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?

TheDoctrineOfAllan Mon 01-Jul-13 18:54:44

Interesting discussion.

OP, I'm sure you haven't but I really hope that you haven't used the word slapper to her.

Does she have a uniform skirt or can they wear their own clothes?

Joiningthegang Mon 01-Jul-13 21:32:14

There is absolutely no correlation between clothes and rape (if that was the staying safe reference). And I am worrying about what to say to my dd when she gets older. I think that when we give messages that what you wear impacts on how others will treat you - it is victim blaming - ie if someone is alone on their way home, a bit drunk and wearing a short skirt - (a reasonably rare form of rape) - she may then not report it because she didn't follow te "safety" messages of society and therefore she was to blame.

However I don't want my dd being badly thought of so would try to discourage such clothing ( but realistically she either will or won't choose certain clothes in any case)

Joiningthegang Mon 01-Jul-13 21:33:18

I hope that reads as "she thinks she is to blame" n not that she would be at fault

NiceTabard Mon 01-Jul-13 21:45:10

Thing is as a girl/young woman, there is always something.

If you don't wear a short skirt, for boys to judge, there will be something else for them to remark on

Blonde hair
Big boobs
Small boobs
Too tall
Too short
Too fat
Too thin
Too pretty
Not pretty enough
Too clever
Not clever enough
and so on ad infinitum

Even if all the females in the country wore below the knee skirts, people would still find something to judge on and say to them.

I have blonde hair and got loads of shit about it as a young teen
My friend had big boobs and got loads of shit about it as a young teen
There's always something. This is the problem with trying to follow any "rules" to protect yourself - there aren't actually any rules. And so you could go around in circles forever trying to work out what to do to avoid the nonsense (and worse) and never ever come up with an answer, because there isn't one.

breadandbutterfly Mon 01-Jul-13 21:47:58

@ Joining - Afraid that I have used if not slapper certainly similar concepts. Have also apologised to her today following this thread for not being more supportive... Really agree with points above that growing up and finding your identity is hard enough without this shit... I think i'm worried because she does seem to be drawing too much of her self-esteem from being attractive to boys and being trendy which she doesn't need to make any effort to do anyway as she is naturally pretty and cool. But doesn't seem to really 'get' this. Plus doesn't seem to really value all her other attributes that are not appearance-based and sounds bored/hostile if anyone mentions other stuff - like it's not really important. sad

So am planning to focus less on skirt length and more on self-esteem issues. Am also hoping that more self-esteem = less arguments. But that may be wishful thinking...

Joiningthegang Mon 01-Jul-13 22:13:40

Haha- want me who said about the use of slapped! - that said I think it's not a nice term.
So nice to see some sensible views!!!

It would be more helpful to advise her on the warning flags that a man is a predator and a woman-hater (ie ignoring boundaries, trying to get her alone, making rape jokes etc) and help her develop self-confidence and an understanding that it's up to her whether or not she has sex or dances with or kisses or talks to any man.

FreyaSnow Tue 02-Jul-13 16:57:59

I do think this thread is victim blaming and leaves girls vulnerable to bad and criminal behaviour because some of you are teaching them that other people responding to what they wear is somehow their responsibility.

DD is the same age as the OP's. She wears lots of Hollister style clothes - short shorts (with leggings under on colder days), racer back dresses etc. Although it isn't what I'd have chosen as a teen, I think it looks very fresh, athletic, outdoors at the beach. I have no issue with her wearing it at all. I don't think she's being pressured to expose her body or that it is a sign of sexuality that can be 'read' by others.

I do not believe rape myths and do not believe she is making herself more vulnerable by wearing those clothes. I do not want her to grow up feeling judged or to think it is okay to judge other women. If she was going to work or to somebody else's wedding, yes, courtesy requires her to dress a certain way. The rest of the time, she should wear what she likes.

yamsareyammy Tue 02-Jul-13 17:09:24

One of my DDs wore short skirts right through from about 13 to 18 years old.
What made her change at 18?
Earning her own money.
Suddenly things had to be budgeted for. So she, and her friends realised that owning a cheaper phone was preferable to owning a dearer one. And suddenly, also, it sort of made her wake up to other decisions she was making in her life, including the short skirt issue. In short, I think,she grew up!

OctopusPete8 Tue 02-Jul-13 17:38:07

I don't think this thread is victim blaming at all, just a mum dealing with an age old problem.

Its not been 10 years since I was a teen and the idea of 'victimblaming' would have been laughed out of the room, the discussion itself shows times are changing.

FreyaSnow Tue 02-Jul-13 17:58:32

It's over twenty years since I was a teen, and the idea that victim blaming was a social problem was an issue then. It's how the law got changed so that various issues to do with the victim's past were no longer able to be brought up as 'evidence' in rape cases. I think there was a feminist backlash about ten years ago and that generation of women were not as exposed to feminist ideas as older women or teens now.

It is an age old problem and girls will be exposed to all kinds of judgements by society. There is no outfit that will exempt you from judgement. What you can do as a parent, and thus one of the most important people in your teen's life, is to not be the person who makes moral or sexual judgements about somebody based on their clothes.

I agree with SGB that girls should be taught to be aware of negative male behaviour and that it is potentially dangerous, and to view those men and boys as people to avoid and to see as people whose opinion's are to be ignored. There are some vile kids at DD's school. I teach her to see them and their behaviour as not her responsibility in any way whatsoever. She owes boys who behave like that nothing, no response, no attention, no change in what she does and who she is. It is not about her; it is their issue.

TheDoctrineOfAllan Tue 02-Jul-13 20:25:39

Good post SGB.

breadandbutterfly Tue 02-Jul-13 20:27:26

I think in theory I agree with you, Freya, but in practice it is a very strong-minded girl (much more strong-minded than I was or am now) who could routinely wear clothing likely to attract sexual comments or even hassle (which is not victim blaming, just facing reality) and deal with the fallout.

And it's a question of why one wears those clothes, as discussed above - if one wears them deliberately to be sexually alluring, then it seems a very complicated signal to send out (esp as a teenage girl) - to be saying at the same time both 'fancy me' and 'don't respond in any way to the fact that I'm trying to attract you'. Obviously, if one just wears them because they look nice, to be sporty etc as your dd does, then there is no problem. But with my dd, I'm not sure that she is not trying to send out conflicting messages as above. I feel she probably got those messages from a society that says 'girls should look attractive to men at all times, preferably by showing some flesh', and I think I'd like her to look at whether that really is how she wants to present herself and represents her core values, or not.

Is wearing a short skirt liberating or a symbol of patriarchal oppression? Second-wave v third-wave feminism, again. I'm really not sure where I stand on this myself.

breadandbutterfly Tue 02-Jul-13 20:31:07

And SGB, agree and have already touched on this and will do so more as she gets older.

FreyaSnow Tue 02-Jul-13 20:54:06

Breadandbutterfly, but that is classic victim blaming. You are assuming that girls get sexual comments or hassle because they are dressed a particular way because that is 'reality.' You only have to look at the everyday sexism website to see that women and girls dressed in all sorts of ways receive sexual comments.

DD has mostly Muslim friends who are very covered up, and they receive all the same sort of comments that DD does. There is no outfit you can wear as a girl or woman that does not lead to certain men and boys feeling they should comment on it. There will also be an excuse. Some men and boys will see a girl dressed demurely and see her as more sheltered, naive and vulnerable and choose her as a target.

'if one wears them deliberately to be sexually alluring, then it seems a very complicated signal to send out (esp as a teenage girl) - to be saying at the same time both 'fancy me' and 'don't respond in any way to the fact that I'm trying to attract you'.'

I don't think that is a complicated message. Teenage girls want to look attractive but if they are 13 they don't want sex. The true is also true for young teenage boys (I have one of them too). Who is that complicated to? I know my DS doesn't find the clothing of teenage girls confusing and complicated, so why adults should be confused I don't know.

Catmint Tue 02-Jul-13 20:55:54

Remember this?

Whatever we wear
Wherever we go
Yes means yes and no means no.

Women should be able to wear what they choose, but it is important to be aware of other people's limitations in the way they perceive, label and behave in the world, to stay safe.

FreyaSnow Tue 02-Jul-13 21:04:14

As for short skirts, I don't think they are either liberating or a sign of oppression.

They clearly are oppressive if you feel forced to wear one due to societal pressure or a dress code and you actively dislike wearing them.

But I like skirts in general, including short ones. I don't feel liberated by them, nor do I get any additional attention of any kind by wearing them, either positive or negative.

yamsareyammy Tue 02-Jul-13 21:15:45

Do you think Freya that short skirts on female, young or older, do not have any impact or effect on any men or boys.

grimbletart Tue 02-Jul-13 21:28:09

The most powerful message to give daughters is not to give a flying fuck what boys think. It short circuits everything else and saves them a whole lot of unnecessary grief and angst.

My (now middle aged) daughters told me it was the most useful thing they learned from me. Though of course I couched in in more elegant terms than my first paragraph. grin

FreyaSnow Tue 02-Jul-13 21:58:15

YAY, no. Why should they? They reveal less than a pair of leggings, tight trousers or PE shorts and why should anyone be particularly excited by a bit of thigh?

Almost the entire teen girl population wear short skirts to school. How much interest can boys have in something that they see all day, every day for seven years?

breadandbutterfly Tue 02-Jul-13 22:30:46

Love it, grimbletart! Nice and succinct. grin

Though presumably you mean 'men in general' rather than individual men - I'd like dd to care about her dad and brother, clearly. Or looking longer term, any male friends/partner.

breadandbutterfly Tue 02-Jul-13 22:31:21

That should be 'boys in general'

breadandbutterfly Tue 02-Jul-13 22:42:43

Freya - I've certainly had different experiences based on what I was wearing. Whilst of course some men will hassle all or any woman no matter what she is wearing, it is undeniable that more men will hassle women dressed revealingly. That's not blaming the victim - clearly the men involved need to get a grip on it and it is their fault alone - but it is to recognise the situation as it is.

It's not terribly helpful to say 'why should anyone be excited by a bit of thigh?' - go ask a biologist. They just are - not that that gives men any right to touch or comment on said thighs, but pretending that women in short skirts are not noticed does not advance the argument. You cannot deal with something if you pretend it's not there. It is - teenage girls nowadays grow up surrounded by increasingly sexualised images of women in states of undress. I don't think that just ignoring that is the solution. Confronting the way that women are portrayed so that you can make a conscious decision to reject being restricted in who you are is kind of what I'm trying, in my woolly-brained way in this thread, to get at.

grimbletart Tue 02-Jul-13 22:53:18

Yes breadandbutterfly: boys in general. In the context of the thread and appealing to boys generally.

And in case anyone with young daughters thinks that being their own person might condemn their daughters to be wallflowers I can assure them that my DDs were never short of male attention from decent boys. And the not-so-decent ones knew it was no use hanging around as they were given short shrift. grin

FreyaSnow Tue 02-Jul-13 22:57:21

I've never seen a research paper about thighs being an area either men or women were particularly attracted by. I thought the main area of appeal was hip to waist to breast ratio in women and shoulders in men. I've heard no mention of thighs. So maybe we should be out slut shaming women who wear belts, thus drawing attention to the waist.

I totally disagree that women in revealing clothing get more comments. I think that women who are perceived as unattractively addressed get the most comments because some men think they are a. vulnerable and have low self esteem to dress like that so are easy prey and b. sheltered, particularly if teens. I think that the second group to get the most attention are women who look attractive but demure and covered because some men see them as seeking sexual attention from men by attempting to look like wife/girlfriend material.

'teenage girls nowadays grow up surrounded by increasingly sexualised images of women in states of undress. I don't think that just ignoring that is the solution. Confronting the way that women are portrayed so that you can make a conscious decision to reject being restricted in who you are is kind of what I'm trying'

Yes, they do, but neither your daughter or mine are walking around in a state of undress. I think there are major issues with the sexualisation of children and teens and it worries me a lot. I don't think wearing a short skirt has much to do with it.

It would be nice if we were in a less sexist society, but while we are the best course of action is to not really care much about what boys think. This was not the case when I was growing up, but it seems to be now. DD has all female friends and her interests are those of a stereotypical girl, what boys think other than her dad and brother is neither here nor there. It is really sad that there is that division, but I see it more and more in young people. I don't see what else girls can do.

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