When I got back from work yesterday, hauling chinese food home with me, I sat down to check my email, and found one from an address and name I didn't recognize, with the subject line "modesty." My first assumption was that it must be a response to something I wrote for the George Street Observer (of which I am opinions editor). But my last few op-eds had been on national or international politics, not social and cultural issues. So, even though I had exams to study for, and usually save all non-essential email for when I have time, I went ahead and opened this one. I'd like to quote in full the text of her message to me:
I happen to have a boyfriend who is attending a class with you this semester and something about his behavior disturbs me greatly: I recently overheard a phone conversation he had with a friend of his where they used less than decent language in commenting on a woman. I am certain they were referring to you because another girl I know attends the same class and said that he often stared at you and usually was distracted from the class material.
I know him to often be led away from my attention by seeing women who are not modestly dressed (wearing tight-bottom clothing, visible pantylines, etc. which he has a weakness for) and act in a flirty way, as my friend has confirmed about you. I am only asking you to please dress and act in a more modest manner because even though you may be an attractive girl, you should not flaunt it in a way that leads decent guys like my boyfriend to say these things about you. I am sory if you did not realize the effect your behavior has on young men, but I do hope you could learn to deal with this issue in an appropriate way.
Sincerely, Paranoid Girl
My first thought was that this girl must be either joking or mistaken. I'd like to think I'm a pretty cute girl, but I'm not exactly homewrecker material, nor do I dress in any particularly unique way. Obviously, warm weather lasts pretty long here in Charleston, and I dress for comfort. When it's 90 degrees and so humid you feel like you're breathing in water, I wear a tank top and a shorter skirt. Or a tank top and a long flowy skirt. But so does every other girl in Charleston, so how did she (or her friend, to be more precise) come to the conclusion that I was guilty of dressing inappropriately? I nearly drowned in my Catholic school induced guilt before I realized that this email had nothing to do with me.
I don't have to defend my choice of what I wear to anyone, especially someone who I've never met. I don't have to apologize to her because she thinks that her skeezy boyfriend was checking me out and talking lewdly about me. And I certainly don't have to change my behavior based on her assessment of me.
As my last post alluded to, I take issue with the idea that women are responsible for the sexual morality of men. In this sense, I have more in common with feminists than with the stereotypical "religious right." My conservative world-view says that people are responsible for their own choices and actions, and that blame should not be shifted to others.
This girl decided to blame me for her boyfriend's bad behavior. She essentially stripped him of all moral responsibility, and in her own mind, turned him into a passive agent, who was acted on by me, the slutty immodest girl. If he's talking about a girl in less than decent language, it's because that girl forced the sight of her exposed flesh on him, and he couldn't help himself. If he can't concentrate on his coursework, it's because that hussy is distracting him. If he strays from his girlfriend, it's because he was tempted by me, not because he's an unfaithful sleeze.
This attitude leads to all kinds of problems. For example, "He only hit me because I made him angry." Or, "He wouldn't have raped her if she hadn't been asking for it."
You can't improve the behavior of a group of people unless you hold them responsible for that behavior. I'm not going to deny that immodesty can be distracting. I'd be the first to say that women should show respect for themselves by dressing in way that celebrates them as a whole person rather than just a piece of flesh. But hello, 90 degree heat! And did I mention humidity? The fact that I'm showing shoulders and some thigh isn't a justification for someone else's bad behaviot. Do I notice when extremely cute guys go running shirtless past the store where I work? Obviously. Do I look? Duh. But that doesn't mean that if I rang up a customer wrong because I was lookibng, I'd blame it on that slutty boy immodestly showing his chest.
Culture and setting also determine what is modest and what isn't. Here in Charleston, short skirts and skimpy shirts are pretty much par for the course. Just like all the guys wear shorts and t-shirts. What's appropriate for me to wear to the beach is different from what's appopriate to wear trudging around in the Charleston heat, which is different from what might be appropriate for wearing to church.
Now, this post wouldn't be complete without a little bit of pop psychology. It's fairly clear that this girl is deeply insecure about her relationship. She's actually gone through the trouble of tracking down some random girl that she thinks her boyfriend might have been talking about, based on who her friend thinks dresses inappropriately. Doesn't that seem like a lot of work to you? She says that her boyfriend's behavior disturbed her. If that were the case, why not take it up with him? Were I in her shoes (and I thank God I'm not, because her problems are far larger than a single inappropriately dressed girl), I'd have a talk with this boy. But she goes through a lot of trouble to find herself a scapegoat, then goes through a whole process of insecurity-driven logical contortions to absolve her "decent" boyfriend of all blame, and even make him a victim to my overpowering sexiness (I'm cracking up as I write that).
I also love that she couches her criticism in terms of being concerned for me. At the same time that she castigates me for my behavior (which I would like to point out, she has never been witness to), she tries to make it sound like she's looking out for me. Poor QM, must not realize tha horrible things she drives innocent, decent guys to do. And her final sentence, asking me to deal with the issue in an appropriate way, is just too much. I'm sorry, my friend, but I'm not the one with issues to deal with, and I have no intention of running out to buy myself a nice wardrobe of Muu Muus in order to protect your boyfriend.
I'll say one last thing before signing off to study for my midterms: her boyfriend sounds like an ass, but she sounds like a paranoid freak, so maybe they deserve each other.-The Quartermaster