I recently read an article about a controversy at a Brazilian high school regarding a “no short shorts” policy. A 16-year old girl was being applauded for mobilizing her classmates to sign a petition to do away with a sexist policy requiring girls to dress in “non-provocative” clothing by prohibiting items such as short shorts, after all boys were not required to hide their legs. At face value, the demand seems fair enough. Why should girls be required to hide their legs only because boys might find them distracting. The rule is arbitrary at best and sexist at worst. Shouldn’t we strive for a society where men and women are treated equally? After all, in Europe women regularly bathe topless at public beaches and the behavior is seen as natural and healthy. European men seem to have achieved a maturity that other men lack in the face of nudity. Moreover, if we as a society yield to pressures by conservative forces to cover women up, we will soon witness a generalized maltreatment of all women similar to that seen in Muslim cultures. Shouldn’t we expect more from men? Shouldn’t men learn to control their sexual urges? Why should women pay the price for their immaturity? Where will it end? This line of reasoning fails to acknowledge certain fundamental truths about human nature, particularly human sexuality.
A reasonable compromise might be to require the same dress code of boys. If girls aren’t allowed to show their legs, neither should boys. This compromise seems to recognize the inherent sexual differences between men and women while achieving a common denominator of fairness. However, this line of reasoning also fails in that it is counterproductive to the very idea it intends to uphold: equality. The idea of a gender-less society is dangerous and will ultimately lead to the oppression of both sexes. We don’t need to imagine a world where gender is suppressed. We already live in one. Boys today are taught that it is wrong to acknowledge physical differences in strength between themselves and girls. Boys are bombarded with the idea that there is nothing girls can’t do better. I will submit that most boys today passively absorb this notion and incorporate it with a sense of inferiority. This is undoubtedly the pendulum of cruelty finally swinging back at men; however, it is celebrated as justice rather than recognized as petty vengeance. The result is the alienation of boys who ultimately will not disobey their own biology. The effects are already seen as teenage boys attempt to escape this repression by manifesting their masculinity by consuming pornography. Pornography today leaves nothing to the imagination. Pornography today cleverly caters to the most visceral and raw human appetites by bringing out the worst of both men and women. Through pornography, women (and men) are demeaned, objectified, and stripped of all human dignity. Today, it is impossible to pretend that pornography is art – an argument that many might have been appealed to at the height of Playboy magazine era. The dangers of pornography are already understood but still ignored by many. Rape today is an epidemic. Boys are indoctrinated with the idea that boys and girls are “equal” but the nuances of this parity are never properly communicated. As a result, boys unrealistically expect girls to share the same sexual cravings they do – a notion that is reinforced by pornography. Tragically, girls are also brainwashed with the same idea and end up objectifying themselves. This dynamic probably incurs long lasting emotional effects and self-image problems on both men and women.
I find it ironic that we pretend to “embrace” diversity but we silence voices that celebrate the natural differences between men and women. I have recently read more than one article on experiments with “gender-less” bathrooms or locker rooms around the country and the problems they create. We’ve come to believe that we’ve finally tamed nature and it’s time to ignore gender. No amount of technology will undo millions of years of evolution. For this reason, a topless woman at the beach will always be very different from a topless man at the beach. Why is it then that some cultures don’t seem to have a problem with nakedness? Are we really seeing the entire picture? I can tell you that pornography is no less of a problem in Europe than it is in any other part of the world. The fact that some men have been dulled to the sight of a naked woman speaks only to the societal norms that have developed and not necessarily to the actual health of men, women, and their relationships. Coincidentally or not, European divorce rates are not only higher than US divorce rates, their marriage rates are lower. Maybe the dangerously low European fertility rates could benefit from a little prudishness.
Should 14-year old girls be allowed to wear tiny skin tight shorts to school? I suppose. It’s a free world. Is it wise? Doubtful. I fail to see the virtue in exploiting the super-sexualization of girls (or women of any age). Female sexuality is now understood and promoted in strictly male terms. The entertainment industry feeds girls a contradictory version of “female empowerment” where women express power through a false image of sexual dominance (one that many men are all to eager to accept and delight in). It would be hard to find a man who would not prefer to see women wear less clothing. The exploration of the role that men and women play in this vicious cycle is often met with accusations of ‘victim blaming‘. This tactic has stalled the conversation and has further victimized women by portraying them as helpless. Assigning blame is a fruitless enterprise and expecting (or requiring) sartorial modesty from girls is not blaming the victim. Consider the social injustices that drive people to a life of crime. While we ought to hold people accountable for their actions, it would be a greater crime to ignore the circumstances of their lives and upbringing that may have contributed to their decisions. Men and women are different and thrive under different expectations and given different opportunities. Furthermore, I would argue that patronizing girls by reaffirming that they can ‘also’ do what men do does more harm by casting doubt where there may not be any to begin with. Is it not important to teach young girls that their greatest gift is their mind? Do we not make that task more difficult by promoting a more sexually permissive culture with the wrong role models?
We have arguably left an era of female repression and are entering a new era of male repression. It can only be called “repression” because roles of perceived dominance by one sex over the other are confusing and misunderstood. I envision an era of mutual cooperation. An era when men and women are honest with each other about their weaknesses and strengths and chose to compliment each other in a healthy way.