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Demeaning women through fashion

Susan Bonicillo
Opinions editor
By Susan Bonicillo
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, September 20, 2004
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It's a wardrobe staple in the hot Arizonan climate. You see them on both men and women, yet it bears a distinctly feminine name, though what it implies is not something pleasant. They are the white tank tops that nearly everyone knows as "wife-beaters."

Now, I'm usually not one to jump on the P.C. bandwagon, but to this, I'm waving a big, fat politically incorrect flag at this wife-beater phenomenon.

This isn't a matter of making some small concession to our sensitive, politically correct climate. This is a matter of realizing that our treatment of spousal abuse victims is severely lacking. We trivialize this sort of abuse to such an extent that we can so casually name an article of clothing after such a degrading and despicable act. The continued use of this term speaks of a callous indifference of this horrendous situation that women face and should offend both men and women alike.

Yet, some argue that they are just words, after all. They bear no malicious intent, nor any implications about society's views upon domestic abuse. It is simply an inoffensive way of describing a white tank top. Then, by that reasoning, it would be entirely permissible to, say, create a whole line of clothing with distinctly violent undertones.

Let's start a trend with wearing some tragically hip gay-basher shoes which you could accessorize with perhaps a nice set of baby-killer mittens or a nifty pair of child-molester sunglasses. After all, they are just mere words, aren't they?

The reality is, no one would buy into such things. We would realize how much it offends our nature and how disgusting it sounds to so callously integrate violence into our society by way of fashion.

Yet, though we make a clear distinction as to what social groups should not be mocked by virtue of assigning a piece of clothing to an indignity that they suffer, it is readily apparent - by the continued use of the term wife-beater - that not just battered wives, but all women aren't given the same consideration or respect afforded to others.

This practice of making the plight of battered women seem inconsequential displays society's continuance of turning a blind eye toward acts of violence that are perpetrated against women.

It should cause some alarm that, by throwing around the phrase of wife-beater so casually, gives a certain air of acceptability toward beating women. However, the fact that the term wife-beater is tolerated and accepted as something that can be used in polite conversation indicates that we condone abusive behavior.

We can see how we condone sexual abuse of women by the fact that many rapes go unreported and even how rape is tolerated and accepted as part of life, as evidenced by the Air Force Academy scandal of 2003.

Furthermore, when rape is reported, more often than not the victim is vilified while the perpetrator is seen as the victim of a scheming and calculating female intent on using her story for material gain while ruining his reputation in the process. The recent debacle of the Kobe Bryant case should be proof enough that our culture creates a climate where women fear not only of being assaulted, but also fear reporting this crime to a public more than ready to deny this woman's claims and label her a whore.

As a whole, our culture subtly conditions us to believe that women are expected to play the role of the victim without complaint.

We can see this type of conditioning kept alive in the attitudes of our own generation. In a 1995 study published in the Journal of School Health, over half the students of a 600-person survey said it would be permissible for a man to force a woman to have sex with him if she dressed provocatively for a date.

In order for the condition of women to improve, we must stop and realize the tactlessness and cruelty that culture on inflicts upon them.

We can start with using the term tank top instead.

Susan Bonicillo is a junior majoring in English. She can be reached at

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