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That Time I Got Shamed for Wearing a Dress

Yesterday I wrote of my issues with pants. The tiny missive at the bottom about bowing to the patriarchy by wearing a dress reminded me of this one time someone was a dick to me for wearing a dress.

College. Women's Studies.

It was a hot day. Definitely in the high 80s. I was already in the dress-wearing phase of my life. We had had many many many days of rain and unseasonably cold weather. But this day was going to be a day without pants. A day without galoshes. A day without a giant sweater.

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It was the day for my cute white eyelet sundress. It had pockets and a tiny crinoline at the bottom. It had broad straps so I could wear a proper bra.

I went outside and it was glorious. I wasn't hot. My undercarriage was getting a healthy breeze. I was happy.

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Then I went to my women's studies class. Not all women's studies professors are jerks, obviously. This one had a history of being an ass and that day she was in fine form.

We had been talking about gender performance when she suddenly looked in my direction, called my name and asked me to stand up.

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"This is an example of extreme gender performance. TamTams feels that she has to wear a revealing dress in order to perform her gender to the patriarchy. She is bowing to the patriarchy. You may sit down."


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I wish I could have been like:

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But, as an insecure 20 year old, I just sat back down while the rest of the class nodded and wrote stuff down. I was embarrassed and upset. I never wore dresses to that woman's class again, regardless of how hot or uncomfortable I was.

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Other people have made comments about my dress-wearing: "I didn't even know you owned pants!" "Is this some kind of creepy 50s housewife thing?" "Is your boyfriend putting you up to this?" "Do you think you look masculine in pants?" "You dress like a Stepford wife." "You know you can wear pants, right?"

Recently I worked with a production manager who literally looked me up and down and asked if I always dressed like that.

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I wonder sometimes about why people get weird about a woman who wears a lot of dresses. My women's studies professor that year thought it was an affront to the feminist movement. The production manager said she felt "vulnerable" wearing dresses and, therefore, couldn't understand why I would willfully subject myself to such vulnerability.

I wear dresses because I like them. Obviously my choices don't exist in a vacuum-my choices are informed by my upbringing and my social environment. I'm performing my gender in a way that is (mostly) socially acceptable and therefore I'm not a part of an oppressed minority for my dress wearing.

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But it would be nice if I didn't get looked at like I had three heads for wearing a different dress five days in a row.


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