Whip It Good | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Whip It Good

Every year for Halloween, I struggle when it come to finding the perfect costume. Instead of dressing up as an oversexed nurse or pop star, I've always found it a challenge to dress up as a woman I actually agree with.

As a child we didn't celebrate Halloween in my family. In college I took on several variations of Olivia Newton-John—Lycra leggings and a leather jacket ("Grease") or spandex and tube socks ("Let's Get Physical").

Last year I half-heartedly attempted to dress-up as a flight attendant from the 1950s but discarded my scarf, hat and gloves after several "Mad Men" references put a damper on my evening. While it was a cute ensemble, I take little pride in resembling an employee who kept a smile on her face even as the industry she worked for denied women equal rights.

Historically, the airline industry resisted hiring women longer than any other industry; that is, until they realized that sexual allure went hand-in-hand with profit margins. In her book, "The Other Women's Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights In Modern America," Dorothy Sue Cobble writes that in order to be employed as a stewardess, women were not allowed to marry or have children. Despite this rule many women chose to keep their marriages and families a secret in fear that they would be fired.

From the 1930s to the 1950s the airlines made an effort to only hire young, white, slender and attractive women. Job training included lessons on how to be more gracious, attractive and accommodating.

I know it's supposed to all be in good fun but when I see young girls using Halloween as an excuse to skank it up and dress up in ways that demean women, I can't help but wonder how much progress we've really made.

This year, in an effort to dress up as someone that I dig, I thought about the great women throughout history who paved the way for others.

My first choice was Margaret Bourke-White, the first female photojournalist whose photographs graced the cover of LIFE magazine, displaying history from the Dust Bowl during Great Depression to the conditions of Nazi concentration camps in Germany. Bourke-White was a pioneer in photojournalism, and her story inspired me to pursue journalism.

Bourke-White was a close tie with Mukhtaran Mai. Mai, who is from Pakistan, did something unheard of for women in her country; she spoke out against being raped and put her life on the line to bring her attackers to justice.

Her struggle for justice gained international attention, and she received money from the government of Pakistan that she used to build a school for girls to empower them through education.

The ensemble for these costumes was a bit challenging, though, and remembering not to take Halloween so seriously, I thought of the one sport thing I've secretly always want to take part in: roller derby. Last year in New Orleans, I watched a roller derby for the first time, and since then I've romanticized the idea of lacing up a pair of skates, giving myself a bad-ass nickname and body-checking my opponents.

Here in Jackson we have two roller derby teams: the Magnolia-Vixen Roller Girls and the Capitol City Roller Girls. The women on these teams form strong bonds with each other and aren't afraid to show some aggression. Once seen as a counter-culture sport, roller derby is making a resurgence in pop culture and films like "Whip It."

Roller derby actually began in the 1920s, but hit its peak in the 1960s and, in 2000, derby leagues through out the country began to restructure.

Sure, the skaters might show a little leg or even incorporate burlesque into the sport, but they represent more than just their sexuality.

Sumati Thomas, president of the Magnolia Roller Vixens, says she has witnessed a boost in her teammates' self-esteem since joining and encourages women (and men) of all ages and sizes to take part in the sport.

Thomas also says that the resurgence in roller derby is less about sexuality and more about empowering women and giving them an opportunity to learn valuable leadership skills.

"We aren't selling sex, and women who wear their own uniforms don't do it to get attention from the crowds; they do it because they are happy with themselves," Thomas says.

In addition to the sport, the Magnolia Roller Vixens help with charity events for the community.

They will host "Roller Derby Revue," a burlesque show fundraiser on Nov. 15, at The Auditorium at 8 p.m. Money raised will go toward offsetting travel and membership fees for the team. They are also asking that attendees bring new bras and underwear to donate to women at the Stewpot in Jackson.

Even though I'm not in a position to become a roller girl in real life, I can't wait to skate around downtown Jackson this weekend feeling tough yet feminine. To me, the best part of Halloween is getting to be someone or something that inspires me, even if it's just for one night.

Previous Comments

ID
152996
Comment

"I know it's supposed to all be in good fun but when I see young girls using Halloween as an excuse to skank it up and dress up in ways that demean women, I can't help but wonder how much progress we've really made." I'm a loving mom and wife. I'm educated. I have respect for myself and other women. However, I don't feel like being overtly sexy for a night changes that and if some people feel that it does then they probably need to eat more butter and drink a little more red wine and stop being uptight. It wasn't clear if you were only talking about young girls who dress sexy or if you meant that it was demeaning no matter what age the woman was. You are smart to observe that when a woman is obviously sexy, she is sometimes looked down on and considered "less than" or not as smart. Unfortunately sexism is a reality in society and we all have to play the "good girl game" at times. And I think maybe that is why it's fun to skank it up a bit on Halloween. But I don't feel demeaned in any way because women use the holiday to skank it up. I do have a problem when I see girls in their teens or younger attempting to be sexy on Halloween. To me, what would be considered non-progressive would be to tell other women that they are demeaning their sex because they choose to be risque for a night. That's just repressing our own sex. I am not the type to repress my sensual nature. Actually, I often feel that I have to, or that I'm expected to, play it down at times, so why not break out the pleather, fishnets, and fake nurse hats and rebel against our "good sides" for a night? I see it as celebrating that primal nature and rebelling against sexual repression.

Author
caroline
Date
2009-10-31T16:51:41-06:00
ID
152999
Comment

Caroline, I refer to young girls "skanking it up" because that's what disturbs me the most. But I feel this way for women of all ages. I don't mind dressing more sexy that usual ( my skirt on Halloween was shorter than I would normally feel comfortable wearing), but it annoys me when it so overtly done. Thats why I dig roller derby women. They can dress sexy, yet they have substance. They don't play into the stereotypical sex roles, and they don't dress up for other people. Many of them are comfortable in their own skin and don't limit themselves to being seen merely as sex objects. Its a fine line, and one I wrestle with and think about a lot. My goal in writing this was to make other women consider why they are dressing up in a certain way for Halloween. At the end of the day its all about your motives and self-respect.

Author
Lacey McLaughlin
Date
2009-11-02T11:15:53-06:00
ID
153008
Comment

In my opinion, stating wardrobe choices have ethical ramifications or imply levels of intelligence/self esteem is a step or two away from "She's asking for it." I'm a fan of roller derby and the empowerment many women find in the "sport thing," but derby is a spectator sport. Derby bouts without spectators is practice, and spectators come for spectacle. If you don't think gorgeous, tough women smacking the crap out of each other isn't a traditional male fantasy, I gently suggest you haven't flipped past enough women's prison movies on late-night TV. Feminists have fought for equality and a broadened view of acceptable female roles: and to me, that means that we should support women in the conscious decisions they make, even if they aren't choices we would make for ourselves. I know strong feminist women who choose to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, women who've stripped to fund their way through graduate work, and women who frump it up because they feel like shamed strangers inside their bodies. I think women should wear what makes them happy and participate in activities that bring more joy into the world around them. When women (and men) buy into the idea that the only appropriate expression of sexuality is within their own comfort range, it's stifling and demeaning to everyone. PS: While hiring practices in the airline industry have changed, their legacy of hypersexualizing and fat shaming hasn't gone anywhere. http://www.feministing.com/archives/016692.html

Author
Deirdra Harris Glover
Date
2009-11-02T14:46:30-06:00
ID
153010
Comment

In my opinion, stating wardrobe choices have ethical ramifications or imply levels of intelligence/self esteem is a step or two away from "She's asking for it." I haven't seen anyone do that here, Deirdra, and there is nothing "stifling and demeaning." Lacey didn't come near the "asking for it" mentality -- which is about excusing violence against women. You can avoid that even as you call for women to consider the messages they are sending -- the old First Wave v. Third Wave debate. ;-) Her overriding point is about young girls dressing up as sex goddesses. And I couldn't agree more about how disturbing that is. I also find it disturbing when high-school girls dress up for proms and pageants looking like desperate housewives. I'm all for women expressing ourselves however we need to -- but, honestly, I think back to my 20s and the getups I thought I needed to wear in order to be sexy and seductive and feel sorry for myself and the time lost obsessing about the wrong things. I think it's fabulous for an editor in her 20s to make those points; I wish I had been so wise at the time.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-11-02T15:34:44-06:00
ID
153011
Comment

Ladd, in response to your "find[ing] it disturbing when high-school girls dress up for proms and pageants looking like desperate housewives," I agree, And, vice versa, when desperate housewives try to look like prom and pageant queens. Dress, like non-verbal moves,is a kind of communication with others.

Author
J.T.
Date
2009-11-02T15:43:00-06:00
ID
153014
Comment

I wholly disagree with this idea of roller girls as this archetype of awesome feminists. What says that these other women, who you generalize as "skanking it up" (what does that really mean, anyway?), aren't dressing for themselves? Halloween or otherwise, take away the skates and the roller girls' outfits are near what you refer to as "skanking it up." Short skirts are short skirts and lots of women wear them regardless of intention and a lot of women wear them with high confidence and enjoyment of their own bodies.

Author
nyoung
Date
2009-11-02T16:18:40-06:00
ID
153015
Comment

And I wholly disagree with your disagreement. ;-) There is a powerful, strong sexiness, and there is a helpless one that completely relies on a male response to your look -- and I've attempted both over the years. The former made me feel so much better about myself. The roller-girl thing is so powerful at its core and sends such positive messages: I love that women of all sizes are part of the action, and they are sexy as hell -- blood, sweat, tears and all. It's kind of like the difference between anti-female pornography and women-friendly erotica -- you know the difference when you see it, even if many others can't see it. Obviously, if a woman has strength underlying her getup, that's all that really matters. But when we're talking about young girls being over-sexualized *instead* of being strong, that's another story altogether. That's what this column is about, and I love it. Be careful that you're not reading to refute specific phrases on this one; like any good columns, you need to understand what it's communicating -- that women need to aspire to true strength, not rely on superficial attire to get attention. Unfortunately, too many young women are encouraged to skip over the strength part and go straight to the superficialities. None of the women here, clearly, are the subject for this one. All of you can wear anything, and your strength will come through. Not so for many of the women who "skank it up" because they've been taught that that's the best way to get a man's, any man's, attention. That's one way that many women end up in violent situations and don't know how to get out. The strength and true self-esteem didn't come before the desire for blatant sex appeal. I certainly went down that road, and I sure wish I had known more about where I was headed.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-11-02T16:39:39-06:00
ID
153016
Comment

I think making generalizations on both ends is probably where disagreemens can go awry. There is a lot of gray on this subject, and like I said its something I think about a lot. I think about my intentions for what I wore during Halloween in college, and my little sister ( who is in college now) and how dramatically different I am now. A huge part of this is about self esteem and self respect. Which I don't think any one of us can say is a bad thing.

Author
Lacey McLaughlin
Date
2009-11-02T17:04:43-06:00
ID
153019
Comment

Interesting conversation. We guys may learn something from reading this.

Author
Walt
Date
2009-11-02T18:08:04-06:00
ID
153025
Comment

"Not so for many of the women who "skank it up" because they've been taught that that's the best way to get a man's, any man's, attention. That's one way that many women end up in violent situations and don't know how to get out." Donna, this certainly sounds like buying into the "she's asking for it" argument. We do disagree over what clothing represents in intentions, but we can never, ever put blame on a woman for the decision someone else makes to harm her.

Author
nyoung
Date
2009-11-03T11:34:14-06:00
ID
153026
Comment

Good Lord. Obviously, I'm not saying that, which is clear if you read my comments, or Lacey's, in context, much less the body of my work. Context is important for both writing and reading, so please don't parse my comments out of context in some some of refute game if you'd like to have a serious conversation with me on this or any topic. It's a waste of my time, and yours, as well as that of anyone reading this. I feel ridiculous actually typing this, being that it's so damn obvious, but I never blame a women for violent acts that are done to her. But I am capable of holding two thoughts at once, and suggest that others be willing to as will. And in this case, those two thoughts include encouraging people to help young women have enough self-esteem that they do not feel that "skank" is the primary route to getting attention—a route I indeed chose personally at various points, and which helped create violent situations in my own life. (For instance, when I was raped in high school, it was most decidedly that asshole's fault, but I also made decisions that put me in a place I didn't have to be in.) Urging a young woman to think twice about decisions is not the same thing as blaming a young woman for what happens to her no matter how she dresses or the situations she puts herself in for the wrong reasons. It's the same paradigm that we all (should) apply to various sorts of crime: It's not your fault if it happens to you; however, try to do things to help keep you safer. I am perfectly capable of holding, and sharing, both those thoughts at once, as well as my own experiences that have made me a stronger woman. I also say that as someone who has worn a cone bra in public on Halloween and have no regrets about it.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-11-03T12:22:39-06:00
ID
153178
Comment

Can't say I'm fond of the phrase "skanking it up." Sounds demeaning to say the least. I'm all for "powerful, strong sexiness" and empowerment. But lots of people--gay, straight, male, female, young, old--choose to wear what can generally be described as fetish wear from time to time in social situations. Making generalizations about their motivations is a fool's game until you get to know the person. People are entitled to wear what they choose in a free society.

Author
ed inman
Date
2009-11-08T00:28:42-06:00
ID
153180
Comment

No one has said adults aren't entitled to wear what they choose. You might read closer, Ed.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-11-08T07:49:36-06:00
ID
153183
Comment

Point made. Still I'm not fond of the phrase "skanking it up."

Author
ed inman
Date
2009-11-08T08:26:28-06:00
ID
153185
Comment

Fair enough. On another topic, Ed, I want to get a library named after Hazel Brannon Smith. Want to help build a case?

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-11-08T09:19:54-06:00
ID
153187
Comment

No public libraries in Jackson left to name that I'm aware of, but the idea might float in Holmes County if key locals were to get behind it. As an early advocate for civil rights and one of the state's few Pulitzer Prize winners I agree Hazel is certainly worthy of being honored or memorialized in some way.

Author
ed inman
Date
2009-11-08T10:43:23-06:00
ID
153194
Comment

Agreed. I like read the Look magazine interview with her from 1965, and it just broke me up. Let's get something named for her. Ideas, anyone?

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-11-09T11:44:42-06:00

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