It's my Senior year of High School and we were sitting in a "Modesty Meeting."
There were no boys there, of course. Because not only would it have been inappropriate to include the boys and expect them to cover themselves as well, it would be unthinkable to discuss female body parts in front of them. Female body parts are dirty and yet also don't exist. Don't ask me to explain it. Nobody really gets it.
We talked about arbitrary rules, how low was too low, how high was too high, given even more arbitrary measurements to make sure our provocative bodies were hidden (skirt length to the fingertips? Why, thank you, Gorilla arms, I guess I'll wear pants all year.), and had a mildly unhealthy discussion about how our bodies were causing all the little boys to sin. Sin, sin sin. Goodness, I have no idea how those boys learned at all with all the devil boobies surrounding them.
Growing up with the Modesty Mentality, this kind of treatment was nothing new to me. Some people said it nicer than others but the message was still the same.
pull your skirt down.
pull your shirt up.
wear layers in the summer. who cares if you're hot.
we're embarrassed by your thighs.
your shoulders are sexual.
your body is dirty.
your body is to blame.
think of the boys.
I didn't separate the idea of slut-shaming from the idea of modesty until after I was married. I thought them to be the same thing. I assumed that being ashamed of your body was paramount to how much you loved yourself, how much you loved your fellow brother's in Christ. It became a game, sliding from one extreme of How Much Can I Show And Still Be The Good Girl and Not Get Sent Home, to How Holier Than Thou Can I Be To Prove How Much I Respect Myself.
It wasn't until I escaped High School, got married and started appreciating all the goodness a body can do, and started using clothes as an artistic outlet that I saw how damaging the More Clothing = More Respect equation can be.
Which brings me to my new vendetta.
No. More. Dress. Codes.
I need to clarify that I am speaking specifically of dress codes in a school environment and not a workplace (that's a whole other kettle of fish, m'dear). To me, dress codes in a school are incredibly sinister because of the impressionable minds they are molding.
You will hear, of course, after some read this that dress codes are needed. Kids get distracted, they say, by other kids. They say it will be hard to (actual quote) "study with tits and ass hanging out". The only way children will learn, they say, is by being surrounded by mindless drones who have their dirty bodies covered so their pure eyes can scan the textbooks in a completely silent room.
The implication is alarming.
Dress codes teach:
1) Originality is bad and distracting.
The school in particular that I went to had rules against boys having hair longer than their earlobes, "extreme haircuts", unnaturally colored hair, facial piercings, tattoos, and other body modifications.
This is terrible, not only for the fear it instills in children against the tattooed and pierced community, but also for how much it takes these hormone-ridden and trying-to-find-their-place children and squishes them into a little box, refusing them an important outlet of expression. Children who feel as though they are not able to express themselves act out. Children who feel as though originality is bad will grow up to treat the "Weird" kid with cruelty.
2) You are not responsible for your actions if you are a boy.
The major focus of our Modesty Meetings was how to keep our brothers from stumbling. That's right. The sliver of thigh atop my knee was going to send my brethren careening down a dark path where he would trip straight into hell.
Nevermind that their eyes are in their head. Never mind that their head is attached to a neck with nerves and muscles and shit. Never mind that in the bible there is a passage which specifically states that one look is unavoidable because people pass through our vision, but that it is up to the man not to take a second look. I would like to point out that even the bible recognizes that choosing to gape and fantasize lies squarely on the dude's shoulders.
Dress codes, however, are built on the foundation that if a body is in the room, the man will look at it, he will be distracted and driven to sin, and that it is the girl's fault.... for.. existing in the same room, I guess.
Note: My husband, who is extremely attracted to women, would like to point out that a beautiful, confident women is attractive no matter what she is wearing and if she was covered in head to toe it would still be possible for a man to choose to be distracted and lust after her.
3) the bodies of women are dirty and dangerous.
I know some will try to frame dress codes under the guise of "self-respect" and that "women's bodies hold so much power they need to be covered". But, you see, saying that respect for a woman hinges how much skin she does or doesn't show is dangerous. You are defining her worth as a person by the outside. You know what else did that? Slavery.
Not only does this mentality scar women sexually -- by the way, going from NO DON'T HAVE SEX IT'S DIRTY to YES YOU'RE MARRIED HAVE ALL THE SEX NOW DO IT NOW LOVE IT LIKE IT GIVE IT ALL THE TIME doesn't work -- but it throws vulnerable teenage girls under the bus, held captive by her own changing body that she cannot control, being told her body is a weapon of mass destruction. When you emphasise the body as bad you make this girl feel like she deserves bad things.
Arbitrary words, arbitrary judgements.
When you apply these limits and labels to women, when you insist that you need to be covered to have respect, when you insist that Boys Will Be Boys and that "they can't help it",
this is what you are saying.
This is going to be a surprise to people who purport dress codes, but rape isn't triggered by anything.
Rape is not about sexual attraction.
Rape is not about opportunity.
Rape is not about "that type of girl".
Rape is about violence and hatred.
Stop giving rapists excuses.