Thursday, March 29, 2018

Modesty, Misogyny, and Logic

I'm not a fan of faulty logic; I hate it. I also am not a fan of misogyny or gender disparagement, so the latest meme going around really got under my skin. There's a reason I've done everything possible with my Facebook settings to avoid seeing GIFs and memes in my feed - well, I just don't like GIFs; they seem stupid and pointless - but memes generally make me mad, which is their purpose and thus I try not to see them so they don't win.

I saw one the other day. You might have, too. It looks like this:

Let's tackle the logic first, before we get to the misogyny.

You can't get into a petting zoo without asking - even if there's free admission, there's at least a gate you need to pass through and an attendant who has to open it. Nobody's insurance would cover a come and go, self-service petting zoo. Not even bunnies are that safe. For this analogy to hold up, you'd have to do away with consent or permission altogether - as if just wearing more-revealing-than-average clothes or putting a cuddly animal inside a fence near public view is, in and of itself, invitation to touch. No one in their right mind would ever argue for that.

Is the guy (and it's definitely a guy) putting this meme together advocating willy-nilly animal fondling? In some versions of this meme, the text is credited to "grandma." It's just not fair to pass off that kind of terrible logic on someone's grandmother. Irresponsible and despicable - and that's before you get to the content!

I mean, sheesh, it doesn't even work if you accept the premise. Let's say the clothes of these women do, in fact, 100% advertise themselves as objects for sexual interaction, then what? I mean, you can't even touch a prostitute until you've paid up - there's a consent agreement inherent in the interaction. What this is logically saying is that any man can touch any women if they believe their appearance is inviting it. The clothes don't matter at all, unless you're willing to posit a universal definition of modesty - and if you are, there's an Amish women I'd like you to have a chaperoned conversation with across a very wide table.

Let's get this through our heads, guys: women are not objects, even if they objectify themselves or allow themselves to be objectified. The post of Kate Upton in a bikini on your wall might give you license to touch yourself, but it's not permission to touch her or any other woman. I'm not even sure what that's hard for us to understand.

Ok, that's a lie. I know exactly why that's hard for us to understand: we've been conditioned with 10,000 years of human development and for about 9,900 of them women were literally property - and when they weren't property, they were considered too weak, stupid, or fragile to make decisions for themselves. We live in a society that subtly tells us women can be used and manipulated with a clear conscience - in the last few years, when women are finally being listened to when they disagree with this norm, it's become controversial for some reason.

A woman should be able to walk down the street naked, if she so choose, without getting touched, manhandled, or molested (aside from the arresting officers, I suppose). There's no excuse or justification for that kind of thing. Period.

This meme is asinine on both a logical and practical level... does bring us to the tricky situation of modesty, though.

What should people wear?

The short answer is whatever they want, right? People are people. They have free agency and none of us really agrees on what's "appropriate" or not. We've got some basic public decency laws - but even there we find complications at the margins of the definition. A lot of it boils down to sex - what clothes will keep men from lusting after a woman? The answer is none, really. The lie we've been telling ourselves is that men need a reason to objectify women and it's simply not true.

I mean some clothes might cause more men to lust than others, but even the nature of the dresses in the meme above are only titillating because our society has made them so over time. Those women are out at public events, not bedrooms or brothels - and part of the purpose of those events is specifically to draw attention to them and their various projects.

As the father of a daughter (albeit one who's only five), the logical question to ask me is "would you want your daughter wearing those dresses?" There's a gut reaction "no," because of the world in which we live, but there's a more reasoned answer that says, "it should be her choice, right? Why is my input required." Those are grown women; they get to make their own choices; I want my daughter to make her own choices, even if I don't agree with them.

Of course, it's my job to help teach her how to do that as she gets older.

She's definitely getting to the age where she can process and think critically about decisions, although we still usually have to prompt her to think of alternatives. She's already skittish to have conversations about topics without clear answers or to make her own choices when we don't tell her what's right and wrong - but I presume that changes as they get older.

A year, or so, ago, I was given an article about a facebook post a women wrote concerning what her teenage daughters wear. I've kept it because it focuses on questions they ask their kids (or teach them to ask themselves) about how they make clothing choices - covering things like context, comfort, health, exposure, purpose, etc.

What particularly struck me was the admission by her daughter than people will ogle and objectify her regardless of what she wears, so she's going to wear the clothes she likes and is comfortable wearing. She wasn't going to let the bad practices of others dictate her choices. That's a lesson I'd love for my daughter to learn and it's applicable in many contexts.

The question, "Are you comfortable with the parts of your body that are visible?" takes into account that people might do or say uncomfortable things, even if it's not the fault of the women herself. It also makes kids aware that the world isn't as perfect as it should be, which is something that's often difficult for teenagers to deal with.

Lastly, there's an emphasis on decision - why are you wearing what you're wearing? Are you doing it to show off or be provocative or impress someone? You might be wearing perfectly modest clothes for the wrong reasons and it's a worthwhile question.

I'm not going to repeat the whole thing for you, because you can read it (and you should). There's a real difference between shaming someone from their choices and asking questions which allow us to reflect on our choices. I'm not saying the more revealing dresses in the meme are right or wrong - I suspect they might be good fodder for conversations about our society, the way we view women, and the choices we make in our clothing. At the very most, you can question a person's motives for the decisions they've made, but you can't blame them for the response of others. That's basic human decency and one half of the population really has to work harder to remember the other half is actually human.

Let's get on that; it's WAY overdue.

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