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There’s this meme where every six months, someone will write an utterly inane post about why they’ve decided not to wear X item of clothing – usually because of something their husband said. I analyzed this trend back in September for Refinery29, speaking about yoga pants. The latest fashion victims in this trend? Leggings. And boobs.
But I can’t help but notice each of these posts gets a few things ridiculously, terribly off about how women’s bodies function. Men tend to make some very wrong assumptions when they talk about how women dress and what we choose to wear. And it’s time we cleared the air.
1. Women’s clothing exists For Men (the male gaze assumption)
There’s this perverse and frankly frustrating assumption that when a woman goes out in public in, y’know, any kind of clothing, she’s doing it because she thinks men might notice. Especially if those clothes are considered immodest. This male gaze problem – also known as the “I am the center of the universe and everything is built for my consumption” problem – is built into how our society sees women. But let me assure you, boys, when I go out wearing my favorite pair of plum colored skinny jeans, I’m doing it because I really like the color, not because I want to make you lust.
2. Women’s clothing is built for all body types and looks equally modest on all of us. (the sizeist assumption).
One interesting thing I’ve noticed about a lot of modesty blogs is that they prescribe against doing things that women of certain sizes cannot avoid. Recently, a post decried the display of cleavage many women have. But have you ever tried to wear a shirt as a person with 36F boobs and NOT have cleavage? I didn’t think so. Your options are either strangling yourself with a turtleneck or having some cleavage show. It is what it is.
3. Women’s clothing is easy to replace and easy to buy modest! (the classist assumption).
Another solution I frequently see to the modesty problem is: “just replace your clothing or wear lots of layers or spend $100 on my super modest swimsuits.” As someone who got some cash for Christmas and went “ooh, I can finally get a new pair of jeans!” let me just point out that the whole “buy clothing in layers” and “it’s just a bit of babysitting money” is utterly ludicrous for women who are trying to scrape together enough money to have rent at the beginning of the month.
4. Women’s clothing is making an objective statement about the person wearing it (the racist assumption).
Have you ever noticed that no matter what Michelle Obama wears, there are some people who will lambast her as slutty and sexualize her clothing choices? Did you notice when the Obama sisters wore perfectly acceptable skirts and tights for a ceremony at the White House, a white Republican staffer commented that they looked like they were “dressing for a bar”? Many of the clothes we code as modest when they’re on a white body are suddenly immodest if that person is black. This is a racist sexualization of women, a treatment of women as lesser beings and as sexual objects, simply based on the color of their skin – no matter what clothes they’re wearing.
5. Women’s clothing is even a thing (the categorical assumption).
I’m gonna say it right out: women’s clothing isn’t a thing. If I wear pants, they don’t suddenly become “women’s pants.” Clothing is clothing is clothing. There is clothing designed with darts and special cuts for typical bodies with curves and breasts, and there are pants that have a little more room in the crotch for those with penises. But to code either of these as “male” or “female” is gendering something that needs no gender. The idea that "woman" is shorthand for "person with boobs" is transphobic and needs to go.
Perhaps, it's time we learn that the assumptions we Christians tend to make about a person's clothing are just that - assumptions. Perhaps it's time we put our prejudices and our assumptions aside and actually took the time to speak to people, as they are, where they are. After all, "People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Sam 16:7).