There’s one more* Nonreason for Modesty:
Nonreason for Modesty 6:
Because I’m OK being party to dress codes or modesty guidelines that are sexist because they disproportionately effect girls.
Actual Reason for Modesty 6:
Unless a dress code has different body coverage requirements for men and women, it’s not actually sexist.
But…but…it’s harder for girls to comply with dress codes establishing a standard of modesty!
Perhaps that’s because society, not the standard of dress, is sexist.
I live in Fancypants University College Town, a delightful city rife with overachievers. This means that I can’t go anywhere (read: anywhere affluent) at six a.m. without seeing cardio enthusiasts out and about in all manner of spandex and lululemon and cycling gear. And athlete for athlete, the girls will be less covered, and more tightly wrapped, than the boys. WHY? There is no (practical) reason for this.
When I go to a concert on the town green, the boys will wear t-shirts and jeans. The girls will wear tank tops and short skirts.
When I go out on the town with Husband the Man, the men around us will be covered from bowtie to argyle sock, while the women will be mostly bare from strappy heeled-ankle to flippy mid thigh skirt to plunging neckline.
I have enormous respect and admiration for the women of my generation. They have broken into one Good Old Boys’ club after another, they have sweated and worked and become the tops in their fields. They fight for social justice and equality, seek to reform the world into a better place, and command respect with their passion and eloquence.
But in the face of breaking down one barrier and glass ceiling after another, many, if not most outside of religious and orthodox communities, passively service society’s insatiable demand for exposed female flesh.
They’ve submitted to the notion that “athletic” for women is tighter and lower than for men. “Casual” for women is shorter and barer than for men. And “formal,” for women, is 2-3 times as exposed than it is for men.
This enables and feeds into widespread public entitlement to women’s exposed bodies.
Some will even defend it. Passionately. They will say that championing the notion of modesty is oppressive, cruel,shaming,** and that bared flesh is empowering, without bothering to ask the very crucial question:
Why do we feel that nakedness empowers us?
Because we’ve been told it does.
We’ve been told millions of times, in advertisement after movie after TV show that uncovering your female body, down to the breast, up to the thigh, sheer through the lace, tight at the waist, is how we can be beautiful, how we get attention and praise and respect.
We’ve been told that our value lies in our giving the whole wide world access to our bodies, access to our flesh.
If we defend this narrative, dismissing championing of modesty as misogynistic, how can we expect the world to change? How can we push back the constant demand for and commodification of women’s bodies when we are feeding it with our own?
The world wants to commodify women. We’re expected to be tightly packaged, transparently wrapped pieces of meat on public display. We are expected to be bare, vulnerable, unprotected from the elements, unable to so much as squat down to change a car tire without giving ourselves to every passing motorist, baring our flesh for public gratification.
Where men are covered, dignified, closed off from the scrutiny, shielded from heat and cold or a fall to the asphalt, a woman’s body is eternally vulnerable, held up to a microscope by the sheer, scanty, and tight clothing offered by fashion and trend. It is unfair and deeply, deeply sexist.
When a dress code that holds men and women to the same standard of coverage makes dressing harder for women, it’s not because the dress code is sexist. It’s because the rest of the world is.
*OK, this isn’t the final Nonreason and Actual Reason for modesty, but it will do for now.
**People saying stupid and unkind things is not OK. Having a basic dress code for a place of work or a school is another thing. If you want to be taken seriously, distinguish between the two. If you want to change a dress code, don’t disregard it and throw a tantrum (ON. OR. OFF. THE. INTERNET.) when it’s enforced; talk to the people who make policy. In a nice, calm voice. But really, is splitting hairs over shorts length or shoulder coverage worth your time and energy? I would submit that there are