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July 07, 2006


The Happy Feminist

Right! Also, merely dressing more modestly does very little to change men's thoughts or behavior. In some parts of the world, a flash of a woman's ankle or wrists is said to drive men to uncontrollable lust. Even here in the U.S., I have gotten salacious comments or looks even when dressed quite conservatively and so have most women I know. Once we start holding women responsible for men's responses to how we dress, it never ends.

As for whether women should be relieved of responsibility for how they dress: I believe that both sexes have a social responsibility to dress appropriately for whatever occasion they are participating in. I don't think a woman should dress in sausage casing for church or court or the office or school but I don't think a man should wear a muscle shirt or a plunging neckline on those occasions either. But even if someone dresses inappropriately for a particular event, we all have a social responsibility to pretend not to notice and to be ourteous to the individual even if he or she has made some unfortunate clothing choices. Certainly another person's bad dressing does not relieve me of my responsibility to be kind and polite to that person and, as Hugo has observed before, to respect that person's humanity. I look far more askance at someone who fails the responsibility to be polite than someone who dresses badly.

Good manners, people. It's not that hard.


There is always common sense and parental involvement --


Clothes provide signals to the viewer. It is up to parents, youth leaders and peers to help a young person understand what signal a young man or woman is sending. Whether it is modest, religious, skank, slob, goth or biker, your dress does tell a story. Might as well send the message you intend to send.


Or, rainbow, you can appreciate that you're not what you wear and that there are better ways to judge what a person is about.

The Happy Feminist

The other thing is that there is no reason to think that a woman sending a particular message with clothing ever gives a license to a man to do whatever he wants.

I bet most women on the planet have at some point or another dressed to send a message that "I'm pretty!" or "I'm sexy!" or "I have a nice body." Certainly there have been many occasions when I have dressed to send those kinds of messages and I have enjoyed the fact that people, and men in particular, may have been thinking, "She's pretty!" or "She's sexy!" or "She has a nice body." I don't see how in any way that can be said to provide a license to someone to yell, "Nice rack!" or try to coerce sex or in any other way override my basic right to respect.


There is such a thing as community and culture. Clothing is part of belonging, not belonging to a particular milieu. Wear thigh high boots, a bra, no blouse, a miniskirt and stand on Hollywood Blvd. , proclaiming your right to express yourself. No one will mistake you for Julia Roberts filming a movie.


Since I've been, um, tempted to dress slightly more revealing these hot summer days and just in general for some reason, I find this post very, very insightful. Thank you! This post echoes the truthful lectures you shared in class, and I loved it.


"Perplexed", for example, writing about men's ability to control the urge to stare at women's bodies, says

I think it's more about a hardwired response in men - it's an arresting sight - something men are compelled to view, often against their better judgement.

Hugo, to quote yourself before you contradict yourself further - quoted form here:-

Two girls in the back row began to whisper furiously, passing a note back and forth with great alacrity, all the while staring with undisguised hostility at the object of all of this attention. Of course, many others were carefully observing me, trying to see if I was "checking out" my scantily-clad student. It was distracting for everyone.

The blame, according to the article I quote, lies apparently not with the audience who seem subjected to an annoyance, but the woman who dressed inappropriately.

Yet, according to your latest post, it apears that everyone is wrong and the women dressing inappropriately has a right to dress inappropriately!

Another quote:-

What saddens me most is not the fact that my students tend to pay less attention to me in a situation like this one (though I confess that does bother me, naturally), it is that so many people - especially my female students - are left feeling uncomfortable.

More tellingly:-

When the warmer weather comes, and exposed flesh begins to appear in larger splashes and patches, the anxiety level can be palpable! Here at my immensely diverse community college, it is not uncommon for some women to snarl sotto voce "who does she think she is" when they see a fellow student on display. Meanwhile, many of my male students can barely focus on the work before them.

The bolded quote would appear that women's reactions to bare flesh should be kept in check. What do you propose, Hugo? Surely they are at fault here, since the barer of flesh is not to blame.

The unequivocal contradiction to your latest article:-

I recognize as well that revealing dress fosters a culture of competition, even among college-aged women, and that competitiveness does irreparable damage to the already fragile bonds of gender solidarity that those of us in this field are working so hard to foster.

Where do you stand Hugo?


Perplexed, in the sisterhood article I'm acknowledging the sad reality created by a culture that does hold women accountable and lets men off scot-free. "Sisterhood" is the piece in which I acknowledge the problem -- this piece is about the solution.

What creates the distraction is not the scantily clad woman per se; what creates the distraction is the collective reaction to her, a reaction that is culturally and socially conditioned. There is no contradiction.


And as far as other women reacting with hostility to a gal wearing a mini-skirt, women react with hostility because they have been taught it is their collective responsibility to police their sisters. And I do think that suspending judgment and condemnation of other women and their bodies/clothing choices is a key part of the feminist journey.


You're tired of hearing about biology and nature, I realise that. But Hugo, you're starting to sound like a social engineer now, Marxist even.

Nature is wonderful, but also cruel and arbitrary. It sometimes takes courage to look at nature with a naked eye and just accept it for what it is, and then decide how to deal with it.

But nature is also roughly half the equation of human behaviour, so get used to that fact, and build your worldview around that fact.

Refining and improving human behaviour is about controlling our natural urges, and not changing some imaginary behaviour patterns supposedly engineered by The Patriarchy for who-knows whatever reasons they had (if they ever existed).

Amanda Marcotte

To make it simple, I would point out that the "testosterone" argument may look like a "biology makes us do it", but it's a way of saying that a) only men have these urges and that b) therefore the instruction not to look is coming from women who have "penis envy".


I find that analogies work only to explain to another something that that individual doesn’t understand and more then likely would be in agreement with the elucidation. The urinary sphincter is under voluntary control—hormones are not. But I agree with you, men should be responsible for their ogling.

I also agree with you that men should usually censor themselves and minimize their criticism of women (mentioned in not so many words). Say if feminist/ pro feminist were as concerned about hormonal changes during menstruation and the behavior they exhibit during such times, then I could lend an ear to their critiques of how men should get it under control during similar hormonal challenges.

If we should exhibit control of our hormones then your argument begs the next question. Why masturbate? In part, the drive to masturbate must be hormonal. What are the limits to control here? Do we do it for pleasure? I could take pleasure in staring at a fine woman and not blame her for her attire. Are we socially conditioned to believe an ogle or whistle is bad when it hurts no one? If it really does hurt someone, is that because of social conditioning? If we suspend the chicken and the egg argument, we are left with both needing to take some responsibilities.

Amanda Marcotte

I'd like to add to Happy's comment about how the body part that supposedly creates "uncontrollable" lust in men changes from culture to culture. While the exact body part isn't consistent across cultures, which eliminates the "nature" argument, the social meaning of showing it always is---the part that creates "uncontrollable" lust is always a part that is socially unacceptable in public and often illegal. The rapes that follow are often characterized explicitly as punishment for the woman for her defiance and her behavior of polluting a "male" space with her female body. She shouldn't be *there* (male-defined space) looking like *that* (female).

What's telling is that the reaction to a breast being taken out to breastfeed isn't characterized as an uncontrollable response, due to the social status of mothers of newborns. With the testosterone excuse stripped from them, we can see what is motivating men who abuse women for having female body parts in public. They get *angry* with these women. Ask any woman who's had a man bitch at her for this.

There's not really any male body parts that are equivalent to female thighs or breasts, in that they get exposed and the result is an angry/violent reaction. It's either just appropriate or inappropriate, but it's never an excuse for that man to be raped.


I believe the pathology of one who rapes is beyond an exposed breast or mini skirt.


Paul: Our hormones are not under control, but both our eyes and hands are; I, for one, have managed to nicely curb my urge to masturbate wildly in public.


I also believe the pathology of one who rapes is beyond an exposed breast or mini-skirt. Especially since the men I care about would stop having sex even if nearing orgasm if the women they were with suffered a sudden leg cramp or banged her head or whatever.


I happen to love this analogy, Hugo...it makes perfect sense, and includes a sense of shame for people who say they can't help peeing on themselves in public (chortle). I know, I know. Shame. But somehow, I'm annoyed at men's usage of the "just can't help myself" excuse. I regularly see men whom I find downright HOT (it's a perk of gym membership, right?). But, even if I want to steal a glance here and there, I ensure any interaction I have with the man is respectful -- maybe a compliment, not a catcall.


Paul, masturbation is for pleasure. It is not hurting me to go and play with myself.

It is hurting someone to turn them into an object. That's the difference.




It is hurting someone to turn them into an object. That's the difference.

He's not turning anyone into an object. It's just your social conditioning that causes you to reach that conclusion. You have control over it.


What do you mean by turning someone into an object? If you are attracted to someone and you are interested in being with them, that is not turning them into an object is it? Is looking at them with lust turning them into an object? I don't know, I'm not from this country so I do not unserstand American thinking. What is turning into an object?


Quentin; I'm sure you have very good ideas, sweetheart; but man. Look at the Q on you. It's hot.


Hah?? You got me man. What's hot about a Q?


C'mon bill. I can't go there without getting rude. Just look at it. So capitalized. So round. With that little tail...


Why Arwen, I don't have one of those, I don't even have a tail! You're silly! I've never had one of those. But thank you for saying so anyway.

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