“Don’t tell us what to wear; teach the boys not to stare.”

For the past few days, watching the high teenagers stroll from the El to the Spring Awakening Music Festival at Soldier Field, I have been thinking of today’s teen culture and what a sheltered, goodie-good child I was. But I’ve also been thinking about slut-shaming, and rape blaming.  The fundamental question I’ve been grappling with is: Should tween- and teen-aged girls be “allowed” and encouraged to wear things like midriff shirts and booty shorts (literally, I could see butt cheeks)? Or should they be counseled against these provocative and objectifying outfit choices?

On one hand, girls should be able to wear what they want without fear of sexual assault. On the other hand, this dress promotes objectification by both men and the dresser herself, because for what other reason besides promoting the culturally-defined version of one’s “hot” body is this clothing for? (Note – this was not at the beach. It was warm, but not hot enough to need to wear a sequined bra top and mini skirt to the festival in order to stave off heat exhaustion.)

Peggy Orenstein’s article the other day in the New York Times, “The Battle Over Dress Codes,” addresses this issue and calls attention to the difficult line this is. Notes Orenstein, “while women are not responsible for male misbehavior, and while no amount of dress (or undress) will avert catcalls, cultural change can be glacial, and I have a child trying to wend her way safely through our city streets right now. I don’t want to her to feel shame in her soon-to-be-emerging woman’s body, but I also don’t want her to be a target. Has maternal concern made me prudent or simply a prude?”

I understand her conundrum. I feel caught between that prudent/prude dichotomy myself when thinking of those girls and their bare bellies. How do we encourage developing girls to feel pride in their bodies while also encouraging them to cover it up? Can girls embrace their newfound sexuality without feeling the need to show it off and give it away (or being told they shouldn’t do those things)? Is wearing provocative clothing a rallying cry for feminism, or the opposite? I think the opposite, but go read Orenstein’s article and tell me what you think.


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