The symbolism of wearing short shorts
January 12, 2017
When my mother told me yesterday morning that she thought that my denim shorts were “too short for public transport," I looked at her with a weird mixture of feminist indignation and utter confusion, there was no way that I was going to change into a “nice, little skirt”. She has this line of “I trust you, but I just don’t trust the world”, which infuriates me, because if she trusts me, then why doesn’t she trust that I know how to navigate the dangers of the world to the best of my capacity, like in what limited ways does she think I am trustworthy? Anyway, in a quieter corner in my mind, I replayed an uncomfortable moment that happened the other night. I was at a local pub and I was with a good friend, who had gone to the bar when I was forcefully hugged by a complete stranger. In response? In response, I became as “cute”, vulnerable and passive as this strange man obviously believed I was, I didn’t shrug his hands off my shoulders, because I momentarily forgot it was my physical body, my own wellbeing to guard. Instead, I just endured it, I endured this seemingly inconsequential invasion of my personal space. Afterwards, I found myself paranoid and nervously looking around, even when the conversation with my friend had well and truly moved on. I was feeling my sense of self fraying and unravelling, its ends dissolving into self-doubt and destabilising passivity. I berated myself for not resisting, asserting myself, because by not doing those things, I felt I subconsciously reinforced the notion that feminine/disabled politeness is the same as coy submission. So, to be honest, when Lynne commented on my shorts, a tiny part of me understood what she was saying, and thought I was just being stubborn and contradictory, putting my political ideology above my safety. Since let’s be honest, when I am out alone, I am a mere 5ft female-presenting, disabled (and you could add “noticeably queer”, depending on the day) person, who is not particularly physically strong and who can’t run fast. I am an easy target by anyone’s definition, and then add not being able to speak and my general social passivity on top of that all. Unfortunately, all those things make me really vulnerable in this world. To pretend I am not and to not comprehend the various risks whenever I go out is absurd, it would be like denying my physicality and my identity. The danger attached to my individual way of being and my blatant vulnerability is something I was forced to metabolise from an early age and yet, I go out alone and prove that I am a person who belongs to this society as much as anyone else. I need to go places, meet people and do things, because those things are what I need to do to sustain myself and my life. The relative safety of Australian society, my white skin and the way my parents brought me up has impressed upon me that my autonomy and my right to exist outweighs the lurking dangers. To walk outside and to be alone is to resist what society is constantly trying to tell me, and I choose how I do so. I won’t cave under my immense fragility. The way I inhabit my body has been developed through the-pub-incident kind of endurance, constantly managing other people’s emotions and reactions before my own. Functioning through pain and discomfort to please others, and therefore also please myself. I know some people don’t think of what they wear in terms of safety, and I utterly dislike how society imposes that on people, especially women, so I admire the courage it takes to resist that. That resistance and strength is so necessary, but I’m very pragmatic in terms of my physical safety, because I really need to be. I reflect on the definition of privilege as being “a thing that you don’t have to think about”, and there are so many things I don’t have to think about, but I do have to think about personal safety when I’m alone in public. However, on one of the hottest days I have ever experienced in my life, I didn’t change into something less revealing or more feminine, because it was excruciatingly humid, and what I was wearing was to deal with the heat, not anything else. I may not have pushed that guy away, but I refused to let fear dictate how I dressed yesterday, so I decided that that was my small (you can say “minuscule") victory for the day.