The take no shit movement

Do you dare wear short shorts?

I did. Miniskirts and what we called half-shirts (now known as crop tops and belly shirts) — with no bra, too. I bought a lot of Esprit at McAlpins, which doesn’t seem amenable to slut-wear in retrospect, so it must have been my attitude that made it so.

Once, in gym class, I wore a yellow and white buffalo-checked, cotton half-shirt with crisscross straps in the back and no bra. I remember the coaches making derogatory comments, but wish they had championed me for my courage and independence, rather than whatever their coach brains conjured about a teenager with no bra.

The attention I garnered for my looks fed my self-esteem, as my only confidence was based in my appearance and ability to verbally dress down anyone who dared to criticize my disdain for rules and my overt sexuality. Despite the we-want-everything-to-be-exactly-the-same-and-safe-above-all suburbia in which I grew up, I pushed boundaries on women, sex and power, with no idea that’s what I was doing.

Thus, it is with disappointed amazement I see young women pushing the same boundaries via clothing and attitude, albeit with more specific language to describe it and Instagram for proof. What may be different today is the unwritten rule surrounding such displays of burgeoning sexuality. To comment in any way other than to be supportive makes you one of these: a prude, slut-shamer, fearmonger, pervert, freedom stealer, misogynist, a conservative — or parent. Maybe worse, a former slut who grew up and forgot what it’s like to be compelled to express herself in a “Look at me world. Here I am,” Barbara Streisand, “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Barbarella” sex appeal way.

The most pressing question really isn’t: Are high-waisted, flutter-legged labia-exposing shorts merely the latest iteration of the hot pants, Daisy Dukes, booty shorts of yesteryear? Because the answer is — of course.

“We’re always viewing ourselves through the eyes of others,” Jameica Jones, a local advocate for women’s and girls’ civil rights, said. “I don’t think that anything has really changed.”

The real question is why are women still trying to prove that we are the sole owners of our bodies? Objectification could be one answer, Jones said. She cited Caroline Heldman’s Ms. magazine article “Out-of-Body-Image” for the proposition that girls and women are socialized to self objectify by the media — a practice the patriarchy is in no hurry to reject. Inasmuch as exposing breasts and labia as a middle finger to the patriarchy may play right into it, Jones said so be it. “We should continue to be defiant and go against the norm every single day.”

Regardless, women’s and girls’ autonomy is not about clothing preference. I asked her about whether on her recent trip to Morocco she noticed a difference in how men look at women who are covered up or not. She said men still consumed women, even when only their eyes that were exposed. Whether disempowerment comes via self-objectification or the male gaze, “how we consume needs to change,” Jones said.

Undoubtedly, there is power in them there labia. To me, “I am woman. Look at my labia in these shorts,” does not equal “I Am Woman. Hear Me Roar,” but it might send a signal to future generations that women own themselves. The goal is to connect female sexuality to our spiritual, physical and intellectual power, to light our sky when the sun finally explodes.

My short-shorts days are behind me, but I am thrilled to see young people push boundaries about gender and sexuality. My friend Adam Caperton, who was gay long before corporations co-opted the rainbow flag, has a daughter named Cate Caperton, who is 20. They give me hope that the “Future is Female” is more than a sound bite. Cate said this about women and sexuality. May we all heed it.

“I own my power as a strong, young woman in our culture by taking what my parents taught me and using it to, frankly put, not take shit from anyone. I am very blunt and confrontational, which has enabled me to stick up to the leering men on the street, or the guy-friend who thought that because I was nice to him he could ‘get with me,’ or to the incessant ex coworker who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’d also like to think that my strong personality influences how my friends deal with sexism. Every woman will experience sexism at some point her life, and I want to use my confidence to instill confidence in others to stand up for themselves.”

Take No Shit. A movement we can all get behind.