Saturday, August 22, 2009

Inked: “She’s got a tattoo. Look at that tattoo.” (Part two)

In part one of this series I discussed briefly how men and women are treated differently when they decide to get tattoos. Women who have tattoos are often reduced to their sexuality and it is assumed, especially if the tattoo is visible, that somehow this woman is sexually available. For this post, I would like to focus on one particular kind of tattoo: The lower back tattoo, AKA the “tramp stamp.”

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have three tattoos. My latest tattoo was one I designed as a way to represent my feminism and my work as a blogger. Every tattoo I have gotten has been on a meaningful place on my body. For this tattoo I decided to get it on my lower back. This was a calculated move on my part.

The lower back tattoo has developed many negative connotations, and it is often referred to as a “tramp stamp.” Because the lower back tattoo is most often seen on women, the name “tramp stamp” has particularly offensive meanings.

According to Merriam-Webster, the word tramp is a noun that can mean one of the following:

1 a : vagrant b : a foot traveler c : a woman of loose morals; specifically :
(Emphasis mine)
For more insight on how the tramp stamp is thought of today, you might want to check out the Urban Dictionary entry for the word. But be warned, it’s not pleasant.

Using a woman’s sexual history (or just her perceived sexual history) as a means of shaming her seems to come easily in this society. A woman has sex before marriage or with more than one partner? She’s a dirty slut. She wears a skirt? She must be looking for sex. She flirts with a man? She must want to go all the way. She gets a tattoo on her lower back? Clearly she’s a tramp (prostitute), and that’s just shameful. Really, there’s no winning for women, and it’s something I’m sick of.

So, I decided to get a feminist “tramp stamp.” I thought the irony was irresistible and felt it might be an interesting comment on how absurd it is to assume that because a woman has a lower back tattoo, she must be “of loose morals.”

Most of the time, I don’t remember that I have a lower back tattoo unless someone mentions it when it shows a little from under my shirt. But one day when I went to a gas station next to my dorm that I had just moved into, I was relentlessly reminded of it.

This particular gas station has a bad reputation around my college campus as being dangerous. I have heard both students and faculty say that people have been shot there. But because everything on campus was closed this summer, this gas station was so close, and I didn’t have a refrigerator to keep food in, I often went to this gas station despite it making me feel uneasy. One afternoon I walked into the gas station past a group of seven men who were standing near the register. I didn’t make eye contact with any of them, but as I passed, one of the men said loudly to one of his companions, “She’s got a tattoo! Look at that sexy tattoo she’s got! She’s got a tattoo. Bet she thinks she’s fine.” I kept walking, trying to ignore him without looking at him. “I see you smilin’, girl,” the same man called after me, even though I had clearly not been smiling. I quickly made my way to the back of the store while the men remained in the front, being loud and obnoxious to the woman working the cash register. I waited until they had left before I went to get the food that I had come for. And even then, I waited a few more minutes to be sure that they wouldn’t be waiting outside. There were so many of them, and I didn’t feel comfortable with the thought of having to walk past them again.

When I got back to my dorm, I was flustered, and I quickly checked a mirror to see how much of my tattoo had been showing. Not even half an inch. This unnerved me even more, as I tried to figure out what had caught the man’s eye in the first place. I was mad that this man felt he had the right to comment about my appearance, especially because the tattoo that was being commented on was a feminist tattoo. It’s meant to make a statement about how unacceptable it is for women to have to experience harassment and have people assume things about their sexuality just from a tattoo. The irony in this experience mirrors the irony in my choice of placement for my tattoo in a sad, although not completely unexpected way.


Saranga said...

People are idiots.
Can we see pictures of your tattoos? particularly the feminist one?

Anonymous said...

They really don't like it when women enjoy sex, do they? That's the only reason I can come up with for the shaming that is done for women who have multiple partners. Men certainly don't get that sort of shame applied to them.

INTPanentheist said...

I really like this series, just so you know, as an inked woman who wants lots more, and who wants more to be visible (I have two - one on my upper thigh, which is rarely seen, and one on my forearm). I've considered a lower-back tat because of the scar I have there from surgery - not as a shame thing so much as a cool thing.

Any chance you might post picture of the tattoos you have? I think it would be cool, but I understand if you would be uncomfortable; I just think this is a neat chance to see the kinds of tattoos that feminists get. (My profile pic on here is my forearm tattoo.)

Amelia said...

I was definitely considering posting pictures of my tattoos, but I was hesitant at first that it would open myself up to hostile comments from trolls. But I believe that the interest expressed here is enough to get me to do it. Maybe some photos of my tattoos and the stories behind them could be part three in this series? :) Maybe in a few days I can get them uploaded to Blogger.

And INTPanentheist, I love your forearm tattoo, and the idea for the one on your lower back seems cool. :)

lindsay said...

I really want more tattoos but I'm hesitant because "professionalism" or at least, what people think is professional. I'm considering going back to school to get my teaching license, but I don't know how many school districts have policies on visible tattoos (two of the five I have now are easily visible - two wrists, one foot, one ankle, one shoulder). Maybe I have to find a profession that doesn't really care about that level of ink.

ms liberty said...

Hi, I've lurked for a bit, really love the Female Impersonator blog. So.

I'm just commenting because a feminist tattoo is a super neat idea. I appreciate all sorts of body mods aesthetically, but I've only ever considered piercings for myself, because I always thought there was no image I'd be willing to watch sag with age along with my flesh... UNTIL NOW.

A Venus symbol tramp-stamp for me? PERHAPS.

yellowpansy15 said...

I think it's offensive when female teens get tattoos there, that have absolutely no meaning, and then wear extremely slutty clothing for attention.

quixote said...

The dood-fer-brainz weren't harassing because you had a tattoo. If you had no tattoos, they would have changed only a word or two of their riff on "Hey, fellas, look at me, I'm Teh Dood!"

I'm betting they didn't even know it was a feminist tattoo. And if they could recognize a feminist icon at all, they'd just feel called upon to riff louder.

But I'd also bet you're not trying to talk to people living inside their own chamberpots. Not on any level, not even that of tattoos.

The only thing I ever found that speaks to them is carrying a visible weapon. It's extra weight and inconvenient, but worth trying sometimes just for the hilarious effect on subhumans.

Amelia said...

First of all, I'm very happy to see that people are commenting on this post, so thank you all for contributing to the discussion here. :)

@lindsay: I have one almost-always visible tattoo (on my wrist), and before I got it, I was looking for methods for covering up tattoos, and I found a demonstration on YouTube for using make up to cover ink. I hate the idea that people with tattoos should be limited in their work possibilities because of them.

@ms liberty: Thanks for commenting! And You idea sounds great. Hope it works out for you. :)

@yellowpansy15: Althouh all of my tattoos were thought out and have a lot of meaning for myself, I would never say that a tattoo just for the sake of having a tattoo is a bad thing. The likelihood that it would be regretted later would be increased, but that doesn't make it "offensive" or stupid or wrong. Just different from my tattoos.

Also, your personal offense to teens having a lower back tattoo and wearing "slutty clothing for attention" worries me in that it might also lead to victim-blaming if such young women were to be harassed when they went out in public. Because it is never a woman's fault, no matter how she dresses, or what tattoos she may have, for being harassed by someone who should have been able to keep their mouth shut. I can just see how such thoughts would lead to that sort of victim-blaming, and it's troublesome.

Saranga said...

INTPanentheist: the colours on your arm tatt are lovely!
Would you want a back tatt over the scar? my understanding was that scars don't take tattoo ink well at all. which scuppers one of my 2 tatt plans.

Saranga said...

and amelia, i'd love to see pictures and stories behind your tattoos!
would you accept submissions from other ppl? i.e., me, but it would be about my piercings.

Amelia said...

@Saranga: I would love submissions about any body modifications, if you're willing to send them! I think that'd be great. :) I don't think I'll make it an open offer, however, just to keep the numbers of (possible - I doubt I'd get many) submissions low. But since you've been reading the series and have expressed interest, that'd be great!

Go ahead and e-mail me about this so we can work something out. All I need is to get someone to take some updated pictures of my tattoos (and maybe some of my piercings,too) and I'll be ready to post my stuff. I wouldn't expect it up until late this week or early next week, though.

Boganette said...

Another great post. I'm so glad I discovered your blog.

I'm sorry you had to go through that. I've experienced similar before. I really do think that there are men out there who see a tattoo and immediately make a judgement call on the woman who has it. It's almost like a red flag to a bull for some of them.

I do cover my tattoo in certain places to try to avoid the verbal (and often physical) attacks from (usually drunk) males.

It sucks but I feel like I have to do it. My back tattoo is from the movie The Wall (I'm a big Pink Floyd fan) and they're the cartoon 'fornicating flowers' so the tattoo itself is quite sexual depending on how you look at it.

I think that makes it worse.

Anyway I'm rambling. Great blog!

Oh and I think your comment is really offensive YellowPansy. Women should be able to wear whatever they like - you don't know their motivations for wearing what they're wearing. And you don't know the motivation behind their tattoos either.

Amelia said...


I'm also glad you discovered our blog. :)

And your tattoo sounds very cool! Even if it is sexual in nature, that doesn't excuse the poor behavior you've been forced to endure. It's a shame that you feel you have to cover it up. :(

K. O'Neal said...

Found this series via the comments in a recent Feministe post, and I totally agree with you. I have a chest piece and people definitely treat you in a really peculiar way when you've got big, visible ink (which I do when I wear anything other than a t-shirt).

Although it's also pretty adorable watching people of all genders trying to suss out what my tattoo is of without looking like they're staring at my breasts. I usually take pity on the ones who aren't gross about it and just show them and explain it.

(And as to teenagers with tattoos: The only thing I find offensive is when someone is obviously under 18 and has a tattoo, ANY tattoo, because who in their right mind would tattoo a minor, given that it is both illegal and incredibly, horrifyingly sketchy. It could be beautiful, and I'd still be pissed.)

Anonymous said...

Hey !, You have a nice blog I going to bookmark you! Please visit my tattoo blog tattoo design and girls
and new tattoo flash design

Ashley said...

Lovely series. As an inked girl myself, and damn proud of all of my work, it's a relief to see so many other females proud of their body mods. Rock the eff on!