At the check-out till ahead of us was a young girl – bending over her groceries. Her dress had hoiked up so far, we could see where her sun doth shine.
I just shook my head – thinking, “Seriously girlfriend – at the supermarket” but then I realised she was her school uniform – and she was definitely not wearing regulation panties.
The girl was gorgeous in a Jerry Hall kind of way. Long, lean legs, tousled blonde mane, heavily mascara’d eyes. She would have looked fantastic in a flour sack. Yet here she was a sliver of a school dress. Buying chips and dip and coca cola. And flashing the shoppers.
Her outfit was no accident – she knew what she was doing. She straightened up and looked my neighbour in the eye. From across the display of biltong and chocolate. we could all see her expression: less “come on baby” – more “made you look, made you look” …
Like a child.
The man’s wife – they were both in their 70s said: “Honey, don’t stare”. And he turned away – mortified. Blushing when he realised I had watched the exchange. The woman behind them muttered: “Sis man, you’re old enough to be her granddad”.
There is so much sexual violence in our world at the moment. No country is exempt, every country has its own shame. We place the blame squarely on men. They are the perpetrators. They must stop, they must change, they must learn to control themselves. Where was this girl’s dad? I wouldn’t have made it out of the door with my bits on display – how had she gone out into the world in a dress that was hemmed so high it barely covered her lala? And a school uniform at that, something specifically designed for non-sexual purposes. I recognised the uniform: this girl goes to a school with a strict code of ethics and high expectations of their students. Someone was paying a fortune to get her educated. Someone was clearly missing the obvious.
I want to make something plain before I go any further: Rape is wrong. In any permutation, incarnation or situation. Domestic, stranger, war, spontaneous, gang, relationship, marital, date, woman, man, child, adult: rape is a crime of violence. It’s not about sex. It’s about taking power, it’s about control, and payback, and dominance and devalue. Women and girls bear the brunt of rape – we don’t have the strength of a man: as anyone who as ever had a play-fight with a guy knows only too clearly. Rape has become a weapon of war, a correction, a taking, a right.
There are places in the world where women have no protection – where armed conflict, famine, displacement, religious laws, failed governments and institutionalised misogyny have rendered women powerless. We are not those women – here we have rules of law. We have a constitution. No woman belongs to any man – no man has the right to take from a woman anything she does not wish to give. Every woman has the right to say NO. To be heard and believed. We say it again and again: “No means no, whenever it is said”. There is no confusion in that.
If men still transgress we are able to pursue them to the full extent of the law.
Technically – we are as safe as we can be. Is that why we think: “now we’ve got it we must flaunt it”? Somehow we’ve moved from Emily Pankhurst through Barbarella, Germaine Greer and Women’s Lib and ended up on a stripper pole. I must have missed a few steps – how did burning our bras and sexual emancipation end in ‘getting our slut on’?
It feels like we bravely built an incredible brand: Feminism. Only to set about systematically destroying it by exerting our rights to dress inappropriately.
If we have played any part at all in creating this misconception – what should we be doing to keep ourselves and other women safer? I wonder if this girl and her friends understand that the video honeys and pole vixens of TV go home and put on their sweat pants. That they argue with their husbands and do laundry. That they have children and pets. That they don’t dress like strumpets when they go to the supermarket.
As grownups we understand their role in our sexual politics: they are fantasies. But have we passed on that information? I don’t think so – the globalisation of TV has sold those fantasies to the rest of the world as being a truth of how we live. We’ve become hos and bitches in cyberspace. We’re the Real Housewives of Miami, the Kardashians, Rhianna, the girls of the Hollywood Mansion. We say: “We are emancipated and powerful. We can wear what we want.” We mean: “You can look – but you better not touch”.
Are we not perpetrating a violence of our own?
I know there is the flip side : if we change our behaviour and cover up – we have allowed men to win. Perhaps – but at least we will not have been harmed. In times of war one has to think strategically. And once balance is achieved – we can set about re-building.
The old man glanced up at me as we shuffled our baskets forward and I saw shame in his eyes. For one tiny little moment he had been caught in the fantasy – and we had nailed him for it.
And I wondered: how was that fair?
(Image copyright Rosea Posey.