When Janet approached me with this guest post topic, I was really interested. I’ve always been intrigued by body modifications, particularly tattoos. I have one myself (it’s small and on my foot), but stopped there, mostly because there is such a stigma about women with tattoos, and when I got mine I was a junior in college, still very worried about my job prospects. I remember agonizing over the size and placement of the tattoo – it needed to be small enough and placed somewhere that was easily covered if I needed to cover it for a job interview. I did cover it, too, frequently because I was worried about what people would think of me.
So, needless to say, I was really excited for this guest post, and when I read it, I was even more excited to share it with you! I think Janet brings up some very interesting points here about women and their choices when it comes to their bodies. And many of these points can be applied to other choices women have, as well, and other stigmas we face.
What do you think when you see a woman with a tattoo? This is not a question with a right or wrong answer; this is a question of perception. So I guess, the real question is, “How do you perceive a woman with a tattoo in society? Does it affect how you judge her?” Of course it does. As much as a woman’s blond hair or pretty face leads her to be judged. But a tattoo isn’t the result of DNA, it’s a choice, an assertion. But how did tattoos become taboo for women, and most importantly where can we go from here?
Thousands of years before Christ, women were getting tattooed. Evidence of body art has been found on the mummified female bodies of both Egyptians and Greeks. The designs and reasoning behind the tattoos vary from culture to culture but the existence of markings is common. Early theories postulated that mummies with these tattoos were marked as women of ill-repute, “dancing girls” or of a lower class. But there are other factors which poke holes in this belief. The nature of the art implies that it may have been done for spiritual and protective purposes. Also, many of these women were buried in close proximity to royals, which could indicate higher status. And at least one body which was initially believed to belong to a concubine was later determined to have more likely been a priestess.
Throughout history though, tattoos have been used to denote some less than reputable activities. In Ancient China, criminals, bandits and prisoners frequently possessed tattoos. In Japan and other countries women engaging in the oldest profession used tattoos to tacitly communicate their role. But while histories like these denote tattoos as an indication of lower class, in other cultures, like the Philippines, tattoos on women were considered a thing of beauty. Unfortunately, when tattoos became commonplace in western culture it was with predominantly negative connotations. Religious beliefs surrounding tattoos have also done little to elevate the status of ink. Judism, Muslim and Christianity all frown on body modification for both sexes. These pervasive religious beliefs, combined with the history of tattoos on women help us understand the origins of the negative stigma associated with women and tattoos.
We’d like to think a lot has changed. But ancient stigmas have managed to find their way into modern culture even though tattoos have had a long history on women in the US. They were popular among women in the 20’s even the “higher class” women. In the 60’s tattoos ran rampant on women in hippie culture. Today, celebrities and public figures of all kinds are sporting different forms of body art. All around us tattoos are pervasive in our society and yet we find that there are still negative stigma’s attached to tattoos on women.
Perhaps the greatest indication of this truth is the most famously labeled female tattoo, “the tramp stamp”. This particular icon is identified as a tattoo of any kind on the small of a woman’s back sitting slightly above (or below) the line of her pants. Women who have this tattoo are often branded as sexually promiscuous. Is it a fair assumption that women with these tattoos have gotten them to entice men or to advertise their willingness to engage in sexual activity? No probably not. Sure, art on the lower back is easy to reveal by wearing crop tops or low-rise jeans, and yes there are probably some women who have chosen that tattoo because of its sexual overtones. But it is also a location which can be easily covered by typical work clothing and it is a place which is unlikely to be drastically affected by pregnancy or weight change. Unfortunately the practicalities associated with tattoos on this part of the body are ignored in favor of the more popular, and degrading stereotypes.
To Remove or Take a Stand
The fact is, even now women receive more negative reactions to their body art than men. Whether it is because of the historical connotations or the modern stigma that still remains attached to women with ink, the fact is it is yet another battle for free expression. Even in a world so vastly more conscious of equality, women must still fight for their rights in both overt and subtle ways. A woman’s right to ink remains one of the latter.
A recent study from Texas Tech suggests that women are much more inclined to seek tattoo removal at some point in their lives than men. They also found that in many cases the decision to do so came from outside influences. Women who got tattooed early in life are later attempting to undo them. The reasons vary, but they seem to be predominantly linked to careers and life changes, like marriage and children. But is this a sign of women acquiescing to a society that views tattoos as out of place on respectable women? Although to be fully fair, men do undergo some of the same job and family pressures to conform to a particular image that often does not include tattoos. Perhaps it only seems that women are under greater scrutiny for their body art. But when you consider the history of tattoos, and how frequently a woman’s character is judged by her ink it’s hard not see an imbalance.
Tattoos are, in their own right, yet another way for women to assert independence and their right to equality. It is our right to express ourselves in any way we choose, in voice, in writing and in art, including body art. We can only hope that someday a woman can freely get a tattoo, anywhere she wants without fear of social repercussions. Perhaps, one day we will. We can only hope that in that same day we will be able to wear what we please, earn equal wages for the jobs we perform and not fear that our credibility will be undermined by our looks. And that will be a very good day
Janet is a writer for New Look a Houston laser tattoo removal clinic. She hopes to help tattoo bearers of all genders to wear their art with pride.