My 11-year-old daughter, on the cusp of puberty, is rapidly transforming into Lady Longlegs. She is uncomfortable in denim and wears dresses maybe twice a year, mainly because she can’t stand tights.
What does that leave her? Cotton pants, jeggings and leggings. (A post for another time: girls’ clothes aren’t nearly as sturdy and well made as boys’ clothes.)
Her school has a dress code and since my daughter is a conscientious person it’s always at the back of her mind. Like most dress codes, it’s mainly written for girls and/or women. I imagine it’s similar to the dress code United Airlines has for people flying on buddy passes.
My point here is not to argue about the dress codes in and of themselves, but how they perpetuate the assumption that girls and women need to be modest and cover themselves up. Otherwise, they become wanton temptations for boys and men. This argument not only does a disservice to girls and boys, reducing them to objects and urges, but also reinforces rape culture, a term I hate but is the most accurate in a society’s way of blithely assuming that women and girls are “asking for it” when they are sexually assaulted.
When other parents tell me they’re teaching their daughters to be modest, I immediately ask them what they’re instructing their sons. That girls have brains and feelings? That they should be respected and be considered persons in their own right, regardless of how many piercings they have or how their clothes fit? That they’re not objects of temptations, but the sum of more than their body parts, and future colleagues and bosses?
When my son tells me he has a crush on a girl, he usually tells me it’s because the girl is cute, but I try to make him understand, even though he’s only 8, that girls can be attractive because they’re smart and funny, too. After all, those qualities have nothing to do with what clothes the girls are wearing.
There’s still a lot of work to do, because women (including me) have been harassed while fully clothed and wearing a winter coat. But I think it’s an important first step, to teach and reinforce these ideas in boys starting when they’re young and as they become teens.
To illustrate my point, we have Vice President Mike Pence, who considers women other than his wife to be such a distraction he won’t eat alone with them or attend functions alone with them where alcohol is served. Again, I don’t want to criticize his marriage. You do you, Mike and Karen! But I am concerned about how this affects Pence’s view of women in government and in places of power? Will Pence dine with Angela Merkel or Theresa May to discuss sensitive political matters without his wife? Nancy Pelosi? Elizabeth Warren? Does this policy mean he won’t hire women as high-level staffers in his own office, because there’s a chance he might have to dine with them alone? I mean, according to Pence, women are such distractions and objects of temptation there’s no way men can have platonic relationships with them. They’re not more than the sum of their parts. They’re solely objects.