Monday, August 4, 2014

Conflicted

I had a conversation with Rob in the car a few days ago about Emma's clothes.

Sometimes I get so incredibly irritated at how women's bodies are just assumed to be sexual objects.

In general I have always supported dressing modestly in situations that call for it, and saving anything more figure-showing for parties or intimate situations. I've often wanted to have talks with my female students about how it would be better to wear less revealing clothing in class, when the focus is supposed to be on learning.

But today, during this conversation, I realized just how similar our society is to those that force women to wear burkas. Why does a woman have to cover her body up? Simply because men in our society can't view a woman's body without assuming it's only a sexual object. Men can run around with just a pair of shorts on, but god forbid a woman should show any cleavage.

Why should the female students in class have to police their clothing? If it was an entirely female class, would it matter what they wore?

Rob was not happy with a shirt Emma wore to her guitar lesson. It's a strappy top, probably intended to be worn without a bra (not that Emma did that: she's a 32C at 13, and feels more comfortable wearing a bra). If Emma's guitar teacher were female, would Rob have worried about it?

And I'm not meaning to bash Rob here --he's a wonderful man and he does not view every woman as a sexual object. But he sees that our society will be viewing his daughter that way, and so quite understandably he's working to protect her. But that protection is just a way of saying "boys will be boys", isn't it? I know there are plenty of men out there who don't view women as only sexual objects, but we all just go on accepting that society does, and we'll just have to conform. And the onus is always on the females. 

Lately I've come across some social media memes that address this --a woman in what Emma calls "booty shorts", with a sentence or two that states that her clothing choices shouldn't be restricted just because men can't control themselves. I've also come across the research that illustrated that men see women as objects rather than subjects when they're shown in bikinis. And in the end, I just find myself conflicted. And still shopping for clothes for Emma that will somehow meet the required standards of modesty. And is that really all that different from insisting that women wear burkas?

15 comments:

  1. Last week at the grocery store, I came upon a girl in the frozen food aisle wearing a pair of shorts that were so short and tight, there was absolutely nothing left to the imagination. I mean, none. Her rear cheeks were a good half inch below the hem in the back. And it was not flattering, not in the least. It prompted quite a conversation on facebook, with one friend saying, 'what is wrong with society that girls think it's okay to dress that way?'
    Frankly, I don't worry about society - it's a long way to go from girls having their butt cheeks hanging out of their shorts at the grocery store to wearing burkas (although if I ever caught my daughter wearing shorts like that, you'd bet I have her in a burka faster than she could spit). I only worry about raising my daughter with the confidence, taste and respect for herself so that she doesn't make clothing choices that would make me wince. When a female is confident in who she is, it comes across in what she wears.

    My father and now my husband would probably sympathize with Rob. I know I've certainly heard things my father said coming out of my husband's mouth along the lines of "I know how teenage boys think". I gather it's all rather primal and hormone driven. I think all three of them look at it from the lens of watching their baby girl grow up into this gorgeous creature while remembering what it was like to be a boy around such a creature.
    All that said, Edie came to me early this summer asking for a bikini. She was nervous how her father would react, but she wanted one because 'I know I can rock one'. I gave the approval because you know what? I saw it as a measure of her confidence in herself. And girlfriend was right - she does rock it.

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    1. Good for Edie! I'm sure she can rock that bikini. And I would agree that I want to raise Emma with the confidence to display her body without shame, whatever it looks like. And I know that choosing shorts that cover your rear is not technically the same thing as a burka, but in that discussion I had with Rob, I could see a parallel discussion happening in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan.

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  2. I like what Becky wrote. There's a line between pride in their bodies and "putting it out there"--I guess I'd ask my daughter (if I had one) what her intentions are if she wanted to wear a certain outfit. That's where the conversation about what kind of attention a girl is after takes place. As for a boys' role, well, I can teach my sons not to look at girls as objects, but if they display themselves as such, what are they to do? And I do agree that puberty poses a particular challenge to boys hormonally speaking.
    Makes me sort of wish for the good old days when we hid our developing bodies under baggy sweatshirts and waited until we hit our twenties to "put it out there." *sigh*

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    1. I am sure that you are raising sons who will respect girls and women. But what does it mean, that girls are "displaying themselves as objects"? That's where I'm conflicted. Are men ever displaying themselves as objects? In fact, outside of a Chippendales line-up, are men EVER considered just objects? It's the double standard that bothers me.

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  3. "Conflicted" is a good word for how I feel about the whole thing. I learn toward believing women should dress a bit more modestly than is currently popular, but I also get pissed when I'm told what to wear lest I tempt any poor, unsuspecting males. I don't think there's anything wrong with expecting a little self control from men, but I also don't really enjoy getting a face-full of boobs and butt cheeks anytime I want to go to the grocery store.

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    1. I agree --I've cringed several times this summer over outfits I've seen on young women, and have been grateful Emma has always chosen (on her own) to wear long shorts. But when Rob (as a representative of "men") started telling me she shouldn't wear a particular shirt, I had to stop myself from yelling at him!

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  4. Oh, I love Becky's comment. I actually got a little teary at the part where Edie said she could rock it. Go Edie!

    I also agree with Melissa about intentions. I know a workout queen who wears the shortest short shorts and low cut tops. While she can rock them, she doesn't have the greatest confidence on other levels, so it gets confusing. Guys get a message that she wants to hook up, when that is not her intention at all.

    I guess, unfortunately, no matter what we wear, whether we like it or not, sometimes our clothing can send messages. That doesn't mean someone can blame their bad actions on our clothing, it just means that maybe we should be aware.

    Cheers to your girls for being confident and aware!

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  5. I'm torn as well. Theoretically, women should be able to dress however they want because--well--men get to do it without fear of objectification. The real world has shown us that we walk a thin line. Dress in something revealing and you'll be thought of as a slut. Dress like a nun and you'll be thought of as repressed. Guess what? Both outfits won't keep you from being objectified by men. I'm glad I don't have daughters.

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  6. People should wear exactly what they want, ideally, and it would be nice if the world was enlightened and safe and respectful so that nobody is subject to unwanted attention or comments. I think young people have to learn both sides of that coin then decide.

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  7. Ditto what everyone else said.

    Luckily, my teen girls dress to keep things covered, so I haven't had to have this debate with my husband.

    One of my girls loves "twirly skirts." They come just above her knee and she wears them year 'round -- tights in the winter and bare legged in the warm months. It makes me mad that I felt like I had to warn her about upskirt photos and talk to her about how to protect herself from cretins.

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  8. I second (or tenth) what your commenters had to say. I'm fortunate that my daughters dress to please themselves and not to be on display, as it were. I think conversations with our daughters and sons about intentions, effects, and attention are important. Great post and conversation.

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  9. Yes, I feel conflicted too. Why should women have to police themselves because of what men think? I found this blog post which turns the whole question around rather neatly. And it's funny. (And has a bit of male objectification thrown in.) http://thesaltcollective.org/modesty-whensuitsbecomestumblingblock/

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    1. I really love that post --I had to read it aloud to Emma and Rob :-)

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    2. That's an awesome post! I'm with Cassi here. My daughter is becoming acutely aware of how what she wears is judged based on how it is perceived by men, and almost solely that. And she is starting to talk about why that's stupid and unfair and that we all just keep perpetuating it. It made me realize that when her dad tells her the shorts she picked out at Old Navy are too short or the shirt has too low of a V, she is continually getting the message that if some man looks at her wrong, it's HER fault. And I don't like that one bit. I realize that this is a hard issue, and that we all just want to protect our daughters, but I can't help but think we are contributing to the continuation of women being seen only as objects by reinforcing that notion every time we tell our daughters what is and isn't right to wear. (Butt cheeks hanging out, by the way, is gross no matter the gender, so I feel like that doesn't necessary weigh in to the argument at hand).

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  10. As the mother of 4 sons and no daughters, I am both grateful that I haven't had to deal with this issue directly (what my daughter wears or doesn't wear) and worried for all those raising daughters in today's world. I "hear" where you are coming from and I also "hear" where Rob is coming from... and the double standards in our culture make us feel like screaming AND make us want to protect those we love from potential dangers.
    My oldest son is married to a young woman who is really modest (in all things, including attire) and my husband and I probably embarrass her with what we sometimes wear around the house ; my older teen has a girlfriend who has worn some shorts that I consider a little too short for my taste in clothing BUT no "cheeks" were falling out and they weren't showing any so-called "private parts" so I kept my mouth shut. Sure, she was showing a lot of leg. Was it bad? No. Was it good? No. It was simply her choice, neither good nor bad, and it is HER body. I remember being 18 or 19 years old, wearing spandex pants with short-ish tunic tops and being told by some 20+ year old male friends at church that it was distracting to them. I told them I was sorry they were distracted... and changed nothing of my attire. If long skinny legs (frankly, I thought they were too skinny) were too much for them, they can look away. Their personal problems are not my problem. Can you tell I'm a fan of the http://thesaltcollective.org/modesty-whensuitsbecomestumblingblock/ post? :)
    There is a time and place for skimpy clothing: the beach, the pool, your own home. A little cleavage doesn't bother me but I don't want to see a great deal of anyone's breast aside from those places, male or female. Our culture is so sexualized that some modesty in attire is necessary if you don't want to be seen as advertising sex. Frankly, I don't want my husband walking around shirtless on the street because I don't want other women admiring his chest and wishing they could take him home with them... (they probably aren't) but also I'm envious because if it is hot outside it's not fair that I can't do the same thing (be shirtless). I hated the double standard as a kid when at 8 or 9 years of age my parents told me I couldn't run around shirtless like my brothers did in the summertime. So yes, I am conflicted.

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