Lots of things about being female that irk and irritate me, but none piss me off more than everyday sexism.

I have spent all but a few years of my life railing against the limitations, inequalities, dangers and outrages visited upon me simply because I am not male.

Decades of my life. Quite literally.

So it stands to reason that I am very interested in varying takes on the subject that appear in the news and on the social media.

Yesterday, a conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Michelle Rempel, who also happens to be the immigration critic, wrote a piece which appeared in The National Post, detailing her ongoing struggles with the daily hassle of trying to represent her constituents while being female.

I’d like to report that the Canadian Parliament is an enlightened bastion of gender equality, and that Canadian men are not sexist Neanderthals in the workplace, but sadly, I cannot.

Here is some of what Ms. Rempel had to say on the subject:

The everyday sexism I face involves confronting the “bitch” epithet when I don’t automatically comply with someone’s request or capitulate on my position on an issue, confronting assumptions that I have gotten to my station in life by (insert your choice of sexual act) with (insert your choice of man in position of authority), enduring speculation and value judgements about my fertility, and responding to commentary that links my appearance to my competency. It involves my ass being occasionally grabbed as a way to shock me into submission. It involves tokenism. It involves sometimes being written off as not serious when I’ve clearly proven I am.

I’m fortunate, though. I haven’t had to overcome obstacles that many other women face. I have a romantic partner who isn’t emasculated by my success, and enthusiastically encourages me to pursue my aspirations. I’ve worked for and with employers who have done the same. I’m in a position of authority. I haven’t had to raise children as a single woman. I haven’t had to raise children, period. I’m cisgender, straight, and white. My body mass index doesn’t exceed 25. I’m not an immigrant. I’ve never been in an abusive relationship. I’m fortunate enough to have had a steady job throughout most of my working life. I could go on, and on, and on.

It’s a laundry list of not only the dismissive attitude men in the workplace still harbor and act upon, but it also highlights that being very privileged isn’t the shield some might suspect.

At the end of a day, what a man sees when he happens upon women in the world – wherever it might be – is someone who is not his equal. Someone he is free to not only make assumptions about but to give them voice. Someone he can fondle, leer at, proposition, and belittle because he is the man and the man is allowed.

It’s 2016 and the. man. is. allowed.

Let that sink in.

Then ask yourself, why is that?

In my opinion, some of it stems from the fact religions and out-dated cultural beliefs and practices still have too much influence in the world, but it also stems from the reality that women are a diverse group with differing and competing ideas/needs concerning what equality should be.

Regardless, I am firmly on the side of those who believe  the root of the problem is men. Their attitudes. Their unwillingness to let go of a status quo that suits them just fine because it asks/expects so little of them.

A gentlemen on Twitter responded to one of my tweets about Rempel’s article by saying he flet responding with a positive when a man behaves in a sexist manner is more likely to prevent similar behavior in the future than scolding or outrage.

Generally, I would agree. I spent too many years slowly luring teenagers to the trough of knowledge to not recognize the wisdom in such an approach.

It doesn’t mean, however, I am not bone weary fucking tired of it.

When after a conversation a man says to me, “You are a lot smarter than I thought you were.” My reaction is no longer “Thanks.” As it would have been when I was young.

Now, I say nothing.

Because there’s nothing to say to something so incredibly insulting the mind boggles he thought it was okay to say this out loud.

And grabbing my ass is grounds for slapped fingers. Or losing the whole hand.

Not that I have to worry about being groped anymore. My ass is too old to entice anyone but my husband. That or men save this kind of extraordinary personal space invasion for younger women because they instinctively know older women will hurt them.

Like Rempel though, I haven’t experienced sexism in a way that held me back during my education or kept me from employment or advancement after I graduated.

Though I have been physically threatened at different points when I was a young girl and woman, I was never hurt and was never trapped. I would point out that fear leaves its own marks but how we deal with them is an individual thing that can’t be easily quantified.

While I have been a single mom, an immigrant and “too large” to qualify for inclusion in what passes for “beautiful”, they were not obstacles for me either in the sense that they are for many.
I have been lucky and lucky, as most of us are wise enough to realize, is simply another way of saying “privileged”.

And she makes several good points about privilege when she writes,

The everyday sexism that I experience is grating. It angers me, and it makes me roll my eyes. Sometimes, when it’s bad enough, it causes me to second guess myself. I address it. I speak out about it. That said, I’ve never lost a job because of it. I’ve never experienced violence because of it. I’ve never had to worry about feeding my family because of it.

So, who am I to tell other women how they should combat everyday sexism? In fact, who are any of us to do the same?

There is no one sizes fits all solution for everyday sexism from a women’s perspective and, in my opinion again, there is no solution at all until men are willing to share privilege with us.

Because equality is really about leveling privilege.

And I don’t see that happening.

We’ve come a long way since the days we were not allowed to vote and were passed from father to husband like chattel. But we still owe the progress that been made more to the largess of men than anything. And unless we speak up, insist and address the daily insults and outrages, little is going to change.

So it’s incumbent upon those of us who are in the position to do something to do it. Like Michelle Rempel does in Ottawa. Like I do when I radicalize my daughters with knowledge, encouragement and being embarrassingly outspoken.

We need to push. We need to call out. We need to remember that women are still not equal and it’s way past time we were.


Rod Dreher is the senior editor at The American Conservative. He penned a piece a few days ago about chastity and how it’s been relegated to America’s social trash heap.

The article was in response to Pope Francis’s recent letter, Amoris Laetitia, a rather tortured explanation of the Catholic Church’s continuing lack of comprehension where sex and real people are concerned.

If you are interested at all in what an old celibate man has to say about intimate relationships, you can read his take and others outrage on sex, marriage, divorce and remarriage here, but I am going to focus on the Dreher piece because I find the idea of chastity and the way its been used/continues to be used so repugnant.

Dreher references a young female reader of his blog as the basis of the argument that chastity as an idea has been forgotten by most adults and that this is – in her (and his) view – a huge loss for society.

When you consider chastity as an idea that has always been problematic at best and violently oppressive at worst, I don’t agree at all.

Chastity has been forgotten for a good reason. It only existed is the first place as a way for society and religion to shame and control women and LGBTQs.

It’s a tool of oppression that has – among other things –  allowed sexual abusers to flourish in the priesthood specifically but also in families and society at large. It’s part of what has helped keep females second class and physically vulnerable for thousands of years.

Chastity is the more evil twin of modesty. Both are tools of subjugation, and teaching our children that sex is dirty and their bodies are shameful is one of the deepest roots of the ills of modern society.

Dreher’s young reader bemoans the fact that her friends couple physically without regard to what the church thinks about it.

And not in “scandalous” ways. What she references to is nothing more than dating, consensual sex, and co-habitation. Just the normal stuff of life. Behaviors that humans were engaging in long before religions and governments decided that it was in their best interests to introduce restrictions and instructions. And let’s not kid ourselves that this occurred for any other reason than politics and power.

For some reason though the young woman Dreher quotes, thinks that people don’t value relationships because sex often happens before marriage and sometimes marriage doesn’t happen at all.

I would argue that people don’t value each other because of the screwed up messages they get from religions and pop culture, the latter being a backlash of the first. But the religionists are stuck on the idea that humans are incapable of valuing each other or understanding love and intimacy sans a whooping doses of shame.

Because that’s what chastity is. It’s shame disguised as a virtue.

There’s nothing healthy about teaching young people – females in particular – that their bodies are such a corrosive distraction and temptation that they should not only be well-covered but they should be kept off-limits sexually until  safely housed within the confines a lawful marriage.

There are a lot of good reasons to be choosy about who you form an intimate relationship with but preserving one’s chastity would not top any list I might make.

And I wouldn’t argue at all with the young reader’s idea that intimate committed relationships are something that a some people don’t put much serious thought or effort into. But not because of a lack of chastity. Not because they are knowing or unknowing “sinners”.

People are thoughtless because they are human. They live in the past and the very near future. Seldom in the moment. Rarely thinking far ahead. Mostly self-interested. It’s our humanness that sometimes makes us terrible partners. Chastity and rigid, unrealistic rules about how to date and mate aren’t the fixes for these things.

The Catholic church (much like other faith beliefs) is only interested in sexuality because it allows them a means to exert undue influence and even control over people.

The Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar was among the first to legislate and reward state-approved sexuality. Long before Christianity, Augustus realized that people could be more easily controlled this way. It wasn’t about sin. It was about consolidating power. Regulating women to a more subservient role. Marginalizing LGBTQs. Chastity was a part of that and it’s no small wonder that when the Christians arrived, their religion eventually became the state religion. Roman rule and Catholic aversion to healthy sex were a match made in their particular twisted versions of heaven.

If someone wants to practice chastity as a part of a personal belief system or to be more mindful of themselves and their partners, more power to them. As it stands though, chastity is a blunt tool of suppression with both eyes ever on the prize of control. It tells those it is aimed at that they are shameful, bad, deviant. It teaches people wanting or participating in sex is a personal failing. It springs out of the idea that all sex is sinful – consensual and non-consensual alike.

Chastity is why women are still not equal.

When chastity becomes a choice rather than a coerced obligation, I might be inclined to amend my views, but I don’t see that day on the horizon.

Chastity is best forgotten. And the sooner the better.

Statistically speaking, Ghomesi’s not guilty verdict only sort of exonerated him of his alleged crimes.

The women who testified against him at his trial are but 3 on a list of women who’ve come forward with tales that Ghomesi is a sexual predator and serial sexual assailant.

Their testimony was riddled with supposed contradictions and apparent collusion that has only helped fuel the belief of those who cling to the myth that women falsely accuse men of sexual assault at higher numbers than the factual reality.

The vast majority – 92% at minimum – of reported sexual assaults are true. That’s a fact. It can be looked up and verified.

But, there is a large segment of society (predominantly male) who prefer to push the lie that most men accused of sexual assault are innocent and victims of “lying women”.

The heart of what has come to be termed “rape culture” flourishes because so many men can’t, or won’t, confront the truth about their gender, which is that men labor (still) under a cloud of misinformation about women and consensual sex that they picked up from dubious sources and continues to passed from one generation of men to another.

It’s 2016, but the list of fallacies about women, how we react in any given situation where relationships and sex are concerned, is still stuck in the misogynist past.

Despite what we now know about how victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse behave in the aftermath of their assaults, men, the media, the judicial system, law enforcement and religious groups with a variety of agendas continues to ignore the facts.

The fact is that victims often behave inconsistently after they’ve been assaulted for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes it’s denial. Understandable given the stigma that is still attached to having been sexually assaulted. And it’s difficult to deal with the shock of what’s happened – often at the hands of someone known to and even trusted by the victim. It’s normal to not want to believe you’ve been a victim and to try and restore a past state that has been erased by a violent betrayal of trust.

Often it’s shame because society still believes that victims can/should do more to prevent themselves from being victimized. Ridiculous, I know. We don’t ask victims of muggings why they were walking where they were or why they didn’t fight back after all.

There is fear factor too. Victims can still be at risk of repeated abuse by those who assaulted them, and with social media these days, it is all too easy for victims to be shamed and vilified by people they don’t even know. Not to mention, but let’s, push-back from family, friends, co-workers (their own and their assailant’s) and the community they live in.

Finally, law enforcement remains mostly clueless about how to deal with victims in a way that doesn’t re-victimize them, which is a problem our justice system suffers from as well.

Sexual assault is a minefield because we still see it as “sexual” rather than assault and society cannot seem to shed the idea that bad things only happen to bad people where sexual assault is concerned.

I am not surprised by the Ghomesi verdict. Growing up female, I learned quickly that men will always be believed and women will not be when it comes to sexual assault and domestic abuse. And not much has changed since I was a kid back in the seventies except that we talk about it now where we didn’t back then.

But talk is mostly all it is.

We still have no consensus on what must be done. and there continues to be undue burden on women to “prove” they are worthy of being believed rather than facing the reality that this litmus test is what allows sexual assault and predators to continue victimizing people.

I kind of hoped that my daughters would live in a safer world than I grew up in but that’s not really happening. Today is simply more proof of that.

1926 US advertisement. "Birth Control"

1926 US advertisement. “Birth Control” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was passively enduring talk radio on the drive back from Dee’s soccer game this evening and caught the FOX shoutfest that is Hannity. They were yelling over each other about small government, which no American under 55 can seriously claim to have ever lived under or even have the slightest idea of what small government means in terms of daily life, but nevermind. Small government diatribes these days almost inevitably detour through the vaginas of America’s women, who are the true root of the horror that is big government.

“If they want birth control (I love it when “they” refer to us as “they”, don’t you?) then they can pay for it themselves,” Hannity opined like a Catholic bishop from the pulpit. “I don’t need to pay for their lifestyle choice.”

Lifestyle choice?

Let’s see. I have breasts, a vagina, uterus and two XX’s. And that’s a choice I made?

Being female is not a “lifestyle”.

Why is it that everything small government conservative types are opposed to is slapped with the “choice” sticker?

First it was choosing to be gay and now, apparently, one can choose to be female too. Like anyone would, knowing the world as the female non-friendly place that it is. Who wouldn’t choose to the male? And straight and white while one was at it. Why not? If life were a simulated reality video game, as was recently pointed out, smart money is on picking the easiest setting – straight, white male. A penis is like finding a gold ticket in a Wonka Bar.

But here is the real beauty behind the “lifestyle choice” strawman argument, it allows “them” to define “us” as sluts. Only a slut would use birth control. My mother certainly never used birth control. Except if she is a baby boomer, she most certainly probably did. Just as your sister probably did. And your girlfriend because the god of your straight white maleness forbid that you deny yourself anything by stuffing your burgeoning manhood in a condom as opposed to a sassy wet slutty cunt.

But your daughter, and likely many of her friends, use birth control. Your nieces. Your cousins. The women you work with.  The one who checks your groceries at the store and the one who cleans your teeth, make your lattés and tells you to “have a nice” day when you are strolling out of Walmart, all have a better than even by a long shot chance of having used birth control at some point in their lives.

Damn slutty female lifestyle choice. Can’t escape them. They are everywhere, tainting the landscape with their tending to their femaleness and thinking you don’t know it. They should be ashamed of their lifestyle choice.

I know I am.

If only I had chosen to be my brother, who’s had two children out-of-wedlock to my NONE.

But no, I chose the female lifestyle. With its monthly bloody shedding of uterine lining and sole burden of child incubating and birthing and breastfeeding and putting nearly all my own wants, wishes and desires on hold for ten or twenty years, so it can grow, learn and hopefully leave home before I am too old to get back to focusing on me for more than snatched minutes here and there.

Being female is a perk-filled lifestyle. I can’t imagine why more men aren’t choosing it.

When we are not bleeding, pregnant or lactating, we are being paid less for the same work and bruising ourselves against glass ceilings, doors, and walls. We cart home the bacon after having shopped for it only to cook it, be criticized for getting fat if we eat more than a bite of it and then clear it from the table and wash the plates from which it was eaten.

If we show cleavage, we are whores, but if we try to disguise our breasts, we are anal prudes with no sense of humor who should, “Just smile, Sweetie, because you are so much prettier when you smile. Don’t look so serious all the time.”

We get to have a special “place” and straight white god in heaven forbid that we shouldn’t recognize it and plant the asses we should not let get too fat right there where they belong.

What kind of bullshit is this lifestyle choice crap?

No woman on the planet would choose to be female. Why? Because as lifestyles go, it sucks. Lifestyles should be rich, famous, and packed with privileges. Being female is none of those things.

When the small government folk go on and on about “lifestyle choices”, they are attempting – and in the US with great success – to redefine what being female, or gay, really is. It’s not a choice. It’s a condition of being. Part of being female is managing the plumbing, and no one gets to stick his nose up my plumbing unless he’s my husband or has an M.D. behind her surname.

I am female by random chance, and I have lived a female’s life of which I am not ashamed of. Nice try, Hannity.

Youth Culture - Hippies 1960s

Hippies (Photo credit: brizzle born and bred)

Aside from the obvious questions, “happier than what?” or “happier than when?”, or even begging the question, “how do we know that women have ever been happy overall in the first place?” because I don’t know how we can compare the educationally, socially and career limiting eras of our mothers and grandmothers with the veritable garden of options that women have today.  It’s not an apples to apples thing.

The idea that happiness is the end goal of our life’s pursuit is an oddly American one anyway. Ever since Jefferson lumped the pursuit of it with the rather more important issues of life and liberty, people have seemed to grasp more for the third rail and worry about the other two only after the fact.

A recent debate courtesy of the Wall Street Journal pitted Hanna Rosin against Mary Eberstadt on the subject of whether women are better off, which has nothing to do with happiness.  In life, really, happiness is often beside the point as our stoic grandparents and their parents before them could have told us, but since the Boomers, each subsequent generation has found itself more and more unhappy and puzzled as to why, so naturally the fault must lie outside themselves. It wouldn’t do at all to expect the more probable truth that happiness is a choice and many of us choose to be dissatisfied. Not because we want to be unhappy but more because we have no idea how to disentangle the idea of happiness from status, wealth, material things and other people’s approval.

Eberstadt argues that because women today aren’t happy with their lives then the sexual revolution has failed. Rosin argues, correctly, that happiness is beside the point. Women are better off economically, socially and from a human rights standpoint. She muddies the water a bit with the tired assumption that because women can have “risk free” intimate relationships without fear of jeopardizing educational or career plans then the revolution is a success. The “sex” part of the revolution was not the great gain for women however.

Entanglement free sex is a fantasy and always has been, and it’s a male and female delusion. The idea that another person’s body is recreation probably isn’t the worst thing human beings have done to each other over the course of our history, but it is one of our more persistent fantasies because it is the very rare person who plays that game and doesn’t get slapped at some point and it’s the pretense of “risk free” that is at the root of such chastisement.

But that’s a secondary road, a tangent that isn’t the point any more than happiness is.

Women are better off for the advances in law, reproductive health and societal changes than they were fifty years ago. Whether or not they are “happy” has more to do with who they are as people and what they believe the point of their existence is.

Young people especially, but every generation is guilty to some extent, of believing that our individual “happiness” is the point of being alive at all. If we are not happy, there is a reason and someone/place is to blame. Someone other than ourselves.

The sexual revolution has nothing to do with “happiness” anymore than being an American versus being a European is the recipe for “happy”. Religion or no. Wealthy or not. Powerful or average joe. There are happy and unhappy people populating any niche one would care to label.

Happiness is a choice. A housewife in the 1960’s chose to be happy or discontent in the same way and by the same numbers as a SAHM or career woman chooses to do the same today. Then as now, the ability to maneuver and achieve within the allowed parameters is largely up to the person.

My personal opinion is that the sexual revolution vastly underestimated most people’s ability to separate personal expectations and emotions from the incredibly intimate act of copulation. Most of us just don’t arrive at our sexual awakening with the maturity, wisdom or knowledge base to avoid making huge emotional missteps which results in hurts that can leave long-lasting scars on ourselves and others.

Perhaps if we weren’t so human, and so woefully determined to ignore our vulnerable natures, it might have worked out better. As it is in America, we still don’t do the “free love” thing very well and we spend much of our lives stumbling and wondering why it’s so hard and why our relationships don’t work out the way the media tells us they should. And that too is a side road for another day.

That doesn’t mean that the revolution was a bad thing or an unnecessary one.  Poor planning and execution coupled with a continued denial of human nature doesn’t negate it. The hypocrisy that governed sexual relations before certainly wasn’t working all that well either and a wide swing in the opposite direction was inevitable and has led to an increased acceptance of perfectly normal relationships that were once considered wrong like interracial and same-sex couples. And it decoupled marriage from sex, which was occurring long before anyway, and we are better off for simply acknowledging that as perfectly normal too. We are not all meant to be in long term relationships, and even though monogamy in some form works for more of us than not, doesn’t make it the default setting because human beings tend to change with age. What fifty year old will tell you that he/she is in need of the exact same thing emotionally now as they were at 18 or even 38?

To paraphrase Shakespeare poorly, maybe when god makes men and women of some other metal than earth, we will get this all right?

Regardless, those who would have us believe that happiness is the point are missing the point. And are probably unhappy to boot.

… even when it comes to such trivial matters as wanting to play middle school sports in a pair of shorts that aren’t so short and tight that a girl has to spend half her time pulling them out of her various crevices.

War-women Deutsch: Kriegsfrauen - Öl über Temp...

War-women Deutsch: Kriegsfrauen - Öl über Tempera auf Leinwand - 124x247 cm - Museum Schloß Bruck, Lienz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But that’s yesterday’s news already.

It’s not been a good year for women. In the United States, Republican lawmakers, with the aid of religious zealots, have re-launched vicious attacks on our right to birth control and to not be forced to submit to all manner of vaginal indignity when we seek to exercise our presumed right to decide all matters related to our health for ourselves.

In Afghanistan, women are jailed for running away from physically abusive husbands and in New York City, cops can now legally rape women at gunpoint and expect to go free if there is a man on the jury bloody minded enough to force his fellow jurors to vote for acquittal.

Sigh.  We are decades and decades into this fight for equality and, essentially, unless you are white and live in an industrial nation with a solid hold on what passes for a democratic government, we gained inches worth of ground – if that.

Men in my neck of the planet will argue that this simply isn’t true, but deep down, they know it is. They argue because it’s in the interests of their penis-granted privilege to appear to be in favor of the advance of gender equality while at the same time they know that as long as they don’t admit to the lack of progress, this grants them even more time in the driver’s seat.

How did this happen? Arriving in a new century and still battling sexism? Male dominion over nearly every aspect of our existence?

Erica Jong, in a recent defense of feminism to Hannan Rosin, brings up a very valid – though somewhat taboo – point about the collaborators of our gender. From the famous like Phyllis Schlafly to the Facebook friend of a friend who upbraided me for expressing my doubt about the necessity of skin-tight short shorts that my Facebook friend’s pre-teen daughter is expected to wear if she wants to participate in a sport she loves, women themselves are the greatest ally that male domination has needed in order to perpetuate over the span of human history. We are quite willing to rather meekly submit to all manner of controls, or make sure that others of our gender do, and the reality of this has stranded me in a crossroad without any clear idea of where I should go next.

Canada is hardly an equity utopia.  Ism’s of all sorts abide north of the lower 48 and a few are even more unsettling than those I left in the land of my birth. However, the manual labouring sector aside, women make strides here in all manner of this and that, and our basic right to physical autonomy appears – among the born and bred Canadian if not so much the immigrant classes – to be on sounder footing. The Neanderthal set may be ubiquitous the world over, but they aren’t suffered here to the extent they are in the United States.  I could simply mind the greenery on my side of the fence.  Settle in the pasture, so to speak.

But it nags at me that the gains that seemed to grow up along side of me over the past not quite fifty years are being swept away by male and female alike down there, and the social media feminist excepted, no one is all that upset by it, if they notice it at all.

Speaking up is running the risk of ridicule. Shame baiting stuff intended to call up emotions from days of yore when a woman was still literally a girl and more easily controlled by externals because she hadn’t lived enough life to know them for the shackles that they are.

I might yet live long enough to see women in the United States covering themselves like Hutterite women and be grateful for an eighth grade education. Too many these days would call that progress.

The Cal women's volleyball team during a match...

The Cal women's volleyball team during a match against USC in Berkeley. The Golden Bears won 3 sets to 1. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was in junior high, I spent my grade seven year stubbornly resisting all recruiting efforts to entice me to play school team sports. My interest and ability was not a secret. Until grade six, recess was my favorite class solely because of sports. I played whatever ball was going. Baseball. Basketball. Kickball. And like every other girl, I played with the boys. Co-ed teams were the norm from grade two on. It’s how we played in the neighborhoods. We thought little enough of it.

But the parish pastor spent an unhealthy amount of time brooding on it and the year I was in sixth grade, he informed the school’s principal, Sr. Walmar, that once students entered Unit 3 (grades five and six), we were to play athletic games with our respective genders only.

And being a good little nun, Sr. Walmar complied.

First, it was basketball. Not only were we girls not to play with the boys, but when we tried to play on our own, we were informed we must play it “girl’s rules” now. Six on six basketball is an abomination of the highest order in my eyes. I thought so then and I continue to view it that way. Though many in my home state of Iowa lament its inevitable demise, I still say – good riddance.

The day that one of the math teachers came out to teach us the rules sticks vividly in my memory. After going along with her instructions for about ten minutes, I announced that I was going to find something else to do for the rest of the recess period, and I walked away with several of my friends in tow. Not to be thwarted, Sr. Marlu made the learning of six on six part of our PE curriculum, and I went along but I never played the game unless my grade was at stake.

Eventually, baseball and kickball were not only downgraded from co-ed status but in an effort to get we girls to take up the nice feminine sport of volleyball, we were forbidden to play kickball on the volleyball courts (even though there wasn’t a single girl between grades five and eight who would play the game, which was partly because we’d recently been banned from wearing shorts under our school skirts and partly b/c the courts were located on the asphalt parking lot).

Grade seven rolled around and I snubbed everything. Not volleyball. Nor basketball. No softball and forget about track. I was not about to knuckle under. I would play as I pleased or not at all.

But when grade eight came, a few of my friends who had joined the school teams the year before brought a bit of peer pressure to bear. I was a good athlete. They’d spent the last year mostly losing. What kind of friend was I anyway?

Our parish was not well off. Our school reflected this in a myriad of ways. The boys teams had uniforms but the girls had team t-shirts only, not real uniforms like the other Catholic schools girls’ teams did. That changed at the beginning of our basketball season. Somehow, the pastor had been prevailed upon to outfit us. It was actually a bit exciting when our coach, a young guy who was student teaching in our building, handed them out to us one night after practice. We trooped into the locker room of the elementary school gym that we used, because our school didn’t have a gym, to try them on. They were polyester and very tight. The shirts were unattractive but serviceable. The pants, however, would have been better suited to a Hooters, if such a thing had existed back then.

Tight and very short, any movement sent what little leg covering there was inching up into every crevice imaginable. A great deal of time that season was devoted to pulling the shorts down. And if this wasn’t insult enough, they were white and so thin that great care in underwear selection was a must on game days.

Even the prettiest, slenderest girls were horrified by those hot pants pretending to be basketball shorts, and keep in mind that this was the late 70’s when short gym shorts were the norm.

We all quickly changed out of the shorts and went out to tell our coach that the shorts were too small.

His response?

Go back in there and try them on and let me decide if they are too small.

We were seventh and eighth graders. It was 1977. We put the shorts back on and paraded around while this 22-year-old education major assessed our assessment. He tried to keep his expression neutral, but he was pretty new to the whole “teaching” thing and he was clearly embarrassed.  He told us he would fix it. He was too young to really know how the education hierarchy worked and too indoctrinated in our shared religion to understand that he had no hope of fixing anything.

He went to the pastor and explained but was told that the shorts couldn’t be returned, and we would wear them or not play.

I was all in favor of not playing. In grade eight I was nearly as tall as I am now and weighed only slightly less than I do now. I was never a little girl and at the time, the phrase “all arms and legs” was me to a tee. I offered to get a pair of regular white gym shorts and wear them but was told again that I would wear the uniform or not play. If I hadn’t committed to my friends to stick that wretched season out before it even began, I’d have walked with no problems. But I’d promised, so I sandwiched up and wore the damned hot pants even though I knew exactly what I looked like in them and just what the boys who saw us were going to do and say. I may have only been 13 but I’d been female long enough at that point to know what one did and didn’t wear, when and why.

Our school developed quite the reputation that season. Word of our “panties” spread. It wasn’t unusual for a lot of boys from the opposing school to hang around for the girls basketball games when we were the visiting team.

Yes, there was catcalling. All with leering  and plenty of wishing the wooden gym floors would open up in a suitably biblical fashion and swallow us whole (but not before lightning bolts smote every leering grin in the room).

But only once did our coach experience any of t it for himself.

It was after the game at Nativity, and we trekked dejectedly (we’d lost again aside from me and a few of my friends, no one on our team could play to save their lives) and the Nativity boys lined the stairwell leading down to the locker rooms – leering and full of themselves with witty commentary on our scanty panties.

They didn’t see Coach and when they did, they scattered.

At the next practice he said, “I’ve talked to Father and for the rest of the season, you can wear your own shorts, so long as they are white.”

And that was that.

In the end, it was not our feelings that swayed either our Coach or the parish pastor, but the opinions of other men, albeit rather young ones. Which is the point of the story. Men decide and women abide.

Just as an aside to the story, my father attended the Nativity game. It was the only one he’d been able to get to all season, so he’d never seen the shorts. After, he’d been grim-faced enough that had Coach not gone to talk with the pastor, I am pretty sure my dad would have because even though the coach had been too young and too much of a butt-kisser to act, what my Dad saw that night was what everyone had seen all season, and what my male peers knew without being told. We were dressed like street-walkers. Those tiny shorts did not highlight our athletic limbs as much as they showcased our budding sexuality. And every male who saw us, regardless of age, knew it.

Not long ago, Dee asked for a sweater that would sit off her shoulder. Eventually all fashion is new again and apparently the Flashdance look of the 80’s has rolled back around. She wanted the sweater to wear over a thin strapped t-shirt. She is nine. I thought little of it. She is very tiny and often mistaken for a younger child still. No big deal.

“She’ll look like a tart,” her father told me when I mentioned it to him.

Did I mention that she is nine? But yet that’s what her own father thinks of her in that outfit.

Men see us differently than we choose to pretend we look to the world.

The mothers at the last dance studio Dee attended would vehemently defend the risque jazz outfits that frankly wouldn’t have looked out of place in a skin joint. They saw “art”, but my guess is that more than one father and grandfather at those performances saw “stripper” in the making.

A mother I know recently wrote about the too tight, too short pants that her pre-teen daughter is supposed to wear to play volleyball. Not wanting to be “that mom”, she’s chosen the path of deep breathing and hoping that she is just overreacting a bit. After all, females from 10 to the Olympics wear those skin tight butt huggers to play the game – never mind that not a single other female sport from basketball to soccer is similarly clad or that boys/men who play volleyball are allowed to wear long shorts. Her daughter loves volleyball, and it’s a “no short shorts/no play” thing. And maybe in the long run, it’s no big deal.

If I could relive grade eight, I would have never donned those white shorts. I’d have quit on the spot and walked home that cold dark November evening. It’s been 35 years and I still remember what it felt like to walk in front of a gym full of people and know what was being whispered about us in those shorts.