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CROPPED TOPS AND FEMINISM
Image by Molly Blackbird
By Irena Ioannou
The first time my daughter wore a cropped top in front of me I was shocked. I did all her shopping and I certainly hadn’t bought her anything remotely like that.” Where did you find that?” I asked her. Apparently, it was one of the many clothes her older cousin had passed on to her and tucked inside a plastic bag the last time she saw her. I never bothered to search the bag because I never thought it would contain anything so … short. And even if it did, it never crossed my mind that my daughter, who until then only felt comfortable in sweatpants and oversized sweaters, would ever want to wear it.
Now that I think of it, my daughter is fourteen. She has an Instagram account. She is a citizen of this world. Her eyes have been exposed to mini skirts and cropped tops and God knows what else.
And yet. Shouldn’t she know more about how women’s bodies are commodified by modern culture? Shouldn’t she be aware of the way the fashion industry fills shelves with cropped tops so that teenagers feel that this is normal while they are basically robbed of choice? And most importantly, shouldn’t she know the repercussions of wearing such clothes? Have I been too busy with a hundred everyday chores that it slipped my mind to actually speak about the important stuff? Did I think she would figure it all out by herself?
The truth is my daughter is a track and field athlete and would more or less look ravishing even if she wore a gunnysack. The same piece which might be plain on other women would seem provocative on her. And I do not want men drooling over her.
But how do you explain these things without exposing your own covert hypocrisy and, perhaps, sexism? If you start by saying that there are men out there who might see a cropped top and get the wrong idea, your teenage daughter may stare at you blankly. “Who cares?” she might ask. “Why should my life be dictated by what others think?”
You might reply that we, women, should care, because a woman gets sexually assaulted every sixty-eight seconds in the western parts of this world. The culprit may think that a sparsely dressed woman was “asking for it”, or at least sending that message. Unfortunately, we have to guard our safety because some men have not internalized the fact that they do not own other people’s bodies and that their needs do not come first.
But then, you are dealing with a teenager. She does not know what you are talking about. She thinks she is invincible. She thinks she can protect herself. She believes educating men is not her problem. She thinks it could never possibly happen to her. You were once that teenager.
Or, you are simply dealing with a teenager who knows that rape is not about sex; it is about control. A teenager who has watched online the exhibition of rape victims’ clothes, and thus will just reply to your claims, that, “Mum, it does not really matter what we’re wearing, does it?” You could wear a burqa and still get raped. Should women just cover their bodies completely in order to feel safe?
It is not only about rape, you might say, it’s also about you being taken seriously. About your voice being paid attention to in meetings, about promotions landing in your lap and about respect. And perhaps deep inside you, a small uncomfortable voice might whisper, that it is also about meeting the right guy, a guy who will want to marry you and be proud of you.
It is easier being a feminist when you are not raising teenagers. Things are clear cut, women should live their own lives, the male gaze should never be an issue. Yet, a woman still gets raped every few seconds. Your daughter is a teenager. The law does not protect the weaker ones.
The least you can do is have an honest conversation. You can talk about your own shortcomings. You can say about how time and habits and fashion sometimes just bypass you, and you feel, and possibly are, a remnant of the past, valuable in what you have offered the feminist movement so far, but now just a stepping stone for the new generation to step up on and rise. Just perhaps not in a cropped top.
Irena Ioannou writes from Crete, Greece and her work has recently appeared in Crannóg and Betty Fedora. She is currently working on her first novel. She is a mother of five.