Monday, April 4, 2011

On Covering Up

In an episode of 18 Kids and Counting - or was that 17 Kids? I forget - anyway, on an episode of the Duggars' TV show, Michelle Duggar preached the importance of women covering up and keeping her boys from seeing scantily clad women. In another episode, when the kids did get to watch TV, one of the kids felt the need to cover up the cleavage of a woman on the screen. Why? Because men shouldn't be tempted, and it's women's job to prevent such temptation.

To put it simply, men expecting women to cover up just so they don't see thigh and chest skin is just as problematic as men expecting women to wear skimpy clothing so they DO see skin. In both cases, women are expected to dress in accordance with what men want, rather than what they want.

I'm not opposed to skimpy clothing, or more modest apparel, but I do advocate that women choose the way they want to wear based on their own morals and beliefs, rather than cater to those of men. For example, while I am content with wearing shorts and tank tops in the summer when it's warm and I want to stay as cool as possible outside, after my experiences with rape and sexual assault I have thought of adopting a more modest way of dressing just as a way to avoid rape in the future. I know it's silly, because I was hardly scantily clad when the events took place, but sometimes I feel desperate for a way to feel safe again. Other women view sexy clothing as a means of empowerment. Whether either way of dressing is empowering, or which is more empowering than the other, is a topic of much debate, and I'm not going to get into it now.

This expectation to cover up still regards women as sex objects, only in this case they're regarded as inherently sexual and need to de-sexualize themselves so men don't get turned on. It puts the burden of preventing "bad" things on women, treating them like the moral gatekeepers of all things sexual. It also assumes that men can't control themselves - Michelle Duggar said boys need to learn self-control, and the only way this can happen is if women don't tempt them. Well that's silly, anyone can learn self-control without temptation, that's like learning healthy eating habits in an environment free of any bad foods. True self-control is being able to actually see cleavage without acting on the arousal that may come with it. But I guess that's too hard, men don't want the work of learning such willpower, they'd rather leave all that stuff up to women.

If anything, this should be an insult to men - I remember being really insulted when my school decided that the only way to prevent obesity was to remove junk food from the school cafeteria. We couldn't be trusted access to soda and chocolate, so they had to take it out of our hands. I, being a responsible consumer for the most part, and nowhere near in danger of becoming obese, was outraged. I didn't care if I didn't need soda, on the days where I felt myself about to doze off in class, being able to guzzle down a Coke to keep me awake for the rest of the day helped a lot.

This "boys will be boys" attitude, or the idea that men can't handle even the sight of cleavage without losing control, is a huge aspect of rape culture. With this discourse, we can easily dismiss most rape cases by saying "well, she tempted him, what did she expect?" It supports the "rape schedule," or set of safety rules imposed on women, putting the burden of rape prevention on them rather than teach men not to rape. We hold women accountable for what happens to them, rather than hold men accountable for what they do to women. Of course, men must love this system, they can do almost anything to women as long as they can pin it on the woman for somehow "asking for it." Now you must see why rape victims feel compelled to cover up, so they don't "attract" any more violence, and if they do, they're less likely to be blamed for what happened.

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