By: Lanisha Porter
I grew up in the West End of Louisville where by age 7 I was branded and pronounced to be “hot and fast”…even told that I’d be pregnant as a teenager. Though I was largely unaware of what the world would later cue me in on, very early I remember carrying a responsibility that felt like weight. A need to deflect attention from myself or cocoon myself in such ways that didn’t draw any attention…especially male attention. I would come to later understand this as what the world called sexuality. For some reason or another I would observe that there were things, even as a young girl, people around me deemed immoral—wearing red nail polish, showing my legs, sporting my hair straightened or with curls, wearing open-toed shoes, or even having male associates. I understand now in hindsight that the underwritten message cautioned loudly while being a young girl in the prime of my girlhood until, has always been this: don’t provoke your sexuality, and don’t allow your choices to provoke the sexuality of others.
My father, by whom I was raised, purposely reared me with the personal mechanics to make my own choices about what I thought was appropriate dress. He didn’t curb the joy of my childhood with any strict dress codes that pointed at the idea that I was somehow a “bad girl” or “fast and hot” due to my choice of wardrobe. However, the world would. First at school, with brazen dress codes that iterated the idea that boys could be distracted by the showing of a girl’s shoulder or the sight of her knee cap. Then in other spaces like church, where I can completely understand the need for modesty, but question why there’s a more intensive focus on the bodies of women that isn’t also imposed, if at all, on the bodies of men. After, I would mostly go on to realize the imprisoning ideas other people had around young women and our bodies, as I myself became a young woman, just in the regular day-to-day conversations of life. In various forms or another, there was a recurring idea I noticed that dimmed many conversations I’ve taken part of: the idea that whatever bad things happen to girls must somehow be invited or summoned in large by their dress code. (Meanwhile, the aggressor or sexual predator skips off in most of these conversations free of blame because the one preyed upon should ‘know better.’)
…First, revisiting what I stated in the opening, long before I was aware of my sexuality, my body, or the nature of men, I was taught a deep shame that still survives in the bones of many women to this day who had the same lessons shoved down their throats. I was offered this idea that I...my body, beauty, and essence as a female was a distraction that could foreshadow the welcoming of predators who didn’t know better than to resist their own biological inclinations. There has been this long-held belief, whether stated or unstated, that modesty is a “good girls” armor against the poor conduct of men. As if being fully covered, derails a predator from preying upon their victim. As if perhaps, women who model plunging necklines, or hip-hugging skirts have a stamp across their foreheads reading, “Okay to take.” Or--as so many people like to skate past—as if, women who wear hijabs which brick them into their own of world of privacy, aren’t raped or sexually assaulted daily…despite having a “good girls armor.”
Ultimately, I deeply believe it is a wide flaw we have as a society that consistently draws on the idea that girls should be held responsible for preventing the outside forces that may act upon them. That they should carefully curb their sense of expression, if it means helping a man not rape you. It is a ludicrous idea that we will police young girls with this pseudo-comfort that how they dress will either be a detriment or armor to their own safety. All the while, we evade teaching boys/young men that their primal instincts of sexual urges doesn’t grant them the clemency to pursue young women against their wills.
To those who believe boys will be boys, and that girls need to “cover up” if they don’t want to be raped or aggressively pursued, I say this to you: you indeed are trash. And you, beyond a doubt, are a problem. That is all.
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