Obligatory Modesty and How It’s Affecting Girls Today

Obligatory Modesty and How It's Affecting Girls Today

Throughout time women have been encouraged to dress modestly. We’re past the era when seeing an ankle was scandalous, but there is still a stigma around women who have the gall to wear a mini skirt.

Nowadays, there is a mix of women who like to dress with modesty in mind and those who are comfortable wearing something different.

To be clear, modesty isn’t a sin as long as it is your choice to dress modestly because it’s what you feel comfortable and thrive in. The real sin here is that women are being subtly (and not so subtly) coerced into dressing in a way that society views as ‘modest’ because they’re worried they’ll be viewed differently or even threatened if they don’t.

Modesty should be a personal choice, not an obligation. You shouldn’t need to avoid miniskirts in order to be respected in society. As long as you’re not wearing a t-shirt that says ‘proud sexist’ or walking naked in the street, who gives a damn what you’re wearing?

Unfortunately, what we wear is still being seen as a direct indicator of our character and even our worth. We’re still wading through the common murky perception that girls should dress modestly, and if they don’t, they’re ‘trashy’ or a ‘slut’. Slutshaming and calculating someone’s worth by their style of dress is so demeaning. And far too many of these judgements are made because of girl on girl hate or because a scorned man assumed that a short skirt meant ‘I’m all yours’.

I myself worry when I wear short skirts – 50% of my worry is centred on sudden gushes of wind and the other 50% is fear that someone will think I’m sending them a signal of permission to grab my ass.

This idea that modesty defines your self-worth gets bedded in early. There are so many reports of girls being shamed for their outfit choice at school. These girls are being blamed for being sexual objects for men/boys to stare at, when it should be the role of parents and teachers to educated boys that girls are not a walking, talking opportunity for sex.

I’m lucky in that I live in Australia, where the majority of our schools have assigned uniforms. I didn’t have to worry about teachers accusing me of distracting male students with my premature, training-bra boobs. On casual days, wearing singlets was forbidden to both boys and girls (though I suspect that decision was made with sun safety rather than gender equality in mind.)

However, the issue still stands, and it doesn’t stop at school – it seeps into adult life and the workplace. If boys are taught from a young age that girls are sex objects, not hardworking equals, then how are they going to treat their female colleagues in the professional world?

(Editor note: They’ll probably end up this guy who used LinkedIn (a professional platform) to post a pic of a woman as a sex object, and NOBODY CARED. NOT EVEN LINKEDIN.)

Obligatory modesty is all part of the eternal cycle of double standards. I say ‘eternal’, but it needs to end.

slutshaming toxine

There are so many gender-based double standards in today’s perception of modesty, too. It’s seen as socially acceptable for men to take their shirts off but people have a heart attack if they see a woman’s nipple – even if she’s feeding her baby. Infants aren’t known for being co-operative and patient – if they need to be fed, they need to be fed.

This double standard in clothing and modesty is horrifically obvious on any day of the week. Take this reader’s experience of getting slutshamed for her miniskirt by an older woman on the bus – who said nothing about the guy standing nearby with a design of a headless naked woman on his t-shirt. Another day, another example of everyday sexism.

Guys can show as much of their body as they want without too much social gratification or approbrium coming their way, but a girl in a short skirt is apparently a slut who’s asking to be sexually assaulted.

It hits me even harder when women slut-shame other women due to what they are wearing, deepening the stigma. I still remember how, when Emma Watson did a 2017 topless Vanity Fair cover shoot, she was shamed by both men and women and labelled a hypocrite and anti-feminist.

Emma Watson’s eloquent response:

“Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it.” Can we stop associating a women’s clothing with her stance on feminism? Even better can we not judge women by their clothing choice at all?”

People need to understand that when a woman confidently shows off her body, she isn’t doing so for male attention. Seriously, don’t flatter yourself. She’s doing it to feel confident in herself. This concept that a woman’s choice of clothing is done purely for male attention needs to die, along with the medieval idea that a woman is somehow to blame if a man is attracted to her (or even assaults her).

If society can’t evolve enough to make this happen, then I guess we’ll have to raise standards for men.

Boys shouldn’t be allowed to take their shirts off at the beach because I can see his nipples and it horrifies me.

Boys in school should wear sweatshirts in the summer because I can’t concentrate on my science test with his biceps begging me to look and fantasise about them.

Sounds extreme, doesn’t it?

Well… we could just change the standards we hold women to instead, and allow everyone the freedom to dress however they please without any social consequences.

Main illustration: Hayley Lim