Then I saw what the picture says (it was one of those e-cards that no one actually emails to each other anymore). “Dear Girls, Dressing immodestly is like rolling around in manure. You’ll get attention but mostly from pigs. Sincerely, Real Men.”
It got me thinking about other things people say about immodesty, and why those things shouldn’t matter.
You’ll never attract a “real man” dressed like that.
Yes, because my idea of a “real man” is someone who is going to judge my whole personality based on the way I’m dressed. Like my idea of a “real man” is someone who feels the need to dictate what I wear and how I look. Sure, I’d love to attract the attention of a “real man” who’s going to try and suppress my freedom of expression. Who put a man in charge of deciding what’s decent for a woman to wear, anyway?
The e-card insinuates that some men actually feel the need to try and assert control or validate some opinion on what women wear. But, the fact of the matter is, they are not women. They’re just expressing an opinion, which is fine. But, when the expression of an opinion crosses the line, reaches into the cookie jar of control, and takes whatever the hell it’s hungry for, that is not okay. In short, what I wear is no man’s (or frankly, woman’s) business.
The idea of being a “slutty” or immodest is a social structure. In the Victorian era, it was considered immodest for women to wear clothing that revealed their ankles. The idea of immodesty is not concrete and changes throughout history. In 40 years, who knows what we will consider acceptable? Maybe women will finally be able to mow their lawns topless like men do.
In addition to constantly changing in its definition, the term “slut” is also a gendered one and generally applied only to females. There is no equal term for males. Actually, most of the time, sexual promiscuity in a male social circle is viewed as an achievement. In the female social system, especially to outside males, “sluttiness” devalues the woman as an individual. And you expect me to make my clothing choices based on a double standard? I’ll take the bikini, please.
But, how will you find a good job or maintain a good reputation if you dress like that?
I go to college, I have three jobs, and on a daily basis I am subjected to people who will possibly make snap judgments about me based on my appearance. I want people to understand that they are wrong for looking at my crop top as a signifier of desperation or thoughtlessness.
In fact, I think often about what my appearance says about me. Surprise! A girl can dress how she wants and have significant, deep thoughts about the world around her. I’m respected by the people that matter to me, the ones who aren’t so shallow that they would judge me based on what I wear. I refuse to conform to the idea that someone who dares to be an individual and reject society’s standards is someone whose opinions don’t matter. I can wear what I want, I can be strong, I can be smart, and I can be important — even when I'm sporting those teeny tiny shorts.
I don’t have the kind of body you’d see in a magazine or running across a beach in a swimsuit commercial. I have chubby legs and a butt that practically has its own zip code. And, that's okay. This body is my own, and I love it. I wear what I want because I deserve to wear outfits I like and, lucky for me, I feel just as cute as those airbrushed models gracing the magazine pages. The way I dress, in a low-cut top or short skirt, cellulite and all, shows others that the world will NOT END if you see my cottage cheese thighs. Hiding a socially imperfect body away is just going to show everyone that that imperfection is not okay. Imperfection is not wrong; besides, perfection is just a social construct, anyway.
Aren’t you afraid you’ll be harassed or raped?
This is the question that sends me into absolute fits of rage. I can’t even think about it for too long before I feel an uncontrollable urge to throw myself to the ground, scream, and bang my fists on the carpet like a tantrum-throwing child. Because of course it’s perfectly legitimate to assume that the men of this world absolutely cannot control themselves when faced with a miniskirt. Boys will be boys, right? Suggesting we teach our women how to not get raped rather than teach our men not to rape might the stupidest thing I've ever heard.
I’m not going to let some dude's whistling or crude remarks keep me from wearing what I want to wear. I’m not going to let a close-minded conservative viewpoint push me into the closet (so to speak). Unfortunately, I know that not all women are willing to face the world of hurt that can come with being who you are, who you want to be, and dressing how you want to dress.
But, I submit that hiding who we are — in dress, speech, action — encourages the oppressors’ judgmental behavior by reinforcing the idea that we have something to feel ashamed of.
As for me, I won’t allow fear and shame to control my appearance. The day I cover up my body, ashamed of how I look because my body doesn’t meet someone else’s standards of modesty or whatever, is the day that I am defeated. And, I'm not going to let that happen.