Saturday, August 23, 2008

No Short Shorts, More Social Discipline and Slut Shaming

This post comes via Just A Girl In Short Shorts.  Kristie Arnold was sentenced to three days in jail for having the temerity to wear shorts judge Janet Booth deemed to be inappropriate to court.

Too much leg.  Yes, the female body is to be covered and hidden from view unless permission has been given for it to be displayed.  This is slut shaming at its finest.  That this punishment is inflicted by a woman highlights the degree to which we have succumb to the idea that female bodies are always dirty.  The message is that if the body is on display it is always sexual, thus invalidating womens agency.  That a woman may choose to display her body for her own gratification is often overlooked in the desire to construct the body from the point of view of the patriarchal lens.   The understanding of the  body is not removed from discourse rather it is formed from it.  It is already understood before becoming realized in the corporeal sense.

The second aspect to consider when we view this incident is the class element at play.  Class is more than a designation it signifies a series of learned behaviours, as well as access to certain commodities.  A person of a middle or upper class background may exist with the understanding that certain clothing is appropriate for certain spaces, however those lessons are not necessarily transmitted to those of a different class location.  Arnold assumed that because her clothing was neat and clean that her attire was appropriate, yet without continual access to the privileges that class grants such ignorance of cultural norms is understandable.   Booth did not attempt to make a determination of why Arnold felt that her attire was appropriate, nor did she take the time to investigate whether or not she had the financial ability to purchase the kinds of clothing that she deemed to be acceptable.  Arnold was disciplined and stigmatized by both class and gender.


26 comments:

elle said...

This is damned ridiculous.

Gabe said...

I really resonated with your comments on class in regards to this. I remember for most of my youth "dressing up" meant wearing your newest pair of jeans (or the least faded hand me downs) and tucking in your shirt. It sounds like the judge has an expectation that people should invest in a new wardrobe for the privilege of appearing before her, and that such an act is the proper way of showing respect. Given the absolute power that they have in their domain, she's enforcing it whether people have the same understandings or ability. And people wonder why I continually have contempt for the court.

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

So sad. :(

When I was in junior high I had a hole in my jeans the size of a quarter. I had already been feeling horrible because I was hurt by a boy at the HOP (dance). So here I was a 13 year old girl sitting against the wall and crying. The principal came up to me and said, "I can help you by a new pair of jeans at Kmart." I remember how mad I was at him. As a young teenager I felt like I was always being choked and that I could not speak. After he left I continued crying. He was completely dehumanizing to me assuming that I was poor and needed new jeans. I was from a working class family and am Native American in a very White middle class suburban town.

Class plays a big role and that is very sad. I was taught to never judge someone by anything and that is a part of my everyday life to live in non-judgment. Yet, it seems the upper classes often judge anyone so called "below" them economically.

How the law has criminalized, dehumanized, degraded and belittled this woman my heart goes out to her. Although I don't know what this situation feels like I know what this feels like.

Cooper said...

She was sentenced for contempt of court, she had been asked to dress court appropriate two other times, and fined the second time. This was the third time. I hardly think wearing a pair of pants would have been too much for her. I am not sure I see this as unreasonable at all. No matter what your economic status I don't see it to be taking away your agency to ask you to dress a certain way for court.

I do see class often playing a role in some of these judgments, judges often not taking into consideration that what is appropriate to some and learned is not learned by others. In this case however the women was told what was appropriate for court and chose to ignore the court. Not a wise thing to do.

The punishment was not for how she dressed it was for the contempt she showed toward the court by not following the judged orders.

Renee said...

@Cooper again what you see as acceptable from your class location and what she understands as acceptable are clearly two very different things. We cannot assume that middle class values transmit to everyone further more how is displaying your legs contemptuous?

Sarah J said...

You know, I was thinking about the comments I read somewhere about women's uniforms in the Olympics getting smaller.

And how the assumption always is that women's naked bodies (or parts of them showing) are sexual.

Kristen said...

The only thing I can say is that common sense says not to wear shorts to court. Whether you be a man or women. Just because you are poor and your "class" says be a slob, it takes just a bit of thought to realize what is what.

Saying her class location gives her a right to be stupid about the world and how to live appropriately in it just insults her class location whatever it is. So the woman is poor and obviously stupid. Big deal. She was taught by her parents that showing up to something formal involves showing as much skin as possible. Wonderful. She'd probably show up to a church wedding in a bikini. Would we call the bride a nasty name for kicking her out? Of course not. Just because she has no social graces and no money to buy a dress does not give her a free pass for idiocy.

I grew up poor and in a crappy neighborhood. I live in one now and I'm still poor! And I absolutely hate to see people acting poor. When my neighbors bring their fights on the street and the cops get called, I don't say hey, they don't have middle class mentality so it's okay. My mother taught me that even though you are poor and maybe even hungry, you don't act poor. You have dignity and common sense. People acting poor and stupid shames all us poor. It makes us all look like low class idiots with no social graces.

With that being said, there is nothing wrong with the female form. As a lesbian I adore the female form. And believe me when I say I love to see a beautiful woman walking down the street in shorty shorts. That's awesome and completely appropriate. But you don't show up to a formal wedding in a bikini and more that show up to court in a part of booty shorts and a baby doll t-shirt. Assuming only works if you hadn't been warned before. And with the amount of crimes this woman is accused of committing and probably will commit in the future she has learned (hopefully) that there is a time and place for nudity. And court is not one of them. I don't care if you're woman or man.

Should she have been thrown in jail? No, should she have been reprimanded? Hell yes.

dani c said...

Wow, interesting article. I have never heard of such a thing, but I can't say that I disagree.

Roxie said...

A judge that spends her time and her state's tax dollars jailing people for wearing things that SHE deams inappropriate needs to look for a new job.

Cooper, if you had watched the video more closely, is seems Arnold wasn't very clear as to the judge specific grievances was with her previous outfit. She thought it had been a lack of a bra, so she remedied that the third time--evidently the judge didn't communicate to her fullest capabilities.

Look, not everybody knows how to go to court, alright? If there's a dress code, there should be pamphlets.

The Furies said...

Wow, Kristen, that was made of hate and classism and privilege.

Also, has anybody noticed that this happened in Kentucky? In the middle of summer? My two cents says this girl probably just wanted to be comfortable on a hot day. Why are women expected to bear the heat in ways that men simply aren't? And if you're lower class and don't own a car and walk, or bike, or bus, or have to spend a lot of time outside waiting for your ride, as I do, hell yes you're going to want to dress for the weather. I see guys going around outside and in private establishments that allow it without their shirts all the time. Sure, they put them on if they have to go inside, but since women can't go around shirtless, we have to make sure that whatever we're allowed to wear indoors is also comfortable outdoors.

Another interesting aspect of this slut-shaming business is that when I was in middle school, I was appalled by the sexualization of women and, unfortunately, by my own female body. I idolized TLC back in their early days and dressed like they did. Honestly, you would not BELIEVE the amount of harassment I encountered. My ass got grabbed on the bus, on the street, I got called all sorts of sexist and racist names....Finally I started dressing like a "slut" and although I got harassed for that, the harassment was much, much less than it was when I covered my body. I think most girls and women have seen this type of harassment and how brutal it is and many of them decide to take a chance by going to the other end, to distance themselves from that treatment as much as possible, and in that context it actually makes a lot of sense to think that if a woman covering her body gets treated appallingly, the way people treat you will only get better the less you dress like that (ie the less you wear). That was my philosophy back then, and in some ways, it still is, although I nonetheless know that as a woman there's absolutely no appropriate way for me to dress because some idiot will take issue, whether I'm being a slut, a gangsta bitch, an elitist rich bitch, a ditzy preppie, etc.

Renegade Evolution said...

the court is not there to rule on peoples clothing, end of story.

keshmeshi said...

A male defendant would not be able to go into court without a shirt on. It's also likely that a male defendant would also not be allowed to appear in court wearing shorts, whether short shorts or baggy cargo shorts. Court is a formal place and judges don't tolerate certain behaviors from men, women, defendants, or counsel that are tolerated in public. Judges also typically don't tolerate swearing, chewing gum, or other forms of "disrespect". This doesn't make for slut shaming, classism, or sexism.

Additionally, it's the duty of the court to guarantee a fair trial to every defendant. Part of a fair trial is to keep the jury from becoming unduly prejudiced against the defendant. Inappropriate dress and behavior can certainly prejudice the jury and it's the judge's job to make sure that doesn't happen -- to effectively protect the defendant from herself.

Renee said...

@Keshmeshi I do believe you missed the point about class constituting a series of learned behaviors. Simply because you are aware of what "appropriate" dress is for court does not make this common knowledge. Had you paid attention to the video you would have realized that Arnold did attempt to address her clothing issues what she did not realize is that each time what she chose was not appropriate. She specifically stated that she believed the issue was that she was not wearing a bra, and not that she needed to dress in business like attire. This is very clearly a class issue.

It is further a slut shaming issue in that judge was disciplining her based on how much skin that she was showing. Yes a male defendant would not have been able to go topless however the degree to which male bodies and female bodies are policed in this society is completely different.

AR said...

Kristen: Just because you are poor and your "class" says be a slob, it takes just a bit of thought to realize what is what.

Interesting choice of words, since my father, who grew up in more poverty than poor modern Americans will ever know, said about the same thing to me and my siblings, "Being poor doesn't mean being a slob." It does seem that attempts to call out privilege occasionally end up being along the lines of "you can't expect anything better out of poor people," which is about as degrading as it gets.

Formality of atire is also not a meaningless thing that legal system arbitrarily impose for the fun of it. Heinlein put it better than I could:

Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear. Honorifics and formal politeness provide lubrication where people rub together. Often the very young, the untraveled, the naïve, the unsophisticated deplore these formalities as "empty," "meaningless," or "dishonest," and scorn to use them. No matter how "pure" their motives, they thereby throw sand into machinery that does not work too well at best.

And I don't think anyone here needs a lesson on the importance people place on appearances.

audrey said...

@ AR: "It does seem that attempts to call out privilege occasionally end up being along the lines of "you can't expect anything better out of poor people," which is about as degrading as it gets."

Oh thank goodness, I was beginning to think I was the only one thinking that.

I find the comments in this thread particularly guilty of reverse discrimination. The poor woman can't be expected to know better, the judge sitting up there in her virtual ivory tower not even ATTEMPTING to understand the class disparity etc etc. Please. Is it too much to ask that people know how to go to court? It's not like they have to frock up in an Armani shift. As someone pointed out, long pants or a skirt would be acceptable.

And to try and call it slut shaming is just astonishing in its determination to miss the point. Yes Renee, women's and men's bodies are commodified completely differently in society - but asking that someone not wear teeny shorts into a court room has nothing to do with finding women's bodies disgusting.

You wouldn't be able to wear short shorts to work in an office. Do you claim office dress guidelines are all about hiding women's bodies and 'slut shaming' them?

Honestly, the level of outrage here and attempts to excuse ignorance because she's *sotto voice* p-o-o-r */ sotto voice* are far more offensive than a judge giving someone three opportunities to display a little bit of respect in their courtroom.

audrey said...

And for what it's worth, I'm all on board with bringing the rage when actual slut shaming occurs. I just don't think this is one of those times, and to pretend otherwise is really clutching at straws.

Renee said...

@ audrey The idea that "you can't expect anything better out of poor people" necessarily implies that the speaker places undue importance on middle class values, which I do not. These patterns of behavior are designed to be exclusionary and serve the purposes of stigmatization through placing an outsider status on someone who has not learned the "correct" behavior. The idea that there is a correct way to behave or a more civilized or advanced way only exists to maintain class stratification. She clearly did not know any better as in the video she clearly states that she believed the issue was that in a previous appearance was because she was not wearing a bra. She did try to rectify the situation she was just clearly unaware of what was required of her.
If you had watched the video you would see that what the judge deemed short shorts were hardly short. This is why I call this behavior slut shaming. the shorts ended just below her mid thigh. This was hardly a set of Daisey dukes, yet the judge felt that she had the right to decide how much skin was appropriate. This is traditionally how women's bodies are disciplined.

a rose is a rose said...

i must most respectfully disagree with you here. if a man wore short shorts and was warned two or three times prior, he too would get his butt thrown in the slammer (so to speak) and most likely it wouldn't take 2 or 3 times in court for it to happen.

your point about class is good EXCEPT i'm not buying it in the case of going to court. one knows (all 'classes' should know this) one does NOT wear a 'baby doll' top and shorts to court. and please remember she was FINED the last time for her attire.
oh and ms arnold is NOT fooling me for one instant. she's a rather good actress surprisingly enough.

Renee said...

EXCEPT i'm not buying it in the case of going to court. one knows (all 'classes' should know this) one does NOT wear a 'baby doll' top and shorts to court. and please remember she was FINED the last time for her attire.

You are proving my point. She obviously wanted to avoid a further sanction from the court. She did make an attempt to address her attire. What people should know and what they do know are two very different things.

EvilDollie said...

Look, I come from the ghetto. Fortunaely for me, my family wasn't always poor so I was raised with certain ideas and norms that allow me to function undetected in social situations of a higher class. Most people are not so lucky.

Hearing this woman speak, I know she comes from a background similar to mine. I believe she honestly thought the tank top and shorts seemed appropriate. She wore a bra, her bottoms were khaki and fell to mid thigh, and she thought it was "cute".

When you come from a certain social class, that is dressing up. Why is that so hard for some of you to understand? It's not about giving "poor people" a "free pass" or accepting that they're stupid. It's about understanding that not everyone grew up with the same ideas about the world that you did.

Danny said...

After watching the video I wouldn't say its slut shaming I just think the judge was being a dick about the dress code. If it had been a guy wearing a muscle shirt and khaki shorts the outcome would have been the same.


One thing though. When it comes to going to court most of the time attornies will advise their defendants on what to wear because they know the looking "respectable" helps them and their client out. So I suppose based on this she did not have an attorney present.

emeraldus said...

While the jail time seems severe, I don't think it's unreasonable for a judge to expect the young woman in question to dress a little more appropriately. Hot weather or not, a tank top without a bra is okay to wear to Walmart but not to court.

Yes, the judge should have been a little more clear in what she deemed to be "appropriate" but I can also see how at the end of this the judge might have indeed thought the young woman was playing dumb, even if she sincerely didn't understand.

baddesignhurts said...

this isn't about her *body*. it's a respect issue. shorts are considered casual wear, and thus aren't appropriate. as others have noted, skirts can reveal more of the body than a pair of shorts, so i really don't think the issue here is how revealing her clothing was, or body commodification. this was a case in which an ignorant person deliberately remained ignorant on what is appropriate courtroom attire. (and i don't buy the class issue, either. ever seen an episode of "law & order"? then you can figure out that you should wear a freakin' bra and a pair of pants.) feminism shouldn't be about further enabling the stupid and ignorant to be even more stupid and ignorant.

i'm with audrey on this one....when real slut-shaming happens, jump all over it. but this isn't about her body, it's about respect, and this woman's lack thereof. and by wearing inappropriate attire (inappropriate because it is casual, not because it is revealing), this woman showed a lack of respect for the gravity of the courtroom situation.

in fact, i think in this instance, one could look at it that this woman in fact had *more* socially acceptable clothing options than most average menswear offers, since she could wear a skirt, or pants, or a dress. (of course, men can wear skirts or dresses as well, but it is much less common than traditional menswear.)

Becky C. said...

I just want to comment on Cooper's comment about this woman being in contempt of court. As a person who has participated in the legal system (as a prosecutor)--I know exactly what went on here--and only in isolation does this contempt argument make sense.

All the people that have commented on class are right on. The judge is a privileged person and before her stands a troubled "white trash" girl--who is a minor nuisance in the community. In a power play she gets after her on every little indiscretion. One time she wore a tank top and was told to dress appropriately. The next time she wore shorts and was nailed.

She is simply attempting to squash the girl until she submits to the expectations the judge has for her.

Now I am not saying it is appropriate to dress that way in court (although it is common these days) or that the court does not have the duty to attempt to get the girl to conform to the requirements of the law.

But this was simply a mean power play by a person who felt themselves superior simply because they were wearing a robe.

~Becky

audrey said...

Oh please. I know how women's bodies are disciplined. A judge asking that someone show her courtroom the respect of wearing appropriate clothing is not about hating women's bodies and wanting to control them.

It was the news announcer editorialising that the decision was about 'showing too much leg'. I rather think it was about coming to a court room in clothes more suited to the beach.

I personally feel it inhibits our ability to call out actual incidents of slut shaming and disciplining women's bodies when something like this is so blatantly taken out of context and manipulated into an incident so sexist, so representative of controlling women that it is labelled slut shaming 'at its finest'.

Maybe the judge was acting out a personal vendetta against the woman. And that's wrong, but for different reasons than that she wanted to cover up a body she has been 'tricked' into believing is 'dirty'.

And with all respect, you can't comment on the length of the shorts. You only have KA's word to go on, and it's possible she may be inadvertantly making them seem more modest than they were (which still looked pretty short to me).

MEG said...

Not everything is about class, or gender, or hate-mongering. I seriously doubt this judge woke up that day and decided to waste time and taxpayer dollars preying on what she views as a "poor, white-trash" girl. The girl blatantly ignored court orders, and the consequences increased appropriately each time (first, warning; second, small fine; third, 3 days in jail).

The judge is female, by the way, and the fact that this happened in Kentucky says a lot too - class distinction is less divisive there than in big cities like LA or NY. In many areas in the midwest and South everybody (rich and poor) goes to the same churches, grocery stores and interacts far more often and comfortably than different classes in bigger cities.

Whether or not that is the case here, though, is irrelevant. As I see it, the judge had no choice but to implement consequences. What is the alternative, her declaring "well, I tried, but I guess this poor girl is just never going to follow instructions. Oh well!"

If a judge had warned you and dismissed you twice for your appearance, don't you think any vaguely rational person would make damn sure to wear NOTHING that could be construed as offensive on the third visit?