Wednesday, November 16, 2011

FFB: Sexuality and harassment

Jeans: J Crew
Tee: Target
Scarf: Target
Belt: thrifted
Jacket: Land's End Canvas (gift from my mom)
Shoes: Steve Madden (ditto)
Bag: thrifted
Earrings: Turkey

So, first off, a million thanks for all the amazing comments on the last post. I've been humbled and overwhelmed with gratitude with the responses I've gotten from people I know in real life and people I've only ever met online. To be honest, I thought this would finally be the post when I got negative comments, but they never came. Everyone has been amazing, and for that, I thank you. I truly have amazing readers and friends.

Second, it's time for another FFB post. I totally forgot to post last month, though I've still the idea for a post kicking around in my head, so I didn't want to forget this time around. This month's topic is sexuality, you know, just to keep things light around here because that's how I roll.

I've been thinking a lot about modesty and harassment these days, partly because I read this article, partly because I work with teenagers, and partly because of the culture in which I live. To be really honest, I can't use the word "modest" to describe my own style. Not that I don't think I dress modestly, because I do and people tell me this a lot. That's fine. What's not fine is the association I have when it comes to that word. When I was about sixteen or so, this guy at our church basically told me that the way I dressed was "causing boys to stumble" which, as a feisty and articulate teenager, pretty much pissed me off, and I let him know that. I mean, my parents were still buying my clothes (and vetoing a lot of my sartorial choices) and they didn't have a problem with it. Besides, were the guys then not at all responsible for the way they reacted? Oh, and by the way, what was I supposed to do when I was wearing men's jeans and girl's tee shirts and STILL getting inappropriate comments from the boys at school? Because as far as I could tell, causing someone to stumble was not an exclusively female trait.

And I know, I should probably not be holding on to instances like this one (because, yes, there were instances. Plural.) and letting them color the way I view the word "modesty", because it's a perfectly innocuous word. It's fine. It's even good in some ways. It's just that in my brain, it's so inextricably linked to these types of experiences and power differentials that I just can't. And to say that it's this kind of thing that will suddenly throw up walls of protection around every woman in the world is just wrong. Because that doesn't work, and I know this. I live in a culture where men are expected to show their manliness by making comments about the women in their presence, especially the women they don't know. I can't walk to work without getting a look (you know the kind), a comment, a whistle, or a honk. I just give my best side eye and carry on. But you know what? It's infuriating and dehumanizing sometimes, and I hate it. And I'm covered up!

I'm almost thirty. I've found ways to fight it, both publicly and privately, but when I think of my students? It just breaks my heart because we keep telling them that if they'd just cover up a little bit more, they'd avoid it. But it doesn't work like that. I cover up because I'm more comfortable that way, because I get cold easily, because it's more practical for my job, but not because it's going to magically keep people from making all kinds of unsolicited comments and / or assumptions about me and my body. I've lived through too much to think it works that way.


  1. La sabana! :) I loved this blog, it's so true, specially here in CR. You can't walk through san jose without someone saying something to you in one moment or another. It pisses me off, and there have been days when I do turn around and say something back, and then people say that I'm disrespectful? no no no I'm standing up for what is mine, and as you say it happens whether you are covered up or not. We need to be realistic and instead of harrasing the teenage women nowadays by saying that if they cover up then no one will say a thing, start spreading some culture to the men and teenagers around us. So that they can have a little intelligence before speaking with stupidity in hand.

  2. I find the concept of modesty very difficult to get my head around. I really, really don't like the thinking of girls tempting boys that goes with it so I agree with everything you say. Thankfully I don't live in a culture where men feel they have the right to comment on women's appearance in such a derogatory and public way.

    I've written about modesty before if you're interested:

  3. Another good one! And one more time you made me cry! I am so proud of you... God made you special, very special.
    Me inspiras a escribir cosas que antes no me atrevia.

  4. You look beatifull!! like a real famous model.GBY!! love you girl.

  5. Amazing post! I can totally relate! Even though I dress "modestly" by choice I can't even wear shorts in summer because of the catcalls about my legs. My daughter asked me why I don't wear shorts and I told here the truth: because men yell at me. She was outraged and said "That's harassment! That should be illegal!" Of course she's right and my heart breaks a little realizing what she has ahead of her.

  6. I'm with you on disliking the word modesty and the associations that come with it - it all seems pretty negative to me. But I'm also one who dresses 'modestly' and does so exactly for some of the reasons you outlined. I don't need to further encourage the catcalls and whistles by wearing something low and revealing. I also don't want a guy to be so distracted by my chest that he can't even remember that I have a face. So while I do think the word modesty needs to be re-defined to be positive and uplifting, I also think we still need to tell high school girls of the importance of dressing according to their dignity. Just my two cents.


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