Dear Reader, I’m sure you’ve encountered at some point one or both of the following:
*Someone wearing a pair of tights and a longish shirt apparently thinking that said tights suffice as lower body covering.
*Someone remarking, commenting, tweeting that “tights aren’t pants!” (I think I’ve sent such a tweet myself in the past.)
I had occasion to mull this extremely first-world conflict last week, and as it’s been on my mind since then, I decided to take to the blog.
I follow a few nice ladies on Twitter who live in Australia, and often I see them all talking about something that is an apparent mystery to me, but which was obviously a recent topic in Australian media. Last week, I noticed that, all on the same evening, several of them twittered things like, “I will wear what I fucking please! #tightsaspants” I take it, though I do not know for sure, that some Australian lady-commentator made derogatory comments about people who wear tights as pants, prompting some general outrage and frustration.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a proud fat lady, and as such I feel a fair amount of feminist outrage at the way fat women’s bodies are policed and, to a lesser degree, the way our fashion choices are circumscribed, either literally because of a lack of shopping options or metaphorically because of the general shaming and nagging society inflicts when fat women don’t dress according to the mystical “what fat people are supposed to wear” rules (“slimming cuts” – whatever the fuck that means, a lot of black, no loud or clashing patterns, etc.). I’m not much of a clothes horse – it just doesn’t interest me, and I doubt it much would even if I were thin and rich and had all the clothing options in the world – but many fat activists use fashion – or, “fatshion” – as a tool of not only self-expression but of resistance: resistance to a dominant cultural narrative that demands of fat people, and fat women especially, that they not take up too much space, literally, and figuratively by standing out, by refusing to be cowed by consensus opinion that our bodies are not “right,” not attractive, grotesque, offensive, and shameful. (Marianne Kirby has an excellent recent blog post on this subject on her website, www.therotund.com, that started me thinking about this.) This, I think, is part of a larger patriarchal culture that tries to demand acquiescence by women to the idea that they are primarily valuable only as sexual objects for men, and as such must remain constantly available and constantly “attractive” as the dominant culture conceives of the term. By not being “attractive” in this way, fat women advertantly or inadvertantly defy this patriarchal command – as do women who are queer – and so we are punished for it by harassment, shaming, policing, and stigma. (Straight women who meet the standard of what is “attractive” and yet who are loud, uppity, and reject the notion that their value is situated in their sexual availability are also punished, if sometimes in different ways.)
The point is that it is a form of radical resistance to a hostile, oppressive culture when women, fat or not, do not do as they are told and do not follow the script of what is “acceptable”.
When resistance is couched in fashion, there is normally a predictable backlash: the offending women are shamed in one or both of two ways. They are either slut shamed or body shamed. In the case of the former, they are told that the way they dress makes them look whorish, and if they are assaulted, they were asking for it (this victim blaming is part of a rape culture that terrorizes women and demeans men, but let’s leave that for another day). The latter preys on the anxieties inculcated by a predatory capitalism and the patriarchy about the “necessity” of being always attractive, and manifests, usually, as an attack on the woman’s body shape and weight: “You’re too fat to wear ______.” Consider the narrative around skinny jeans, for instance, and then check out this post from Natalie Perkins over at www.definatalie.com for an excellent example of resistance – shaming – and, happily, another round of resistance.
So in summation, those Australian feminists were wrankled because in general, attempts to control things like women choosing to wear tights as pants are actually merely attempts to control women, through slut shaming and body shaming; to corral them back into the role of sexual object, available to men for consumption because they are behaving as the patriarchy desires, working to appear as the patriarchy desires, and also because they are literally available – willing participants in the system of sexual objectification. And fuck a bunch of that, obviously.
I cannot shake the fact that I think wearing tights as pants is tacky. Not because it makes women look slutty, because 1) it doesn’t, necessarily, and 2) I have no problem with women looking slutty if they want to as a means of expressing their own healthy sexuality. Also, since there’s noting wrong with being a (responsible) slut if one desires, there should also be nothing wrong with being slutty. Not because some women might not “have the body for it”: I, for one, am fat as hell, and NO ONE has the right to come at me like that’s a problem, because it’s not, no matter what I do or do not have on my fat body. Just … hmm. I just don’t like it. I feel about it the way I feel about young men who wear their pants belted below their ass, so that their underwear-clad ass is exposed, purposefully, for all the world to see. I want to go up to those young men and ask them, snarkily, “Do you not understand what pants are for? Or do you just not understand how to get them to work?” I want to go up to young women wearing nothing but tights and a shirt and say the same thing. This drive is basic, comes from deep down, and is in spite of everything I know about the policing of women as discussed above.
But then I feel guilty about this – after all, what right do I have to join in the shaming chorus? None, of course, even if my motivations aren’t as evil as others’.
So I guess what I’m left with is this: I support the right of every women everywhere, regardless of body shape or size, age, or anything else, to wear tights as pants. But I don’t endorse the practice, ’cause I hate it.
Thus ends another round of “Is Sabrina a bad feminist?”