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July 25, 2006



This is a great follow-up to the modesty series, Hugo, because it gets at why I feel so bothered, as a woman, by the very sexualized clothing that has become the norm for young women. I'm not comfortable dressing very provocatively because it doesn't reflect who I am - but still feel a certain amount of pressure (even at age 34!) in that direction in order to prove I'm keeping up with other women in terms of youth and attractiveness. I would feel a little better if gentility and poise were valued more than mere flesh-baring.

Phil Hoover

But as CHRISTIANS we are instructed to dress "modestly."

We can't expect that from folks who don't know, claim, or love Jesus Christ.

But we believers can definitely show modesty in all that we do, particularly in how we dress.

Q Grrl

"I realize it's problematic for a fortyish man from a relatively privileged background to "tut-tut" with annoyance at the realities of the "attractiveness market" on which so many (but by no means all) of my young female students compete. But as I've said over and over again, at least part of living a feminist life is learning not to see other women as rivals. You can't be committed to women's liberation and see other attractive women as one's enemies."

Oh, Hugo. Don't you realize they'll grow out of it? Don't you realize they just want to be players, explore their sexuality, and then return to feminism when and if it suits them as middle-aged women?

What was your advice to "Pete" two months ago:

"I laughed gently, and reminded Pete of Augustine's famous plea: "Give me continence, Lord, but not yet!" Pete got it, and chuckled too."

You seem to be getting a little obsessed with the social conduct of women, what they wear, etc., embuing it with a certain sense of alarm and call to action. Yet when you have a young man in front of you who explicitly states that he wishes to treat women as less-than, as objects for his sexual gratification, you gently chuckle and tell him it will be o-kay.

It appears your grasp of what feminism is and what its politics are is slipping a tad bit.

Ilkka Kokkarinen

If you don't believe me, visit any American community college on a hot day -- and then visit an elite university in the same weather. You'll see more mini-skirts and heels in five minutes at Pasadena City College than you will in five hours at Berkeley or Stanford. That's anecdotal, sure, but don't take my word for it -- try it yourself.

I remember when I once wrote myself pretty much almost those exact same words, in a discussion about the way that the average college-aged women look like. For that, I later read a feminist write that I was "a creep who likes to check out his students". And I didn't even propose that my readers should also go on to enjoy their male privilege of freely ogling hot young women.

Somehow, I just don't expect that Hugo will get the same reaction from his feminist readers for writing such an open admission that he likes to check out the hot young coeds, and even encouraging other men to do the same. I guess that the rules just are different when you are a sensitive and morally superior socialist, like Hugo here.


Um, Ilkka -- "checking out" is not what I'm referring to. There's a monumental distinction between social observation and gazing with lust; plenty of women can observe the same things I'm referring to without a sexualized response. If you imply prurient interest on my part, go ahead -- I can't stop you. Most MRAs think I'm either a sexual predator in sheep's clothing, secretly gay, or filled with toxic levels of self-loathing. Nothing I say can disprove any of these things, and I won't try -- those who know me, know my heart and trust my thoughts.

Q Grrl, I write more about the young because, um, I teach in a college filled with young people and I do youth ministry. Forgive me for being focused professionally on the concerns of the 15-22 year-old set.

If a woman with one of these shirts came to me for advice, as "Pete" did, I would treat her with the same gentle encouragement as I did him. Challenge, yes; confront, no.

Q Grrl

And FWIW, focusing on the potential hostility of a T-shirt and how that manifests as competition for women, while ignoring rampant institutionalized sexism at the hands of men, the use of rape as a normative sexualization of females (again at the hands of men), domestic violence at the hands of men, the criminalization of women's bodies (i.e., public breastfeeding), the criminalization of motherhood, the government's official standpoint on women's bodies as "pre-pregnant", etc. etc. etc., is not feminist critique.

You're finding easy targets that suit your comfort levels, and which barely affect you, a man. You get to stand in judgement, proclaim that something is feminist or not, and you're barely affected by it. It's mental gymnastics, really.

I mean, how many other men have waxed poetic about the inherent immorality of cat fights before? How are you any different?


Q Grrl, I wrote an entire series of posts in which I defended women's right to wear what they please against men who feel threatened and aroused. You tend to show up here to rebuke me when I stray from the topics you think I should be focusing on -- but when I do focus on topics that hold men accountable, you are less regular a presence. I'm not fishing for compliments, but it isn't entirely fair to only comment when you disagree. Or do you find all of my posts equally objectionable?

Q Grrl

No Hugo, you don't get to wiggle out of this so easily. You're already condemning the choices these women make, in print, on your blog, to a degree that you couldn't bring to bear on "Pete" and his conundrum. You're already moralizing the T-shirts; which is in direct conflict with your approach to Pete and his desire to use women for his sexual gratification. You painted Pete as a rosy-cheeked, lost-yet-earnest-seeker. Yet the T-shirt wearing girls here are painted as aggressive, competitive, willing to hurt other women, etc.

Nice one Hugo. Nice.

Q Grrl

I tend to post when you claim something is "feminist" when it is clear that you are making "feminist" mean what you want it to mean. You make claims that I don't see women making about feminism and I think you are wrong.

As for not chiming in on the male arousal issue, you're wrong, I did. Several times.

Q Grrl

For example, when Pete said:

"Why shouldn't I wait to be a pro-feminist man until I'm older, when women will appreciate it? Why shouldn't I be a player now, and have my fun?"

You ultimately condoned it and implied that he should do exactly this because: "Constant, anxious solicitousness is not, um, sexy."

Yet above, these women, just by wearing T-shirts are:

"But if she wears a "Tell Your Boyfriend I Said Thanks" shirt , she's being quite deliberate about her desire to elevate her own status in a mildly shocking but deeply competitive manner. For that she is responsible, as in a small but significant way, she's choosing to be actively hostile towards other women."



Your hypocrisy is that Pete admitted to wanting to embrace an actively hostile sexual view of women (women as objects for his desire and desirability; his ego playing out on the bodies of women). He similarly admitted to a deeply competitive view of women when he admitted his desire to be a player.

It doesn't get much clearer than that.

You have a double standard which has become increasingly more obvious over the past several months. And your defense of it all seems to hinge on the fact that you counsel youth! God help those girls that are actively receiving the brunt of your double standards.

Col Steve

You're already condemning the choices these women make, in print, on your blog, to a degree that you couldn't bring to bear on "Pete" and his conundrum.

In fairness to Hugo, arguing for equal criticism because of the degree of comparability of the issues and approaches between this post and his 6 June post is exceptionally sensitive to context. Saying "this is like that" is often problematic becuase "this" is actually not at all like "that" when you do more than just a superficial comparison.


Q Grrl, I never, ever, ever, condoned being a player. I acknowledged that transitioning out of bad behavior isn't easy, and that's a different thing. I wanted Pete to change, and change incrementally if he couldn't change instantly. As they say in AA, it's all about "progress, not perfection." That's the same standard I would use with a woman.

Here's the difference between these two posts: with Pete (really Carlos, since he posted here), I was talking about an interaction I had with a specific student. With the t-shirt wearers, I'm describing an observation I have made without benefit of a similar discussion. That, not a double standard, accounts for the differenc in tone.

God help those girls that are actively receiving the brunt of your double standards.

FWIW, I pray for God's help in the lives of all young people with whom I come in contact!


Q Grrl,

It seems to me that Hugo is giving the SAME advice in both cases: if women dislike you doing X, don't do X.

In Pete's case, his question was--if I act in what I think is a feminist manner, women don't like it--why should I keep acting that way?

In this case, the issue is--if women make dressing a competition, many women don't like it.

In both cases, Hugo's advice is--try to do what's right, but do what women like and avoid what they don't.


I too am guilty of seeing girls wear those kinds of shirts and thinking, "How TACKY!" As a feminist, I am called to love all girls regardless of what they wear, and it still an area of my life that I need to work on. But it is important to note that guys also wear extremely vulgar shirts (similar to the ones you described) all the time. In fact, I think I see them more often on guys than on girls. Once, I went to a store that sold swords but was kind of distracted by the clerk's shirt. It said, "Ten things guys know about girls" 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.GIRLS HAVE BOOBS! I would've told the manager, but he WAS the manager. Another frequent shirt I see guys wear is "No Ma'am." And also, "How to score chicks." Others reference to getting blow jobs and the like. All you need to do is walk into Hot Topic or visit www.tshirthell.com and find tons of these kinds of shirts. I am annoyed and offended by the popularity and message of these kinds of shirts, regardless of the gender of the wearer. But as a Christian and feminist, I strive to NOT judge the person who wears them but rather the shirt itself.


I think this might be the 2nd time in succession, but I agree with Q Grrll in terms of the double standard.

Surely women who see another woman wearing sexy clothing as 'competitive' need to deal with their reactions to such clothing, just as you say men should?


Perpelexed, you're missing the distinction between an intentional and unambiguous verbal statement (the words on the shirt) and the far more ambigious world of clothing. We can "read" the intent of a t-shirt with that slogan on it in a way we can't read the intent of a miniskirt.


And Mermade, you're right that men wear some appalling messages. But they aren't actively hostile towards other men. They are sexist, yes, but the target is still women. The "Tell your boyfriend I said thanks" shirt is problematic because it is designed to foster female hyper-competitiveness. That's the specific problem I'm addressing here.

Mr. Bad

Hugo said: "What bothers me most, however, are the ones that play on traditional female rivalries and anxieties. "Tell Your Boyfriend I Said Thanks" read one I saw in the hall yesterday; "Tell Your Boyfriend to Stop Calling Me" read one from last week (on a different young woman, mind.) T-shirts like these -- and there are others -- trouble me more than the ones that read "All American Bitch" or "So Many Men, So Little Time". Displays of sexual bravado like these may be somewhat embarrassing and juvenile, but they aren't designed to do damage to other women."

How about the ones designed to specifically and deliberately do damage to boys and men, e.g., "Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them" (worn by lots of young and adolescent girls and the subject of a Glenn Sacks' campaign about a year ago), "So many men, so little brains" (worn by an elementary teacher to school where she taught both girls and boys), "Girls go to college to get more knowledge, boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider" (again, worn by lots of adolescent girls), etc., etc., ad nauseum. How does this fit into your sense of outrage? Or are you only bothered by relatively trivial insults between women as exemplified by the examples you cite?

I see nothing particularly sexist about the 'negative message on t-shirts' situation, just blatant sexism in the feminist response to it. Equality from feminists? Yeah, right.

Hugo continues: "If there is one consistent lament I hear from the women in my feminist studies classes, it's about the presence of intense competition in their lives. Not academic competition, but sexualized competition."

So why is competition between women bad but women competing against men good (and at the same time, men competing against women bad)?

Then we have this litany of nonsense from Q Grrl:

"And FWIW, focusing on the potential hostility of a T-shirt and how that manifests as competition for women, while ignoring rampant institutionalized sexism at the hands of men,..."

Bull. The predominant, overwhelming institutionalized sexism in our (western) society is against men, not women.

"...the use of rape as a normative sexualization of females (again at the hands of men),..."

Again, bull. Rape is very rare and is in no way "normative" in our society. Get a grip.

"...domestic violence at the hands of men,...",

Women commit as much interspousal violence as men, slightly more interpartner violence and overwhelmingly more child abuse than men. Thus, in the scope of all "domestic violence," women are the overwhelming majority of perps.

"...the criminalization of women's bodies (i.e., public breastfeeding),..."

Men peeing discretely in the bushes is prosecuted more often and punishment is more severe, thus, men's bodies are more often and more severely criminalized than women's, who mostly get a pass on their indiscretions.

"...the criminalization of motherhood,..."

That comment is simply insane.

"...the government's official standpoint on women's bodies as "pre-pregnant",..."

Huh? Since when?

"You're finding easy targets that suit your comfort levels, and which barely affect you, a man. You get to stand in judgement, proclaim that something is feminist or not, and you're barely affected by it. It's mental gymnastics, really."

Pot, kettle. Same old story from the rad-fem peanut gallery.

Hugo, your post makes some good points, but IMO the negative messages seen on t-shrts are far more often against boys and men, and are more severe in scope. IMO this is because it's politically correct to harsh on men, while at the same time women in our society are treated with nothing short of reverence by the overwhelming members of our (western) culture. Thus, I believe you're making a mountain out of a molehill here.


The "boys are stupid" shirts will get no defense from me, Mr. Bad -- and if an elementary school teacher really did wear a "So many men, so few brains" shirt to teach, then of course that's wildly inappropriate. No argument there.

You and Q Grrl seem to agree I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, so you've got some solidarity there. Lots of folks have suggestions about what I "should" be posting on instead of what I do!


Point taken, Hugo.


I also have an anecdotal observation, of all the girls I see wearing those kinds of shirts around campus, I would say eight out of ten of them are from asian extraction. Hugo, do you think this a legitimate observation and if so why? Would it have anything to do with the expectations placed on them by their cultural environment?


Mr Bad- admit it, you made those T-shirt slogans up! I've never seen any of them, but I have seen the 'tell your boyfriend' etc ones. I call bullshit.

One of the things I've noticed since moving to the US, and in the US media, e.g. glossy women's mags, is the greater level of competition fostered among women for the attention of men. It's classic 'divide and rule' and let's not forget that at the heart of it is the fact that men still hold the power, so women ARE (as Hugo said) more likely to feel that their sexuality will bring them success than their brains and skills. That's the message all around.

In glossies for example, the message is so often about how to please your man, how to get him to commit, how to wow him in bed (in my experience, this doesn't require advanced techniques in any case) etc. In the UK, where I'm from, the equivalent magazines are much more laid back, and the sexuality sections are as much about making sure YOUR needs are met as his needs.

But in the end, I think it's indicative of the whole American obsession with competitiveness and success. Your success must be obtained at the expense of someone else's. The Protestant Ethic has a lot to answer for.


Ug, Mr. Bad...it just takes SO LONG and so much thread space to point by point go through your false premises, intentionally misleading statements, outright false statements and quite frankly your hatred of feminists (if not women in general). So, I'm simply not going to do it.

On the topic at hand, I dislike all of these t-shirts: these in-fighting, hyper-rude, hyper-competitive, overly sexualized t-shirts. I like a lot of novelty tshirts, the "All I need to know I learned playing video games" shirts and the ironic "Real Men Wear Pink" and "I'm really easy to get along with, once you people learn to worship me" type tshirts. But the ones that are just lame innuendos (protect your nuts, with a picture of a squirrel) and men-bashing female-bashing tshirts are just derogatory.

But, I wouldn't want to ban them or anything: I merely know that if you wear those types of shirts, I can comfortably ignore them. If you're wearing a "How to get a blowjob" tshirt, I probably will laugh in your face if you tried to hit on me.

What is it about our culture that fosters this hyper-competitive atmosphere? Why do we need to "one-up" everyone all the time, including our friends and complete strangers?


I too noticed a radical difference in the appearance of females in a local community college compared with a leading research university here in town. To be quite honest, it was a bit of a culture shock! I remember staring at some women in utter disbelief that they would have the audacity and nerve to step foot out of their house in some of the outfits they wore.

At the risk of being politically correct, it can be quite entertaining to stroll through local community colleges. A while back one young woman - dressed unbelievably provocatively for school - casually strolled towards a group of men while snapping her fingers and singing loudly "I can have any man that I want to"; it took all my self-control to stop her and in mid-song and ask what was mentally wrong with her. Thanks Hugo for your perspective on what motivates some of these women.


Ugh, my sentence should have been "At the risk of being politically INCORRECT..."

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