Over the years, I’ve learned that a consequence of raising awareness of certain issues, especially issues surrounding gender and sexuality, is backlash to what is perceived as “overload.” The chorus of voices that unite to challenge the status quo can sometimes be heard “too loudly.” In other words, it’s fine for people to fight their battles, but don’t fight too much or it’s annoying. A good example of this effect might be the #YesAllWomen campaign, which both widened the conversation about gender equality and societal treatment of women, and repelled some people because of its sudden ubiquity on social media and in the news. Pervasive discussion about certain subjects can overwhelm people, or at least their social media feeds, and does occasionally come off as mere slacktivism. That said, when a fair amount of talk about rape culture, slut-shaming, body-shaming, and other similar topics is simultaneously “balanced” by a flurry of articles about school girls being told to cover up or change clothing, I think it’s clear those discussions should continue in order for things to change.
I was challenged by some STFU, Parents Facebook page members on this issue after I posted a series of articles that dealt with “rule-based” circumstances. One article was about the girl in Quebec who refused to change clothes after administrators measured students’ shorts using the fingertip-length rule and deemed her shorts too short. Another was about the seemingly haphazard digital altering of some girls’ yearbook photos in Salt Lake City, which created higher necklines and added sleeves to bare shoulders. Another story, from Australia, involved a female special needs student whose armpits were shaved by her teacher in front of her class, having been told that it’s a necessary life skill in order to avoid being bullied. And recently, I also linked to the story about the teen who was asked to leave prom because her dress, while adhering to the fingertip-length rule, was labeled “provocative” by fathers who were chaperoning the dance and thought the boys at might have impure thoughts. What’s interesting to me is that regardless of a school’s conservative or progressive climate, the most common responses from people on the Facebook page are either in full support of the girls, or in full support of following the “rules.” Another common response: Post about something else. No one cares about this non-issue. Move on.
In America, where puritanical values are often upheld, it’s normal to label females as “sluts” or “whores” based on what they wear. But the cultural effects of shaming go much deeper than that. For instance, since starting STFU, Parents in 2009, something I’ve repeatedly noticed is the amount of vitriol that people (men and women) have for women/mothers and women’s bodies. I can post a submission about literally any subject covered on the blog — labor contractions, breast-feeding, baby poop, mompetitions, mommyjacking, you name it — and there’s a relatively good chance that someone will say something like, “This bitch needs to get throat-punched!” or, “Stupid cunt, that’s why you should’ve kept your legs closed.” I’ve even experimented, like I mentioned in this column about daddyjacking, with covering men’s last names in blue to try to signify that the original poster was a dad, not a mom, and people choose to ignore those color codes (next to names like “Todd” or “Mark”), jumping into the comments with misogynistic jokes that sound all too familiar. For much of our society, degradation of women and girls IS normal. When girls are told their shorts are too short when they’re 15, and that if they continue to wear them they’re “sending the wrong message,” it’s like giving people of both sexes a pass to shame girls’ bodies and sexuality. Being embarrassed by your body sucks at any age, but being shamed just for having a body or for being a woman is even worse.
The weirdest feeling is knowing that the STFUP community disagrees so vehemently with girls taking a stand against certain forms of sexism. Many of the comments on the dress codes focused on following orders and declaring that rules are meant to be followed, not questioned. Authority is there for a reason and should be respected. Society tells young girls to be leaders, not followers — unless being a leader means wearing shorts that are a few inches too short. Stand up for what you believe in, but make sure you don’t wear a V-neck when doing so or no one will take you seriously. That’s just the way life works, or so I’ve been told.
Whether you think dress codes are inherently sexist and shaming or not, now is a good time to stop being part of the problem. And just because humor content about women gets featured on blogs like STFU, Parents doesn’t mean the women are “breeder bitches,” “dumb cows,” or “sluts who should’ve been on birth control.” They don’t need to be “taken out back and shot in the head.” It is possible to make jokes without being a troll or casting morally superior judgments. And it’s worth taking the time to come up with better insults, because for every person out there who “doesn’t get” why women are so enraged, there are fifty #YesAllWomen campaigns on the horizon, hashtags blazing.
Here are just a few ways that women have shamed other women and/or supported societal norms via Facebook: