Over winter break, I read Wendy Shalit’s Girls Gone Mild. I meet with the lovely ladies of the CSC once a month to talk about the issues Shalit discusses in her book. It’s a very well-written book, and our meetings have been great. Part of our goal is not just to sit around in our Catholic bubble, talking about things, but to do something. Kaitlyn and I collaborated on our something: a guest column for the campus newspaper, The Diamondback. If it gets published, it will be one of the boldest, most terrifying, most exhilarating things I’ve ever done, but I am confident that I’m doing it for all the right reasons.
Update (4/22/08): It was published today! The responses have been about half positive, half negative. I’ve been called some interesting and profane names, but I don’t regret submitting it at all.
To all girls: You are beautiful. You are not gorgeous because of your hot body or sexy clothes. You are so lovely because you are the crown of creation. To all guys: Help us realize our dignity as women by being real men. We know we’re not blameless, but you can show strength by living up to the challenge of showing all women that they are loved—and by ignoring the alleged Skirt Day. We are all human beings, not just human bodies. When we’re inching toward middle age, and the minis start to look ridiculous, shouldn’t we be assured that love will remain?
Those are sweet sentiments, I know, but words are worthless compared to action. It’s spring. The sun has returned, the cherry blossoms are at their prime, and the girls’ clothes are getting smaller. With warm weather comes the return of super-skimpy clothing. Here at Maryland, where we’re all trying to learn something, eventually get degrees, and have some fun along the way, we’d like to think we’re building a respectful culture. Maybe the women are even finding empowerment, The Vagina Monologues notwithstanding. But when a girl can’t take more than two steps without pausing to pull down her skirt and cover a little more leg, that doesn’t signal power. It signals defeat.
We live in the aftermath of the sexual revolution. Our mothers fought long and hard for the right to wear the micro-minis their moms wouldn’t let them leave the house in. They felt free, but that freedom has been twisted back on our generation. The new oppression makes young women, especially on college campuses, feel compelled to wear immodest clothing. The new feminism emphasizes the innate, dignified, and unique roles of men and women. It is more interested in a cute skirt from Old Navy than a feathered thong from Victoria’s Secret, bought to peek over low-rise jeans accidentally-on-purpose. The detractors against modesty remain, and they don’t even realize they’re complicit. “It’s what in the stores,” says my own mother about my 16-year-old sister’s tight tank tops. “That doesn’t mean you have to buy it,” I think, “and if you keep buying it, they’ll keep making it.”
Don’t think guys play no part in the new oppression. If a guy turns his head after you because you’re not wearing enough clothes, then it’s his fault, too. But if he told you that your modest clothes made you look pretty, wouldn’t that be infinitely better? Guys, who would you rather date: the girl who respects herself—and you—enough to cover up, or the girl that doesn’t care, and won’t care even when your friends start to check her out? Don’t encourage the wild girls. Show the mild girls that you respect them, you want to protect them, and you still desire them.
I have to admit that my own modesty kick is a recent development. I remember the way my ex-boyfriend and male classmates looked at me in miniskirts and low-cut tops. The only reason I felt good was because I knew they were looking at me instead of the other girls, so they had to pay attention to my thoughts and words…when they looked up. Men are inherently visual. Women know this; that’s why the girl is bothering to pull down her skirt instead of moving right along and blaming the men for their lack of self-control. She knows that the spring breeze shouldn’t be hitting that part of her thigh. She doesn’t want to dress that way, but what else can she do?
Rebel! It’s as simple as putting on a t-shirt under that tank or buying a longer shirt for those jeans. You don’t have to ignore your heart when it reminds you that you’re more than a bunch of body parts. You have more to offer than skin. If you don’t want to be treated like an object, don’t give the world a clear view of the objects you want it to look beyond. Grab some leggings for that mini; the 80s are in right now. No one’s saying you have to grow your hair into long pigtails and find dress patterns from Little House on the Prairie. Try some modesty on for size. You might be surprised at how beautiful you become.