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Dress codes and slut-shaming: Stop telling me my clothes turn you on

Weekly Columnist

Published: Monday, November 11, 2013

Updated: Monday, November 11, 2013 22:11

Across the world, there is outrage over the clothes girls are wearing today. With disdain given for girls in strapless dresses to women in yoga pants, many females in college are finding themselves under fire for distracting the delicate minds of their male companions from the important knowledge they must gain to be the leaders of our male dominated society. Growing up with a curvy figure in a religious household, the fights over bikinis, short shorts and too tight dresses didn’t target the real issues. Why am I responsible for a man’s opinion of my body? Why am I expected to dress a certain way and fulfill certain criteria about my body? What I’m really asking is why is modesty about girls and what they wear? Why aren’t we talking about the man’s role? How is the modesty argument further solidifying the sexualization and objectification of women?

The modesty fight comes in many forms with the issue spanning from dress code restrictions to the popular Secret Keeper Girl set (and by really popular I mean popular among the religious circles). My disagreement here is not with the idea of modesty or dressing appropriately. Instead, we have to start looking at the flavor of these constraints. They don’t focus on your brain and your personality having more worth; instead, your body is still your most important trait. Stop showing it off shamefully. To be real, the underlying message of many Christian modesty movements is that your body belongs to your future husband, so stop wearing a low cut shirt. The Secret Keeper Girl teaches girls 8 to 12 “how to keep the deepest secrets of your beauty for just one man” according to their website, with little focus on what there might be below the surface.

Dress codes across the country are lambasting women for being distracting, putting the blame for male hormones squarely on female shoulders. Shoulders that shouldn’t be bare, by the way, according to the Readington school district who banned strapless dresses at their 8th Grade dance last spring. The principal’s explanation given to a parent was that dresses would “distract boys,” as reported by NBC New York. Other school systems around the country have had similar thoughts. A high school in Minnetonka, MN banned leggings and yoga pants with the principal stating according to the StarTribune, “Cover your butts up—I’m just going to say it straight up. We’re seeing too much.” A junior high school in Petaluma, Calif. took a similar position when it pulled all of its female students out of class to attend an assembly informing them “they couldn’t wear pants that were “too tight” because it distracts the boys,” according to local news station KTVU. Other students have been barred from their proms if the “curvature of the breasts [is] showing” and if their dresses were too short for school administrators. This was the case in Cincinnati this past spring according to News Channel 5. Even kindergarteners in Georgia are forced to return home if the teacher doesn’t approve of their skirt and leggings combo, even if it had previously caused no issues.

The conversation about modesty and appropriate attire is one that needs to happen, but the current focus of these arguments are off base. First, we’re acting like men are only turned on based on the clothing women wear, as if the clothing that women wear is what is really attractive to men. This opinion also assumes that men are incapable of seeing a girl in a pair of leggings and thinking about anything other than boinking her. Where are the assemblies asking men to respect women and their non-visual characteristics? Where are the strict dress codes for male students, because even the outrage over baggy pants isn’t as bad as the fight over spaghetti straps. If we’re challenging our women to change their clothes, why aren’t we challenging our men to change their minds?
Why aren’t we combatting the sexualization of girls where it counts? Why aren’t we asking why the media is continually pushing our girls to be sexier and wear tighter clothes? Why do we criticise women on this modesty platform while constantly feeding them images saying their body is the most important thing about them? If we continue to criticize what girls are wearing these days instead of asking why, we’re going to skirt around the problem. Instead we hamper their ability to learn or their ability to express themselves without confronting the main issue, while feeding them into a society that will continue to ask the impossible of its women: to be the whore and the Madonna. And neither role is as comfortable as yoga pants.  

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