A few weeks ago I went to a friend’s 40th birthday celebration. After an afternoon on the beach a big group of us went out to dinner. I was at a table of about 6 – me, my husband, 2 other heterosexual couples in their 30s-40s and a late 30-ish male. The conversation turned to the game of tug-of-war we had witnessed on the beach earlier that day. Shelly’s beach at Manly is really popular with backpackers and there were hordes on them there that lovely afternoon. They were engaged in a tug-of-war competition and they were taking turns. Girl on girl, boy on boy sort of thing. It was amusing to watch. One of the girls taking part was wearing - I don’t know what they’re called – a bikini that didn’t really cover her bum properly. That’s how it was designed – you know the ones I’m talking about. It was green and she was not thin. When women wear bikinis like this they draw attention to themselves because we live in a society obsessed with women’s bodies. Yet the attention a not-thin woman draws to herself I think is quite different to the attention a woman with the culturally cherished body type draws. This woman in the green bikini was not fat. She was just an average sized woman, but she was exposing her body in a way that only women WHO ARE DEEMED BEAUTIFUL OR SEXY are allowed to.
Back at dinner, my ears pricked up when I heard someone say something and laugh about the ‘girl in the green bikini’. Everyone else laughed apart from me and my husband. I thought, “I don’t know these people very well….how am I going to say something ‘tactfully’. Maybe I should just remain silent”.
But I couldn’t. I said something along the lines of “Well good on her for wearing a bikini if she wants – why should she be ashamed?” The table went silent and people looked at me. I continued in that vein trying to explain that women are under way too much pressure to look a certain way and maybe we should consider why; hell, maybe we should question the unfair pressure placed on women to look a certain way THAT CONVERSATIONS LIKE THESE perpetuate (!) The woman next to me was intrigued and said “Keep talking, I like this. I love debates’. So the conversation went on for a bit longer but two of the guys began looking at me like they hated me (no surprises there, really) and the conversation kind of petered out when one of them said completely irrelevantly “I can be controversial – What about when someone says a scantily-clad woman is asking to be raped?” I thought, but didn’t say because I was tired, the food was terrible and I wanted to go home: “That’s not controversial you idiot…it’s just stupid and actually pretty mainstream”. I have no idea where that particular comment came from, but I suspect it was based on a a general fear that I was commandeering the conversation into feminist territory that would make the menz feel bad.
Anyway, I came away NOT feeling terrible like I usually come away from social gatherings with people I don’t know very well who, typically quite early in the night, reveal themselves to be misogynists. I felt good that I was able to MAYBE get them to question their assumptions about what women should and shouldn’t wear and why. At least maybe for the women at dinner who were more open to the idea of thinking about it.