On Wednesday evening’s episode of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Abbie Chatfield pulled up former AFL star Robert 'Dipper' DiPierdomenico for comments he made about her choice of bikini.
“In fact, Dipper seems to think he is Abbie’s father,” Dr Chris Brown said as he introduced the scene, before the cameras cut to the campground where Dipper joked: ‘You’re not going out like that’.
Abbie was wearing a purple bikini.
She asked him ‘what does that joke mean’, prompting an uncomfortable discussion about fathers, daughters and modesty culture.
I know a thing or two about modesty culture, I grew up absolutely steeped in it and I can tell you that Dipper’s comment is no joke but the product of a very dark reality.
Raised in a very conservative Catholic environment, from the time I was small I was aware that bikinis, girls who bared their midriffs and mini skirts were ‘bad’ and by extension, I felt that there was something inherently ‘bad’ about my body that needed to be hidden.
I was routinely told by youth group leaders and religion teachers, and sometimes relatives ‘you can’t go out like that’, told to change and made to hyper-analyse my body and how it was perceived by... you guessed it! Men!
It was extreme – no spaghetti straps, no skirts too far above the knees, no midriff at all (‘cover your womb’) and no necklines more than a hand width down from your collar bone as one particularly zealous religion teacher informed us.
Extreme, but born of the same stuff that prompted Dipper to tell Abbie to essentially ‘cover up’ – the idea that my body and hers are pieces of property that we need to mark strictly and explicitly as ‘Private, Keep Out’ lest they become public thoroughfares.
It’s easy to let out a sigh at that statement and think I am perhaps overthinking a very simple tradition of parents being protective of their daughters. What’s the big deal, why not roll your eyes with an indulgent smile and move on?
Well, I might borrow from Ms Abbie Chatfield’s response to Dipper and ask what it is we’re supposedly ‘protecting’ our girls from, and what has clothing got to do with it?
Abbie’s confrontation with Dipper is much more than just a great reality TV moment. It's forcing us to think about why we still indulge modesty culture in the mainstream, and what that actually means.
Have a look at their exchange:
“We’re protective,” Dipper says,
Abbey responds, “Of what?”
“Of you girls being hurt…” he answers
“But why is it determined by what we wear?” she asks.
“Well it’s like you’re seeking attention and asking for… y’know,” he trails off.
“Asking for what?” she pushes
“Oh don’t get into difficult conversation,” he responds.
And he is right, it is a difficult conversation because it’s forcing us all to confront a very uncomfortable fact – that modesty culture is often part of rape culture.
We tell women to cover up because, on some level, we still think they have some kind of control over men violating them, despite the all too obvious fact that a rapist is unlikely to be spurred or deterred by the amount of clothing you have on.
Jokes and comments like these drip feed a very insidious notion to us constantly – that women are responsible for the bad things that happen to them.
Of course, lots of women choose to dress modestly for a litany of reasons and all power to them. But when we tell a woman they have to dress modestly or risk violation, I see no power only control.
I had an advantage in that as a teenager, my religious instructors didn’t mince their words. We were told explicitly that we should dress modestly so we didn’t cause men to sin, that our bare flesh would prompt such passion they would have immoral thoughts or worse, be spurred to immoral action.
It sounds like hectic stuff, but actually, it’s just the basic premise behind the ‘cover-up’ mentality put into plain English. Really they should be commended for their honesty – at least I knew exactly what the message was from a young age.
Many people, it seems, don’t appear to know. They don’t realise that their light-hearted comment is just a pretty veneer for a very dark idea, and they don’t want to have the ‘difficult conversation’ because what it dredges up is too ugly for words.
Dipper tells the camera it’s just a generation gap, he argues to Abbie that he would say the same thing to Ash Williams, who incidentally has been walking around shirtless all episode raising nary an eyebrow let alone a comment.
That is of course bull. He wouldn’t seriously say the same thing to Ash because we don’t examine male bodies with the same sense of ownership that we do women’s. We don’t think of men as being responsible or even affected by the way others might drink them in. Object, subject, control, submit – it’s just standard fare sexism.
This isn’t to say Dipper is the problem or ‘bad’. He seems like a sweet man who loves his daughters and is attempting to make a light-hearted comment. He’s just grown up with this idea normalised and is unwittingly perpetuating it, as so many of us do.
He doesn’t, unfortunately, listen to what Abbie has to say.
She is left in tears because as the subject of the comment and as a woman who is consistently shamed about her sexuality and dress choices she knows that instead of reacting to the comment itself, we’ll go the easy route and call her ‘difficult’ for dragging it such a dirty thing into the proverbial living room.
And that is exactly what happens. Back at camp, the other celebrities instantly try and make Dipper feel better.
‘My dad always says that to me,’ Paulini jokes.
Jack Vidgen brainstorms new ways for Dipper to defend the comment.
‘If Abbey says that again, you should say it’s more about the males than females and how they look,” he suggests. “It’s about what's in the guys head.”
Instead of peeling off the veneer that Abbey started to pick at, they place it gently back down and cover up the ugly black hole just so that we can all can keep joking about fathers controlling their daughters guilt-free.
But as Abbie put it, what the joke is actually saying is ‘men are dangerous, and it’s our fault’.
And while we keep saying it, women will keep being groped at bars, and dangerous men will keep being allowed to move on from ‘past mistakes’ and people will keep being raped and we can all pretend that the phrase ‘you can’t go out like that’ has nothing to do with any of it.
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