Shame and Blame

Bluestockingsrs passed along this article from the San Francisco Chronicle about school dress codes, or the lack thereof, and students’ summer attire. Well, that’s what it pretends to be about, anyway, but “Scanty attire: Teaching the girls of summer” is really about how tough it is to be a male teacher avoiding trouble when female students are such sluts.

Those short skirts and low-cut tops that accompany the warming late spring weather can be fantastic if you’re a hormonal teenage boy. For thousands of male high school teachers in the Bay Area, however, higher temperatures and rising hemlines are anything but a welcome development.

That’s the opening paragraph. Notice anything missing? The girls who don “those short skirts and low-cut tops” aren’t even mentioned—just the clothing items themselves, which is nothing more than a polite way of saying “those thighs and titties,” because it isn’t the clothes that are getting the blood pumping in “hormonal teenage boys.” And check out the framing: Girls titillating boys who can fuck them is “fantastic.” Girls titillating men who can’t fuck them is “anything but a welcome development.”

The last few days before summer vacation can present an uncomfortable no-win situation — where teachers must either ignore distracting clothing choices and dress code violations by their female students, or find creative ways to confront the problem.

A male teacher ignoring female students’ “distracting clothing choices” presents a no-win situation only if one is under the assumption that men have an undeniable right to respond however they want to women’s bodies and denying them that right puts an undue burden on men. It is that precise assumption that then makes requiring women to cover up their bodies, thereby ostensibly preventing men from having an “uncontrollable” reaction, the only solution to this otherwise “uncomfortable, no-win situation.”

And what does it mean, exactly, for a male teacher to be so distracted by female students wearing “those short skirts and low-cut tops” that they find the situation impossible to ignore? Is the suggestion that it would just make it easier on male teachers if we forced girls to dress a particular way? If so, that hardly seems a fair threshold. Girls, you’re going to have to keep your bodies hidden—and sustain whatever shaming about your bodies and message about inequity that decision may entail—to accommodate the unwillingness of your male teachers to deal with a reality of their workplace. Wholly ridiculous, but if it’s something more than that, if the suggestion is that male teachers are likely to snap if forced to be subjected to girls wearing “those short skirts and low-cut tops,” that they are likely to hurt those girls, then it’s worse than ridiculous—it’s frightening.

But, far from bringing up the very real problem of male teachers having inappropriate sexual relationships and/or raping their female students, the article instead repeatedly alludes to the possibility that male teachers will somehow find themselves in trouble for no reason.

Yosha Bourgea, who taught high school in Windsor and currently teaches middle school students in Sonoma County, said he’s also very reluctant to call students on inappropriate dress — because “all it takes to ruin a teaching career forever is the perception of wrongdoing.”

…”I was told by an older teacher my first week on the job: ‘Don’t be in a room with a female student without someone else there,’ ” Bourgea said. “And I don’t do it.”

In conversations with more than a dozen local male teachers, including several from The Chronicle’s Two Cents readers, reaction to girls who dress provocatively is clearly a worry, even though teachers rarely voice their concerns outside of the break room.

And the example given in the article of predatory teachers? Mary Kay Letourneau, naturally. As Bluestockingsrs points out, that case is “memorable because such relationships or assault (female teacher against male student) is the exception rather than the rule,” but it doesn’t have much to do with this story—except, perhaps to undermine its premises. Letourneau’s career was ruined not because of “the perception of wrongdoing,” but because she actually had sex with her student, who, I’m quite certain, was wearing neither a short skirt nor a low-cut top.

Its mention is also useful in redirecting blame for male teachers’ problems on the media; male teachers who successfully made it to retirement, even having taught during the introduction of the miniskirt, only managed to do so, you see, because “that was long before the era of Nancy Grace, ‘Court TV’ and a renaissance for a scandal-loving press, which found ratings nirvana in the 1990s with Mary Kay Letourneau, a Washington state teacher who had sex with her sixth-grade student, went to prison and eventually mothered two of his children.” And if it isn’t the press’ fault, it’s the parents:

Bourgea said people should look beyond clothes for the source of the problem. The students may just be reacting to parents who try to shelter them from some of the less innocent aspects of adolescence.

“The over-the-top hoochie-mama ‘rebellion’ that adolescent girls engage in is a direct response to a culture that is suffering from sexual repression,” Bourgea said. “If folks didn’t get so freaked out over the idea of young people as sexual beings — which doesn’t necessarily mean they all are, should be or want to be having sex — there would be no need for young people to be so freakishly hyper-sexualized.

“And there would be no need for teachers like me to treat female students like asbestos.”

So…he’s treating female students like asbestos (!!!) because female students are dressing provocatively in response to sexual repression…and the way to combat that is to…tell them to cover up their bodies because male teachers can’t handle it. Genius.

Now, I don’t want to ignore the issues that: 1. There is some attire that is simply not appropriate for school (just as it would not be appropriate in most professional environments); and 2. There is a way to convey to girls that they neither need to be ashamed of their bodies nor show them off at all times. These are serious concerns, for teachers and parents, and they need solutions. Hey, look—right in the same article and everything—solutions!

[Donn Harris, principal of San Francisco’s School of the Arts] will recruit a female colleague when a student is wearing something that is too revealing, even for School of the Arts. “I discuss a lot of things with kids. And I’m still more comfortable going to a female staff member,” Harris said. “I think they’ll connect in a way that’s more meaningful, and it’s just better that way.”

…[W]hen Mountain View High School instituted a dress code in the 2004-05 school year, [Dennis Devine, who retired in 2005 after teaching for 38 years] said it was a group of students who helped decide on the stricter standards, a process that worked well.

Wow. Imagine that. Maybe it’s not “an uncomfortable, no-win situation” after all!

And so we come to the part of the post where we wonder what ultimate purpose did this article serve, going as it did to such great pains to bury the practical and existing solutions to an issue that was framed from its outset to be an unwinnable problem for male teachers unless girls were shamed and blamed?

Oh. Well, gee. Maybe there’s our answer.

It’s really informative to look at this article within the context of a classic victim-blaming article. Consider any of the number of articles about which I’ve written in the last couple of months in which rape victims were blamed for getting themselves raped because of what they were wearing, how much they were drinking, where they were, etc.—every one of them follows the same basic premise as this article.

1. Men can’t control themselves.

2. Women are irresistible seductresses.

3. Women’s displayed bodies are community property.

4. A woman who dresses provocatively is giving explicit consent to any man who wants to fuck her and is not presumed to have the right to choose with whom she has sex (manifested in this story with the idea that it is only by threat of lawbreaking and/or ruining one’s career that male teachers resist their underage female students; their students’ attraction to them, or lack thereof, is not up for consideration).

5. Women are uniquely responsible for accommodating men’s inability to control themselves / their own self-protection.

Over and over and over, these same themes are played out in article after article. It should be profoundly alarming how similar a story about female high school students and their male teachers is to any one of thousands of articles about rape and victim-blaming. That it isn’t, that none of these articles ever seems to raise any eyebrows among casual readers, is exactly why we live in a culture in which one in six American women are victims of sexual assault and we consider that acceptable.

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114 Comments

Filed under 01_shakespeares_sister

114 responses to “Shame and Blame

  1. one of my older daughter’s favorite shirts is a little crop top number that says

    Yes, I’m looking for it.
    No, not with you.

    if the teacher can’t take it fuck ’em sez i.

  2. I realize now what I should have done in high school was go around with ten pounds of chocolate strapped to my chest.

  3. Oh, man. I hate that that article exists, but you knocked it out of the damn park with your analysis. Thank you.

  4. I remember once at church in Orange County (that of Rick Warren of ‘Purpose-Driven Life’ fame), a pastor incorporated into his sermon a suggestion that the female parishioners consider the effect their spring and summer wardrobe choices have on the male members of the congregation who are trying to maintain pure thoughts. He said that a good number of men had confessed to him that the biggest challenge to their ‘purity’ was church, where they encountered attractive women in short dresses.

    Rage. Rage boiled inside me. So now it’s my problem that these guys are ashamed of their natural urge to procreate? Now it’s my fault some dude self-flagellates after masturbating, just because I wore a sundress when it was 95 degrees out?

    FUCK. THAT. NOISE.

  5. Wow, I’d totally forgotten about that until just now. And I’m angry all over again!

    Have you ever heard anything so misogynistic?

  6. Doctor Jay

    Of course men can control themselves. There is no excuse for rape, date rape, or sexual harrassment.

    AND, shakin’ them things in my face is distracting. I think that if I lived in a nudist colony, after a few months it would probably stop being distracting. Maybe. But that’s what it would take. Until that day, I’m going to find it difficult to make eye contact with a young female colleague who is wearing a see-through top, folding her arms under them and leaning toward me. This actually happened to me at work.

    Some young women seem to be constantly testing their sexual attractiveness. They spray their flirtations around indiscriminately, and protest their innocence. I don’t call this body confidence. If you want to know what body confidence looks like, watch women athletes. No, this is a women testing out her sexual power, her ability to turn heads. I’m all for women having power, including sexual power, but sexual power needs to be turned way, way down at work, or at school.

  7. Thanks for writing this very acute analysis. You’ve said what I (and legions of other feminists) been saying for years. I’ve just sent the following to the author of the article:

    Dear Peter Hartlaub,

    I think it might be informative for you to read the following analysis of your article. I’m not the writer, but she speaks for me and many other women as well. It would be a refreshing change if you would not help perpetuate sexual stereotypes about both women and men (i.e., that men really can’t control themselves in the presence of women’s scanty clothing). As a “pop culture critic” with a wide audience of both genders I believe you have a responsibility to use your powers for good, not evil.

    Please see Melissa McEwan’s entry on Shakesville, called “Shame and Blame” here [link]

    Sincerely,

    Lee Kottner

  8. They spray their flirtations around indiscriminately, and protest their innocence.

    Perhaps what you interpret as ‘flirtation spraying’ can also be interpreted as ‘just lookin’ hot and sexy.’

  9. Allie

    I think this is really comon in fundy circles, where girls & women are asked to help keep men holy by covering themselves up. There was a great This American Life recently (the Ten Commandments episode) talking about this:

    Commandment Seven. You Shall Not Commit Adultery.

    In the book of Matthew, Jesus says that looking lustfully at a woman is like committing adultery in your heart. Contributor David Dickerson was raised as an evangelical Christian, and for many years tried not to have a single lustful thought. (9 minutes)

  10. Melissa McEwan

    Until that day, I’m going to find it difficult to make eye contact with a young female colleague who is wearing a see-through top, folding her arms under them and leaning toward me.

    You know what? I find it difficult to talk to male colleages who are scratching or playing with their balls (which has happened more frequently than I care to recount), although–miraculously–I manage to do it. And in spite of having spent lunches at more than one job laughing and/or grousing with female coworkers (and often male ones, too) about office “ball-handlers,” I’ve never read a single article ever calling for the outlawing of balls in offices, or a single comment on a blog like “I’m all for [men] having balls, but [attention to balls] needs to be turned way, way down at work, or at school.”

    Just saying.

  11. UNSUBSCRIBE

    Bye, all.

  12. Tom in Iowa

    I’m somehow reminded of the t-shirt available at the Jesus and Mo website featuring women in burkas with the caption “Thank you for not provoking my uncontrollable lust”
    http://www.jesusandmo.net/

  13. At my first post-college job, we had a problem with a couple of office ball-scratchers. So the several women in the office started attending meetings and walking around scratching our breasts. When confronted, “What? You do it all the time.”

    Worked like a charm.

  14. Allie

    I’ve never read a single article ever calling for the outlawing of balls in offices, or a single comment on a blog like “I’m all for [men] having balls, but [attention to balls] needs to be turned way, way down at work, or at school.”

    Can we write that blog post? ‘Cause damn, ball-handling is annoying and distracting. And disgusting.

  15. You know, I teach college students–I’m in class right now as a matter of fact–and I’ve never had an issue with the way the females in my class dress. Somehow I’ve managed to not think of them sexually even though they’re all of age and many of them are quite attractive. Wonder how I do that? [/snark]

  16. Tom in Iowa

    As the father of a teenage son and a teenage daughter I had the following experience this spring while waiting to pick up my daughter at our High School. My son was with me in the car making what I’m sure he felt was an eloquent and impassioned plea for the need to purchase the latest version of Guitar Hero for Xbox. Four girls walked out of the high school in the “unofficial” spring uniform of form fitting spaghetti strap tank tops, running shorts and flip flops. As they passed our car, my son’s voice simply trailed off to nothing in mid sentence, and I sat waiting in silence until they had walked some 100 feet down the sidewalk. He then turned back to me and said “Dad, what were we talking about?”

    I also note that my daughter and her friends are certainly not immune from the same type of distractions. Boys dress and physique is not beyond their scope of observation and appreciation.

    Melissa makes the best observation that some types of dress just aren’t appropriate for some situations. It’s a shame the author of the article didn’t stick to that theme.

    The human body is a beautiful thing in its many and varied forms, shapes and sizes, and as such will demand our attention. And amongst teenagers of both sexes, it will be the foremost thing on their minds.

    I just wonder how much of their attention is left over for their class lessons.

  17. PortlyDyke

    And the thing that really forces this particular snake to consume it’s own tale:

    Women/Girls are only valued if they’re “sexy/pretty/nice-tits/nice-ass”.

    So, dress up for me baby, so I can value you.

    Except if it turns me on.

  18. Interesting.

    In my job, I work with predominantly females. I have little contact with the front-line workers, but coordinate training for them, including CPR classes, which require a fair amount of crouching, lying on the floor, and bending over. Needless to say, ALL students should show up for such classes dressed so that they can perform the required actions without being hindered by their clothing and so that a respectful class environment can be maintained.

    Every year around this time, people come to class dressed in too-revealing or too-small clothing–fine with me, except that it’s not a good choice of attire considering the professional requirements of the job. I would like to point out that clothing issues come from both men and women, and my instructors have pointed that out to me.

    I’ve not really considered this to be a women-only concern before, but since 70% of our workforce happens to be female, it does happen more with women.

    I guess my question would be: Isn’t it still OK to have some sort of requirement that individuals wear attire that maintains a respectful environment? I’m going to evaluate my opinions here and try to make sure that I’m not somehow unconsciously encouraging gender-based discrimination, but if a guy came in with a too-revealing shirt and shorts that kept falling down past his ass-cheeks, I would ask him to go home and change just like if a female did.

    Thanks for making me think (again, dammit!).

  19. Melissa McEwan

    Four girls walked out of the high school in the “unofficial” spring uniform of form fitting spaghetti strap tank tops, running shorts and flip flops.

    That doesn’t sound particularly inappropriate to me. (I can’t really tell, Tom, if you thought it was or wasn’t–or just that it captured your son’s attention.) I’d note, as I have in past posts on dress-codes-for-girls, that schools need to make sure they are properly cooled in summer months if they don’t want girls (and boys) wearing summer clothes to school. At least in this area, there are a lot of old schools that aren’t air conditioned (or aren’t air conditioned well), and kids are attending class in 90+-degree classrooms. Bearing that in mind, a tank top, shorts, and sandals doesn’t sound remotely outrageous.

    Btw, when your son asked “Dad, what were we talking about?” I hope you replied, “Never mind that. Let’s talk about it being disrespectful to lingeringly ogle women,” lol.

  20. Thanks for the h/t, Liss.

    Your response is beautiful as always.

  21. Melissa McEwan

    Isn’t it still OK to have some sort of requirement that individuals wear attire that maintains a respectful environment?

    Yeah, for sure (with the caveat, as you note, that “respectful environment” be consistent between sexes). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a dress code in which extremely revealing clothing is prohibited, but enforcement is certainly a consideration, particularly when dealing with young girls so as not to perpetuate the notion that women’s bodies are shameful. (Or even sexuality itself.)

    I certainly believe it’s preferable to have a female teacher speak with female students and approach the issue from a perspective of environment-appropriate attire, as opposed to either “dressing ‘that way’ sends the wrong message” or “have some self-respect!” or “only nasty girls dress that way” or whatever.

  22. Melissa McEwan

    Thanks for the h/t, Liss.

    My pleasure! Thanks for the heads-up.

  23. PortlyDyke

    When I was in my freshman year in high school, the dress code required that all female students wear dresses to school, and that the hemline of that dress touch the floor when the girl was kneeling (during the wild and wacky introduction of mini-skirts).

    This was policed by the vice-principal, who stood at the top of the stairs in the entry way, as each entering female knelt before him briefly, and the boys sailed on past.

    That incredibly feudal experience has remained etched in my memory. I can still remember the humiliation I felt, but didn’t fully understand at 14, as I knelt before a man, my face at his crotch level, being “approved” for consumption.

    By the time I graduated, slacks were allowed for girls.

    So 😛 to everyone who says we don’t need a feminist movement.

  24. PortlyDyke

    OK — that should have been a 😛 instead of a :P, I think.

  25. PortlyDyke

    Oh hell — *Giving a big old raspberry*

  26. …I’ve never had an issue with the way the females in my class dress. Somehow I’ve managed to not think of them sexually even though they’re all of age and many of them are quite attractive. Wonder how I do that?

    Yeah, I don’t have that problem either, Incertus. What’s up with that? Think it’s genetic? 🙂

    I have noticed that as the high school girls I’ve seen recently wear clothes that could be considered form-fitting, their male counterparts still go with the oversized shirts and shorts that could be considered anything but revealing. I never understood fashion; I must have missed that part of the training.

  27. I’m all for women having power, including sexual power, but sexual power needs to be turned way, way down at work, or at school.

    You first. Men exert much more sexual power in every damn setting they find themselves in –so you all stop first.

    Women live in a patriarchal society. Men have sexualized our bodies in a way that requires women to appear sexually appealing in every setting. You know, except all the rest of the time when we are supposed to be sexually pure.

    Grow the fuck up, I say.

    I am dyke, as a result of my orientation I look at women, yet somehow I can see a naked or nearly naked woman and not objectify or sexualize her instantly. I manage to sort out the appropriate moments (at bars, at Pride, etc.) when it is OK for to evaluate a woman as a potential sex partner. But even then, I am interacting with her as an autonomous human being, not a series of parts I find sexually attractive.

    Why the fuck can’t you?

    I am now adding this post of yours to me list of reasons why I am a lesbian, I think it is reason #12467.

  28. Patrick

    Hey, I teach college students. It’s my job to look at them as students–i.e., people who want to extend their ability to (in my case) write. I get paid for it, and more important, it seems to me that one thing I can do for the profession is to take people–especially young women–seriously when they think. Regardless of how they look or what they’re wearing. (I try to engage young men with white caps turned backward as well.) When I’ve encountered people who seem to think this is difficult, I’m inclined to think they should find another line of work. Something from Dirty Jobs, perhaps. Dissecting dead salmon?

    As it turns out, I seem to have lucked out and I have a kind of incest taboo in my head, so that I may notice that one of my students is appealing in some way, it has more or less the effect that noticing that one of my sisters looks good that day. I can acknowledge it, but the idea that I could respond sexually is profoundly creepy to me. (As I say, this seems to have been true always, and I count it as dumb luck.) I can’t say that sometimes I don’t look, but when it happens, it’s over pretty quickly and I hope, hope, hope I haven’t made anyone uncomfortable, because that’s totally on me.

    I’ve always kept the office door open when I meet all students, partly because when I was an undergrad in the seventies, it seemed to me that when my peers got creeped out by faculty members (mostly female students, but one or two males), the door was closed, so I figure it’s more likely to be comfortable for students if the default is door open. If someone asks that it be shut, it’s their choice.

    If it’s no longer true that folks prefer an open door, I’d like to hear about it.

  29. PortlyDyke

    I have noticed that as the high school girls I’ve seen recently wear clothes that could be considered form-fitting, their male counterparts still go with the oversized shirts and shorts that could be considered anything but revealing. I never understood fashion; I must have missed that part of the training.

    Oh, I’m not so sure it’s just fashion. I think it reflects a common meme — pinchy-tight jeans and impossible-to-run-in-shoes for the gals, big, loose, comfy clothes for the guys.

    Cultural meme: Men must be comfortable at all costs. We must hide our naughty bits so that they don’t have to develop self-control and maturity, we must not call them rape-apologists or tell them to fuck off — it might hurt their feelings.

    Women must be uncomfortable and constantly aware of their simultaneous objectification and devaluation if they fail the “standard” (which floats about and constantly changes), and by all means, they must not be able to run away should their naughty bits be needed by a man.

    Maybe I’m feeling cynical today, but I even hear this from women “Oh, she’s let herself go — she’s wearing sweat pants all the time now!”

    And to bluestockings — “You first. Men exert much more sexual power in every damn setting they find themselves in –so you all stop first.”,/i>

    *shaking my butchy pom-poms in support*
    rattle-rattle-rattle
    (They’re made of shredded beer cans.)

  30. PortlyDyke… my brain is doing the hamster wheel thing, running ’round in circles going *squeeeeeeeeeeeeeee* having read about your experiences with that vice principal. I don’t know how that could be seen as anything but sexual humiliation.

    If by :p you mean “Please go walk into a bandsaw,” I’m totally with you.

    The anti-woman gestalt of our society seems to be approaching a catastrophic curve point. Five Catholic men now control reproductive freedoms (or more precisely, their lack) in this country.

    As for the article, yup. Pretty much par for the course. Men can’t possibly be expected to exert some control over their urges — women have to change their behavior to tempt them less. Don’t get me wrong; I look at pretty women (and pretty men), and the less they’re wearing, the longer I might look. But then I look away and hey presto! I’m not thinking about them any more. It doesn’t occur to me (maybe I’m weird) to fantasize about fucking them, or to imagine what they look like without the clothes, unless my relationship with them is such that there’s a strong possibility of fucking them.

    There’s a small exception for people on TV or in the movies — I have a monster huge crush on Katee Sackhoff from Battlestar Galactica and I’ve thought about what it might be like to kiss her, but that’s about as far as the fantasizing ever gets.

    I don’t understand the sense of entitlement that makes it okay for a man to expect that random women owe him sex, to automatically rate women on their fuckability.

  31. Cultural meme: Men must be comfortable at all costs. We must hide our naughty bits so that they don’t have to develop self-control and maturity, we must not call them rape-apologists or tell them to fuck off — it might hurt their feelings.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about! *looks shifty* *slinks off to eat lunch*

  32. Off Topic: Liss, you look (in the little thumbnail picture up at the top) almost exactly like a very dear friend of mine. I mean it as a compliment, too: my friend is utterly adorable, though she gets uncomfortable when she hears it. [And here we are back at the fuckability-rating brainworm again — we’re programmed to rate our own fuckability on the criteria of the hypothetically average man, and to feel shame when we rate low on it.

    [Can’t we get away from it? Ever?]

  33. Reba

    Men have sexualized our bodies in a way that requires women to appear sexually appealing in every setting.

    Not every setting. It’s not expected of me to look sexually appealing at work. Then again, I’m in civil service and we’re not supposed to actually be visible, and I’m in the office that investigates sexual harassment, so it’s bloody unlikely that I’m going to be judged on my appearance. Most of the women who hold the same job class I do dress however they desire and the folks who take care of the facilities here don’t so much worry about their sexual appeal.

    I agree that we live in a patriarchal society where too much emphasis is put on how women look, dress, talk, act, etc. But not every arena is exactly the same and we do ourselves a disservice when we imply that they are.

  34. Nik E Poo

    I was gonna say something about how I cover up alot because I’m shy/ashamed of my body … but … thats not quite it.

    I’m shy when I’m in a situation where the my body is picked over with a fine tooth comb. However, I’ve been to hostels and beaches and the like in Europe … where people have a natural view of the human body … and in those situations … I’m quite comfortable with nudity (mine and other people). So for me, a big part of it … is this very palpable cultural pressure … which although colorless, odorless and tasteless … permeates the atmosphere and spawns unclean thoughts.

    This San Francisco Chronicle article is another log on that fire … and we can either grab a bucket … or roast marshmallows.

  35. Reba

    And, while I’m being contrary, I have to agree that overt sexual gestures of any kind are inappropriate in the workplace. So is porn on your computer (how the hell can anyone think that would ever be okay??), cheesecake/beefcake (why do we refer to near naked people as food?..oh, wait, nevermind) pictures in your cubicle no matter how “safe for work” you think they are, or anti-[fill in specific group here] slogans even if you didn’t mean it/thought it was funny/aw shucks didn’t know.

    But clothing is a matter of personal choice and as long as no dress code/law is being broken, then assumptions about why the person wore it or what you think it implies are absurd. It’s no one else’s fault if you can’t keep your eyes off of your coworkers tits when she wears a sheer shirt.

  36. Not every setting. It’s not expected of me to look sexually appealing at work.

    It may not be in your job description in the way it is for a woman who works as a cocktail waitress in Vegas, but women are evaluated by men on their “fuckability” everywhere, work, etc. (see above discussion). I did not say that it was a job requirement. I also finished that thought with, “except for the rest of the time, when women are to appear sexually pure.”

    I agree that we live in a patriarchal society where too much emphasis is put on how women look, dress, talk, act, etc. But not every arena is exactly the same and we do ourselves a disservice when we imply that they are.

    I think the idea that there are patriarchy-free zones does us a disservice. If your work is so quick to investigate sexual harassment allegations, the very fact that such a policy and process to investigate exists is evidence that the patriarchy is alive and well in your workplace as it is in every other.

    The patriarchy and its attendant burdens on women may be diverse according to the culture in which it is found, but it is a patriarchy, no matter what form it takes.

  37. I also teach at the college level and I don’t see this as an issue. Yes, I find women attractive (sorry, MB), and if someone dresses provocatively, it’ll probably attract my notice. But then I have this crazy thing that I do — I control myself and act professionally and morally. I see nothing wrong with looking at someone you find attractive. Staring is another thing. The idea that men can’t control themselves is laughable, since most men do control themselves most of the time. This article (and the many like it) is pretty much insulting to everyone and it’s based on so many concepts that are false and degrading its hard to take any “journalist” that writes this crap seriously.

  38. Melissa McEwan

    It’s not expected of me to look sexually appealing at work.

    If you are:

    – required/expected to wear a bra

    – required/expected to wear make-up

    and/or

    – required/expected to have styled hair

    …then that’s not true. Personal preferences for wearing a bra, make-up, or styling one’s hair notwithstanding, if there’s an expectation to conform to any of the above, then women at your workplace are indeed expected to look sexually appealing, even if you don’t think of it that way.

  39. Reba

    I never said it was patriarchy-free. Nor did I speak of my freedom to dress however I want as a job requirement. You stated that we are expected to be sexually appealing or sexually pure in every single setting. I don’t agree. I think there’s a lot more subltety to human interaction than that. Maybe I’ve been lucky in the places I hang out and with whom.

    I want to point out that sexual harassment is not perpetrated only upon women and I find the implication disturbing. They may be the most frequent victims, but there are men who have to deal with it, too, and they are often afraid to come forward about it because of the belief that only women can be sexually harassed. Makes my job a lot harder when folks don’t think they’ll get a fair shake because of their gender.

  40. Reba

    Does a requirement that men wear button down shirts or ties, maintain neat facial hair, and have pants that don’t hang off their butts mean that they are also expected to be sexually appealing at work? And if not, why not? Is the assumption that the dress code implies some sexual attractiveness standard only applied to women?

  41. I want to point out that sexual harassment is not perpetrated only upon women and I find the implication disturbing.

    The fact that anyone engages in sexual harassment is a result of the patriarchy- whether it is a man or a woman doing the harassing. It is a culture of domination(tm) that says such behavior is OK.

    But treating the problem of sexual harassment as if there is some parity between men and women as equal victims of the behavior minimizes the vastness of the problem and reads as a “what about the men” argument.

    Even when gay men report sexual harassment it is from other men, usually straight men. See the recent case with the gay male associate at a law firm in New York City and the abuse he suffered.

    The fact that men are reluctant to some forward is also because men are conditioned to avoid being like women at all costs –woman=victim, avoid being a victim, so men don’t complain, again I blame the patriarchy(tm). See the collected works of Twisty Faster at I Blame the Patriarchy.

  42. Men’s suits don’t signify sexual availability the way women’s clothing does. There is a double standard (gee, that sounds familiar) when it comes to male clothing, which is designed for freedom of movement and to convey status, not sexual availability. That’s why you saw the female equivalent for so many years in the 70’s & 80’s: the little blue suit with the knee length skirt and ribbon tie on a white shirt. It’s changed a little now, but not much. The male suit is a kind of uniform in a way women’s clothing is not.

  43. Reba

    So I shouldn’t point out that men get harassed, even when I point out that women are by far more frequently subjected to this, because that in some way supports the patriarchy? I’m sorry, but it is my job to ensure that everyone is treated the same, and patriarchy be damned.

    Just because non-whites experience racial discrimination far more often than whites does not mean that pointing out the fact that there is no such thing as “reverse discrimination” somehow lessens the reality of discrimination or why people of any group do it. I’m quite clear on the theories. I’m still going to treat everyone exactly the same when they come to us with a complaint. I see that as part of the fight for equality in every arena.

  44. Nik E Poo

    … then women at your workplace are indeed expected to look sexually appealing, even if you don’t think of it that way.

    Like many things at work … I suspect this flows down from the top. Among executives, there are the independently wealthy (old money or nouveau riche) … and the wanna be riche. The people that don’t need the work … tend to be completely uninterested in how they present themselves … whereas the wanna be riche … obsess over it. As it turns out … the people that don’t need to work … funny enough … tend not to. Its typically, the truly cheap or greedy that continue to make a show of it. But throughout executive circles, the meme of attractive people being smarter or more prone to success is entrenched. The leap to a higher executive position (and pay) is typically proceeded by fanatical gym workouts and $100,000 shopping sprees … to spin that first impression.

    I suspect that the degree to which such things occur in the workplace … is proportional to prevailing attitudes and culture upstream.

  45. PortlyDyke

    Does a requirement that men wear button down shirts or ties, maintain neat facial hair (emphasis mine), and have pants that don’t hang off their butts mean that they are also expected to be sexually appealing at work?

    Well, actually, I imagine that if I worked at your firm, and I maintained my facial hair neatly, rather than shaving it off entirely, there might actually be a kerfluffle about that. (if I’m wrong, I applaud your employers!)

    Yes, I do have facial hair, and yes, I believe that if I were to simply give it a “neat clip”, but it were still visible, I would probably be notified to get rid of it.

    Because it’s not “feminine”.

    And what if I showed up in a skirt with my famously hairy legs, or a tank top with my famously hairy armpits?

    And I believe that this would probably be transmitted to me as an employee without a clearly-defined dress-code that defined what was expected of me. I would probably be quietly “taken aside” and informed that I should shave, depilate, or wax. What do you think?

    In the kneel-before-the-principal story I recounted, girls were required to:

    1. Wear a bra (even if they had no tits needing support)
    2. Wear a dress (even on the most freezing of midwest days)
    3. Have their skirts touch the floor as they genuflected to authority.

    Boys were required to:
    1. Make sure that their hair did not touch their collars.

    I agree that sexual harassment is not exclusively a “male perp/female victim” phenomenon.

    However, until there is one, and only one, dress code at every school, work-place, etc., which applies equally to males/females, I say there is still an under-riding current of sexism.

  46. PortlyDyke

    quoting myself: “Yes, I do have facial hair . . . famously hairy legs . . . armpits.”

    Oh, now I have soooo come out beyond my comfort level.
    🙂

  47. I actually don’t think you are clear on the theories because you just used the term “reverse discrimination” which is an incredibly loaded term used by whites to complain whenever they have to work for something rather than just having it handed to them.

    Please see this link at Pandagon.

    I am saying that yes, you minimize the seriousness of the problems when you make a “what about the men” argument. Equating two problems as equally serious that are not even similar in their occurrence, minimizes the problem that sexual harassment is for many women.

    While I believe treating everyone equally is a laudable goal, it fails to take into account that the entire system, of which we are each a part, does not treat everyone equally.

    You chide in your post about being familiar about the “theories” but I would argue that your assertion that you “treat everyone exactly the same” actually fails to serve the goal of achieving any sort of justice, because it fails to take into consideration the systemic racism and sexism that people of color and women face. Treating everyone the same, is not the same as everyone is equal.

    We haven’t reached equality, let alone liberation, I am holding out for liberation myself.

  48. PortlyDyke

    And another thing (my, we are chatty today, aren’t we?) . . .

    What would happen at your work-place if a male showed up in a skirt?

  49. Reba

    I pointed out that there is no such thing as “reverse discrimination” i.e., it does not exist because it implies that discrimination is only perpetrated upon the “other” as opposed to everyone. I am aware of it being a charged political phrase – hence my refutation of it having any meaning in terms of things we look into because we don’t get involved in political high drama. We investigate policy breaches. I cannot tell you how much time I spend explaining to people that we do not tolerate discrimination against any race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc. I was never saying “what about the men.” I was saying it’s wrong to pretend that nothing happens to men, or white people or heterosexual people or married people or honorably discharged vets because when we deny that it CAN happen to anyone then we’re only reinforcing the idea that it ONLY happens to the “other.”

    We treat everyone the same when we investigate a complaint. Why the hell would anyone have a problem with that? Does it mean we don’t take into consideration the circumstances, environment, history? No, that would be covered by (stay with me here) the investigation portion of our job. But do we treat every complaint and every complainant in exactly the same way? Yes, we sure as hell do. Maybe there isn’t equity in the world, but when it’s part of your office title, you make damned sure it happens in your space. One would think that would be applauded.

  50. Melissa McEwan

    quoting myself: “Yes, I do have facial hair . . . famously hairy legs . . . armpits.”

    Oh, now I have soooo come out beyond my comfort level

    We’ve had the hair talk around here before, lol, so you needn’t feel uncomfortable! For the record, I have Eugene Levy eyebrows (which I pluck), get goat hairs on my chin (which I also pluck), Teen Wolf forearms (about which I do nothing), legs that grow almost no hair (so I don’t need to shave them, but wouldn’t even if I needed to), and (usually) hairy armpits (because I can rarely be arsed with shaving them).

    And we did an entire thread about genital shaving here, lol.

    Is there such a thing as TMI at Shakesville? Perhaps not. 😉

  51. If you are:

    – required/expected to wear a bra

    I am. The only I was admonished by a former manager was when she called me into her office to tell me that “some people” had mentioned to her that I often wasn’t wearing a bra and that somehow, this was disruptive. (I have small breasts, but thanks to a penchant for body piercing, prominent nipples — they almost never go flat.) So I wear a bra to work, and it comes off in the car before I head home. The makeup issue is a lost cause; I almost never wear any.

    Sort of related is one of the reasons I was asked to resign from a previous job. This was before I started any transitioning in public, and only starting to experiment with it in private. Halloween came around and I thought, naively, that it might be the only time it was okay to wear a dress and heels to work. So I did, and the reactions I got were amazing. Most people didn’t recognize me at all — one person talked with me for several minutes before realizing who I was.

    Later I was called into the office of the director of human resources. She and my manager were there, and they had something very serious to talk with me about. Ever since that Halloween — and this was several months later — there had been rumors going around that I was transsexual and that I was going to start coming to work in dresses. If that happened, I’d be fired for creating a disturbance at work.

    I hadn’t heard any rumors. I didn’t even know any of these rumors existed. I had no intention of transitioning at that job. I was trying desperately to get some help with what I was going through, but that was outside of work. Somehow I doubt anyone got a lecture on spreading rumors. Nope, just on being the subject of them.

    It hurt terribly then, and I can still feel the echoes now. Up until then I’d had nothing but glowing performance reviews. After that, they started going downhill, mostly having to do with the way I communicated, especially by e-mail. The way I wrote made unnamed people uncomfortable somehow, made them think I thought I was better than them. Immediately after my next performance review, I was gone.

    The expectations are out there, and they’re powerful, and they can wreck your life. Conform. Don’t make people uncomfortable. If you’re different, have the common decency to shut up about it.

  52. Bob in Kansas

    The biology of sex has 3+ billion years behind it. It is what got us to where we are today, from an evolutionary point of view. Heterosexually speaking, in the simplest of terms, men want to make babies and women want men who provide for their babies. It’s true for many species besides Homo sapiens. It’s not PC, it runs counter to some/most feminist and glbt values, and we don’t have to like it, but it has proved highly successful – we are still here. No matter how much we would wish it to be otherwise, and no matter how fulfilling their pair bond, heterosexual men will be attracted by pretty women – I defy someone to prove me wrong.

    Luckily, we have large brains, capable of controlling these instincts for the most part. But don’t for a second believe that those instincts don’t exist. Most men in our society have learned to deal with the distractions (if you think it’s not a significant consideration, just look to the Mideast – their solution to this problem is sexual segregation in every aspect of life). This group is right to complain about those men who cannot control their ‘base urges’, but at the same time, don’t downplay the significance of what you are asking.

    Folks need some remedial biology if they think some oaf scratching his balls is comparable to a attractive 18 year old woman in a see-through blouse. As to men ‘sexualizing women’s bodies’ – here’s a clue – it’s not a recent development.

  53. Nik E Poo

    What would happen at your work-place if a male showed up in a skirt?

    Weird … I was just thinking that. Great minds I guess. Actually ,you could even tone that down … how about a pink suit or one with a nice flower print?

  54. Reba

    There are, in fact, women with facial hair in my workplace and no one says much about it, at least not that we’ve heard. And shaving body parts is completely optional. I work at a college. We have had men in skirts. A couple of the carpenters swear by their utility kilts, as well. There are reasons I left the corporate world. The ability to be myself and to be surrounded (for the most part) with people who had similar freedoms, was a big reason.

    I’m not denying that there is a pervasive culture which disadvantages people – women, minorities, gay folks, disabled people, and too many more. I get that. I see it every day, even here. And it’s not as bad here as it is elsewhere, not because it doesn’t happen but because we do our damnedest trying to prevent it – through education, interaction, etc. – and we don’t ignore it when something does happen. To anyone.

  55. Melissa McEwan

    I was saying it’s wrong to pretend that nothing happens to men

    Reba, I don’t think anyone was “pretending” that. You were responding to people as if they were, though–which is probably why your comments have been met with less enthusiasm than you might have hoped.

    Perhaps you’re quite genuinely not aware that it is a common habit of anti-feminist trolls to try to undercut a feminist argument by saying, “Men, too!” as if the writer had somehow implied, simply by asserting “X happens to women,” that it never happens to men.

  56. I am. The only I was admonished by a former manager

    Er, “The only time I was admonished…” that is.

  57. “The biology of sex has 3+ billion years behind it. It is what got us to where we are today, from an evolutionary point of view.”

    This is the argument that really frosts my cupcake. Biology is not an excuse for bad behavior. As you point out, Bob, humans have large brains and can control their urges to “make babies” and the need for men “who will provide for them.” This invention is called civilization, some parts of which are more advanced (evolved) than others. Islamic sexual segregation has less to do with biological urges than it does with keeping power concentrated in male hands and shame heaped on women.

    If civilization cannot overcome biology, then someone needs to be tied in the yard with the dog.

  58. Melissa McEwan

    Folks need some remedial biology if they think some oaf scratching his balls is comparable to a attractive 18 year old woman in a see-through blouse.

    The reason I used that example was not because it is comparatively attractive, but because it is comparatively distracting. I suspect you’re intelligent enough to know that, but decided to ignore it just to make a sad dig at me. Unimpressive.

  59. Nik E Poo

    Heterosexually speaking …

    Not sure what that phrase means. But if it is intended as some sort of broad statement about how heterosexuality is crucial to existence … I’d say:

    A fine oversimplification! However, it does not seem to fit with the fact that homosexuality is common across the entire animal kingdom … and it kinda ignores the that the critical factors influencing the survival of humans … has precious little to do with breeding rates … and everything to do with social skills.

  60. PortlyDyke

    As promised — Reba — for welcoming bearded women, men in skirts — I raise my butchy pom-poms to your employer(s).

    *Rattle-rattle-rattle*

    Go forth and preach it to all nations!
    (Did I say that out loud?)

  61. Heterosexually speaking, in the simplest of terms

    Hold up right there. Evo-psych is bunk, for one, and for another, putting people in one category or another and ascribing characteristics to those people because of their superficial aspects is not just anti-feminist, it’s fallacious. Just because I’m a heterosexual man does not mean I want to burden a woman with pregnancy.

    Bob needs to read up on basic logic sometime.

  62. Tom in Iowa

    Melissa – thanks again for this forum and this topic. It has been an topic in my household.

    I am amused that while my son and daughter’s high school does not have uniforms, popular fashion dictates it’s own “uniform” and the majority of students seem to adhere to it religiously, and regardless of weather appropriateness. 🙂

    My wife was asked to be on a parent representative on our local school’s handbook committee last year. The dress code was left generally vague. The main proscription was against “clothing that interfered with the educational process.” However the superintendent was adamant that the teachers and staff be trained that staff could only enforce the dress code on students of their own sex, for fear of law suits. So even our school district doesn’t feel it can trust men to look at female students objectively (sic). What kind of message is that?

    PortlyDyke – do kilts count? I have a number of them ranging from traditional Scottish to Utilikilts – and all have made a wearing or two to the office.

  63. Nik E Poo

    PortlyDyke … you rock.
    I’m quite possibly … figuratively and literally … your biggest fan.

  64. If civilization cannot overcome biology, then someone needs to be tied in the yard with the dog.

    Well put. Teaching children that an excuse is “I couldn’t control myself, it was X’s fault for looking so HAAAWT!” is key to this rape culture. It gives our children the idea that they’ll always have biology to blame, as well as their victim, should they ever rape someone.

  65. Reba

    Oh, shit. I see where that reaction came from. Folks should know I’m not a concern troll (or any kind of troll, for that matter, not so much liking the undersides of bridges) from other stuff I’ve posted. It just hit a button with me. This is a hard business to be in because there are tons of assumptions about what we do and wild speculation about what we don’t do but should.

    PortlyDyke – I wish there were more men in skirts. I always liked it when my male friends did that. We were teenagers – and Unitarians – which explains a lot, really. I did lose more than one Indian wrap skirt that way, though. I was a costumer for a lot of years and I put way more men into gowns with hoop skirts than I put women into swashbuckler wear. I think it was because women can wear pants any day but men almost never get to wear a dress. But I could be wrong. There could be a way deeper meaning than that.

    Come to think of it, I wonder what kind of article the SF Chronicle would print if boys started showing up in crop tops and short-shorts in large numbers. I’ll bet it would be a different angle all together.

  66. Hey Reba, you wouldn’t happen to be from Baltimore by any chance?

  67. Doctor Jay

    Tart, just to be clear, I have nothing in general against “lookin hot n’ sexy”. But it doesn’t belong at work, at least not at a Silicon Valley high-tech company. I need all my brain cells focused on work, including my lizard brain, and I’d expect my fellow engineers, male or female, gay or straight, to understand that and respect it.

    To me, hot ‘n sexy is for AFTER work.

  68. Reba

    Nope. My shop was in New England. Gave it up five years ago to move to the prairie.

  69. Cool. For a moment there you sounded suspiciously like one of my cousins and I just wondered.

  70. Doctor Jay

    Me: I’m all for women having power, including sexual power, but sexual power needs to be turned way, way down at work, or at school.

    Bluestocking: You first. Men exert much more sexual power in every damn setting they find themselves in –so you all stop first.

    Either you mean something very different by “sexual power” than I do, or I am highly ignorant. Tell me more, please.

  71. Melissa McEwan

    I need all my brain cells focused on work, including my lizard brain, and I’d expect my fellow engineers, male or female, gay or straight, to understand that and respect it.

    Wow. So we’re back to “If the girls would just put their dang titties away, maybe the boys could get some work done!”

  72. Nik E Poo

    I need all my brain cells focused on work, including my lizard brain …

    Actually, “high-tech” work … has nothing to do with unleashing the lizard brain. Rage? Fear? Hello?

    Perhaps employers should simply fire people who are easily distracted … or adjust pay accordingly. Personally, I’d hate to walk into an important meeting with a teammate that might become a drooling idiot at the sight of some cleavage.

  73. I wanted to add a college teacher’s perspective to the discussion.

    1) Melissa, you’re absolutely right that the tone of the article is drivel.

    2) And you’re horribly right that the biggest issue at the heart of this is:

    that none of these articles ever seems to raise any eyebrows among casual readers, is exactly why we live in a culture in which one in six American women are victims of sexual assault and we consider that acceptable.

    (And for anyone who doubts, that number really is one in six. Independent methods point to the same numbers: the proportion of reported vs unreported rapes, and the number of pregnancies that result from rape. Both sets of numbers imply that 3,000,000 women suffer rape every year. And that’s in the US alone. It’s a holocaust of torture. And, as Melissa says, it’s just part of the normal background for most people.)

    3) All that said, dress in high school and college really is a problem. (Manliness consists of wearing something like a burlap sack these days, but if they wore thongs to class, it would be the same issue.) Wearing CFM clothes, when F-ing isn’t on the map, really is just plain stupid. It strikes me (and I’m female) as a lame way of shouting, “I’ve got it and you can’t have it.” Maybe guys enjoy being teased while they’re trying to understand calculus, but I’d think after the novelty wore off, it’s nothing but annoying.

    4) The issue for male teachers really is a problem, and they don’t have to be predators for that to be true. I’m together with one, and I’ve seen how it goes. Wearing very revealing clothes in class creates an area the teacher has to NOT look at. That is distracting all by itself, and not necessarily in a sexual way. (You try standing up in front of tens to hundreds of people, present complex subject matter in a coherent way, think three sentences ahead while you talk, *and* remember not to look at the left side of the third row. Ever.)

    Because if a male teacher does seem to be looking at a student’s cleavage, believe me, that by itself is enough to get him in major trouble if the student decides to make an issue of it.

    5) Yes, the obvious and simple way to deal with egregious dress is for a teacher, or better yet a dean, of the same sex to discuss it with the student. (Duh.)

    6) Sorry that this is such an outrageously long comment!

  74. Doctor Jay

    Just a detail that I omitted before: the woman with the see through blouse wasn’t wearing a bra…

    When you say you want to be “hot ‘n sexy” it means you want to have an effect on me, yes? I don’t think that this power is evil, and I don’t need you to keep me from sinning or having impure thoughts. I just want you to own it.

    Part of the issue is that there is no one accepted universal standard for what’s appropriate. And it seems to me that there is a fair amount of insecurity and competition driving young women to push the limits, yes?

  75. To address point 3) real quick, a young woman trying to fit in — and dressing according to current fashion is much more about fitting in than it is about advertising ‘come fuck me’ — has to fight against, oh, the Pussycat Dolls, TV, music videos, movies, the glamourous lifestyles of the rich and parasitic, the teen magazines, the clothing designers, and everything else that says “dress like this or you’re a dweeb.” That nobody likes a dweeb goes without saying.

    There’s so much that tells young women that they have to look pretty and sexy no matter what they’re doing. Even Sarah and Catherine on CSI, while they dress sort-of sensibly for the sort of work they do, it’s rare that you’ll see either of them in a top that doesn’t show cleavage. Professional women on TV don’t look a whole lot like the way professional women look in the real world, but kids haven’t gotten there yet.

    Maybe young men feel like they’re saying “I’ve got it and you can’t have any” but that sounds awfully like blaming them for existing. I know you don’t mean to say that, but it sort of comes across that way.

  76. 3) All that said, dress in high school and college really is a problem. (Manliness consists of wearing something like a burlap sack these days, but if they wore thongs to class, it would be the same issue.) Wearing CFM clothes, when F-ing isn’t on the map, really is just plain stupid. It strikes me (and I’m female) as a lame way of shouting, “I’ve got it and you can’t have it.” Maybe guys enjoy being teased while they’re trying to understand calculus, but I’d think after the novelty wore off, it’s nothing but annoying.

    You recognize that this is a “shame and blame” point here, right?

    This comment reinforcing the idea that women are “teasing” men by being dressed in revealing clothing, rather than just being dressed. This is spouting the exact same drivel as the article.

    In other countries, nudity does not equal sex, but it does in the US? Why? I would argue because we enjoy less equality among the sexes in the US compared with Europe.

    As Bill Maher said, “we are a nation of six-year-olds” this article and points three and four in your article only confirm this is true.

  77. PortlyDyke

    Thanks Nik E Poo! I think I’m blushing!

    OK — beautiful spouse encouraged me to get out of the f-ing house and away from my computer for a few moments — and I’d follow here anywhere ;). I’m back from my walk and feeling decidedly less cynical.

    Reba — I, too, love seeing men in skirts, and yes, Tom, kilts DO count. I have a neighbor who strides out every day in his kilt. (‘Liss, does Mr. Shakes have one hiding in the closet? If so, will he greet us at the door of the pub on Friday in it? Oh please, oh please, oh please?)

    The whole “lizard brain” thing does not wash for me (and never has). If your “lizard brain” can ignore the basic need for food and water (as it does with many engineers, while they are working on a project), it can ignore the tits in the next cubicle.

    Dr. Jay, I can’t speak for bluestockings (may the name be praised!), but when I think of “sexual power”, I think of that moment where I am an adolescent, kneeling at the feet of a male, who will decide whether I may, or may not, enter my school-day, while other males pass by with a nod to whether their hair is touching their collar.

  78. PortlyDyke sez:

    The whole “lizard brain” thing does not wash for me (and never has). If your “lizard brain” can ignore the basic need for food and water (as it does with many engineers, while they are working on a project), it can ignore the tits in the next cubicle.

    Amen, sister. And pay attention, Bob in Kanses. Those are much more hard-wired survival necessities than sex and are sucessfully ignored all the time. Get a clue. As my feminist foremothers phrased it, biology is not destiny.

  79. Reba

    So, wait, Dr. Jay – if I find men in business attire to be “hot ‘n’ sexy, should I expect them to change the way they dress so I can concentrate? Should all men have to wear baggy clothing so I can do my job without distraction? Women’s clothes tend to fit women’s bodies, when they aren’t designed to make women look like men. And even if women dress like men, there’s plenty of people who find that sexy. I know lots of guys who like the way long skirts flow around a woman’s calves and ankles and some who are genuinely turned off by sheer shirts (something about texture, don’t ask me…). How the hell are we supposed to dress so that no man will be distracted by us? Oh, wait, I know! Burkahs.

    Yeah, I know that’s not what you meant, but where does the line get drawn and who gets to draw it? Wouldn’t it just be easier if folks concentrated on the job instead of being distracted by someone else’s body? Doesn’t mean you won’t notice if a woman is attractive to you, it means you shrug it off and do the damned job. It’s not all that difficult if what you want is to do the job, not control the environment.

  80. (I should have said, “I want to add another college teacher’s perspective.)

    I gotta come back on to fire away at Bob in Kansas. (Biology is what I taught. Evolutionary biology, no less.)

    The biology of sex has 3+ billion years behind it.

    No. Sex was invented well after the appearance of eukaryotes. It goes approximately like this: approx 3.5 billion years ago: first archaebacteria (no sex). Approx 1.5 billion years ago: first eukaryotes (single-celled, but cells like ours, not like bacteria. Still no sex.) Sometime before the Cambrian explosion of speciation, approx 550 million years ago, multicellularity, sex, and death were invented. That’s *why* there was a “sudden” explosion of diversity.

    men want to make babies and women want men who provide for their babies

    You’re assuming a level of cognition and planning for the future that simply doesn’t exist in most people, to say nothing about most animals. Female animals don’t think, “Oh, if I have sex, I’ll get pregnant, have offspring, and then need someone to help me care for them.” The only reason females have sex is because they … wait for it … want sex. Just like men. It’s astonishing how often evolution results in interactions that work extraordinarily well together.

    As to men ’sexualizing women’s bodies’ – here’s a clue – it’s not a recent development.

    Actually, it is. Again, you’re not taking cognition into account. In order to think of a woman as nothing but tits-and-ass you have to be capable of thinking of her as a person. Only human beings think in those kinds of categories, for the same reason that only humans speak using grammar. You’re confusing sexual desire and sexual objectification. The two are very different things. But that’s another whole book.

  81. Melissa McEwan

    Wearing very revealing clothes in class creates an area the teacher has to NOT look at.

    Technically, doesn’t it simply create an area at which the teacher has to not leer? I’m really not convinced that this can be argued as a significantly different issue from any other in which leering is inappropriate, e.g. teachers can’t stare at severely disabled students in a rude manner, either. As I’ve mentioned before, a girl with severe craniofacial deformities went through our school system a few years behind me, and obviously teachers were able to teach without gawking at her.

    Wearing CFM clothes, when F-ing isn’t on the map, really is just plain stupid.

    You know, it occurs to me that this is an issue of expectations–because, clearly, “F-ing” is on male teachers’ maps if they think it’s a problem. If you think I’m being unfair, consider that every student in my high school was required to take a semester of swimming. Every swim teacher was male. Even the most modest bathing suits show more skin than most of the clothes about which we’re talking, and yet–amazingly–the swimming instructors managed to do their jobs without requesting the girls wear full-body scuba suits or swimming pantaloons of yore.

    Did the swim teachers have dead libidos across the board? Or were they just prepared to see women in bathing suits and adjusted their “lizard brains” accordingly?

    Hmm. Maybe the fault really does lie with the cat.

  82. PortlyDyke

    “but where does the line get drawn and who gets to draw it?

    That is the point, the whole point, and nothing but the point, IMO.

  83. bluestockingrs: I guess I didn’t say it right. (re: You recognize that this is a “shame and blame” point here, right?

    This comment reinforcing the idea that women are “teasing” men by being dressed in revealing clothing, rather than just being dressed. This is spouting the exact same drivel as the article.)

    There are different ways of wearing clothes, and what I’m trying to talk about is when there’s a look-at-me aspect to it. It’s distinctly different from just being naked. As others have mentioned, some Europeans are way less uptight. When women sun themselves topless in Copenhagen, they’re not saying anything. They’re just sunning themselves. I’m not sure how to explain what I mean so that it’s clear.

    It’s also true that when there’s no look-at-me aspect, it’s not distracting in the sense that I was mentioning. (The business about not being able to look at the third row.)

    I dunno. Does any of this make sense to you?

  84. Melissa McEwan

    I’m not sure how to explain what I mean so that it’s clear.

    You are being clear, but you’re missing the point that Bluestockingsrs was making. When women sun themselves topless in Copenhagen, the reason they’re “not saying anything” is because the men all around them can behave themselves in the presence of naked breasts.

    As I’m sure most men would naturally do in America, too, although there are those who will continue to argue that they simply can’t control their “lizard brains,” because that is an acceptable belief to hold in America, whereas it simply is not in many other places.

    If you look at American decency laws prohibiting such things, they are almost always about protecting the women who might get it in their silly heads to bare their breasts in public from the men who can’t control themselves.

  85. Melissa McEwan

    In other words, the message that women are supposedly sending is created by the culture, not the women themselves.

  86. Bob in Kansas

    JackGoff said: “Just because I’m a heterosexual man does not mean I want to burden a woman with pregnancy. Bob needs to read up on basic logic sometime.”

    Whoa. Think back before availability of contraceptives – just about 100% of the history of our species. I don’t think you can logically say this. The defining trait of a heterosexual male (other species as well as human?) was and is the desire to copulate with a female (same species, hopefully).

    My bad (as the kids say) for using the term ‘make babies’ instead of ‘have sex’. I guess I’m just an old fart. Believe it or not, they were once synonyms. There are lots of other terms for it too!

    It’s not a matter of ‘wanting’ to burden a woman with pregnancy. It’s a fine point – we didn’t develop the desire to get women pregnant, we (heterosexual males) developed a desire to have sex with women – it provides a survival benefit for our genes. I’m pretty sure most pregnant women desire good providers for their kids – it provides a survival benefit to their own genes.

    JackGoff needs to read up on anthropology/biology sometime.

    I strongly agree with what most of you all are saying. We live in an world that is wildly different from the one in which we evolved to live. Choosing the influence of 5-6 thousand years of civilization over the influence of billions of years of evolutionary development is the right and admirable choice, no question. My point was that expecting men’s attitude toward women to match that of women toward men seems to me to be wishful thinking. We need to make the effort, always, but men are different than women.

    I apologize for the cheap shot, Melissa. You run a fine blog. Thank you for the soap box.

  87. Hmm. I guess I really started something.

    No, I don’t mean “leer.” I mean just “look,” as in “absently.” Depending on how the student takes it, that can be a problem, and the prof really has no control over how the student takes it. (Always assuming he isn’t leering.) That’s why it becomes nonsexually and distractingly important not to so much as look in the wrong direction. Really, folks. I am not making this up. The sad thing is that the real harassment goes on, in spite of (because of) all the paranoia.

    The women in Copenhagen do have to deal with lots of asinine men, sadly. Tourists are continuously wandering around, gawping. Yes, there’s a cultural element, but what I’m trying to talk about is the women themselves.

  88. Bob in Kansas: go read my little lesson on biology above. Jack Goff doesn’t need it as much.

  89. PortlyDyke

    Ahem.

    “Think back before availability of contraceptives

    Well, bob in KS, you may want to look here, here, and here, . . . and maybe you need to read up on some anthropology sometime.

  90. PortlyDyke

    OK, I posted with three urls — so it’s in moderation — wait for it — wait for it.

  91. Melissa McEwan

    Tourists are continuously wandering around, gawping. Yes, there’s a cultural element, but what I’m trying to talk about is the women themselves.

    But if it’s specifically tourists who are gawking at the women, that’s more than just a “cultural element”–that’s about the culture full-stop. It’s the presence of people outwith that culture who create the problem, and it has nothing to do with how the women are behaving. The proof is that their behavior is consistent, but the reactions of people within their culture and outwith their culture are different. You’ve provided the perfect example of how it’s not the behavior of women that make the difference, but the responses of men. There are men who behave, and men that don’t, and cultural imperatives have a lot to do with that.

    No, I don’t mean “leer.” I mean just “look,” as in “absently.” Depending on how the student takes it, that can be a problem, and the prof really has no control over how the student takes it.

    I just think this argument is a dead end. The more you have to qualify it, the more it becomes evident that it’s predicated on the possibility that some student might conjure from thin air something about which to be offended, which also tracks closely with the rape narrative of false reporting. Women shouldn’t be allowed to do this or that or the other because that makes it more likely they’ll file a false report against a man who totally didn’t do anything he swears.

    Yes, just like in any other aspect of society, there are liars and nuts who inexplicably choose to make life difficult for other people. Not unique to the teacher-student relationship, and not a remotely viable argument for trying to require students to conform to some arbitrary determination of non-sexiness.

  92. (I really do apologize for hogging all this bandwidth. And as Bob in Kansas says, thanks for the soapbox. I keep wanting to clarify. I’ll stop after this, I promise.)

    Re bathing suits. Yes, they show more skin. BUT, no, they’re not “look-at-me” clothing. At least not at a swimming pool. They probably would be in a lecture hall. That’s exactly the point I was trying to make. It’s not the clothes themselves. It’s the message the wearer is sending, if any. Lots of clothes are just clothes, including swimsuits. It’s not the amount of skin. It has to do with context, and expressed attitude (which obviously can be hard to read and be misunderstood), and sometimes the amount of skin depending on the context.

    None of this takes away from the point you were making that the article puts a burka-wearing burden on women and only women, and seriously misses the nub of the problem it’s talking about.

  93. Quixote: AIEEEE! Bathing suits are not “look-at-me” clothing? In what world are you living? Two words for you: Swimsuit Issue.

    And “It’s the message the wearer is sending” is blame-the-victim talk if I’ve ever heard it. Who brain-washed you, honey?

  94. Melissa McEwan

    I really do apologize for hogging all this bandwidth.

    Please don’t apologize! It’s not necessary at all. This is exactly what these threads are for. 🙂

    Re bathing suits. Yes, they show more skin. BUT, no, they’re not “look-at-me” clothing. At least not at a swimming pool. They probably would be in a lecture hall.

    I think that goes back to environment-appropriate clothing, though, which is different than identifying something as CFM clothes.

  95. I find the best approach with “look at me” clothing choices, which both men and women make, is not to look.

    Many people think because I have visible tattoos that I must be “a look at me” person, I am not, I just like tattoos.

    Further, I have big tits, they are the pair that came with puberty, yet many people regard large breasts as “a look at me” thing, regardless of how well I cover them up.

    Again, as Melissa said, all of these interpretations of my chosen and innate characteristics are from outside me, therefore I am not responsible for other people making assumptions about me based on my appearance.

  96. In other countries, nudity does not equal sex, but it does in the US? Why? I would argue because we enjoy less equality among the sexes in the US compared with Europe.

    Does that mean that I have been wrong in believing all along that it was because of the whole Puritan (which, btw, was the word I meant to use at the Pub the other night – instead of Pilgrim) “sex is of the devil” prudishness? And I do know that the Puritan prudishness was as much about misogyny as anything else – but while American society has retained the prudishness, Europeans have “evolved” beyond it.

    In other words, the inequality is the result, not the cause, of the prudishness.

    I’m seriously asking here, not criticizing.

  97. Mmh, I think it is all kinda chicken and egg at some point, you know.

    I think the thing about Puritan standards is that they weren’t all the prudish really –there are some fascinating studies of the sexual practices of the time and in comparison to today they were almost liberal.

    It is the sexual hypocrisy that permeates every discussion around sex that is their lasting legacy, I think. We are a deeply hypocritical society here in the US, with one standard for ourselves and another for everyone else. I think there is less of this hypocrisy in parts of Europe… but I don’t really know for certain either.

    I think that when men learn to treat women as their equals (that is fellow human beings) it becomes easier to relate to those women as people and not objects, hence less objectification, even when aforementioned women are naked.

    Way earlier in this thread, I talked about my own sexual attraction to women (’cause I am a dyke) and how I manage to interact with women, even naked women without seeing them in a sexual context. I think this is because I know not EVERY woman is available to me sexually, not should she be, a point many men fail to grasp, because of that pesky male privilege crap, that I lack being a girl.

    But then I am probably not the best person to ask since I am one of those feminists who believe that all oppression is modeled on the first group to be oppressed –women.

  98. PortlyDyke

    I have big tits too (since 12) AND I have a pretty healthy beard.

    (So much for the evolutionary/biological explanation of estrogen=big tits, testosterone=healthy beard.)

    If anyone wants to go off on me as a “freak of nature”, be warned — these butchy pom-poms double as an ASD (A**hole Shredding Device). 🙂

    To Phydeaux — I think that the demonization of sex and the sexualization of women cannot be adequately analyzed from our current perspective — it’s a chicken/egg proposition.

    Regardless of which demon gave birth to the other, we must confront them.

  99. PortlyDyke

    LOL — chickens and eggs — bluestockings beat me to it!

  100. Thanks for the feedback, bluestockingsrs and PortlyDyke. Every time I read a thread here I get more edumacated! 🙂

  101. Nik E Poo

    IMO, Liss really nailed it with “Shame and Blame”. Both of which can be useful emotional constructs to shape human behavior … but they have run amok in American society.

    I’m frequently surprised at the things people choose to be ashamed of. Many is the time that I hear tell (from my teacher friends) of students … shameless jockeying for grades … if not outright cheating. Then there’s cheating on taxes or indulging in wanton pettiness, rudeness or insensitivity. Sometimes I find myself staring into a person’s eyes … as if I might catch a glimpse of what demon just made them ________ (fill in the blank shameful ass shit).

    Meanwhile, the constant fretting, judging and analyzing of people’s bodies and sexual preferences … shames people into lives in which intimacy and profound sensual joy simply can’t exist.

    Its almost as if people view their life partner(s) … as if they are some item … that they want to get on sale … and they want it with all the bells and whistles … a consumerist view of sex.

    “How much did your husband cost?”
    “Oh, mine was real cheap … a great bargain.”
    “I think I paid too much for mine … and I didn’t get the leather.”

  102. Yeah, Nik, you hit on the head too.

    I resisted talking about the commodification of human relationships in a capitalist society, but you hit on it with your last example.

    It is part of materialism being a value that women are objectified and then evaluated and judged for their “quality”. It is completely gross, I think, yet I still fall prey to it at times as well.

    Also, I think of a line from the West Wing when the ambassador of China points out to Bartlet that the American Dream is a economic dream, not a philosophical one. There is no value placed on living a life of freedom and equality, any kind of like will do as long as that life is filled with crap we can buy… so we thing we can guy everything at some point, even our relationships with other humans.

    Ew.

  103. Quixote: AIEEEE! Bathing suits are not “look-at-me” clothing? In what world are you living? Two words for you: Swimsuit Issue.

    The astute observer of the human condition will note that, once again, context matters. In the context of a swimming pool and learning to swim, no. Swimsuits are not “look-at-me” clothing. My swimsuit sure as hell isn’t. The Swimsuit Issue, you’ll note, is the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated, not a place you’ll typically find people in swimsuits unless the Olympics are under way. The women of the swimsuit issue are there to titillate the reader and to sell Sports Illustrated during what used to be a slow sports news period when there wasn’t much going on in professional sports that month. You’ll also note that when swimmers are featured in a news story on competitive swimming, say, when the Olympics are on, are not photographed with the intent to provide the viewer with something sexy to look at. (Personally I find swimmers very attractive, but they’re not intending to be sexy, and not for my gaze.)

    And “It’s the message the wearer is sending” is blame-the-victim talk if I’ve ever heard it. Who brain-washed you, honey?

    Taking you at face value? The patriarchy brainwashed me, you, everybody else. It takes effort to see that for what it is and to overcome it — and even I, who consider myself a radical feminist, am not always successful.

    The message the wearer is sending matters, and saying so isn’t in and of itself shaming said wearer. Sometimes a person in a swimsuit is wearing it to draw attention to themselves, sometimes they’re wearing it to go swimming. It’s not blaming the victim to point that out. Girls who wear revealing clothing aren’t necessarily intending to send a message of “Look at how sexy I am.” My guess, and I’m guessing here, though it’s (I hope) an informed one is that they want to look reasonably attractive, to look fashionable, but not necessarily to look whorish, to borrow a word from my grandmother. The Pussycat Dolls are an easy target, but there’s been a trend lately of treating burlesque as if stripping were something every woman should want her daughter to aspire to. Strippers are not bad people and stripping is not necessarily a bad choice, but again, context. What’s appropriate for a nightclub is not necessarily appropriate for a schoolroom, or an office.

  104. Beg to differ with you on the issue of swimsuits. Nothing constructed the way even one-piece suits are can be anything but body-conscious at the very least, suggestive at best. Need I mention the combination of wetness and erect nipples? They’re the nearest thing to wearing body paint or latex, no matter how modestly cut. Which is why so many women wear a t-shirt over them, or eschew them all together for shorts. Like much of women’s clothing, they’re designed to suggest and reveal, context appropriate or not.

    Yes, we’ve all been brainwashed to a degree, but I can’t tell you how it distresses me to hear women chant the “it must be something I did” chorus in its many variations. Again, who decides what’s apprpriate? Too often, it’s men for the benefit of the male gaze. And often women dress up as much for themselves and each other as they do for men, but it’s men who make the interpretation too. If I think I’m dressing to feel good about myself, whether that includes feeling attractive or sexy, with or without the intent of actually attracting someone, if a man decides my clothing means I’m sexually available, I’ve got a problem–not because of the message I’m sending (the one I think I’m sending) but because of its interpretation. It’s the prevailing assumption of women’s sexual availability that’s the underlying problem, not the context.

  105. *sigh* No. You’re not wrong. Not about the swimsuits — even my nice modest black tankini set has a mesh inset across the belly designed to make my waist look smaller. Why? Because we’re all supposed to be thin and attractive and either potentially available or obviously attached to a man. And not about the wide gap between what I think I’m wearing to feel good about myself and what a man sees when he looks at me.

    I just… I don’t like the way kids are shamed for doing drugs and having sex and wearing low-rise jeans and spaghetti-strap tanks. They’re doing a lot of the same things I did when I was their age and I survived somehow. I really don’t like the way we’ve gone from correctly fighting sexual harassment and sexual abuse to incorrectly blaming the victims of harassment and abuse for being too attractive and bringing it on themselves. Not that you were, but the men in the article so terrified that some teenaged girl will make them stare at her inappropriately.

    I don’t know what to do. It’s depressing as hell, especially since I don’t see this getting better. The conversation seems to be “Don’t stare at my tits!” from the women, followed by “Well, if you didn’t have them hanging out where I could see ’em, I wouldn’t. Here’s a nice burqa for you.” from the men. How do we move forward without getting pushed back?

  106. I know exactly how you feel, Moira. All we can do is keep having the dialogue, educating our kids better, fighting the good fight where it needs to be fought. Believe it or not, there’s been some progress. I’ve seen a big difference between the men of my generation (late baby boomers) and the younger ones I’ve had in my college classes. It’s not perfect and it’s not where it should be, but I think there’s hope.

    I’m just worried that so many young women don’t see the issues, and yet they’ve internalized all these horrible messages about their bodies. It’s two steps forward, one step back. But I think it’s important to call people on their misconceptions, whether they’re male or female.

    Just keep the dialogue going. It’s silence that allows oppression to flourish.

  107. Agreed. I keep remembering the Queer Nation slogan from back when: SILENCE = DEATH. It does now just as much as it did then, and there are so many people who want us dead or (at best) invisible.

    The other day there was a stunt on the Tyra Banks show where they took three high school girls out to Los Angeles for some… I don’t know how to describe it. The point was that kids do a lot of things wanting to be popular. I started smoking when I was fourteen because it was a way for me to hang out with people and belong. They took these girls out to LA and put them in a big party situation and had actors test them by offering them (fake) alcohol and (fake) drugs. All three drank the fake booze and all but the youngest took the drugs. Of course there were cameras present to capture it all.

    They didn’t know that they were being tested. I don’t know if they knew they were being filmed — the video quality was poor, suggesting that it was from small, low-resolution cameras.

    Then they showed the video to the girl’s parents, brought them all onstage. Properly shamed now, there were lots of tears, promises to never do it again. And I hated every minute of it. The whole setup was to shame these girls on national television for doing what I did at their age (or would have done in a heartbeat if I’d had the opportunity). And my partner looked at me and said, “What, you want to encourage kids to do drugs?”

    I didn’t know what to say to that. No, I don’t want to encourage kids to do drugs. But I don’t want to tell kids they’re bad, they’re failures for doing what we’ve all (but a few) done at some point or other.

    I want kids to know the truth about drugs. Some are dangerous, some aren’t, most are fun, and they’re all illegal right now. You don’t always know what you’re getting when you buy them.

    I’ve veered away from the sexy clothes-shaming topic, but it’s still shaming. It’s still telling kids they’re bad for being normal kids.

  108. No, you haven’t quite veered from the topic, which is shame and blame. Because it was three girls, not three boys, or a mixed group. And yeah it was a way stupid stunt that shows up our society’s hypocrisy about any kind of pleasure. Kids want to fit in, whether it’s clothes, fads, attitudes, drugs. If you give them enough sense of themselves as worthwhile, they tend to be more resistant to doing stupid shit, and more likely to treat each other with respect. Shame never taught anyboyd anything but more shame. Same with guilt. And yet we heap it on about everything: sex, food, alcohol–just living differently.

    I remember the Silence=Death actions too. I always loved the “We’re Here, We’re Queer, Get Used to It!” slogan too. But before that were the Take Back the Night marches. As you said, the prevailing culture is all about shaming of “deviants” (not rich white males) into invisibility.

    Don’t go quietly. Well-behaved women rarely make history. A little confrontation is good for the soul.

  109. Thanks, Ms. Kottner. I appreciate the encouragement. 🙂

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  113. seeing eye chick

    I have tested the clothing theory. I stopped shaving everything, bought horn rimmed glasses, stopped wearing makeup and getting fancy with the hair on my hear.

    Didnt work.

    The men who bothered me when I was dressed with more care to my appearance still bothered me. The changes in grooming brought insignificant reduction in harassment in addition to marks against me for uniform violations.

    I wore a uniform, nothing showed. It was a military uniform. Dungarees, the same ones that some prisoners used to wear which IMHO were about as sexy as a burlap sack.

    Dressing provocatively can draw attention to you, and if you act the part, it can enhance the focus on you, but
    And this is important:

    When it comes to rape and harassment, sex is only the vehicle. Its really about power and depriving the woman of it.

    Its about men feeling threatened by someone who is potentially more skilled than they {in whatever field}, that is more attractive, and a better communicator.

    The quickest way to shut her down is to call her a slut and treat her like a whore where everyone can see you do it.

    If you can get 10 or 20 dudes to help then its even *better. {note angry sarcasm}.

    Then you can destroy your competition, PERMANENTLY, possibly get your rocks off and have something to laugh about later over cheap beer.

    Because when a man harasses you or rapes you, he doesnt love you. So what is he saying? I hate you so much I could fuck you?

    No means no.

    I dont care what his or her job is, what they are wearing or how far one went making out or what the voices told you in your head.

    No.

    Its a boundary.
    Respect it.

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