Earlier this year, a wise woman (Taylor Swift. It was Taylor Swift) announced to the masses: “Chokers are the new flower crowns.”
It was a bold statement. A big call to make. People love goddamn flower crowns.
But it seems Tay Tay was right. Chokers are everywhere: Around the necks of celebrities at music festivals, on red carpets, all over our Instagram feeds, and even in the Mamamia office.
While I'm not usually one for fashion trends (my style priorities are firmly ranked 1. comfort, 2. comfort, and 3. pockets), for some reason, the choker trend appealed to me. They're flattering, and I feel like when I wear a choker, it detracts from my weird hunchback shoulders.
But last night, I heard something that made me feel utterly humiliated about what I thought was an incredibly trivial fashion decision. Sitting at the dinner table, one of my brothers asked whether I knew what men thought when I wore a choker.
"Ummm, no," I responded, assuming men had approximately zero opinions about my jewellery choices.
He explained that among guys, there's a joke that women who wear chokers are "sluts."
"You have to know what it insinuates," he said. "It's like... a collar. Collar... like an animal... like submissive."
At first I was shocked, and then I was angry. I was furious that I had just been made to feel uncomfortable about what is essentially a piece of material I wear around my neck. I couldn't believe that such a concept would even cross my brother's mind. It was disturbing.
Listen: Porn star Madison Missina explores why most men are obsessed with anal sex. Post continues after audio.
Then he explained that his group of friends had first seen the "joke" on Facebook. Apparently there are memes that make fun of the fact that girls who wear chokers are promiscuous. Indeed, there are.
There's ones like this. I'm not even sure what 'slobbin meats' means, but I'm almost certain it's offensive.
Then there's more straightforward memes like these, for the men who are a little slow.
Oh, and then there's the extreme.
What the hell.
How is this a thing?! And more importantly, how did I not know?
Once my brother convinced me that he wasn't trying to hurt my feelings, but simply wanted to alert me to the otherwise unknown conversations of young men, what followed was quite a complex discussion of sexual objectification, feminism, and fashion.
I'm not an idiot. I know I don't make my fashion choices in a vacuum. I didn't come out of the womb asking for a pair of high heels, and I certainly didn't come up with the idea of the humble choker because I, alone, thought it looked nice. But at the same time, I genuinely don't make style decisions with the intention of seducing men.
If I do wear something that men interpret to be highly sexual, whose fault is that? Some would say men aren't necessarily to blame, because men, like women, are victims of patriarchy. Men have been socialised to objectify and sexualise women. Men weren't born believing that chokers have connotations about submissiveness - that's been taught to them by porngraphy, the media, and power relations between men and women.
So, should I stop wearing chokers because they give off a message that I'm not comfortable with? Surely not. That would be tantamount to men literally dictating what I wear. And that's f**ked.
Chokers are just one example of the infinite number of decisions and behaviours women make that leave us stuck. Wearing them makes us sex objects, and not wearing them makes us oppressed. We're damned if we do and damned if we don't. Men just aren't victims to the same struggle.
On the face of it, men's perception of chokers might seem like a very inconsequential issue. But it's not.
What their conversations about women's jewellery choices represents is that our bodies don't belong to us. Post continues after gallery.
Society feels a sense of blatant ownership over women's bodies, and a culture where women's bodies are public property, open to scrutiny and criticism, is a culture where women can't possibly be equal to men. It's a culture where people feel entitled to women's bodies - to touch them, to ogle at them, to hurt them.
So, what do I do? I know that not all men are thinking I'm a slut when I wear a choker, but I know that at least some are. And I don't want people to make assumptions about me based on a fashion choice.
But ultimately, if I analysed and policed everything I did in terms of the messages it might send to certain people, I'd go crazy. It simply isn't my responsibility, and there's no way I can even pretend to control how I'm perceived.
I won't stop wearing a choker, even if the men I encounter think heinous thoughts because of it.
The thoughts, after all, aren't about the choker. They're about seeing women as objects instead of people. I can't stop someone objectifying me if they want to, but what I can do is try my best to get them to see me as a human being, who has thoughts, feelings, beliefs and contributions that go far beyond what I wear around my neck.