What dangers lurk for girls and young women, and how do we help them, help all women, avoid them?
Aren’t we (to use a modern term) empowering girls when we teach them “private parts are private”? What greater gift can we give young women than to teach them the world holds dangers, and how to protect themselves? We talk about being “sexually empowered” and young women dress provocatively to demonstrate their “power,” yet they often are endangering themselves. But you tell them this, and they take on an attitude of righteous indignation, and accuse you of being out of touch, prim or sexist.
“Owning your sexuality” is a popular concept with a vast variance in definition from one woman to another. Owning it doesn’t necessarily mean dressing in the most provocative manner possible. Yes, you can dress like a woman, a sexy woman, without showing your nipples.
Female performers for decades have pushed the limits with their wardrobes, but remember, they’re performers. I don’t know what Beyoncé dresses like when she goes grocery shopping (as if she does that herself, but you get my point). She’s selling something on stage, and her sexuality is part of the package.
If, when going out on Saturday night, your average young woman dresses in the same manner as Beyoncé, she needs to be aware she, too, is promoting her sexuality, and there are those who are going to want a part of it. If you get unwanted attention or worse, I’m not saying “you asked for it” as in you deserve it; nobody deserves degrading or violent treatment. But it will happen.
It will happen if you dress like a nun, frankly, but be aware of the image you’re presenting and the varying degrees of belief in what kind of response you’re expecting. If you dress in a highly suggestive manner, others will assume you’re looking for sex. Maybe you’re simply looking for a compliment, an admiring glance, but that isn’t what your image is saying.
There does need to be a paradigm shift in how we view and treat women, but the pendulum tends to swing wide before we hit the appropriate middle ground. There is a center area of acceptable, appropriate behavior that flaunts our femininity and sexuality.
Push the limits, sure. That’s what you do when you’re young. “Acceptable, appropriate” sounds prudish, I know, but there are plenty of ways to look sexy. Consider this: how revealing does another woman’s dress have to be before you know she has a good body? In fact, some women have to work hard to hide their sexuality; they want you looking at their eyes first, not their boobs.
If you resent the fact that dressing the way you want to makes you a target, you are not alone. It’s been a frustration for women for a very long time. It’s painful to think the message you believe you’re sending (“I’m a powerful woman in charge of my own sexuality”) is being received differently. That’s communication, however. Know your audience.
Empowerment is internal. You won’t obtain it by the way you dress, and if you try to do so, chances are you’ll miss the target. If you do genuinely feel empowered, what you’re wearing will reflect it.
Some of you will agree with me, others won’t. I don’t claim to have a handle on absolute truth, and there are plenty of women (and men) who will vehemently disagree with part or all of what I’ve said.
So be it. I know my own truth. God bless you in finding yours.
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