A View from Within: Jessica Jean-Marie Speaks
Dean, teacher, mother and thirty-something year old, Jessica Jean-Marie was asked to speak about society's interpretation of the way women dress and the comments that Chef Ayesha Curry made in December regarding the way women dress "nowadays".
Q. A lot of people took her tweets as an opportunity to bash women who dress scantily, calling those offended hoes, sluts and bitches. What is your view of the issue in general? What's your position?
A. I definitely don't read her comment as offensive, although that may be what it is. I don't think we can continue associating the way one dresses with one's sexual being and sexual choices. The people who began to name call were looking for an opportunity to be misogynistic whether it had to do with Curry or not. My general view on the issue is that women have the right to dress how they want but that it must fit the venue.
I respect what she’s choosing to do. It’s her body and it’s her choice and it’s her right to do that. I don’t hear her saying anything that’s problematic. Women consists of such a vast amount of people; there’s no one way to say how women feel. My own personal take is: I’d rather be classy but even classy can be subjective. I can be classy and still be wearing something short--nothing too expressive. Someone else may look at that and say you’re showing too much, Like what does that mean.
To be a woman who is proud of their body and walks comfortably in their skin does not equate to showing all of it all the time.
Q. What do you make of the responses she got though? With those who agreed with her seeing an opportunity to degrade other women and with those who disagreed feeling like she was shaming women.
A. I think that while she probably thought that her comment was off handed and about her alone, it's her responsibility to make a response to that and disavow all the degrading comments that are coming out. People who want to shame and degrade women will always look for an opportunity anywhere they can to say "see? other women feel the same way, so I must be right" That's non-sense. I'm happy she spoke out against that too.
Q. Do you agree with Curry?
A. To be honest with you, you're never going to hear me say I'm save my shit for my man. It's for me and I show it how I see fit. If I'm going to look sexy, then that's what I'll do. If I want to look reserved and classy and knowledgeable about how I put myself together then that's within my Black woman's right. Him [boyfriend] feeling like I look good is a definite plus, but my driving force behind how I dress has to be about me, with or without him.
Q. Why does it have to be about you?
A. Because I'm always with me. My self-confidence is rooted in who I am and how I want to be perceived and respected. So, I'm not going to act like I don't want to look good for Sem [boyfriend] when we go out, but my idea of looking good an delivering that is based on how I want to show myself off and every woman has the right to make that choice. People associating slut, ho, and bitch with the way someone dresses when there are people who dress covered head to toe still have issues with those titles.
Q. What underlies your thinking?
A. Well it stems from childhood; growing up in an old-school Haitian Catholic household, a lot of importance was placed on being reserved. How one chooses to dress is rooted in our identity and what it is that we want to say when we can't say it.
Q. I do want to talk more about Haitian immigrant culture, Catholicism and conservatism. Why do you think being dressed chastely becomes a checkpoint for that particular identity?
A. It goes back to the man thinking they own our body. Catholic: the man is God. Black Haitian: the slave master told us that our body was his. So, fighting against that is a point of resistance but is that a conscious thought on people's minds? How do you honor your culture but resist the deeply seated patriarchal seeds that are rooted in it?
Q. Which, of course, makes me want to ask: how do you?
A. Often with clothing that shares my ideology like my Bob Marley shirt--a true prophet. But my honoring is subconscious; my style is reserved but present. Reserved but acknowledging I am a woman who has a body with amazing curves. I have small breasts that I love and give myself permission to wear tops that say the like.
Jessica Jean-Marie is the Dean at Harvest Collegiate High School and also the mother of the most mature and cutest one year old you'll ever meet. Through both teaching and living her words of activism, Jessica knows what she's talking about. She thinks Black girls are fly because of their dopeness and their willingness to say the same about other Black girls. Follow her on Instagram.