On March 19, 2011, an article was, sadly, published in The Wall Street Journal by Jennifer Moses entitled, “Why Do We Let Girls Dress Like That?” When the article was sent my way, my friend warned me it would be triggering. Honestly, I was already angered by the article’s title. In the article, Moses goes on a frenzy of sorts, listing out all of the things she views are wrong with the ways teenage girls, with the aid of their parents and peers, dress and present themselves. In doing this, not only does she present ridiculously offensive arguments toward women, but she also paints a portrait of men as if they will immediately die if they do not have sex with anyone who walks by with even an inch of bare skin revealed.
Here are some of the problems I have with the article.
1 – There’s a difference between “sexual” and “sexy” & 2 – Clothes don’t define actions
It never surprises me when the idea of being sexy is lumped together with the assumption of the person participating in actual sexual acts. These are actually two very different things, but that is something Moses ignores in the article. She asks readers why so many parents let their daughters dress “like prostitutes, if we're being honest with ourselves” but doesn’t seem to realize the weight her words carry. By comparing girls that dress sexy or more revealing than others to sex workers, she doesn’t allow any space for those that don’t choose to be sexually active while shaming those that do. It’s impossible to know the intention of every single person – especially when those efforts are coming only from an examination of what someone is wearing. I believe we have to acknowledge and respect the different between these two things. There are aspects to dressing sexy that really have nothing to do with anyone other than who is wearing the clothes. Don’t we all know the feeling of getting dressed up because it makes us feel good about ourselves? Do we always do it just to impress other people? I certainly hope not. That’s definitely not my own story.
3 – The assumption that men feel the need to have sex with absolutely any female
Mentioned earlier in this response, Moses doesn’t merely offend women with her overgeneralization about the connection between clothes and intention, but men as well. She implies that if women dress provocatively or, in her own words, serve as “the campus mattress,” then surely men will come running. She very clearly believes men have absolutely no control over their desire and upon seeing bare flesh, they go into a sex frenzy. This is obviously not the case. Moses refuses to give any credibility to any of the male partners to the girls she addresses in this piece, putting them on the backburner but not before she illustrates the “promiscuous male” as endlessly horny with nowhere to go.
4 – Moses’ belief that there are no parents who support their children having healthy sex lives
Several different places throughout the article, Jennifer Moses refers to conversations with her friends, presenting them almost as research. Not impressive, is my first thought. My second desire is just to roll my eyes. I feel like a length quote would serve this best.
Still, in my own circle of girlfriends, the desire to push back is strong. I don't know one of them who doesn’t have feelings of lingering discomfort regarding her own sexual past. And not one woman I've ever asked about the subject has said that she wishes she'd "experimented" more.
Not only does this quote conjure up feelings of sympathy for both the author of this piece, but also for her friends whose comments I can only imagine were manipulated for the purpose of proving a ridiculous point. The author presents this idea that women are ashamed of their sexual past. She doesn’t offer up any details – Could these women have had sex with one man? Multiple men? Multiple women? – but still expects to prove as strong of a point as if she did give us anything to chew on. Moses doesn’t think at all about those outside herself and the possibility of parents who support their kids, once they’re ready, of course, having a normal and exploratory sex life. Instead she manipulates her readers, telling them in an indirect way, to avoid sexual exploration because it will only lead to regret.
Moses ends her articles with this: “We wouldn't dream of dropping our daughters off at college and saying: ‘Study hard and floss every night, honey—and for heaven's sake, get laid!’ But that's essentially what we're saying by allowing them to dress the way they do while they're still living under our own roofs.” But what is that supposed to do for readers besides inspire bitter scoffs? Perhaps parents who let their daughters dress ways differently than Moses deems appropriate are actually supportive parents. Perhaps they’ve opened up dialogue about intention, about being safe, about peer pressure, about all of these things. Perhaps Jennifer Moses should try having a conversation in which she is silent and puts forth an effort to absorb things outside of her thought process. It could be difficult for her, but it could also be worthwhile.
You know, just perhaps.