By Heidi Stevens
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Heidi Stevens does a tremendous job in this article which takes a look at society’s dysfunctional relationship to the female body.
The U.S. Tennis Association clarified that Alize Cornet should not, after all, have been admonished for her on-court shirt change at the U.S. Open.
So, that’s that. All good.
Except it’s not.
Not until we have an honest conversation, a bunch of them, actually, about the reason she was given a warning in the first place. And the reason is this: Far too many people think female bodies are, above all else, for sex.
Whatever a woman is using her body for, competing on the tennis court, walking down the street, working in her office, will be, at some point, by some guy, treated as a sideshow.
I know what you’re really up to.
Cornet, to the chair umpire, wasn’t simply fixing a backwards shirt. She was violating a code.
Not a code that says players can’t be briefly topless; tennis officials clarified this week that there’s no rule against what Cornet did. Male players strip their shirts off all the time. Twitter has been filled with side-by-side photos of Cornet’s seconds-long change next to men celebrating topless and cooling down shirtless.
No, the code Cornet violated is unofficial and deeply ingrained and it goes like this:
Female bodies are sexual.
They shall be gazed upon and regarded accordingly.
They shall be covered up accordingly.
They shall remain covered up until an appropriate time and place, lest they become a scandalizing distraction.
When uncovered at inappropriate times and places, they shall be scolded and shamed.
When uncovered at appropriate times and places, they shall also be scolded and shamed.
The owners of the female bodies do not determine those appropriate times and places.
It’s why a mother breastfeeding in public can still evoke outrage.
It’s why middle school girls are sent home for wearing leggings.
It’s why Serena Williams’ catsuit, which, in addition to being fierce and stylish, helped prevent the blood clots she was plagued with post-pregnancy, “will no longer be accepted.”
Heck, it’s why Janet Jackson’s career never bounced back, not really, after the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction, while Justin Timberlake walked away unscathed.
And, obviously, it’s why Cornet received a code violation warning at the U.S. Open.
It’s frustrating and energy-draining to watch girls and women policed to this degree, particularly when it happens in their pursuit of growth and greatness, at school, on the athletic field, you name it.
But it also creates an insidious setup, whereby some folks become incapable of separating girls and women from their sexuality.
Remind people early and often enough that female = sex object, and a fair number of them are going to believe it.
Which is how we get Harvey Weinstein harassing and assaulting the women who came to him for work, for roles, for a shot at practicing the craft they honed and loved.
And Louis C.K. masturbating in front of female comedians, post-show, rather than talking to them about comedy, family, America, life, whatever.
And Rachel Hundley running for City Council re-election in Sonoma, Calif., and being threatened with photos revealing she has, in some times and in some places, been sexual and is, therefore, unfit for public office, unworthy of our children’s respect, unable to be seen as anything other than sexual.
And just about every woman with a pulse being told to smile, told to come closer, baby, told where she can go and what she can suck when she declines.
What if we took a different approach?
What if we offered female bodies the same leeway we offer male bodies?
What if we acknowledged that female bodies are for running, for competing, for acting, for writing, for lawyering, for doctoring, for creating, for pursuing a chosen path with an insatiable vengeance?
What if we acknowledged that female bodies can also be sexual?
What if we let the owners of those female bodies decide when and where to draw those lines?
What if we let women change their shirts when they’re backwards and feed their babies when they’re hungry and wear leggings when they’re comfortable and walk down the street in peace and apply for jobs without harassment?
What if we assumed they know what they’re doing?
I know. I’m getting carried away. It’s a lot.
But think of the possibilities. Think what we could accomplish, all of us, together, if we trusted women with their own bodies.
If we took a long, hard look at the code we’ve been following and decided, together, to tear it to shreds.
Think of it.