Respect Yourself

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By Leigh Camacho Rourks

The woman at Dillard’s is being helpful.

She is motherly. She is smiling.

She would like to measure my breasts. “So many women are wearing the wrong sized bra, dear,” she says. She actually says “dear” while eyeing my cleavage.

I know I’m wearing the wrong sized bra. That is why I’m at Dillard’s. I’ve gained some weight. My underarm flab is pooching around the band of my current bra, and I am afraid to check if the pudge I feel straining the hooks, encouraging them to jab and poke, has become full-fledged backfat. My right boob, the big one, is bouncing between unattractive double boob and all out escape. I have put this off far too long, and I am completely demoralized. Despite the fact that I do know the proper way to size a bra and have a fairly good idea of what size I need, 44DD, I say yes. I want to be pampered. I need this kind woman to fuss and measure. To make me and my breasts feel better.

That is not what she does.

Forget the fact that she will not leave the room as I wiggle into bra after bra, eyeing me and my swaying double Ds, forget that, over and over, she tries to physically put each of my boobs into its cup (I want to ask her to buy me dinner). Forget that every single bra she brings me is large and reinforced and horrifyingly ugly.

What sends me to my car, desperate to not rage-cry in public, is her insistence that what I really need is a minimizer.

A minimizer is a bra designed to hold your breasts down, to make them appear daintier. Less obtrusive. It is like a leash for the most unruly boobs. It keeps them under control. For those on the search for a smaller rack, minimizer bras are the perfect solution. I was on no such search.

The first time one was ever suggested to me, I was about 16 and the adult who advised I compress my breasts did so with nothing but love. “Your clothes will fit so much nicer,” she said.

Over the years, I have learned it is code for, “You look kind of slutty with them big ol’ titties.”

At the time, all I heard was, “Good god, freak! Get a hold on those unwieldy things.” It felt like I was walking around with a couple of baby Godzillas strapped to my chest. People even suggested I consider surgery. And all I could thing was, “Come on, y’all. They aren’t that big.”

I pretty much liked how my clothes fit. I liked my body and I chose to wear clothes that didn’t hide it. Yes, you read that correctly, I was sixteen and I liked my body. A damn, short lived miracle. It was this glorious point in my life where I stopped starving and binging long enough to marvel at the beautiful breasts that had been growing non-stop for four years. The lovely hips that had turned baby fat to hourglass. I had nice legs. Cute freckles. I was going to be okay. I stopped hiding behind oversized shirts and crossed arms and started wearing things that fit my shoulders, my waist, my back, and yep, those breasts.

The thing is, if a flat chested girl wears a shirt that fits her breasts, even if it is low cut, she looks “tailored.” If I do, I look slutty. The more boob you have, the more baby feeding flesh people are afraid they might see. And apparently, that shit is ugly. I should know. People have been helpfully suggesting I “respect myself” and hide it for as long as I can remember.

I can’t imagine any of my progressive, feminist friends suggesting to a young girl that she show a little self-respect and cover her beautiful brown eyes. Maybe she could learn to love herself and hide those shiny locks. A little more self esteem and maybe she wouldn’t feel the need to flaunt her athletic legs! Slamming collar bone? High collar for you. Delicate neck? Get a scarf!

But, many are willing to tsk at any overly exposed boob not feeding a child. It is the juncture where a lot of conservatives and liberals find common ground: Teach your girls to love and respect themselves and dress appropriately. The bigger the boob, the more self respect that is required.

It isn’t just the soft, round bits either.

I was at work one day, wearing a mock turtleneck that literally covered me from chin to hip. I have, this time, lost some weight, so not only is the shirt not skin tight, but it sags a little at the boob. I look sloppy and I know it. At least I am SFW, safe for work.

A friend, a fierce feminist, leans over and quietly advises me that my nipples are showing. Afraid that my black top is so old and worn that it has actually given up and become invisible, I scuttle to the bathroom, cursing my inability to throw anything away.

Nope. It is just a bit cold in the building. And my nipples, cute little arrows that they are, are doing what chilly nipples do. The sag in my shirt is no match for their eager salute, and I am left to wonder what on earth I am expected to fix. I don’t even really understand the problem at hand (or nip). I am not, after all, a Barbie doll, smooth and plastic.

I do nothing except move them around so that they point in the same direction.

Barbie’s breasts were shrunk years ago, giving her a more realistic, athletic build. I wonder if she is the future. Her smooth, large-but-not-too-large rack is already the politically correct fashion. It sits still, each well mannered boob in its own space, no real cleavage, no nipples, no jiggle.

I have fine breasts. So far, they are healthy. They no longer sit as high as they once did, sliding into an armpit if I lay down, or as firm, my bounce now pure Jello, but they are fine, lovely girls. They are one of the few things I really like about my body. And when I wear something that shows them off, it isn’t a lack of self esteem or daddy issues that prompted the plunging neckline and tight bust.

The only “respect” my breasts really need from me are check-ups, mammograms, and some armor if I decide to go in for a contact sport. The only respect they need from you is your lack of judgment.

rnotion - leigh camacho rourksLeigh Camacho Rourks lives in South Louisiana, where she is the assistant editor of Louisiana Literature. Her stories have been chosen as finalists for the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival Fiction Contest (2012) and The American Fiction Prize (2013), and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of journals including Kenyon Review Online and Prairie Schooner. You can follow her on twitter @ScaredWriter or visit her website and blog at LCRourks.com.

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Misogyny, or Not Misogyny? That Is the Question

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By Shannon Deep

“I just don’t see it like that,” my boyfriend shrugs. He’s not upset. He’s not even really arguing. To him, our disagreement is simply a divergence of two equally valid opinions. To me, one of us is acknowledging a goddamn fact and the other is not.

We’ve just seen a 4-person production of Hamlet in downtown Manhattan. Generally, we’re both underwhelmed. Specifically, I’m offended by the scene where Prince Hamlet, feigning insanity, greets two old school chums, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who have been sent to spy on him. Hamlet figures this out and, for lack of a better phrase, fucks with them.

This is a scene with 3 male characters traditionally played by 3 male actors. In this micro-cast production, however, Rosencrantz is played by the lone female in the cast. Throughout the show, when the actress is playing a male character, she’s addressed as male and referred to with male pronouns. The script has not been altered. This lady-Rosencrantz is male.

Which is why, as the scene unfolded and Hamlet began to tease and bully Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I became increasingly confused and then disturbed by Hamlet’s very gender-specific harassment of Rosencrantz. While he is physical with both characters– yanking on their costume pieces, aggressively leading them around the stage– he is only sexual with Rosencrantz, who is, for all intents and purposes, a man. Except that he’s clearly not.

Hamlet grabs Rosencrantz’s ass forcefully and holds on, thrusting his pelvis and miming sex. He attempts to kiss and touch Rosencrantz “romantically.” And as Rosencrantz squirms and tries to get away, Hamlet grabs Rosencrantz’s breasts. Except Rosencrantz doesn’t have breasts. The actress does.

Suddenly, I am not watching Hamlet harass Rosencrantz. I am watching a male actor harass a female actor in a highly gendered manner. And I’m uncomfortable. But when I express my distaste for that misogynistic scene, my boyfriend– who would call himself a feminist– doesn’t see the problem with it.

“He– the actor– was trying to make his fellow actor uncomfortable,” my boyfriend, also an actor, explains. “That’s a valid acting technique.”

“But she’s not playing a woman!” I argue. “And besides, if his goal is to make his fellow actor as uncomfortable as possible, wouldn’t making sexual advances on the other male actor be more effective?”

“Maybe. But it’s still a valid choice.”

“If she were a woman onstage!” I insist. “He feels like he has the permission to touch her in a way he would never touch a male actor. He feels entitled to make that acting choice.”

“I’m not convinced she wasn’t a woman in that scene,” he comes back.

And here’s where the argument gets fishy. The production, at times, was self-aware and self-referential in that, with a nudge and a wink, the cast would sometimes acknowledge the fact that the actors were playing different characters, drawing attention to the gimmick. Therefore, my boyfriend argues, we’re not pretending that these people are the characters. The actors are saying, essentially, “We know we’re actors and we know you know we’re actors.”

If I had seen any other instances of gender-blind characters being treated as the gender of actor and not the character, maybe I would have bought it. Essentially, he tells me that what I’ve seen is a matter of interpretation, and he doesn’t interpret it that way.

And now, I’m upset. I’m angry with my boyfriend for not seeing what seems perfectly obvious to me: A male actor treated a female actor in a manner that expressed, inherently, his belief in his license to do that onstage, to make that acting choice, because his scene partner was female. And maybe a lot of people would excuse the actor and accuse the director, but in this case, the actor playing Hamlet was the director! It was all so perfectly, perfectly plain.

And I don’t think the guy playing Hamlet is a terrible person. I think it’s all much more sublimated and unconscious than malicious misogyny– which is what makes it so insidious. Similarly, it’s not that my boyfriend is a raging misogynist; it’s just so much not a part of his world that he is blind to the more malignant undertones. This subjectivity is a disease we all suffer from.

A prime example: my good friend’s former roommate, a 6-foot, thin, blond, Scandinavian goddess. Basically a supermodel with a sweet disposition and the naïveté to match. Her world was full of free drinks and instant admission to nightclubs and men falling over her to make her life easier. “People are so nice here!” she would exclaim about New York City, a place that has never been nice to anyone.

When my friend was turned away at a club or a guy didn’t call her back, Goddess was quick to excuse the lapse and provide the benefit of the doubt. “The club was probably too full!” she would say. Or, “He probably lost your number!” Because those were the rules of her world. People were kind. Clubs opened their doors. Guys called you back.

Or: “He’s using a valid acting technique!”

Reality is subjective.

And that’s what, now months after Hamlet, in the wake of anti-slut-shaming campaigns, of Elliot Rodger, of #YesAllWomen, of the maze of conversations my boyfriend and I have had about misogyny since then, I have come to realize: We really are living in different realities.

So I explained why I felt slut-shamed by his condemnation of the casual sex I’d had before we started dating. I explained why what Elliot Rodger did was a hate crime and not just a product of mental illness. And I explained that he has a privilege that I do not enjoy: The privilege of being unaware of misogyny.

Having a feminist boyfriend doesn’t mean that he sees the same production of Hamlet you do; it means that when you call out misogyny, he knows enough to say, as mine now does, “I believe you.”

rn - shannon deep bio photoShannon Deep is an essayist, dramaturg, and playwright originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She currently lives in New York City with her boyfriend, too many roommates, and three cats whose mission in life it is to pee on everything she ever loved. She will definitely tweet back to you if you say hi to her on Twitter at @sldeep. If you like essays that are long (but still good!) you can read more on her blog, This Millennial Life.

“Every Young Woman’s Battle” Is Not Mine

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By Laura Sook Duncombe

When I think back about it, I’m so angry I can hardly handle it. Who writes a book like that? And who gives it to young girls?

“Every Young Woman’s Battle: Guarding Your Mind, Heart, and Body in a Sex-Saturated World” was given to me by a friend in high school. She was a youth-group veteran, this girl who had given me my first F.R.O.G. and P.U.S.H. bracelets, and I took her word on religious matters as Gospel. I loved Jesus with all my heart, but I wasn’t able to express it openly like she did. My relationship with Jesus was intense but private—I hoped this book would help make it public. Boys got turned on by what they saw, the book informed me, so it was my responsibility to protect my Christian brothers from sinful thoughts. Suggestions included wearing layers of clothing to insulate me from the boys’ gazes: no low cut tops or short shorts. I started wearing at least two shirts at a time, and jeans under my skirts and dresses. This was my job to save my classmates from sin. And I was happy to do it.

I was particularly susceptible to this, because I was a “good” girl. I thrived on pleasing adults and saw this as a way to be even more pleasing. I would cover myself up, make my body disappear, and thus become an even better girl. By hiding my sinful curves, I would become invisible: children are supposed to be seen and not heard, but girls are not even allowed to be seen.

But it was not enough to protect my Christian brothers from sin—I had to protect myself, too. Popular music and TV might give me ideas about sex, make me feel certain feelings. And I had to be ever vigilant against these feelings and crush them if they showed up. Even if they felt good, they were not good for me, the book promised. “You have to decide whether you are going to trust your own judgment in your pursuit of sexual purity or whether you are going to look to a trusted advisor for guidance.” This book’s message: do not trust yourself. And for years, I listened. I viewed my body as a ticking time bomb, just waiting to betray me. If I felt desire, it was a sin to be conquered. If I enjoyed the feeling of sun on my bare shoulders, I was hedonistic and should put on a sweater to protect my brothers in Christ. I was afraid to wash myself in the shower, lest I accidentally linger too long on my body and enjoy the touch. I avoided being naked as much as possible. Sometimes I awoke from a steamy dream, body sweaty and throbbing, and I prayed for God to forgive me for those poisonous thoughts. I had a dim concept that someday long in the future I would get married and I’d have to have sex, but that was years away and God would lead me once I got there.

But once I got there, there was no instruction manual or divine intervention to guide me. I thought my body would know what to do, but I had been denying my instincts for years, and I no longer knew what felt good and what didn’t. Pleasure had been avoided for so long that I wasn’t sure I would recognize it if it happened to me. Slowly, carefully, my husband and I have been exploring touch—I am learning to be an inhabitant of my own body for the first time. I’ve taken to wearing cashmere and silk, trying to get used to feeling something sensual without shame. It’s strange and surreal—like taking off blinders and realizing the world is full of color and light. It’s beautiful but awfully overwhelming. I could have used some time to get used to it.

The irony of the whole thing is that God never meant this for me. Despite everything, I still love Jesus with all my heart, and I believe that He did not want me to spend years ashamed of my body and its natural urges. I don’t think God wants us to go around rutting like animals as soon as we hit puberty, but I think that the man who hung out with prostitutes and said “let ye among you without sin cast the first stone” understood that it’s complicated. And I am certain that He never meant for my purity to be a bargaining tool or something that passed from my father to my husband. But some members the religious right have imposed these ideas onto Jesus and are putting them into the hands of young, impressionable girls. And it’s a terrible, awful thing.

Desire does not have an on and off switch. It cannot be fully ignored and rejected until a wedding day then flipped on at a wedding night. I was lucky; my husband is patient and committed to helping me undo the damage. But other women—friends—have still not escaped this trauma. When I see copies of this book in stores, I turn the covers backwards so it’s harder for people to find them. I want to protect girls from it. Even bright girls can fall for this shit—I’m living proof. Girls already grow up afraid of men, who will harass, oppress, rape, and murder us—we do not need to grow up afraid of ourselves, too.

rnotion - laura sooke duncombe

 

Laura Sook Duncombe is a part-time lawyer, part-time YA novelist, and full-time Christian feminist nerd. Greek epic poetry, Sherlock Holmes, and musical theater are a few of her favorite things. Visit her blog at laurasookduncombe.wordpress.com, as well as her Twitter, @LauraDuncombe1.