Why Modesty Doesn’t Prevent Being Objectified

As a young woman, I’m thoroughly aware that people are going to notice me by the way I dress as well as be told how I should dress in public in order to divert unwanted attention from the opposite sex whose lustful feelings I may entice which might put me in a terrible situation. Still, I’m also aware of the way the media objectifies women in the way that is unhealthy for young girls which I highly object to. Sure I’m aware how the media tells girls that wearing scantily outfits makes them look attractive but I know that the media’s agenda is to make money but portraying women in the media is an entirely different story. Besides, I never really follow fashion trends nor place my appearance as a high priority, at least not above my brains, health, or personality. I may want people to respect me but I want them to do so because I’m a human being regardless what I wear or how I look in public. However, though I think the way women are shown in the media is a great concern, many of these conservative groups blame the 1960s as to why we keep showing women as objects and so provocatively as well. Not to mention, they tell girls that if they cover up, people will respect them and they will not draw unwanted attention from guys who want nothing to do with them. Yet, though modesty does have a place in society, it’s not going to prevent women and girls being objectified which is the result of some bigger problem of society as a whole which has roots way before 1960s ever swept the world.

1. Objectification of women has been prevalent throughout history-When conservatives talk about the objectification of women, they usually use the 1960s as a starting point since that the era of the Sexual Revolution, feminism, rock n’ roll, and the miniskirt. However, like most aspects of life during the 1960s, objectification of women didn’t start in the 1960s, it was just the time when people noticed the trend and saw it as problematic.  Even so, while many people link objectification of women as an unfortunate side affect of women’s liberation, it is not and never has. Namely the reason why we start seeing this is that people in the media just used feminism and the Sexual Revolution as an excuse to depict women as more scantily clad and sexual in ways they couldn’t do otherwise. And this was all for money since sex has always sold and many guys thought that portraying women this way would make them look like they were supporting female empowerment when in fact, they weren’t. Also note that the people behind these kind of ideas were men. Feminism doesn’t just mean women having sexual freedom, but also freedom to be treated as human beings to the same degree as men are, despite their flaws or other unlikeable qualities. Still, the notion of depicting women as objects while prevalent as ever today didn’t start with feminism, but rather is a notion as old as perhaps civilization itself, maybe even earlier than that. Throughout history, women have not only been treated as objects to be bought and sold but also used to fulfill men’s needs. In stories they were seen as prizes to be won, as ornaments to be adorned, as idols to be worshiped, and even as decoration to entice people to buy some sort of product. Yes, women have been objectified throughout history, always being told to concentrate on their looks in order to be attractive as well as respectable and be good to their loved ones unconditionally, while their voices, needs, and desires don’t matter. And what these women wore didn’t make any difference since being objectified doesn’t require a person to be scantily clad. Still, there were also plenty of people who spoke out on it then as well, including women.

2. Appearance doesn’t always affect chances of getting attention- Sure it’s a given that everyone is going to judge a person by their appearance, especially a woman. And it’s also a given that we will all draw unwanted attention to ourselves in one way or another, sometimes based on what we wear, but most of the time not. Sometimes a woman would receive unwanted attention because guys simply find her attractive or whatever. Sure she may turn men’s heads while prancing around in a miniskirt but she’s just as likely to do the same in sweatpants but while some may get distracted, most of them probably won’t go any further than ogle or mildly harass her until she’s out of their sight or at least try to concentrate on what they’re doing. Some men may think about asking her out but  few would ever think of actually doing anything to her that she didn’t want. If any of those guys did try to harass or assault her, then it’s their fault not hers. Some people think that women’s clothing choices are dependent on the chances of receiving unwanted attention, while in reality, there’s no correlation between the two whatsoever. To say so is an insult to men as well since they are said to be unable to control their sexual urges as well as an insult to say that women are responsible for them and must cover up to protect themselves. If that notion was true then the Middle East would have a low rate of rape incidents and marital fidelity would be almost nonexistent. Men certainly can control their sexual urges and do so all the time regardless of how women dress or behave themselves. The prevalence of many happily marriages serve as living proof that men can be responsible for their sexual behavior and certainly do say no and not because of impotence either. The reason why some men say they can’t because they don’t want to take responsibility, just don’t want to resist the temptation, or want to have their way regardless of what the other person says. Still, because there are men who don’t want to take responsibility for their sexual behavior, it’s women who get blamed for tempting them even though they had no desire to draw that kind of attention as well as repeatedly said no. Still, that doesn’t stop other men from blaming women for their own rapes and use any excuse to try to justify why she’s responsible such as dressing provocatively, being a slut, or being drunk which they say is sort of “asking for it.” However, regardless of how slutty a woman may appear, if she was asking for it, she wouldn’t be raped and therefore, isn’t responsible for the rape itself.

However, a woman doesn’t always have to be attractive to attract unwanted attention, sexual or otherwise. For one, not every man has the same criteria of beauty standards and might find one woman attractive that others may find disgusting. Second, you may have women being harassed and gawked at for simply being ugly or wearing something that’s utterly ridiculous. Then in some areas a woman might receive unwanted attention just for simply being one in an area where there are mostly men, like in North Dakota.

3. Modesty standards are defined by culture and vary through history- Whenever conservatives use the term “modesty” it’s usually by their standards whether they be in the US or anywhere else in the world. And modesty standards will always be dictated according to culture and customs. What may be inappropriate in one culture might be perfectly fine in another. For instance, many conservative groups may not think women should wear a bikini in this country, an African Bushman may see a woman with her bikini on as way overdressed. And of course, a woman in a Christmas sweater and pajama bottoms would look too much like a slut, according to the Taliban who wish their women wear burqas. At another time in history, anyone within means would cause a scandal if they went around in public dressed in something comfortable and weather permitting in the Western world (if you ever go tour the Confederate White House in Richmond during the summer, you’ll see why). Every culture has a different standards on what’s decent and what’s not and can be subject to change depending on climate, economy, social norms, religion in some cases, or other factors. Significant events in history can also alter our perception of decency standards like wars, social movements, and aesthetic trends.

4. Modesty only enforces the importance of appearance- Since objectification of women is rather dependent on a woman’s looks modesty doesn’t at all prevent a woman from being seen as an object since it only reinforces the notion of women being judged by their outward personal appearance, which is no help to make women more human or develop a healthy body image. And for the longest time, society has always taught women that their appearance is important which has made many women and girls insecure about their body image. Still, modesty isn’t necessarily a bad thing nor is lecturing about the importance of one’s own appearance either. I fully understand that appearances are important when living in society and that people should always try to look respectable. We can all agree that no one wants to see anyone out in public in their birthday suit and that there’s nothing wrong with store owners putting signs out  that read “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service.” Public nudity is always a distraction no matter what the person looks like or what feelings he or she projects on other people, everyone is going to assume that the nudist is a freak if he or she’s old enough to know better. Not to mention, public nudity is illegal in most areas so any nudist showing his tallywhacker will surely be arrested for indecent exposure. This is where modesty standards are okay since a taboo against public nudity is applied to everyone in which their only expectation is that they at least cover their privates in a public setting.

However, modesty can be used in harmful ways, especially when it’s unfairly applied and contributes to a negative body image or personal shame. And women have been the brunt of this kind of negative appearance reinforcement since modesty has not only been used to control them but also to judge them by their appearance as well. And the more people judge women on their appearance the more they tend to see them as objects and treat them that  way as well. Not to mention, it doesn’t help that countless women have been taught to value their physical appearance above all their personal attributes as well as that their looks are key to their success in life. Modesty may teach people to judge others by the way they dress, but it can also judge people by the way they look as well and not always fairly. For instance, a woman in a skimpy outfit would be seen as slutty but while an attractive woman in the same clothes would come off as distracting to the guys in the room, a woman who’s not so attractive, overweight, and/or over the age of 40 would be judged as disgusting wearing the same thing. Being seen as distracting to others because of your outfit may not be a good thing or cultivate a healthy body image as well as contribute to some degree of humiliation, but to some girls being criticized for wearing a skimpy outfit might be a compliment to them since it might give them an affirmation that they’re attractive. Being seen as ugly and disgusting, on the other hand, is hurtful for a woman to hear and further encourages her to develop a negative body image which could lead to further problems. Covering up because of oogling eyes is one thing, covering up because there’s something unsightly about your body is another. If we want to encourage people not to treat women as objects, we need to humanize them and see them as people first, not tell them to cover up when they’re in a skimpy outfit.

5. Objectification comes in many forms and is not always sexual- When we talk about objectification, we talk about women being seen and used as sexual objects for men’s wishes and needs, we also don’t talk about how else we treat people as objects to do what we ask them while placing very little value on them as human beings. For instance, slavery is a classic example of people being treated as less than human since slaves were forced to work each and every day with little benefit to themselves and were seen as easily disposable as well as had to do whatever their bosses wanted since he or she owned them. Paid labor has also suffered from this kind of objectification as well, especially in the days when people had to work twelve hour days six days a week while getting very little for it in return for bosses who had no regard for their well being. Things might have changed since then but even in this country we still have people being exploited by their work places whenever the upper management can get away with it, particularly in places that prohibit their workers from forming a union (which I think is unconstitutional) but still treats them as if they were a commodity which will work cheaply because he or she can’t get it anywhere else and can be disposed at will. This is increasingly evident in today’s economy where benefits are being cut and layoffs are just a fact of life. People may not always like unions but even so, unions serve a purpose in society by making employers see workers as human beings whose contribution to the economy should be recognized and valued since they are just as responsible for a company’s profits as the CEO. Business and politics tend to have habits of using people as pawns all for the money and power, but that’s another story.