Monday, September 9, 2013

Common Sense and Respect vs Blame and Shame

(Note - many people responded to the blog article which upset my daughter so much. Most bloggers responded within hours. It took me 5 days. I'd like to say it's because I think about things more before I respond, but it's mostly because I'm just slow. Emma encouraged me to post this anyway.)

When my daughter came out to talk to me the other day, she was angry. Not just a little perturbed, not miffed, she was so livid I instinctively reached for the fire extinguisher.

This is a young woman who rarely gets angry about anything. She has, after all, inherited her mother's calm demeanor. So what got her so upset? She had read a blog article about modesty and how girls are posting indecent photos of themselves on their Facebook pages. According to the article, this family goes through their son's Facebook page together. They talk about what is decent and what is not decent, and all those indecent girls are unfriended. No second chances.

A friend of mine is disgusted with the local Catholic newspaper. She says their focus seems to be on creating more and more rules to follow. Specifically, she pointed out an article which went into detail about how women should dress. This friend is also one who rarely gets angry at anything.

Neither of these women wear clothing I would ever consider to be inappropriate nor could I imagine either of them posting indecent photos on Facebook. They both use common sense when it comes to what they share on social media. I figured I'd better read these articles to see why they were so upset.

By the time I finished both articles, there was a knot in my stomach that wouldn't go away. Why? What bothered me?

These articles are directed towards females and only females.

I do understand the concern of parents regarding social media. The internet has opened up infinite possibilities for us and these possibilities include sexual photos, videos, chatrooms, and other activities which are not healthy for children. Heck, adults are struggling to figure out what the new normal might be in this regard. It's not only good, but important for parents and teens to have conversations about all sorts of issues surrounding sexuality.

I went online and looked for other sources of information about appropriate dress for women and men. On one of the few sites which list guidelines for men, there are only a fraction of the rules compared to those in place for women. Dressing appropriately makes sense, but when these suggestions, guidelines, and rules are focused so strongly towards women, other things start to come to my mind:

A Toronto policeman who said “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” (link here)

In India, a woman is brutally beaten, raped, and murdered. Women are rising up in India and saying enough is enough. Sucharita Eashwar of WEConnect International states, "Politicians are saying that the women demonstrating are 'painted, dented women'. Women must wear traditional sarees and salwar kameez and be stopped from wearing skirts as their clothes attract rapists to them." (link here)

Dean Saxton in Tuscon, Arizon preaches christianity to his fellow students while holding a sign which says, “You deserve Rape”, suggesting that any girl wearing short shorts in 90 degree weather was asking to be raped. (link here)

Imam Shahid Mehdi has stated in a television interview that women who do not wear headscarves are asking for rape. “Women are not entitled to respect when they walk around without a Hijab. They are to blame for it when they are attacked.” (link here)

I understand the concern of parents when it comes to the internet. We all need to educate ourselves and decide how we will use this technology and when we will decide to limit its use. This is not just an issue for teenagers and their parents. It is not just a matter of scolding young girls for being “indecent”, however mildly and tactfully is it done.

My daughter said the article was condescending, not tactful. It was telling her to be ashamed of her body because if she's not careful, some boy might have impure thoughts and it would be her fault. It may be obvious, but what one person considers to be indecent may be very different from another.

I told her boys will have all sorts of thoughts, no matter what she wears and no matter what she posts on Facebook. Sexual arousal is a normal process. Sexual thoughts are normal. We do our sons no favor if we tell them otherwise. Shame is a strong force, a powerful and potentially destructive emotion.

So, Mrs. Hall, if you insist your son unfriend all his indecent friends, that's fine with me. It's your family decision. I have no argument with that. What I will argue is the appropriateness of addressing this subject with the girls in this way. Asking girls to be “decent” in order to keep your son's thoughts pure isn't terribly far from telling a young woman she is asking for rape by wearing a miniskirt.

Teach your son to respect and value women, regardless of what they are wearing.

Teach your son that sexual feelings are normal, natural feelings. There is nothing wrong or impure about them. Women and girls have sexual feelings, too. We all learn that we don't act on every feeling, no matter how strong they are. This is part of growing up.

Teach your son to consider the consequences of his actions, especially how they will effect others. Then trust him to do just that. Be a good example. When you mess up and hurt someone by your words or deeds, do what you need to do to make it right.

Know that, regardless of what might go through the minds of boys and men, the males of our species are much more noble, more protective of women, and more easily embarrassed than we women give them credit for. Most young men will rise up to our trust in them.

As for the article in the Catholic newspaper telling women how to dress properly, most women are quite capable of figuring this out for themselves.

I, on the other hand, need my daughter to supervise me when I dress, at least if I have to dress up to go somewhere. She's much better at style than I am.


  1. Terri, while I agree with most of what you have said, I would share a few thoughts. First, some of the restrictive examples you stated remind me of the Taliban and their reportedly highly oppressive views toward women. Reality check. But on the other hand, we all know that women and girls can intentially dress provocatively, case in point--in the national news just today a new Miley Cyrus video "wrecking ball" in which she is dressed only in her underware and completely nude. What are women or girls that dress in revealing, provacative ways trying to accomplish? Could it be they are wanting to excite and connect with the sexual energies of people who might see them. Lately I have (unfortunately, got to cut back on it) been watching more network TV and have frankly been shocked at how much sex talk there is on major network TV shows.

    When was the last time you saw a fully dressed man in public (not at the beach) dressed in a low cut shirt that exposed a significant portion of his chest. By most this would be thought of as terribly odd. It is just not done. Why. Yet this is so common for women. Lets think of the Oscars. You have women in dresses often with very little of their chests covered and men all wearing tuxes and ties with none of their chest exposed.

    The basic facts of life are that women and men are animals and have deeply rooted sexual and procreative energies developed through millions of years of evolution. And equally powerful social conventions and taboos are required to keep these powerful energies in check. Unfortunately, there are men and boys, and occasionally now-women, who have either not been adequately exposed to these conventions or have other weaknesses: mental, emotional or cultural that make them vulnerable to violating these conventions. I think the wiser course of action is, for either sex, to not dress provocatively, unless your intent is to attract a sexual mate. I think the ancient maxim- moderation in all things- is the way to go.

    1. Okay, I read your 2nd paragraph again and had to chuckle. You're right, we don't see men revealing their chests. Not anymore. That went out in the 80's. Remember the tight polyester shirts, open most of the way to reveal chest hair and gaudy necklaces? How about the style of guys wearing jeans so low their underwear is all that covers their butts?

      Historically, we can't forget codpieces. Perhaps originally they were worn for protection and modesty as men's doublets were worn shorter, but there's more evidence they were worn to advertise their virility... though this was more for power than for sex.

      Yes, nowadays, a woman must go to the ballet to see revealing outfits on men. Why do women wear the clothing they do? There are many factors I'm sure, but one possibility comes to mind. There is an attitude in our society which says a woman needs to be attractive to men, yet the expectation for men to be physically attractive to women is not nearly the same. A leading man in movies doesn't have to be gorgeous. A leading lady does.

      I remembered this comic from years ago - sums it up well!

  2. First of all, thank you for your very thoughtful response. I agree with you that girls and women can intentionally dress in a very provocative way. I don't think the majority of women or teens do this. Miley Cyrus is extreme and I wouldn't advocate this as a healthy example of how to dress and behave in public!

    My concern was more about what I felt was the condescending way the subject was brought in the first article. It felt like a public shaming. Could the mom have dealt with this in a different way? Instead of publicly pointing out her opinions of how indecent they were, could she have spoken to the girls parents privately?

    In a strange twist, if you read the comments on the blog, you will realize the author had to replace the photos she originally posted with the article. People were saying they loved the article and would love to show it to their teenage daughters, but they didn't think it was good to have their daughters staring at young men in skimpy swim trunks doing muscle poses at the beach. Isn't this provocative, too?

    She replaced the photos, of course, but what was she thinking? Would she have felt okay about girls in skimpy bikinis? Probably not.I was concerned about her double standard.