January 27, 2017

On Being a Woman


by Claire Porter

November 9, 2016

I experienced something last night that I read about countless times in my media classes. Just a few weeks ago, I read Denise Riley’s ‘Am I That Name?’: Feminism and the Category of ‘Women’ in History, in which she articulated the idea that a woman cannot transcend her womanhood. Regardless of what other categories define me, whether that is the color of my skin, my education, my job, etc., I will always be a woman at the core. And through this understanding, I, as a woman, am shown and told through normalized interactions that I will be subject to objectification.


I attended a fraternity exchange in which the theme offered two outfit options: 1) dress like a scantily clothed woman, or 2) dress like an a middle-aged man . It was obviously intended for the sorority women to wear less and the fraternity men to attempt to look 30 years older. I, however, wanting to break barriers but stay within the theme, decided to opt for dressing like an adult man. I borrowed my male friend’s button down, shorts, and belt, slipped on my converse, and tied my hair in a low bun before placing a baseball cap featuring the fraternity’s letters on my head. The only discernable feminine feature I still had was some makeup on my face.


I looked ridiculous but I loved it. Upon entering the house, boys did double takes — who was this short guy that had just walked in and why was he wearing makeup? Once they realized I was a member of the sorority, a good amount of boys congratulated me on a great outfit. I owned it.


The night was a blast and I made a handful of new fraternity friends. Throughout the night, one of my new buddies would take off my hat and comment on how pretty I was, which I thought was odd considering that was not the image I was going for. In response, I would halfheartedly demand that he stop unveiling me as I enjoyed my attempted male appearance. It was fun to be “one of the boys” and, for a change, not be subject to unwanted groping, gazing, and sexual advances — both of which are something that many female party-goers are familiar with.


My fraternity friends and I ended up hanging out way past the party’s closing and eventually decided to go grab some fast food nearby. As I got up to walk downstairs, one of them grabbed my butt. A gesture that, sadly enough, didn’t even faze me because of how many times it had happened in the past. He mentioned something to one of his friend’s to which I loudly yelled back, “I felt that!” But it was no biggie — this was normal. I am a pretty cute girl with a pretty cute butt — guess he “couldn’t resist.”


It wasn’t until I woke up (and sobered up) this morning that I realized the social seriousness of that interaction. I think that I can speak for anyone who saw me and say that I definitely did not look sexually appealing. And I opted for the less sexually appealing outfit on purpose. But no matter the circumstance – whether I dress in a bra top and high-waisted shorts or whether I wear all oversized men’s clothing I was still someone who should be objectified and was treated as such.  I am a woman at the core and will be treated as someone who can be objectified.


Further, it is beyond problematic that none of that occurred to me when he groped me. I shrugged it off – this felt like normal behavior. I completely forgot the fact that I didn’t even look like a girl. And I justified his actions on the grounds that I find myself attractive and am used to men reacting in such a way — I didn’t think to question his behavior and his entitlement over my body.


My main takeaways from this interaction and subsequent analysis: don’t allow yourself to dismiss and normalize groping. Don’t allow yourself to think that simply being a woman – or any defining characteristic – is as an excuse for someone’s inappropriate behavior. And, if possible, question those who openly and obviously objectify you. The next time someone dares to grope me, I’ll turn around and ask “why?” and give them a thrilling lesson on how to treat a human being.


Claire Porter is a junior with a major in Communication and a minor in Marketing. She is a Year 2 VOICE Member and joined last year after reading a Washington Post article about how USC was tied for being the worst out of top universities at handling sexual assault.