That title sounds highly provocative, doesn’t it? Well, the subject matter I’ll be dealing with today isn’t exactly groundbreaking but it is the first experience I’ve come across where someone has been conditioning me with a sense of gendered control that I can remember. At least, when it’s happened to me personally.
My short skirt is not an invitation
that I want it
or give it
or that I hook.
This past Saturday, I went out in a group to a bar in New Haven to hear a friend’s band play. We’ve heard them a bunch of times, and aside from their own original songs which are killer, they also play a ton of great covers of everything from Al Green to Outkast. I had a Cherry Pinnacle and club soda and enjoyed hearing the band play, dancing so hard I broke a good sweat. There was also a guy dancing near the band setup that clearly should have been cut off about two hours earlier, moving his body like a swimming pool noodle that got thrown into Jell-O pudding and sweating like he’d taken a shower on the dance floor.
I looked good. Not going to lie. My hair has passed the awkward stage between pixie and shag cut thanks to some at-home trims I gave it to stop its transformation into a mullet, and it behaved that day, which is new. I wore a purple dress from Forever21 I had bought back in December for about 15 dollars (because I’m cheap) and leopard print ankle boots (because I’m worth it). The dress was not clingy in the least, which was great because I had just stuffed my face at dinner and it was built to move, which was great because I was planning on dancing like a moron for most of the night, and I did. It’s a short, swingy, moddish dress, which made me feel quite like a go-go dancer for most of the night, in the vein of Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In and not someone in Showgirls.
Halfway through the night I went to use the bathroom, did my thing, and headed back to join my friends.
My short skirt
is not begging for it
it does not want you
to rip it off me
or pull it down.
Sitting near the entrance to the bathroom and in front of the bandstage was a group of older guys drinking beers and yelling to each other over the music. One of the men, a guy in his late 30s, had called out to me when I had entered the bar earlier in the evening saying I had nice shoes. I had thrown him a smile and a “thank you!” because that’s what you do when someone pays you a compliment. When I saw him on my way out from the bathroom, I didn’t really think anything further of it, and went to walk past him.
He moved quickly. He wasn’t that much taller than me, but keep in mind I was wearing 5″ platform heels, so I knew he was much taller than I was surmising. I thought he was moving to get out of my way, but then I realized he wouldn’t have had to move because I was going to his left, and he moved in that direction. He was moving to block my path.
My short skirt
is not a legal reason
for raping me
although it has been before
it will not hold up
in the new court.
His leg swung to the right of me, putting his body in my direct line of motion. I looked up at him. His eyes had the glazed semi-control of a man who thinks if he puts a look in your direction you are his property. I only saw it for a split second, that arrogant sense of possession, but in that moment I felt a rush of fear. Sure, this guy was drunk, so he wasn’t exactly in full faculty. I wasn’t that drunk and wasn’t planning on drinking any more that night. And I could tell from a quick size-up that I probably had more muscle weight on me than he did. But there was that moment. And in that moment I could see…well. I could see a LOT of bad things going down.
Maybe it was because I had seen The Dark Knight Rises the day before, but I summoned my inner Catwoman and forcibly stepped around him, and thankfully for this guy’s sense of right and wrong (and the safety of his genitals) he let me go, offering up a “Nice outfit”. I offered a breezy “thanks” over my shoulder for the semi-compliment, but the damage had been done.
I got back to my friends and relayed the incident. Some were annoyed. Some were shocked. Some were threatening to start a fight. But I was more confused, weirded out, and just plain grossed out.
My short skirt
is about discovering
the power of my lower calves
about cool autumn air traveling
up my inner thighs
about allowing everything I see
or pass or feel to live inside.
Had this been about two years ago, when I was single, in the full throes of an undiagnosed eating disorder, and suffering a severe depression over my career and my singlehood, I would have analyzed that moment as a sort of failing point on my part. I would have thought to myself “Well, that’s the only guy in the bar that would hit on me?” and I would have sunk into a shell that was increasing its hold on me. Had this been 7 or 8 years ago, when I was obese, I would have clung eagerly to that one compliment, hardly thinking I was worthy of a guy who A) respects me or B) doesn’t feel the need to try and control my movements with his brute presence.
What gives guys the right to do this? Who gave this dude permission (aside from a few too many Bud Heavies and the gendered codes of ‘who owns who’ in this society) to throw his weight around in front of me, literally blocking me from moving? I’m a strong woman. I lift weights, I run, I do hot yoga, and I kickbox on the regular. Had this guy tried anything, I’m pretty sure I could’ve laid this guy out.
Yet for those .3 seconds he was in my way I had horrible, flashing visions of the sort of violation that no one, no matter who they are, should ever be forced through. It bothered me for the rest of the weekend.
My short skirt is not proof
that I am stupid
or a malleable little girl.
When I was horrendously overweight I owned exactly one pair of jeans. I hated going shopping. I hated going to any social events. I just hated everything. Hated guys, hated girls – especially skinny girls, ohh, those jerks – and above all else, I just hated myself.
My short skirt is my defiance
I will not let you make me afraid
My short skirt is not showing off
this is who I am
before you made me cover it
or tone it down.
Get used to it.
Thankfully, those days aren’t around anymore. But I still am uncomfortable when presented with the idea of anybody finding me physically attractive. I mean, I believe it when people I’m close to tell me I look good. And yes, there are times when I look in the mirror and think “I did something right today.” But I still have that insecurity tinting everything I do. Add onto that a drunken stranger who tried to get in my way, and you have a stressball cocktail. And that pisses me off.
My short skirt is happiness
I can feel myself on the ground.
I am here. I am hot.
I don’t really need any kind of validation from anybody to make my night great. Sure, it’s fun to hear that you look good, and it’s great when it’s someone whose opinion you really care about. But at the end of the day, I wore that dress because it was purple and it was an easy dress to dance in to “Hey-Ya!” I may have woken up the next day with a strained neck, but it was worth it.
My short skirt is a liberation
flag in the women’s army
I declare these streets, any streets
my vagina’s country.
My point, if I have a point, is simple: women should be able to do whatever the hell they want without the interference or permission of a man. Nor should women make themselves sound dumb to reel a guy in. You know who like dumb girls? Dumb guys. Don’t be a dumb girl. Be a woman. Be a great woman.
You do you. Whether it’s going out and getting slightly (okay, very) drunk at an Irish bar, to getting married to your life partner (gay or straight, don’t matter), having an abortion, saying the valuable word ‘vagina’ without getting banned from your post in a House of Congress or Senate, to flying in space like Amelia Pond…women should have all of these things without running it by a dude first.
I don’t get why older, white, rich dudes are the ones asked first about what to do with my uterus and/or vagina.
They should be the LAST people to ask about my sexual organs. They should be the last person to even THINK about my sexual organs. The fact that they’re so concerned about my vagina makes ME concerned. Shouldn’t they be worried about the function of their own sexual organs?
My short skirt
is turquoise water
with swimming colored fish
a summer festival
in the starry dark
a bird calling
a train arriving in a foreign town
I wore that outfit and those heels because it made me feel sexy and confident. Sorry that intimdated you, or gave you the desire to tamp it down or possess it. You’ll never have it.
I didn’t wear a single bit of that outfit for you. I wore it for me, my sense of fashion awesomeness, and for its ability to allow me to engage in some fierce shaking like a Polaroid Picture.
my short skirt is a wild spin
a full breath
a tango dip
my short skirt is
I will never understand the psyche of males who think it’s okay to possess women, to ‘instruct’ them, to make them an Other in their Normal.
But I am not a possession. I’m just doing what I do. Which is to be a powerful, articulate, smart, and otherwise gifted woman who finds a man’s attempts to block her way at a bar (because let’s face it, that’s probably the only way he’d ever get my attention) pretty sad.
I am here. I am in a short skirt. And I am not going away.
But mainly my short skirt
and everything under it
– Eve Ensler, “My Short Skirt.” Written in 2001 for The Vagina Monologues.