It was a hot day in the middle of July 2013, and I was at my summer job filling the pop machine outside when the mostly male factory workers took their afternoon break. I was wearing gym shorts and a T-shirt when I got pulled into my co-workers office.
“If you’re going to work around the boys, then you need to look more appropriate.”
I stared down at my outfit, wondering what could be wrong with it. Was my T-shirt see-through? Did she want me to dress more business casual, even though it didn’t fit with my job and no one else in the building dressed like that? I was confused by her statement; it must have registered on my face because she followed up with:
“Your shorts are way too short; you’re going to distract the men from their jobs.”
My head snapped up and I looked at her in bewilderment. I had worn these shorts during my co-ed gym class in school and nothing had ever been said; they even passed the fingertip rule. How could a pair of loose-fitting gym shorts distract men from their jobs? Were the tops of my thighs really that distracting?
That was the first instance of my body being sexualized that I had ever experienced.
When did the world come to revolve around what parts of my body weren’t covered, rather than the freedom of self-expression through fashion? When did it become, "Dress how you want, but within these restrictions" rather than, "Dress how you want so that I can see your personality?" When did it become my problem that how I dressed affected boys’ ability to focus? When did I become a distraction instead of a human being?
Every day, you see a new headline: “Girl suspended because her shoulders were showing,” “Girl’s shirt is too low cut, even though the neckline is at her collarbone,” “Girl suspended because her shorts were too short,” and so on. Even where I went to high school, this was a problem. However, there was a double standard, as the boys in my gym class were allowed to wear cutoff T-shirts that showed their chests. How was it that their lack of appropriate clothing couldn’t possibly distract me, but my lack of appropriate clothing could distract them?
It suddenly hit me — a male’s education and job were much more valuable than mine.
If there was even the possibility that I was distracting a boy from his work, I had to leave and wait until an appropriate outfit was brought to me. However, if a boy distracted me from my work with his rambunctious attitude, it was suddenly laughed off with the expression, "Boys will be boys!" Because of this, I would miss out on valuable lecture time, but it was OK, because a boy would be listening to the teacher instead of looking at my exposed shoulder. Apparently, my appearance is much more important than my education.
Outside of school, if I walk down the street wearing a short skirt and a crop top, especially if inebriated, I’m suddenly asking to get raped because I chose to dress scantily. Does the phrase, "Boys will be boys" still apply here? The sad answer is probably. Yet, when we watch the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, are the men in the crowd jumping on stage, unable to control their urges around such scantily clad women? No, because they know better than to do something where they can get caught.
My body is not a distraction. My body is not something that you can pick up and play with like a toy anytime that you want and then put back down when you’re done. My body is not an object. My body is mine, and I won’t hand it over to you anytime that you want simply because you feel that you have power over me. My body is not something that you can sexualize. My body is mine, and I’ll do whatever I please with it.