Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Girls 4

In all of the debates about women's rights, about assaults on women, about who is responsible, and what we can do about it, I don't think there is a hotter potato than the question of covering.

It's a curious phenomenon, because at the root of it all is a bizarre confession from men, that they are animals with no control over themselves. They don't phrase it like that. Instead, they blame women for wearing provocative clothing.

In many cultures/religions, women are required to cover certain parts of their bodies. This may be more or less. It may involve hiding their true shape, or their legs, or their hair, or even their entire faces. A current trend in the west is to pretend we don't have nipples. The question is, does this protect women from the unwanted advances of men?

It's hard to get real data, because the same societies that insist on this sort of thing, are not those who release official figures on assaults. But we have an idea, based on our own society in Victorian times. Maids were regularly "ruined" by their employers, despite only their hands and faces being visible.

Are women protected by extremes such as the hijab? Many writers from the inside of these societies say no. This is one example, you can Google plenty more:

From the reading I have done over the decades, I have concluded that assaults on women are actually greater in societies with such dress codes. I can't prove it, I doubt anyone can, but I believe it to be so.

So, we must ask ourselves, at which point is the other extreme? At which point does clothing becomes so skimpy that it justifies assault? I said justifies. Not explains, or makes more likely, but justifies. What do you say?

My guess is that you'll say it is never justified. And yet in our society we do, openly or secretly, frequently say "Well, look what she was wearing....." We will all say that even a naked woman has the right to be left alone, but we still see certain women as underdressed. We each have our own line in the sand as to what is modest, or conservative, or decent, and as to what is provocative.

In discussions on this topic, men frequently say that they find clothing with a little mystery to be the most exciting. Indeed in olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking......and a shapely ankle could drive a man wild. So, covering up may not be any solution at all, it could have the opposite effect.

At the very least, to be dull and biological, the human birth rate ballooned after we started to wear clothes. Now, I assume the reason for the boom in our numbers was more to do with other factors - civilization not only led to clothing, it also led to higher survival rates, but the point is that covering ourselves up didn't do any harm. The natural desires of men were not damaged in any way by clothing.

If we did properly conducted research, not guesses, into male desires and behaviours, in various societies, we might find out once and for all what I strongly suspect, which is that it makes absolutely no difference what women wear. From fig leaves to burqas, men's behaviour is more affected by their own upbringing, beliefs, personality, and mental health, than by anything a woman wears. Passing the buck, putting the responsibility on women, is that good old "blame the victim" mentality.

Does this mean it's "sensible" for women to dress modestly? This is the argument usually put forward. Be reasonable, have some common sense.

The problem here is that there are so many possible definitions of what reasonable is. What seems likes a common sense level of covering to one person, may seem quite absurd to another. Again, upbringing and personality. Some women will tell you they prefer to dress modestly, they feel naked and vulnerable in strappy tops for example. An enormous amount of the comfort levels we each have are to do with what we are used to.

Even within the covered societies there are "levels". You may or may not be familiar with these terms:

I have been told by Muslim women that not only does a woman used to wearing the hijab feel naked without it, but a woman used to a burqa feels naked with just hijab. These feelings are perfectly real, and some women can get over them completely, some partially, and some not at all. To a Muslimah who has worn hijab her whole life, it seems perfectly reasonable, it is her level of common sense.

Personally, I would have no difficulty being naked in public. There is a classic dream where one finds oneself in this situation, and it causes great anguish or shame. This dream is interpreted in many ways. When I have this dream, I'm doing it on purpose, and quite comfortable with it, so I'm not quite sure how that would be interpreted. I assure you it has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with a desire to allure men. I may well use it someday to provoke other strong feelings, to shock, to protest, because it seems to have quite a controversial effect there:

As you can see, views on this sort of thing vary widely, and for many reasons. I don't believe consensus is actually possible, because of individual attitudes.

And here's my reasoning. I do not view my naked body as anything sexual. To ascribe sexual motives to nudity is to project your own views. Naked is just what we are, and we cover it up. On this cold April morning, there's good reason too, since we don't have fur. I wonder, if we DID have fur, would any of this happen? Would we wear clothes? Would we care about nudity? Does the covering of hair suggest that we would, or does it mean something else?

It's interesting that we refer to hairless creatures as "naked" suggesting that we view skin as the forbidden thing, at some levels. It's also interesting that we fooled ourselves for many years that sheer stockings, which were dyed to look exactly the same colour as skin, were considered a garment, a covering, and that women wearing no stockings were considered underdressed.

More tomorrow.


  1. Interesting topic. Good, strong arguments. I vote common sense and a little modesty, but that's me.

    No, provocative clothing is no excuse for rape, but I still vote common sense and a little modesty.

    1. But did you get my point that "common sense, and a little modesty" is an elusive definition. If you were told to wear a scarf on your head for common sense and a little modesty, would you just accept it?

  2. You are right, "common sense, and a little modesty" are hard to define as it must defined by the views of others and one might not KNOW the views of the others that sit in judgement.

    In many religions (I am speaking of what I have seen in the USA), a woman is to wear a hat or a scarf to indicate that she acknowledges there is a power between her and god. That power belongs to (drumroll) MEN! That particular attitude is part of the reason I reject religion. Clothing is sometimes used to demonstrate (and enforce) the acquiescence of women to men.

    1. Yes, it is. In many and various ways, and I contend that most of the time we don't even think about it. It is extremely unusual for dress codes to apply equally to men.

  3. I, for one, appreciate your review (and views!) you are scribing on this entire subject, Mel. I need to share this article from ABC News online that you may have seen. Hopefully you can see this link well on your end, and please notice the way the page is laid out:

    It seems the media (at least ABC) is being [kind enough?] to focus a selection of videos/stories on the topic of sexual assault on young women and its lethal effect. Maybe not all that surprising are the "added stories" and "news from around the web" links near the bottom. If the death loss by suicide of young women who have been abused wasn't bad enough, there's an article letting us know that "Better sex is all in the" helpful can the media be? :/

    It does not seem to matter how much or little we wear, whether we have hair/fur or not. It is also little wonder such things as clothing (more or less thereof) can be afforded scapegoat/blame status.

    I recall reading The Rape of Nanking years ago ( As long as we are taking a critical look at clothing, culture, mindset, or how any of these facets can change or influence a situation, I appreciate the safer/tamer, esoteric look at whether any of these factors can make a difference. Knowing some of the horror that can exist in humankind (which we bring about), there can probably be an even greater discussion to be had. ~ Blessings! :)

  4. I don't think we will ever fix the problem completely because we will always have humans with a lusty drive and we will always have stupid people. Any time you combine those two you'll get bad decisions and the refusal to tow the line no matter how well the culture is set up. But we can do a lot better than we do. We can start by each playing a part. All the time we have indiviuals denying responsibility because "that's what the customers demand", "but it was was what my daughter asked me for", "well, she gets these ideas from school", "there's nothing I can do about it", we are not going to get any further. Everyone can help, even if it's only by saying "aye" to change.