Monday, November 21

Cultural waves: men's temptation, women's dress

Middle school principal sends suggestive texts to a 22yo intern.  She says "Stop."  He says "You're being a tease" and sends more texts and a picture of his penis.  She says "Stop or I'll call the police."  He doesn't stop right away.  Texts her over a period of several months.  Two years ago.  Just recently the story hit the news.  Middle school principal has resigned.  Fallout continues.

Israel, where gender equality has existed, even in the military, for years.  There seems to be a growing influence of the ultra-orthodox who are challenging the women behave and dress.  One of the most telling statements in the article is this:
Those traditional values typically include restrictions on television and the Internet, modest dress codes and segregation of the sexes, which haredi leaders say is needed to protect women from sexual exploitation and men from temptation.
Some time ago a group of Christian executives gathered to discuss a particular proposal.  They were reluctant to consider it because the woman who brought it forward was wearing a top that showed a bit more decolletage than the men were comfortable with, though the women present seemed to think it was reasonably modest.

In the 21st century, though we know sexism remains a problem, most American women may tend to associate such thinking with Muslim conservatism because of the burqa, a form of covering up we tend not to understand.

This isn't a new story, and the custom of modest dress (with its own wide range of definitions) is not limited to the ultra-orthodox Jews nor the more conservative Muslims.

For several reasons, I'm going to set aside my simmering outrage that women have to dress more modestly so men won't be tempted, which is to suggest, in my mind, that those big, strong, brave men aren't able to manage or control their temptations.  Samson and Delilah?  Cleopatra and Mark Anthony?  Goodness knows women have been using their "feminine wiles" since women realized they had such wiles to use.  And let's not complicate things by suggesting the serpent in the Garden of Eden was male and the first temptation was that by a man of a woman.  Let's not suggest that one of the reasons women have used their looks and decolletage is because of the way some men hold power and because of the way some men demand a certain kind of obeisance because of the way those men understand power.

While I find the "boys will be boys" argument insufferable, sexist, and absurd, I also understand that our world is complicated.  When I was still teaching, I was often alarmed by the lack of fabric that constituted some of female students' clothing.  I confess that on first sighting that some of those skimpy outfits were distracting to me because I wondered what that young woman was trying to convey about herself.  While I appreciate wanting to reduce the cloth-to-skin ratio when it's hot and humid, there are limits.  Should be limits?  That's why businesses and some schools have dress codes.

There really isn't an easy answer.  I understand women wanting to look sexy; and I appreciate that men appreciate women looking sexy.  Knowing what's appropriate for which circumstances shouldn't be that hard and yet we seem to struggle with that.  Still.  Again.

I'd love to oversimplify and suggest that men should be responsible for managing their own temptation, but I know it's not that simple.  I know that, whether innocently or unscrupulously, women dress provocatively to be provocative.  What they don't always anticipate is how far that provocation might go.  Sure, girls just wanna have fun, but it's really stupid to test the limits.  The problem seems to be knowing the limits and realizing that not all of us have the same limits.

The middle school principal is a good example.  The 22yo intern didn't dress provocatively.  She just happened to be young and, apparently, incredibly erotically attractive to this middle school principal.  He chose to yield to his temptations and, even more stupidly, chose to think "No" meant "Tell me more, baby."  Even so, expecting women to conform to a particular dress code for a minority (I hope) of men just doesn't seem to be the best solution.

I also hope that we can all tamp down the simmering outrage we may feel because of our own perspectives and try to have reasonable conversations, respecting divergent opinions and perspective and trying not to demand that everyone else conform to our way of thinking.  Sigh.  Yes, can't we all just get along?

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