damn principles. grin

PromQueenWithin Mon 01-Jul-13 11:46:20

I view it like a costume. But my point is, everyone is judged to some extend on what they look like and how they present themselves. This seems inevitable.

Your dd will make mistakes and will regret some choices. That can't be helped. I hope that when dd and ds are going through this, that I can be there to help them avoid the worst, most regrettable mistakes and learn from (and recover from) the smaller ones, without making them feel judged.

But remember these are fine words backed up with limited experience smile

breadandbutterfly Mon 01-Jul-13 11:50:09

Often easier to state your principles and plans when not in the heat of the moment - or confronted by daughter in a pelmet. grin

breadandbutterfly Mon 01-Jul-13 11:52:05

But yes, agree that I should be trying to make my dd feel less judged rather than more. This is where MN is helpful in giving one back a sense of perspective.

breadandbutterfly Mon 01-Jul-13 11:53:20

So thank you all!

YoniMatopoeia Mon 01-Jul-13 12:31:51

This is interesting. I have 2 older boys, one of which is grown up, the other is 13 and just got his first girlfriend. I also have dd who is 6 and I do so worry about the additional pressures on girl teens now compared to when I went through all that.

In other words, I have nothing helpful to add, but am watching with interest.

curryeater Mon 01-Jul-13 13:07:01

I think we are being unrealistic if we don't tell our girls some unpalatable truths about how certain styles lead them to be perceived.

I am not victim-blaming. I just think that "a predator is a predator no matter what" is over-simplistic, because a. girls can suffer marginalisation and aggression in ways other than overt physical attack, and b. you can point out that some people will take a certain view of a certain look without actually blaming the person looking like that. You can be as rude and blaming of the person doing the looking as you like - "some dickhead men will think you are stupid if you dress like that, but I know you're not" - but still the men, however dickheadish they are, hold disproportionate levels of power in women's professional lives.

I have not worried about this with my daughters yet as they are too young, but I have worried about this as a manager of young women. I have seen them marginalised and ridiculed because of how they look and not been able to do anything about it because my gentle approaches to the subject (deliberately gentle in order to allow respect for their autonomy to dress how they like, and recognising that they are not actually breaching any codes which would call for a disciplinary approach) have just resulted in blank looks and "Have I done something wrong? No? Well it's ok then".

If we pass the message to young women that, because they have done nothing wrong (they haven't) everything is ok (it isn't), aren't we failing them? (serious question. I still worry about certain cases of this where careers of very bright young women have properly stalled because they are regarded as bimbos and I wonder whether I could have helped more)

PromQueenWithin Mon 01-Jul-13 13:13:13

I think you have some excellent points curry and would agree that how one presents oneself can be limiting professionally if done badly. But that's not the issue for a 13 year old! She's still forming her identity and should be able to experiment with her image, I think, without worrying too much about what others think.

At this stage in her life, she will be judged primarily on her performance in exams etc, not on those subtle signals and associated power relations that adults have to deal with. That will come, no doubt.

I fear I am not being clear in my explanations...confused

OctopusPete8 Mon 01-Jul-13 13:19:21

I would perhaps stay away from the sexual side or 'you look too tarty' kind of messages that may arise in conversations as stick to 'what you're wearing is inappropriate' line if the situation arises? Thats possibly a better tack and teaching you can't dress like you're clubbing all the time and the importance of dressing appropriately, as my mum did with me.
I was raised as basically I don't wanna see your bum/boobs put it away.
When I went to school the girls who had none of that kind of intervention often grew up lacking a basic sense of appropriate dressing and when 6th form arose with no uniform its was a sight to behold.

PromQueenWithin Mon 01-Jul-13 13:39:38

Perhaps the other angle to start a discussion is to point out what the boys wear. They do not tend to display their wares by wearing hot pants, for example. You could ask your dd how she feels about this imbalance: why should she display her body in this way when boys don't have the same pressures?

Who does she admire? Singers, sports stars etc? Can you discuss women who have an image that allows them to feel attractive without being "tarty" (sorry, hate that term and all it stands for). She is trying to find her place, fit in and develop her sense of self. Really hard to support this and input without either shaming or controlling what she wears.

Remember also that things in teen culture have different meanings today than when we were that age! They remake the world.

MiniTheMinx Mon 01-Jul-13 15:04:59

I am not so certain that anything like teen culture actually exists now. Music is controlled by corporate money swindlers, modern culture overrun with images of women making themselves look "available" to men, politics liberal and all about every choice being an equal individual freedom with no wider political consequences.

If young women are wearing what is fashionable you can bet that it isn't driven by any kind of sub-culture anymore but driven by the prevailing cultural hegemony. Everything has been turned on it's head, looking like you are available, self-esteem dependant upon how attractive you are, which of course is very much more influenced now by porn culture than Paris fashion and finally the realisation that if you don't perform the function of eye candy to the male species you are persona-non-grata.

Not much help, sorry. I would try and talk to her, maybe offer her some books to read. Beauty and Misogyny is often recommended on MN.

Free here www.feministes-radicales.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Jeffreys_Beauty_and_Misogyny_Harmful_Cultural_Practices_in_the_West__Women_and_Psychology_1.pdf

Would it be suitable for 13 years? only you know your own dd.

PromQueenWithin Mon 01-Jul-13 15:12:52

We might do an analysis that says teen culture doesn't exist (and actually Mini I agree with your analysis sad) but I bet that to a 13 year old it feels like its theirs, and so in one sense it is a teen culture.

breadandbutterfly Mon 01-Jul-13 17:39:03

Totally agree with all points made - well explained, Curry and Mini. Ironically, in one way dd would agree with your analysis of teen culture, Mini - she is always complaining about the relative tedium of youth culture v when I was young and lots of her favourite bands/looks come from her parents' era! Shall have a look at the book - wow, a free book!! dd reads well ahead of her age and is quite interested in politics/history/sociology etc so might be up to it? Will read and think...

breadandbutterfly Mon 01-Jul-13 17:50:45

PromQueen - Just realised why dressing to look 'hot' has never been an issue for me professionally - I'm a teacher, and if there's one thing I want less than any other it's for any of my students/colleagues to view me as 'hot'. I suppose if you work in a male-dominated office, the temptation to get noticed that way would be stronger.

PromQueenWithin Mon 01-Jul-13 17:53:44

grin

It is not something I am particularly proud that I do, but I do do it, when I feel I need that particular suit of armour.

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