(Trigger warning. The original article discusses rape and sexual harassment, and so does my article. I’ll spoil the article by saying I’m anti, but I don’t want to cause any surprises for anyone who may have triggers).
Go read this article. No, really:
There’s a lot there, and a lot of it is completely messed up. Let me jump right ahead and say this: If you think that was an appropriate presentation for the Principal to give, then I think you’re flat wrong. There are a couple of reasons why that I’m going to go into, but that’s the most basic answer I have for you: It puts the emphasis on all the wrong things, makes horrible things the victim’s fault, and is insulting not just to women but to men as well.
Modest is Hottest?
This is something that’s been going around a lot, on Facebook and apparently also real life. Which is sad, because I frequently hope that real life isn’t as stupid as the internet. On Facebook you see it as a picture of a woman in a niqab, with a caption saying something like “Even though you can only see her eyes, she is hotter than most of the half-dressed women out there.” And fathers of daughters like this and share it, and it passes around the internet. And apparently gets used by high school principals. (And incidentally she still has a lot of makeup on those eyes, so her natural beauty wasn’t enough either. Huzzah for layered nonsense).
I want you to think about that image for a moment, a bunch of people looking at a woman in a niqab and saying to themselves “I wish my daughter would dress more like that.” That’s…a thing.
Ignoring the fact that most of the people sharing this and/or looking at their daughters speculatively would not be thrilled if they announced they were converting to ultra-conservative Islam (and ignoring the fact that the majority of Muslim women don’t wear a niqab or burka), this is the exact opposite of what we should be telling women.
Our modern culture has a serious issue with how we portray women. We present women in media most frequently in ways that shows their highest value as being their body, hyper-sexualize them and shame them if they don’t fit in with how super models look and dress. And that is a major problem, and the fact that it leads to increasingly sexualized teens at younger and younger ages is a pretty messed up symptom of it—as is Toddlers and Tiaras.
But the opposite of that is not telling them they’re more attractive when they dress modestly, or “Modest is Hottest”. That’s like saying the solution to people being killed with hatchets is to emphasize the virtue of baseball bats. People are still gonna get killed, it’s just going to be a different box on the coroner’s report. Telling women they’re more beautiful when they dress modestly and shaming women that dress immodestly (but in line with media displays…) still sends the same message: That their worth is tied to their beauty. It’s not a different message then they see every day, it just has the dial turned to the other side.
What we need to be saying to our young women is that what’s hot is not how you dress, and what matters isn’t how you dress. What matters is who you are and your comfort with that. What is of value is who you are as a person and what you choose to do with your life. Not what you choose to wear, who you choose to love, or whether you wear a birqa or a bikini. Or a burqini.
Also, no high school principal should ever use the words “Hottest” or “hot”, except if they are saying “It sure is hot today. I think it might be the hottest day all year!”
School Dress Codes
This is a bit of a diversion, but there is a great deal that I don’t like about school dress codes. I understand that if you give them the opportunity many high school students would come in their underwear, but it’s the focus of most dress codes that bothers me. I seem to recall when I was in school that the dress code was to reduce distraction, and then most of the restrictions were aimed at female students. Yes I couldn’t sag or wear gang colors and was asked to stop wearing my duster (which I wish I’d had the GPA to feel I could risk a fight). But the majority of the restrictions only marginally impacted male students, like the no stomach and the skirt length rules. And when combined with the justification of “no distractions”, it became relatively clear: Female students had to dress a certain way so the male students didn’t get distracted. Now the opposite was also true, the men can’t dress in a way that won’t distract women, but there were far fewer restrictions on me then on them. And that means, implicitly, that there are more ways for boys to get distracted then women.
It bothers me. I’m not a big fan of dress codes to begin with, because I feel like in a lot of ways they can be misguided. But I know that we have to have something. But why not, as my roommate suggested, change the focus away from any issue of gender and make it about a valuable skill? The dress code should not be based on any specific gender’s garment, but what would be acceptable in the loosest office environment. Make it based on what will be the absolute minimum students will need to be comfortable wearing in most jobs they will get after school, whether they go to college or not.
Boys Will Be Boys
Let me start by saying straight out: I ****ing hate this sentiment, as applied to anything sexual or harass-y.
Are there things that can just be written off as boys grow up? Sure, same as there are that girls grow up. A boy getting in a shoving match on the playground doesn’t make him a violent person and shouldn’t result in a huge punishment (I hate zero tolerance), but the boy still needs to be talked to about what it means to be a man and why violence isn’t what it means to be a man (see a future post about how we shape our boys, too). But the same is also true for girls. There is a lot that can be said for “Children will be children,” when it comes to minor violations of the rules as they learn what boundaries are.
But that is never an excuse for anything sexually harassing, and never should be. It should never be acceptable for a boy to harass a girl and have it written off as “boys will be boys”. It should never be acceptable for a man to be rude to women and have it be written off.
This ties in for me to one of the issues I have with how we treat rape victims, which is blaming the victim. Things like “You shouldn’t have been dressed like that” or “Why were you walking through a bad area if you didn’t want it to happen” are completely messed up for two reasons. Firstly for the main reason and the one that people keep trying to get society to understand. No one should be made responsible for an action taken by another against them, or made to feel like a crime that was committed against them is their fault. Victim shaming puts the priorities in exactly the wrong order, blames the wrong people, and makes it less likely that people will report rapes.
But there’s another thing wrong with it, and wrong with the whole spiel that the principal in the article gave. It’s something that bothers me immensely. Blaming women for getting raped takes the blame off of the rapist. Saying it was their clothing, or where they were walking, means that there was a man there who only needed a dark alley or a piece of revealing clothing to become a rapist. If women cannot wear revealing clothing because they are in danger of being raped, then men are constantly in danger of becoming rapists.
**** that. Really hard. There is no circumstance or combination of dark alleys or provocative clothing that would make me a rapist, nor the men I know. This bull**** says that all men are uncontrolled bundles of hormones looking for a fleshy expression of our animal desires, restrained only by a scrap of fabric covering a woman’s stomach or thighs. It says that my brothers and I, actual and spiritual brothers, are beasts and that we can’t be blamed for what we do because there is nothing we can do to stop it.
I am more than a barely controlled rapist waiting for an excuse, as are most men. Someone who commits rape makes that choice, or may be out of control due to mental illness or imbalance—but that doesn’t mean that everyone of their gender is. That goes both ways, incidentally, since there are thousands of cases of rape where the perpetrator is a woman and the victim a male in addition to same-sex rape. No subset of human is an uncontrollable monster, save for that subset of humans which are uncontrollable monsters (mostly Slytherins).
So let’s make it very clear: Modest is not hottest but another way of tying of worth to beauty, principals should not be coming up with ways to make students hotter in any case, and victim shaming further victimizes victims while turning their attackers into blameless uncontrollable beasts (and their whole gender with them). And it’s all bullshit