Spring breakdown of gender equality

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March 15, 2010

11:42 PM

My first ever spring break: six days, over 2,000 miles and stops in Daytona Beach, Miami and Savannah, Ga. I had a fantastic time, and you’d be hard pressed to find three more different towns in America, but there was a common thread running through the former two that was impossible to miss. It’s hardly a coincidence that Savannah, without the spring break vibe, was the one place in which I didn’t feel the underlying sexism of popular culture magnified to an uncomfortable pitch.

I guess I should have expected this; spring break tends to exaggerate everything from drunkenness to sunburned tans. But I still wasn’t prepared for how pervasive this atmosphere was. I thought the bizarre ritual of the wet T-shirt contest had its heyday in Daytona’s MTV-sponsored bedlam of yesteryear, but in Miami I saw several willing victims being doused on a stage. What was most troubling was that one of the girls was so skinny as to border on the anorexic. For me, dancing can reach a certain point of suggestiveness where it ceases to be sensual and just looks a bit grim, and this was certainly a case in point.
You can argue that this is all fairly innocent fun, but there is undoubtedly a menacing side to it. The corollary to such spectacles is that many girls find it hard to shake off the unwanted attentions of guys whose expectations are in part formed from seeing things like this. There was nothing innocent about the “party bus,” sponsored by a porn site, that was parked outside a club in Daytona.

It’s true that many of the women I saw were active participants in the objectifying process, such as the club worker who was doing the dousing in Miami. However, she was being paid to do what she was doing, and while many women may opt to take such jobs — to work in Hooters or in strip clubs — the cold hard truth is that the tips are better at Hooters than at most other restaurants, and many strippers are forced to work in order to make any sort of decent money. You can argue that no one is forcing girls on spring break to dress so revealingly or dance so suggestively, while alcohol has more than a little to do with everyone’s behavior in these situations. However, there is an undeniable degree of pressure to act in a certain way that is brought about by the whole spring break ethos.

Ultimately, there is a fine line, in any of these situations, between a woman who is liberated and in control and one who is powerless and objectified. The situation I observed over spring break has made this distinction ever harder to discern. Women should never feel pressured to act in a demeaning fashion when they’re out to have fun, but this too often conflicts with male notions of what to expect if a girl is dressed in a certain way, or if he buys her a drink. Equally, there is a difference between a woman enjoying her sexuality and flaunting it to the extent that it is cheapened. Unfortunately, the double standard that classifies sexually promiscuous women as sluts and congratulates their male equivalents does not appear likely to change anytime soon. Until it does, men will always have the upper hand when it comes to rituals like spring break.

In any event, this may all have been the latent prude in me coming out, but I preferred the St. Patrick’s Day party in Savannah to anything I saw in Miami and Daytona. Just a note to any guys thinking of going there instead of Panama City next year: Don’t expect the ladies to put up with any shenanigans.

Email Tim Macfarlan at [email protected]

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