Last week, like many other folks my age do around this time of the year, I took a trip. Spring break for youngins like me is a time for duty-free relaxation and socialization. Personally, I chose a Royal Caribbean cruise, on which I met an abundance of people my age just trying to have a good time.
Long story short, I met a nice guy and on our last night, after everyone had gone to sleep, we decided to cozy up by the indoor pool and chat. We talked and laughed and got to know each other. We talked about things like where we went to school, the weather we dealt with back at home, the crazy things that had happened that week on break… and after we mutually decided to kiss each other, our conversation topics evolved into things a little more intimate as they often do in these situations.
I hadn’t realized until the topic came up in conversation but I hadn’t gone a day of my cruise without wearing a choker. That night, I had on my typical everyday black plastic weaved one from Claire’s (you know, the one your see just about everywhere nowadays), which he thoroughly inspected as he pushed my hair back behind my ear before hesitantly requesting to ask me a question. I said, “shoot.”
“You probably get this a lot but does your [choker] mean that you like to be choked in bed?”
While this question was respectful in nature (unlike many other inquiries I’ve received since the revival of this trend), it housed a troubling stereotype that has festered around this thin, cheaply made plastic strings tied tightly around my neck.
As a someone who considers herself a feminist, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s easy to jump to the defensive in situations like these. Things like how dare you make that assumption? and that’s such a typical man thing to think can easily pop into your head without any regard to what you’re actually feeling. I let these feelings of frustration pass and tried to look at the bigger picture. After returning home, I looked into the subject and it turns out that these stereotypes, while in serious need of being corrected, didn’t just come out of nowhere.
Historically, what chokers have and do represent is a bit of a mixed bag. They have long been traditionally associated with high fashion, especially with 19th century ballerinas and upper-class citizens. Yet simultaneously in this century, plain black or red ribbons tied around the neck symbolized a connection to prostitution and a black woven choker could indicate homosexual orientation. Seems like it could really go either way just like it could today, right?
Not so much. After digging a little deeper, I speculate that the slut stereotype surrounding the current choker trend is reinforced by the collar trend, which exists nearly entirely in the realm of BDSM. Said collars are worn by a submissive, or person of slave status, in a BDSM relationship. While this may seem demeaning, the decision to “collar” oneself is often made by the submissive with intensions to showcase their interest in participating in an erotic relationship dynamic in which they would be considered the lesser. I don’t personally entirely understand this concept but what my research has told me is that, within the context of BDSM, this is completely acceptable as long as every party involved is happily consenting and safe throughout the duration of their participation.
In recent years, BDSM and the porn industry as a whole has not taken just a step into the public eye but a giant leap. The topic of porn, made prevalent by trendy online publications like BuzzFeed, has progressed into an ordinary topic of everyday conversation. People seem to be much less off-put by this once-taboo subject. A quick google search about “porn normalization”, however, will yield an abundance of backlash from all corners of the globe.
Among these countless projections of criticism is an editorial piece done by David McDowell at TheOdysseyOnline.com, which not only pleads with those who share articles about porn on social media in an attempt to standardize it as well as the publications who produce these articles to cease and desist but also gives a detailed analysis of what this trend is actually doing to the livelihood of feminism.
“This ‘industry’ creates an inherently unethical product. It is exploitative, not just to women, but to male performers as well,” McDowell wrote. “In addition to this, pornography creates a view of sex that is not normal, as unfair and unrealistic expectations of women. Basic themes in pornography include: 1. All women at all times want sex from all men; 2. Women enjoy all the sexual acts that men perform or demand; and 3. Any woman who does not at first realize this can be easily turned with a little force, though force is rarely necessary because more of the women in pornography are the imagined ‘nymphomaniacs’ about whom many men fantasize.”
While I have my own opinions about whether or not the normalization of porn is beneficial to society, I have to agree McDowell’s point that porn projects the ideal that women are constantly hungry for sex from anyone. To take this a step further, it’s almost as if the chokers I wear around my very own neck are being stigmatized to represent an extension of this ideal by putting a subtle sign out there that I’m asking for it from whoever when in reality I am just trying to wear a cheap piece of jewelry. Period.
To put this simply: Whether or not I want to be throttled by the neck in bed has zero to do with the accessories I decorate myself with.
Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now. But there’s still a big question that lingers: what do we do about this? Stereotypes don’t appear and disappear overnight and it’s unrealistic to think if you just tell someone, “hey, I’m not a slut; I just like accessories” that they’ll say, “oh, okay!” and move right along from the mindset that had them thinking that in the first place. People are stubborn and it’s going to take a lot more than just trying to convince others that something they’ve long thought is not actually accurate. As women (and men) who embellish our bodies with all kinds of jewelry and fanciful, outrageously priced cloth, one more seemingly pointless and demeaning stereotype should not deter us from our desire to be individualistic.
There are far more stereotypes stitched into our wardrobes that anyone even realizes; we live in a world full of stereotypes, especially ones that revolve around clothing. One particularly bothersome one that has somehow stuck around for nearly a decade is the “basic white girl” outfit featuring Ugg boots, yoga pants and some sort of North Face zip-up. Pop culture says that if you wear this outfit, you are “basic”, meaning you exhibit “obscenely obvious behavior, dress, or action” and “transparent motives” according to Urban Dictionary.
I not only own all of the items that comprise a “basic white girl” outfit but I own multiples of each. In fact, I pride myself on how long I can go without trading my yoga pants in for a pair of jeans. The reality of this stereotype is that it’s so basic and predictable because these clothes are comfortable. I want comfort so I buy these clothes and that’s just about the entire thought process that went into those purchases.
To get back on track with our choker situation, I’m trying to make the point that a stereotype is an “oversimplified image or idea of particular type of person or thing”, according to Google Definitions. Not to get wordy and technical here, but oversimplification means to simplify something to such an extent that the impression it gives off is distorted. I trust you can put two and two together here.
History says that these necklaces represented an element of submission. That may be all well and good in the world of BDSM but in the real world, the public world, we have to repel that mindset in order to mute these stereotypes for good. If we submit to these stereotypes and stop wearing chokers because we fear that we’ll be categorized as a docile sluts, aren’t we just the big ol’ self-fulfilling prophecy that everyone is expecting us to be?