I’m writing this blog post because I am fed up. A few days ago, I stumbled upon a video on YouTube encouraging women to “dress modestly so you can attract good men and avoid the wrong kind of attention”, and I couldn’t even make myself watch the whole thing because it was the most dehumanizing, misogynistic trash I had seen. This isn’t meant to be a callout, so I won’t mention the name of the YouTuber who’s got me so ticked off, but I am going to address the views she expressed in the video because I’ve heard them way too often, and I’m sick of it.
I’m not judging this YouTuber as a person. She was probably raised to believe that this was the right way for a woman to behave. But hearing this coming from another woman made me literally shake with anger. It’s these kind of beliefs that have shackled women in society for hundreds of years, and it’s our job as women to help each other shatter the glass ceiling, not to seal up the cracks in it.
Disclaimer: this post addresses traditional gender roles in a predominantly cisgender, heterosexual society. I’m discussing misogyny and sexuality in male/female relationships, and I understand that a lot of this won’t apply to the LGBTQ+ community. I will probably write a piece on gender roles as an LGBTQ+ person at a later time, but today’s post focuses on the dynamics between straight women and straight men. Also, there’s some talk about the birds and the bees, so proceed with caution.
First of all, the YouTuber’s statement comes from the viewpoint that a woman’s only purpose in life is to attract men. She presumes that when a woman dresses in skimpy clothes, she’s trying to catch a boyfriend. Of course, this is true in some cases, but not all. The way a woman presents herself is a form of self-expression, and her sexuality is part of that expression. Sometimes, women want to look sexy because it makes them feel good about their own bodies. There’s nothing wrong with putting on a crop top because you’re proud of your toned abs – or you’re embracing your tummy rolls. If you feel good about your body, you have the right to show as much or as little of it as you like (as long as you’re not literally running down the street butt naked). It’s okay if a woman prefers to dress modestly because it makes her feel more comfortable, but she doesn’t have the right to attack women who prefer not to. The pressure to be conventionally beautiful has been shoved down women’s throats for centuries, and it’s totally okay to be proud of how you look. Personally, I rarely get dressed with the intention to look attractive to other people; I put on whatever makes me feel beautiful. Women are not merely objects for male appreciation – we are people, and we need to satisfy ourselves before we can satisfy anyone else. A woman’s sexuality belongs to her, not to the men around her.
Second, the YouTuber’s position implies that it’s not okay for women to crave casual male attention. She immediately assumes that a provocatively dressed woman is looking for a bed partner. However, there’s a lot more to sexuality than rolling in the sheets. Sometimes, people just like to flirt. It’s a playful, innocent way of satisfying human nature, and we all do it – sometimes even subconsciously. It’s like trying on an expensive pair of shoes without actually buying them and going broke. There’s a big difference between showing a bit of cleavage to a cute guy at the library and stripping naked in his bedroom and saying, “Let’s sleep together”. The YouTuber’s view actually reinforces the dangerous concept that wearing revealing clothing equals consent. It doesn’t matter how much skin you’re showing: if you don’t explicitly state that you want to have sex with this person, you have not given them an invitation to touch you. And if you’ve already started and you want to stop because you don’t feel comfortable with it, you have the right to say no.
Next, the YouTuber underestimates the ability of men to be decent human beings. I know, I know, some men are pigs. But if we don’t give men the opportunity to respect women, they’ll never learn how. On that note, the YouTuber is right: we do need to teach men how to respect us. But you can’t teach a man to drive if you never let him get in the car – you have to show him the proper way to drive without running anyone over. The truth is, straight men are hardwired to feel attracted to women. Rather than covering up because we don’t want to “tempt” men into disregarding us, we need to expect decency and equality regardless of what we are wearing. We need to teach our sons that a girl’s beauty is meant to be admired, not used as a justification to ignore her opinions and downplay her abilities. If we continue “sheltering” boys by telling girls to cover up, we are teaching boys that there’s something wrong with a girl who chooses to dress more provocatively, and when one crosses his path, he will believe that it’s perfectly fine to mistreat her. No boy comes out of the womb thinking he is superior to girls – he learns misogyny from the society around him. Ignorance and inexperience with women is not the same as respect.
It’s human nature to notice sexy people, but it’s human responsibility to treat sexy people with decency. The idea that a man can discredit a woman because he thinks she’s beautiful is absolute bull and actually has nothing to do with physical attraction. If a man won’t respect you in a bikini, he won’t respect you no matter what you’re wearing because he’s the kind of guy who probably won’t listen to any woman in the world. Your worth and intelligence don’t change just because you take off a sweater or unbutton the collar of your blouse. He’s not ignoring your opinion because he’s checking out your legs – he’s ignoring your opinion because he thinks women are inferior. Trust me, he doesn’t respect the frumpy old lady who works next to you, either; the only difference between you and her is that he wouldn’t mind sleeping with you.
A good man can appreciate a beautiful woman AND listen to her plans, views, and needs. If we try to attract husbands who are only nice to us because we cover our bodies, they don’t truly respect us. They believe that they own the rights to our sexuality – they want us to act like nuns in public, then take off all our clothes the minute they decide they’re in the mood. They expect us to sacrifice our own confidence and independence and believe we only have the right to feel beautiful and sexy when they say it’s okay. Why? Because they’re jealous. They don’t want other men to look at their wives, so they want to wrap us up like the abominable snowman until no guy can even see how gorgeous we are. Rather than taking issue with the men who think it’s okay to mess around with other men’s wives, these kind of husbands place the blame on their wives. Remember, there’s nothing inherently sexual about a naked woman. We’re all born naked; we clearly aren’t trying to seduce anyone as we come out of the womb. It’s the man’s mind that turns her into something desired, and it’s the man’s responsibility to maintain respect for her regardless of how she is dressed.
I don’t want a husband who doesn’t let me wear Daisy Duke shorts because he’s afraid another man will check me out. I want a husband who treats me so well that I would never even think of cheating on him – and one who thinks I look dang hot in those shorts.
Finally, the concepts in the YouTube video contributes to the culture of “slut-shaming”. I don’t even like using that term because, to quote the great Taylor Swift, “There is no such thing as a slut.” The idea that a woman must be chaste is merely a device men use to control women and enforce the idea that men should be in charge of women’s bodies. Men are rarely judged for posting dozens of shirtless selfies on Instagram, but a woman puts on a short skirt and the whole world burns. Women are constantly judged for having too many relationships or even just feeling physical attraction to another person because we teach girls that sexuality isn’t natural. A lot of girls are told not to even think about sex until they’re getting married, which is an unrealistic expectation given that there’s usually at least ten years between the onset of puberty and a woman’s wedding day. We need to teach girls that sexuality is part of normal life so they can learn to manage these feelings rather than being confused and ashamed of them. Studies have shown that comprehensive sex education is linked to lower teen pregnancy rates. Instead of shaming girls for being human and turning sex into something taboo, we need to inform them in an open, judgment-free manner.
A great example of the double standard surrounding promiscuity is Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina. Anna, a young Russian noblewoman stuck in a dull marriage to a much older man, has an affair with the rogue pleasure-seeker Count Vronsky. Society disowns Anna, but Vronsky takes little of the blame. This illustrates a mentality that prevails to this day: If a man sleeps around, he’s a Casanova. If a woman sleeps around, she’s a whore. A promiscuous man is seen as comical; a promiscuous woman is seen as dishonorable. The problem isn’t about women showing their bodies. The problem is how men react to it.
In conclusion: Women shouldn’t have to “earn” respect from men by dressing modestly. Women deserve to be respected regardless of what they are wearing because they are human beings.
This has been a long, somewhat awkward piece to write. However, I think it’s necessary to educate all genders about how to treat each other and how they deserve to be treated. We can’t turn a blind eye to the miseducation around us. We need to teach this generation of girls to know their rights, take ownership of their own bodies, and never apologize for who they were born to be. We need to teach this generation of boys that women are humans just like them and their opinions aren’t any less valid just because they’re beautiful. One person at a time, we must tear down this toxic culture of misogyny. The revolution begins today.