I was replying to a thought-provoking post on Facebook and ended up holding forth at great length, so I thought I should write about it here as well. To sum up, a lady was saying that while growing up she had bought into the slick magazine version of sexiness, of putting her body on display like an object to get the attention of men. She didn’t want other girls to feel like this was a good way to attract attention. One of her main points was that women who dress provocatively need to be held accountable for their actions, that we can’t blame men for having impure thoughts if we’re going to flaunt our bodies in their faces. Her points were obviously well-thought-out and well-articulated, I just happened not to agree with her.
Here are my thoughts, I will probably expand upon them a bit as I go:
I absolutely agree that our society is wildly oversexualized in the media and images it projects, while divorcing those same images from any feeling of love or respect. And while I believe that women should be accountable for their actions and choices, I feel like you’re going down a slippery slope here. I HOPE you’re not implying that women who dress sexily deserve to be assaulted or raped, but that IS where that line of thought leads. You can see that in some of the comments, i.e. “If you dress like a hooker, don’t get upset when you’re treated like one.”
First of all, this is insulting to men. It’s basically saying that all men are rapists deep inside, being held back by the barest thread of moral code, ready to snap at the first application of a mini skirt.
And accountability, sure. If I dress with the intention of turning a man on, I can admit that and take responsibility for it. So when I’m dressed that way and a man starts chatting me up, I’m not going to throw a drink in his face. But when I say “Hey, I’m not interested.” and he continues to pursue me, which one of us isn’t taking responsibility? How far does accountability go? If I give a man an erection do I somehow owe him sex?
Secondly, it plays into the fallacy that most women and girls who are abused, assaulted or raped have done something to cause it. She MUST have dressed a certain way, flirted, teased, shook her hips provocatively. But the reality is (and statistics back this up over and over) that most assaults happen when women are in a much more vulnerable position, by men they know, while they are engaged in really naughty activities like…sleeping, walking, breathing.
There is also the issue of young girls and teens who are just exploring the power and limits of their rapidly changing bodies. To be told at such a vulnerable time that your body is a weapon, that the mere existence of your naked flesh is so overwhelmingly tempting that it must remain covered lest you raise up lustful thoughts in men- it’s just horrible to me.
Even leaving aside lesbians, who aren’t dressing any way, for any man, ever, I don’t like the implication that women only dress sexily to attract men. Perhaps we just want to revel in the beauty of our own bodies. There are days when I put on makeup and wear insanely gorgeous shoes or a pretty dress- when the only people I’ll be seeing that day are a bunch of girls under 18. I like how it makes ME feel, the lustful yearnings of the male gaze do not play a factor.
I always think that women are the harshest critics of other women, and the quickest to tear each other down. Before you do that, stop and think. There’s a deeper lie that you’re buying into. There isn’t only a straight and narrow path that females must follow in order to be worthy (of respect, of equality, of self-acceptance, of love.) We each contain vast and shining multitudes, infinite selves, eager to be known. When we stop trying to restrict others to our own limited viewpoints, and instead reach out and lift them, lift each other- blindly, frightened, saying “I may not fully understand you, but I support you.”- THAT will be the day when male opinions cease to matter. A day when we can dance together unselfconsciously, hips too wide or too narrow, covered head to toe or naked as a newborn, each of us gorgeous and dancing, unafraid of which eyes may be watching, unafraid of the volatile mixture of judgement and desire we might find there.