5 Ways People Police Women Who Dress “Immodestly”

Originally published on Feminspire and cross-posted here with their permission. 

This morning, as I ventured onto Facebook to see if anything interesting had happened during the night hours, I noticed a picture that a relative had posted. It had a little piggy on it, and generally I like little piggies, so I clicked on it.

download (1)Then I saw what the picture says (it was one of those e-cards that no one actually emails to each other anymore). “Dear Girls, Dressing immodestly is like rolling around in manure. You’ll get attention but mostly from pigs. Sincerely, Real Men.”

It got me thinking about other things people say about immodesty, and why those things shouldn’t matter.

1. “You’ll never attract a “real man” dressed like that.”

Yes, because my idea of a “real man” is someone who is going to judge my whole personality based on the way I’m dressed. Like my idea of a “real man” is someone who feels the need to dictate what I wear and how I look.

Sure, I’d love to attract the attention of a “real man” who’s going to try and suppress my freedom of expression. Who put a man in charge of deciding what’s decent for a woman to wear, anyways? And who says I have to be attracted to men?

The above e-card insinuates that some men actually feel the need to try and grasp some control or validate some opinion on what women wear. But the fact of the matter is, they are not women.

They’re just expressing an opinion, which is fine. But when the expression of an opinion crosses the line, reaches into the cookie jar of control, and takes whatever the hell it’s hungry for, that is not okay. In short, what I wear is no man’s (or frankly, anyone’s) business.

2. “But aren’t you afraid you’ll look like ‘slut’?”

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The idea of being a “slutty” or immodest is a social structure. In the Victorian era, it was considered immodest for women to show their ankles. The idea of immodesty is not concrete and changes throughout history. In forty years, who knows what we will consider acceptable? Maybe women will finally be able to mow their lawns topless like men do.

In addition to constantly changing in its definition, the term “slut” is also gendered and applied mostly to women.

There is no equal term applied only to men. Actually, most of the time, sexual promiscuousness in a male social circle is viewed as an achievement.

In the female social system, especially to outside men, “sluttiness” devalues the woman as an individual.

And you expect me to make my clothing choices based on a double standard?

I’ll take the bikini, please.

3. “But how will you find a good job or maintain a good reputation if you dress like that?”

I go to college, I have three jobs, and on a daily basis I am subjected to people who will possibly make snap judgments about me based on my appearance. I want people to understand that they are wrong for looking at my crop top as a signifier of desperation or thoughtlessness.

In fact, I think a lot, especially about what my appearance says about me. Surprise! A girl can dress how she wants and have significant, deep thoughts about the world around her.

I’m respected by the people that matter to me, the ones who aren’t so shallow that they would judge me based on what I wear.

I refuse to conform to the idea that someone who dares to be an individual and reject society’s standards is someone whose opinions don’t matter. I can wear what I want, I can be strong, I can be smart, and I can be important, even in these teeny tiny shorts.

4. “But you don’t have the body for that…”

I don’t have the kind of body you’d see in a magazine or running across a beach in a swimsuit commercial. I have chubby legs and a butt that practically has its own zip code. And that is OK. This body is my own and I love it. 

I wear what I want because I deserve to wear outfits I like and feel just as cute as those airbrushed models in the magazines. The way I dress, with a low-cut top or my legs displayed for the world to see, cellulite and all, shows others that the world will NOT END if you see my cottage cheese thighs.

Hiding a socially imperfect body away is just going to show everyone that that imperfection is not okay. Imperfection is not wrong and perfection is just a social construct.

5. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll be harassed or raped?”

This is the question that absolutely sends me into fits of rage. I can’t even think about it for too long before I feel an uncontrollable urge to throw myself to the ground, scream, and bang my fists on the carpet like a child.

Yes, of course it’s perfectly legitimate to assume that the men of this world absolutely cannot control themselves when faced with a miniskirt. Boys will be boys, right?

That’s not insulting at all.  Also, that’s like suggesting we teach our women how to not get raped rather than teach our men not to rape.

I’m not going to let some asshole’s whistling or crude remarks keep me from wearing what I want to wear. I’m not going to let a close-minded conservative viewpoint push me into the closet.

Why do we always feel the need to hide ourselves? We are constantly hiding ourselves because it’s easier. It’s easier than facing the world of hurt that comes with being who you are and who you want to be.

But hiding only encourages the oppressors’ judgmental behavior by enforcing the idea that who you are is something to be hidden and ashamed of.

I won’t allow fear and shame to control my appearance. The day I cover up my body, ashamed of how I look because my body doesn’t meet someone else’s crazy standards of modesty or anything else, is the day that I am defeated.

The day that our society’s unrealistic expectations of women keeps me from being who I am is the day that the judgmental, arrogant, and opinionated people win.

Rebecca F. Pitzer is a contributor at Feminspire, an online publication featuring a global collection of female voices. She is a student at Rhode Island College who’s majoring in Secondary Education English with a minor in Creative Writing. Her favorite authors are Kate Chopin, James Baldwin, and Alison Bechdel. Her hobbies include thinking about semantics, writing things that make people argue, and playing with/torturing her boyfriend’s cat. Like Feminspire’s Facebook page or follow them on Twitter @Feminspire.