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"Decency": A Synonym for "Slut Shaming"?

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Last month, a New Jersey middle school banned girls from wearing strapless dresses to prom. Administrators claimed that the dresses were “distracting” — though they refused to specify exactly how or why.
These options are not available to boys.
Boys wear pants. Boys who don't
would quickly be dismissed from most proms.
Thus begins a screed on ThinkProgress about the chauvanistic practice of “slut shaming.”

Apparently, if this logic of ThinkProgress is followed, if one believes that a 13-year-old female shouldn’t wear clothing that reveals too much of her body, one therefore believes that females who dress provocatively or in a sexualized way “deserve” to be raped.

(Side Note: Apparently, middle schools now have proms now? WTF? Is this like my son “graduating” from pre-school?? Can we f*#king stop with this rush to give young kids experiences that are supposed to be special and unique to a later moment in their lives?)

As someone whose penis makes him a sexist pig regardless, I find this if-then debate somewhat troubling. Men are regularly accused of generating and encouraging a hypersexualized environment. Girls under 18 are most decidedly off-limits. Yet if adults get in a tizzy when girls under 18 wear revealing, potentially sexualizing outfits, then we’re “slut shaming.”

If we approve of these outfits, then we’re pervs or bad parents. If we disapprove, we’re rape apologists. I feel like WOPR: “The only way to win is not to play.” But how can any parent or educator avoid playing this game?

These shorts are distracting.
Am I "slut shaming" The Great
White Hope??
Meanwhile, no one seems to suggest that the reason girls are singled out for these conversations a bajillion times more than boys is because boys mostly wear clothing that covers their junk. Boys at prom tend to have slightly more flesh exposed than Muslim women in strict countries. Outside of gay pride parades, boys stopped wearing junk-hugging short shorts once Larry Bird retired from the NBA.

When your barely-adolescent daughter arrives at the damn Middle School prom, she really should wear panties and enough textile material to cover the lower curve of her bottom even when sitting down.

This is not because I think of a 13-year-old girl as a sexual creature; It’s because SHE thinks of herself as a sexual creature. One in five teenage girls have sent a sexually-suggestive or nude picture of themselves to someone else via phone. More than one in three have sent sexually suggestive messages.

So isn’t the bigger problem here that we’ve created (particularly in girls) a young generation so hyperaware of their own sexuality, yet so incapable of wielding that power with maturity or responsibility, that they and their parents think they should be attending middle school dances in clothing barely suitable for Lady GaGa?

I’m not arguing for an Amish dress code, although a part of me would be fine with that. But I do believe that whatever fashion choices can be defined as “respectful of others” and “decent,” we’ve gone several standard deviations beyond that, and it sure would be nice if we let the pendulum swing back a bit.

At what age are girls no longer free to choose, on their own,
what constitutes "inappropriate" or "distracting"?
Do 11-year-old girls own the right to express themselves
and their bodies however they see fit?
Is that freedom and equality?
Part of me worries that Girls Gone Wild didn’t die because it was scummy and disgusting, but rather because our culture found ways for girls to go wild without needing some greasy pervy video collection to do so.

Again, none of this is excusing or defending male assclowns who mistreat, abuse, or attack women. That someone could jump to that conclusion is what pisses me off in the first place.

I’ve included, for anyone bored or wishing they could continue the debate, the Facebook discussion I jumped into on an acquaintance's page. I welcome anyone who wishes to jump into this with me, as I don’t pretend to have all the answers on matters of slut shaming and rape apologia:
MOM/FB Friend’s Original Status Post: The behavior of these school administrators makes me so %$# angry. "Rape culture is . . .evident in the attitudes that lead school administrators to treat young girls’ bodies as inherently 'distracting' to the boys who simply can’t control themselves."
TEEN DAUGHTER: Furthermore, I, as a teenage girl, am able to control myself when I see a boy in a loose tank top (which oftentimes slide, revealing nipple) and tight jeans and/or shorts, and can remain undistracted. However, because I'm a girl, this "control" is expected of me. Using the excuse that "boys will be boys" not only lends preference to them, but it teaches them that it's acceptable for them to have no control-- which feeds into rape culture, and the objectification and subjugation of women.
MOM/FB Friend: Double like, [daughter].
ME: By this logic, females should be allowed to go outdoors topless wherever they wish? I'm just trying to figure out the parameters, the conclusion of this logic before I decide whether I agree...
FB Friend I’ve Never Met: Billy, I'm curious to know what you think would happen if women went outdoors topless wherever they wish?
ME: Ma’am, I couldn't say anymore than I can say whether licensed hunters would shoot unicorns if they existed. I'm curious why you seem to judge my attitude based on what seems to me a reasonable question. Is it reasonable for me to conclude you are Pro Nude Prom? If so, hurray for you, but I'm not ready for that world yet.
FB Friend I’ve Never Met: Yep, I'm the chairwoman of the Pro Nude Prom advocacy group.
ME: OK, so if it's reasonable for lines to be drawn -- clothing at Prom, for example -- then ultimately someone must be an arbiter of taste and "appropriate." Someone must draw the line somewhere, and that place will invite disagreement. While the line in this particular NJ instance seems dubious, it also seems unfair to conclude it's therefore obviously "slut shaming." That is, unless anything short of Nude Proms is also "slut shaming."
MOM/FB Friend: My point is that any office, restaurant, school etc can determine what is appropriate attire but we wouldn't tell boys and men that not wearing a coat and tie is "distracting".
Teen Daughter: First of all, women going topless is almost the same as a fat man going topless. If it's extra breast tissue that invites such strong reactions, some men should have to wear bikini tops. The anatomy is the same, it's merely the fact that women are objectified and degraded more than men. The use of breasts isn't sexual enjoyment. I'm all for "females going outdoors topless whenever they wish". It's slut shaming because it's apparently acceptable to demand a kindergarten girl change her skirt--the female body is hypersexualized even at that age. Also, I bring up the double standard again. Men may be aroused by breasts, but what if I'm aroused by abs? They wouldn't be asked to change. Furthermore, I find the fact that you seem to believe that women have no sense of propriety to the point that they would attend prom, an event that in many cases is based solely on attire, naked incredibly offensive. Women aren't scheming to constantly show as much skin possible.
Teen Daughter: Also, this arbiter of what is "appropriate" seems to only target girls for their "distracting" clothing. Interesting. Wouldn't want the boys getting distracted from their studies by those wily females. If the girls are distracted, too bad.
Teen Daughter: Please pardon me if I come off as rude.
Teen Daughter: It's just that this issue is so important to me because it tells me that my body, whether or not I want it to be, even if I just want to be comfortable during the eight plus hours I'm away from my home, is a sexual object.
Mom/FB Friend: You don't come off as rude you come off as incredibly smart, nuanced in your thinking, and able to make your point strongly without being rude.
Me: [Name], bravo to you for your eloquence and confidence. As the father of two beautiful girls on the verge of adolescence, this is not an issue to be taken lightly. Perhaps let's consider both sides of this gender issue. Young men (at least at the proms I know of) are required to wear pants. This isn't due to slut shaming, nor it is because we're worried about male junk flopping around in front of everyone (although isn't that a reasonable concern?). Am I prudish if I don't want boys wearing their wrestling singlets to the prom? Even if so, I can promise that just because it would be "distracting" doesn't mean it is in any way sexually appealing to me.
Teen Daughter: I understand what you're saying, but it's difficult to examine both sides when both genders are treated so differently. If a boy wore his wrestling singlet, would he be ogled and objectified, possibly even grabbed and pinched? From what I've seen in my time, his attire would be viewed as "classic schoolboy antics" and might even be laughed at. Males in small amounts of clothing may be "distracting" but it probably wouldn't be filed under something of a sexual nature. However, a girl in such a small amount of clothing would not be laughed at. It would not be "cute". Even if it was a joke, it would be interpreted sexually. The issue I'm trying to get at is that everything a woman puts on her body ends up having sexual connotations, no matter its purpose. When the "distracting" label is applied to women, it almost automatically means that they are dressed too sexually, which not only reinforces this dehumanizing mindset, it also contributes to shaming women about their sexuality in all aspects of life.
Teen Daughter: I also think that the pants rule seems a bit restrictive, but then again I am a hippie.
Me: If I as an adult male find both a 17-year-old girl's over-exposed backside or a boy's junk-hugging attire "distracting," it is possible for both observations to have nothing to do with whether I'm a horny sexual creature. It seems there's a rush to accuse me (or "male society" and me guilty by semi-involuntary association) of sexualizing, as an adult male, in situations where that accusation might be unjustified ... That said, I thank [Mom/FB Friend] for tolerating me totally hogging her post and you [Teen Daughter] for engaging me in an enjoyable discussion. My goal for my own daughters is not for them to grow up agreeing with me, but for them to grow up capable of thinking deeply, learning to justify their beliefs, and also being willing and open to consider (and sometimes adjust to) the counterpoints of others. I'm betting you can handle all those and untold other challenges sublimely.

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