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 :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.
prostitute (Emphasis mine)
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.