FYI (A Letter to My Daughter Sally)

Dear Sally,

I saw something today that made me think of you. It was a blog post addressed to teenage girls. Oh I know, you’re only four, but in ten years you’ll be fourteen. It was that fourteen-year-old you I couldn’t help but think of when I read this post, and inside, my heart broke for you.

There will be adults in your world who are very concerned about what you wear and how you carry your body and what you do with it. There will be adults in your life who care more about whether you sway your hips just so than about how good you are at science or how much you love gymnastics or the love you hold in your heart for your brother and others in your life. I wish I could change this for you, but I can’t.

I walked that route, Sally, I tried it. I wore just what they told me and walked just how they told me and tried to make my body invisible. The results weren’t pretty. I hated my body, hated how I looked, hated my breasts and my hips. I saw my body through the eyes of judgmental adults who spent an unhealthy amount of time talking about my body and the bodies of the girls around me. I spent year after year worrying about what those around me thought of my body and whether something I wore might somehow make me less of a person, or at least less worthy of respect. Moving past that was one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done.

Your body, Sally, is yours. You know that already. You know that you don’t have to hug people if you don’t want to and that you never owe anyone your kisses, even your father and I. Your body is yours. Please, don’t listen to those adults. They see your body as something they can dictate. They will try to make your body theirs. Don’t let them. Don’t let them shame you for your clothing choices or how you set your hips. You are strong and articulate and creative and caring and determined. Your body, your clothing choices, your sexuality—these things are yours, not theirs.

They will tell you, Sally, that you need to “cover up” so as not to tempt their sons—and yet, ironically, they won’t ask their sons to cover up so as not to tempt you. (If you’re like most girls your age, you will very much enjoy afternoons at the pool, and not just for the water or the time spent with friends!) Here’s the reality, Sally: You are responsible for handling your sexual urges and desires, and they are responsible for handling their sexual urges and desires. You are not responsible for controlling their sexual feelings.

These adults, Sally, will seek to deal with their sons’ awakening sexuality by hiding your figure from them. What they should be doing is accepting that their sons, like you, are sexual beings. What they should be doing is teaching their sons handle their sexual desires and urges responsibly. Sexual feelings aren’t something to just be bottled up, hidden away, or ignored. You may choose to explore your sexual feelings now or in the near future, or you may put that off for a time and not act on them. That’s up to you. It would be wrong, though, for you try to simply eliminate your feelings by controlling what others wear or how others carry their bodies (and to be perfectly honest, it probably wouldn’t work anyway).

There will be times when you will encounter these adults’ sons. If one of these young men treats you differently because of how you dress, run. If one of them thinks you are less worthy of respect because of what you wear or if you enjoy feeling sexy, walk away and don’t look back. If one of them blames you for their sexual urges and accuses you of being responsible for their own lack of control, get out. These adults, Sally, are not raising responsible young men. They are raising young men who will base their respect for you on whether or not you dress or carry yourself according to their specifications. And that is profoundly dangerous.

You are growing up in a world, Sally, that cares more about your body than your brain—or your heart. And to be perfectly honest, I’m not actually primarily talking about teenage boys you will come in contact with, whom I suspect you will find much less hung up on your clothing choices than some would have you think. No, I’m talking about adults who for reasons that are beyond me think it’s their business to tell you what to wear and how to act. The odd thing is that these adults will claim that all their bother about your body stems from their concern for what is inside—and then they’ll turn around and link your clothing choices to your lack of “character.” It’s almost as though they can’t see the contradiction.

I believe in you, Sally. Already you have strong hopes, dreams, interests, and passions. Whether you are four or fourteen or twenty-four, you matter. Someday, when you become a teenager, what I’ve written here will suddenly become very relevant to your life, and I hope, as you read what I have written and remember what I’ve told you over the years, you will come to see that the problem here lies not with you but with adults who find it necessary to make their sons’ emerging sexuality all about your clothing choices. Don’t listen to their bullshit. Keep your head up.

With love,


About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Mars

    Thank you.

  • Boo

    Thank you. I have been worked up about this all night. When I first saw that woman’s blog it made me mad, but I didn’t even see the half naked pictures of her sons. My husband had to point them out to me. Then I was livid, and a little disgusted with myself. I have been so conditioned that masculine physical displays are not inappropriate, but just boys having fun and showing off. Why can’t girl show off for a camera using feminine poses? Why is that considered to be such a horrible thing? And WHY, at 31 years old, did I miss the blatant hypocrisy in a post about modesty. I thought I was past all of this, but that woman’s blog hit a raw nerve because I still have to have blatant sexism pointed out to me.

    • KRS

      That was one of the first things I noticed: lots of pictures of her sons in nothing but board shorts doing bodybuilding poses. Self-awareness (or lack therof) FTW.

      Also, they don’t seem to realize that a boy who doesn’t linger over pictures of girls in their seductive pajamas (seriously?) because he’s not allowed to see them isn’t really demonstrating integrity.

      • Ruana

        I know. My irony meter sprayed its innards across the room when I saw that. (Drat, third one this week.)

      • Mira

        jesusandmo can make you another one.

    • Lunch Meat

      A bunch of the comments were making a big deal out of the “intention” of the pictures. The boys weren’t “intending” to get anyone to notice them sexually; they’re just having fun, so it’s okay. Okay, so how do they know the girls the post is talking about aren’t just having fun the way all of their friends do? Do they really think the girl is sitting there planning out how someone is going to picture her naked or fantasize about her?

      Another comment said that the boys’ pictures were appropriate to display in the house, and the girls’ weren’t. Why is that? Why is it that we think young boys showing off their bodies is cute, but young girls doing it is shameful?

      • Boo

        That is exactly what I don’t get. Why is it totally acceptable and harmless for males to take traditional masculine pictures (shirtless, flexing their muscles, and showing off their bodies)? But God forbid, a woman strikes a traditional feminine pose with pouty lips and an arched back. That is proof that the woman lacks any type of character and class. I have taken a few shots like this for fun and not for sexual amusement. Why is that so bad? I won’t even mention how these same people would probably see breastfeeding as immodest, and that isn’t sexy at all.

      • Aeryl

        Because masculinity is good and femininity is bad(and SIN).

      • Glenn Olson

        ‘Why is that so bad?’
        In large part, because the feminine has been fetishized by our culture.

      • Aeryl

        I had to give up on the comments, did ANYONE ever take that post to task?

      • AAAtheist

        Yeah, many of the commenters to the original post did take the author to task for her double standard (see below):

        Comment 1: “If I may ask a question that a friend brought up because her young (8yo) daughter looked over her shoulder as she was reading this and commented on how muscular and good-looking your boys are (and they are!): where do we draw the line for pictures of boys? I know these aren’t in “sexy” poses or anything, and women don’t usually have the struggle with mental pictures that men often have [Really? My question], but technically they *are* fairly scantily-clad, and doing things to show strength which is what most women find alluring.”

        Comment 2: “I second the poster who thought that you should reconsider these photos of your boys. I agree with everything you said about the girls’ poses but these are also not something I’d like to see my girls linger over. Ironic to find them in such a post. It goes both ways!”

        Comment 3: “I appreciate the thoughts in this post (and do agree!) but I find it a bit funny & thought-provoking that you decided to illustrate this post with pictures of your boys (?) in their swim suits. They are good-looking young guys and of course that is perfectly normal and acceptable for them to be in their swim trunks, but couldn’t a young teenage girl looking at that with friends be led to talk about them looking “hot” or whatever if they were popping up in their instagram account? (My oldest is an almost 10 year old girl who has no interest in boys, so not too sure yet how teen girls think!) I really want to know if this could be an issue for some girls (or guys) or not really.”

        Comment 4: “This is so ironic… why would you post these pice [sic] of your sons while bashing the girls? In the end it comes of as… gasp… self righteous…”

        Many of the commenters believe in modesty for girls and boys. Personally, I don’t see the need for policing sexuality in any gender, but if you’re going to walk the walk, don’t be a hypocrite about it.

      • Aeryl

        See I saw those, I was hoping someone would critique the whole modesty thing.

        Oh well, that’s what places like this are for.

      • Lunch Meat

        Yeah, I “loved” the comments that were like, “Good on you for shaming women, but I can’t believe you let your sons in public without shirts on! Don’t you know all bodies are gross?”

      • Ariel

        There were a couple of comments to the effect that her sons ought to take responsibility for their own thoughts rather than demanding that women do it for them, but yes, they were pretty vastly outnumbered by the comments that the boys should cover up too.

      • Boo

        These posts were written by Kyle David Greenberg, he really took her to task.

        1-When in the world will we stop telling
        women to be ashamed of their bodies!? How about you teach your sons to
        respect women? Seems like a much easier solution. “Son, don’t be a
        creep”. Was that so hard? Why then would so many people rather jump
        through hoop after hoop in their attempt to control every possible piece
        of visual information that could reach their children?

        Stop attacking everyone’s daughters, and start shaping your sons into men who view and treat women as equals.

        I’m just worried that the primary message you are sending your sons
        is that it is the responsibility of every women they encounter to make
        sure they aren’t exposed to something sexually stimulating. This message
        damages men and it is entirely unfair for all women. The primary
        message should be “son, it is your responsibility to control yourself.
        No one else is responsible for how you think, act, or fantasize. Don’t
        blame women for your desires. It is not the job of all women to look and
        act just how you need them to for you to not be attracted to them. It
        is your job to treat women as people. It is your job to understand your
        sexuality. It is your job to conduct yourself with integrity.”

        Do you not trust your sons? Do you really view your sons in such a
        negative light that you had to compose this elaborate and often times
        accusatory, insulting, or belittling essay directed to every girl they
        have or may encounter rather than trust them with the responsibility?

        I view this essay as very damaging. You have taught your sons to
        blame others for their own behaviors and thoughts, and you have added
        to the myriad of voices already placing shame and blame on young women.

        Also, you are actively combing through the social media pages of teenage girls? You don’t see how this is a bit odd?

        Other things to consider:

        1. Women are attracted to men. It is a lame lie that women aren’t visually stimulated. They are.

        2. Let’s pretend women aren’t visually stimulated. What about other
        males? What if some of your sons’ friends are attracted to other males?
        Why then is it ok for your sons to have pictures half naked and flexing?
        Shouldn’t you follow your own guidelines?

        3. Your comment about males not being able to unsee is revolting. Men
        aren’t disgusting pigs. We are fully capable of operating apart from our
        sexuality. You honestly need to have higher standards for the men in
        your life. And maybe more accurately, you need to stop telling the men
        in your life that they are disgusting and incapable of operating outside
        of a hyper-sexualized lens.

        2-Mrs. Hall, I am obviously having an impassioned response to your
        article. I apologize if my tone is too harsh or if it is comes across as
        rude for the sake of being rude. I don’t intend to harass you, but I do
        honestly think you are very misguided. You clearly have a heart that
        wants what is best for your family, and that is worth celebrating, but I
        would strongly urge you to reconsider your approach and perspective on
        the issues in this article.

        3-Everyone seems to be caught up on the
        “double standards” issue…while I think there ARE double standards on
        display here, I’m worried that the truly alarming nature of this post is
        being ignored.

        As a few have said, the behaviors and thoughts of your sons are
        theirs alone. Ultimately, the only person who has control over their
        behaviors and thoughts are them. I can understand removing stimuli when
        possible (such as blocking certain people), but I absolutely reject your
        appeal for every female your sons meet to cater themselves to your

        I reacted so strongly to this article not because of the double
        standard, but because of the repercussions of telling males that it is
        the female responsibility to make sure they don’t break their standards
        for sexual behaviors/thoughts. These repercussions are accessories in
        the rape-culture America so fully embraces: women are afraid of
        reporting sexual violence because they are constantly bombarded with
        messages, messages just like this essay, that tell them it is their
        fault if males “can’t control themselves”; men rampantly blame their

        If you want to block girls’s social media pages, fine. That is your
        prerogative. But don’t you dare cast guilt and shame on your sons’
        friends while concurrently teaching your sons that it’s easier to ignore
        than to know how to deal. As others have said, you can only block so
        many stimuli and for so long; your goal shouldn’t be to have sons who
        never have to deal with stimuli…your goal should be to have sons who are
        equipped to deal with any stimuli when they do come…because they will.

      • AAAtheist


        Good to see that this appropriate and impassioned takedown occurred in their own community!

        Check out “Libby’s” response as well! Classic! I’m not sure it’s our Libby, but still …

        “… You speak about teenage girls in such a demeaning way that it really makes me sad. Let the teenage girls do what they want. It isn’t your business what they do or do not do unless it is physically or mentally harming you or your family. If these girls want to project themselves in a certain way, they should certainly not be made ashamed of it. Going through teenagehood can be very hard, which I’m sure you know, and there’s no need to make it worse.

        I grew up in a quite liberal household, and for a brief time I was a Christian, but I found that I felt very trapped by it. However, I respect all religions and all choices people make. If you choose not to take what you call “sexual” photographs or you have raised your sons to do the same, that’s perfectly fine. Do not demonize girls who choose differently than you.

        You imply very frequently that a woman should do things for men, and that it’s important that she is respectful of herself (please note that your standards are the only important ones) in order to find a husband. But what about being respectful of herself by her own standards that she can love herself in a world where it’s very easy to dislike one’s self. I find that this particularly hits home for me, as I am still a young woman and still struggling to accept myself and hold myself to only my standards, not that of men or the media or anyone else.

        I would also encourage you to teach your sons to stop sexualizing the female body. The female body is not always sexual, even if they are presenting themselves with “arched backs” and “pouted lips” and your sons should know this!

        And, as you note, these girls are lovely and vivacious and very smart (not “usually” as you so condescendingly note. They are very smart in their own way, regardless) and they are also your children. You do not get to police what they say, do or post.

        On another note, you say that you want your sons to fall for “real beauties”. What does this mean? Why are you shaming girls you may not even know for not meeting your ludicrous standards?

        I hope that you rethink this post and rewrite it to create a less offensive tone where you do not shame girls for being different than you. I’m sure they do not do the same to you.

        Lastly, you are not their friend. No friend would post such a demeaning and probably hurtful article on what children who are not your own do. Do not even bother including this ridiculous device to try and make this post “friendly”. There is no kindness here, only thinly veiled sarcasm, and as we all know, sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.

        Good luck with your family,

        A Liberal Girl …”

      • ZeldasCrown

        Well, based on this sentence “I grew up in a quite liberal household”, I think we can pretty safely say it’s not Libby Anne. But a good post, nevertheless.

        I do, however, want to give this Libby and Kyle David Greenberg a giant round of applause for taking the original author to task.

      • Lunch Meat

        Yeah, no matter how “friendly” you try to make it, it is always humiliating for a teen to be publicly called out by an authority figure.

      • Aeryl

        Thanks, that’s what I was looking for! I love a good takedown.

      • Olive Markus

        I love this response!! Beautiful!!

      • CarysBirch

        Yes yes yes!

        I love this response, and I especially love that it’s a man who said it.

      • alwr

        But notice that it is “appropriate” for the boys to be in their swimsuits. And that the flexing and posing is not considered “sexy” . So even those who are questioning it are employing a double standard. A girl in a bikini is, after all, never appropriate in their world.

      • Lunch Meat

        According to some of the comments, a girl in a bikini would be okay if she wasn’t “showing it off” (which presumably means she’d have to slouch or cross her arms to hide her stomach, cleavage and thighs).

      • alwr

        Well, that just adds to my desire to scream. Because those boys are not showing off at all in that first photo. I can’t roll my eyes that far. Ugh.

      • The_L1985

        Fuck that. I’m going to swim in a way that I find comfortable. I don’t find lots of wet, clingy fabric to be comfortable.

        In fact, if our society didn’t have such a strong nudity taboo, I wouldn’t wear swimsuits at all!

      • Boo

        A couple of men took her to task. It was awesome!

      • MyOwnPerson

        It’s just social conditioning. We’re conditioned to believe that young men in shorts is normal, but a young woman would only wear a bikini to attract sexual attention.

    • luckyducky

      This juxtoposition made me think about the “10 rules for dating my teenage daughter” list vs. the “10 rules for dating my teenage son” list. They are both detestable in what they communicate about sexuality, impulse control… and most strikingly for me the adversarial and condescending attitude toward one’s (hypothetical) child’s peers/romantic interests.

      Obviously, we don’t know how “provocative” the girls photo actually was… I suspect that the original blogger would see far more titillating photos on yogurt ads in bus shelters without blinking. But, regardless, as a parent, I am far more effective when I focus on my own children — with whom I spend a great deal more time and have actual responsibility for — than when I focus on other people’s children. As in “Oh, there’s Sarah, she’s such a nice/smart/kind young woman. Looks like she’s having fun. Her mom said she’s going to take AP calc this fall, I think you should consider that.” (see, subtly reminding them that Sarah’s got a brain, plans, and is a … person).

      If it were a really squirm inducing photo, maybe mention, “You know, it is so easy to upload photos for distribution wide and far without realizing how they come across. Sarah’s a lovely young woman and I’m afraid she might regret that so many people saw that because it is so attention grabbing that it overshadows all of the pictures of her [fill in the blank]. Maybe not but better safe than sorry. Please be careful with your own social media use, it is a mistake anyone could make.”

    • Stev84

      A Christian hypocrite? Say it ain’t so!

  • Dita M

    This really struck a chord with me even though my upbringing could hardly have been more different than yours: When I was a child/teen my mother was your stereotypical dungarees wearing, bra despising, crew cut sporting radical feminist. Intriguingly, I actually heard a lot of the same messages as you seem to have – albeit for very different reasons.
    Of course, I was told that what was in my head mattered more than what I looked like. However, I was also taught that wanting to look pretty, wearing form fitting clothing and shoes with heels and liking makeup were inevitably going to lead to me being reduced to a sex object. I was taught to have more respect for myself than this (fundy speak, anyone?), that wanting to look good was akin to cheerleading for the patriarchy, that I could either be seen as an object of men’s desire or as someone worth taking seriously. As a result, I suffered from several years of extreme feminist guilt over the fact that I actually did care about my looks, did like dresses and heels and – the horror! – quite liked the idea of boys finding me attractive.
    Yes, I’m still a feminist – but a very much happier one since realizing I could be both dressed well and respected as a person. I wish my mom would have told me what you’ve written here instead

    • alwr

      I think the message you received is more common than we realize among feminists. I got that message from various sources, too. In college, I found that I was often –in my world of the humanities departments–regarded as not as smart because I did my nails and had highlights and dressed well. My friends in elementary ed, music, etc…never encountered this. In a graduate lit course, a very not put together woman announced to me one day that she was pleasantly surprised that I was smart because I “didn’t look smart”.

      • Aeryl


        A lot of this is written off as “frivolous”* and while I think it worthwhile to occasionally examine WHY you take these steps to cater to beauty culture, doesn’t mean that doing it makes you “less” anything.

        *This is handy for people who want to degrade women, and it’s disheartening to see other women, especially self-proclaimed feminists, do this.

      • Lyric

        See also some of the hatred I see in my fandom for Amy Pond, who is often dismissed as “just a pair of legs.” (Why, yes, I can make every conversation relate to Doctor Who!) Which is especially head-tilting because Karen Gillan (the actress) reportedly gave the costume department a lot of input on how her character should look.

    • LadyCricket

      THIS to growing up with the rhetoric that women dress how they dress so men will pay attention. Maybe I didn’t wear these clothes so other people would think I look pretty. Maybe sometimes I like to FEEL pretty.

      • The_L1985

        Most of the stuff I wear isn’t even about looks at all (except for the awesome nerd logos on my T-shirts). I wear T-shirts in the summer because I like how they feel, not because I want to look “frumpy.”

  • AAAtheist


    Seriously trying to hold back tears, that was so beautiful. Bookmark this page, photocopy it, make it into a PDF, whatever, just send it to any girls you care about (and anyone who cares about the girls you care about). Hell, send it to everyone you care about.

    • AnotherOne

      I know. The only reason I hesitate to spread this far and wide while making fun of it and laughing hysterically is that I feel kind of sorry for her sons.

      • AnotherOne

        Oh–I just realized I was responding about the original blog post LIbby was referencing, and that my comment was totally out of place. I’m sorry. To be clear, I thought Libby’s post was beautiful, and the mom of three sons’ post was hysterically awful.

  • Mel

    This is a very sweet letter, Libby Anne.

    I suspect that Sally will find the ‘purity culture’ crap far less persuasive and/or guilt-inducing than many of the readers here do. She’s being raised by parents who don’t buy into it and so she’ll see it as the con that it is. I know this because my parents never bought into the purity culture con and I’ve never judged myself harshly on those grounds.

    Will she meet adults who are that judgmental? Probably not many unless Sally’s parents hang around with adults who are into the purity culture. When she does run into them, she’ll learn the important lesson that some adults have very weird viewpoints. (Seriously. That’s the reaction of most outsiders to purity culture pushers.)

    The purity culture usually gains traction through parents and church environments. If she’s not exposed to it in either of those places, it’s not likely to even register.

    • Aeryl

      While it’s a nice thought, don’t believe it for a second that awesome parents and a good environment will make Sally immune to these pressures.

      This stuff is EVERYWHERE. I grew up in a non-religious family, amongst a group of people that are pretty non-judgemental when it comes to sex. I still had hangups over purity and modesty, and the WORST enforcers were other teenage girls.

      Now it will help that Libby Anne and Shawn will of course address these harmful messages when they pop in the culture Sally is exposed to, but they can’t be there all the time.

      • Aeryl

        For example, we are a HAES household, yet my daughter is OBSESSED with her weight, and feels that being fat is bad, because everyone but her mom and dad tell her that.

      • Jayn

        Agreed. If nothing else, schools and dress codes come to mind–my high school wasn’t very strict, but they did ban tank tops (I can’t remember if it was all tanks tops or just spaghetti strap ones, but I found this out after I’d bought a few for the next school year so I wound up looking for work-arounds). It’s one of those things that fundie culture takes to an extreme but is far from absent in the rest of society. Libby can work against it, but unless she cloisters Sally entirely she WILL come into contact with at least milder forms of it.

      • Aeryl

        My daughter sporadically attends Awana with a few neighborhood friends, and goes on trips with them sometimes, and they have a strict no two piece rule for girls when swimwear is required, unless they cover up.

        I’ve addressed why I disagree with the idea, but respect her desire to attend these functions. But we get issues, because she’s WILLING to wear a shirt, but I won’t let her, and instead will buy a separate swimsuit* because I have an issue with how wearing a shirt OTHERS her.

        *Of course, this stupid ignorant rule completely ignores the reality of long torso-ed women, like my daughter and I, where wearing one pieces causes them to pull unseemly against the crotch area.

      • The_L1985

        Oh yes. I haven’t been able to wear a one-piece since I was 4.

      • Dirty_Nerdy

        Ugh, my stepdad made me put on a shirt one time when we were on vacation. The hotel that we stopped at for the night happened to have an indoor heated pool. I put on the swim suit *that my mother bought me and that I had worn several times before* and he flipped out adn told me to put on a shirt. My mother suddenly agreed with him. I was so pissed. I put the shirt on, but took it off when my sister and I actually got to the pool. I did dunk it in the water before going back upstairs though (I was sneaky).

      • Mel

        I teach at a high school. We do require that girls wear something over top of a spaghetti strap top and that boys do not have underwear/boxers/shorts hanging out under their pants. We explain that some clothing is more appropriate outside of school than in school. Also, it’s distracting for everyone when you are wondering if a guy’s pants are about to fall off or a girl is going to have a breast pop loose of her top.

      • Aeryl

        I’ve always heard arguments against strappy tanks as they show bra straps, not that they could flop down(I’m very well endowed and wear strappy tanks all the time and have never had that happen).

        Which is still stupid, because women are practically REQUIRED to wear bras, saying that we have to hide evidence of a required piece of attire comes across as one more way of controlling women.

        The saggy pants thing bothers me as well, as that style is MOSTLY associated with a particular ethnicity, and is typically not enforced equally. My school had that rule, but the white kids who imitated the style were NEVER called out for it by the staff, but the black kids were.

        A local nightclub tried to institute a dress code, but it was pretty obviously racist(No Do-Rags, but ball caps are ok, No saggy pants, but wallet chains are ok). They were taken to court and forced to get rid of the policy.

      • Mel

        We are a very multi-cultural and multi-ethnic school and we make sure the rules apply to everyone. For a while, we had a no- head-gear on males rule because of local gang problems but we stopped that as soon as we could.

        Unfortunately, we did have a “wardrobe” malfunction for both a girl and a boy that lead to the two new rules. (I felt much worse for the guy; the girl was close enough to a bathroom that only her friends and two staff members noticed anything was wrong. The guy lost his pants in the middle of the hallway during passing time in view of most of the student body.)

      • Aeryl

        I guess two incidents just doesn’t seem enough to put such a policy in place, to me, but I’m against dress codes on general principle(and that I’m a contrary little fart).

      • Gillianren

        Dress codes in my high school reduced the number of gang conflicts; they almost completely centered around not being allowed to wear gang attire. Which did mean that a few very odd items were banned.

      • Aeryl

        Those I get, but wardrobe malfunctions happen to adults to, isn’t it better we all learn to deal?

      • Jayn

        “(I’m very well endowed and wear strappy tanks all the time and have never had that happen).”

        Yeah, I’ve had the straps fall down on me from time to time–seems to be more of an issue the looser the tank is, one of my current ones isn’t strappy but has that issue–but never to the point where I was really exposed even if I didn’t wear bras. I don’t know why my school instituted that rule, just that they did.

        Although now I have Jeff Foxworthy coming to mind. “If you wear a top that is strapless with a bra that isn’t…”

      • Cathy W

        “Bra strap showing” seems to be a generational thing. I, at 42, consider it a subset of “your underwear is hanging out of your clothes”, no more appropriate than saggy jeans. Some of my friends in their mid-30′s are less troubled by it, and my daughter and her friends (roughly 15-17) think it’s no big deal (even as they agree that saggy jeans are kind of ridiculous).

      • Aeryl

        It’s definitely a generational thing, I think the change comes from more feminism in the mainstream(even while other traditionally feminist things are challenged).

        For example, slips. My mother owned several, I own none.
        Or Pantyhose, I know NOONE under the age of 50 who wear them now, but my mom wore them everyday, even under pants. It would have been like expecting her to go out without underwear.

        I think our definitions, for the most part, about what’s acceptable for women is changing and expanding. I think a lot of the older ideas about proper dress for women came from very anti-feminist places, designed to restrict what we could do(hard to have a full time job if the required beauty routine takes 3 hours) and we are pushing back against that.

      • CarysBirch

        I wear pantyhose for very formal occasions (my own graduation, weddings that I am in). I also occasionally wear lace topped nylon stockings for very INFORMAL occasions. ;)

      • The_L1985

        I still have a slip, in case I wear a dress that’s more sheer than I would like. However, I don’t have any, because a couple years after I bought said slip, my hips expanded.

      • Dirty_Nerdy

        lol, my bra straps show when I wear strappy tanks because I don’t like wear strap-less bras. Nobody seems to care, so I guess it is a generational thing.

      • The_L1985

        Indeed. My school was cool with tank tops, but not tube tops.

      • Guest

        I think you’re both right, Mel and Aeryl. My kids just aren’t moved by the religious arguments that carried so much weight and caused so much angst for me as a teen. But they still get the double standards and slut shaming and body shaming from broader society.

        Right now, though, I find that the best weapons against these things are humor and sarcasm. We do have occasional serious talks along the lines of what Libby writes in her letter to her daughter, but often a pointed sarcastic remark or eyeroll about a glaring double standard or body-shaming are more effective.

      • Mel

        I wonder how much of this varies on where you live. I live in the Great Lakes region of the USA. I’ve lived most of my life in the blue-collar areas near cities and recently moved out to the country. I honestly never ran into the purity culture teachings until attending a religiously-affiliated college. (The purity culture stuff was run by a small group of students on campus – they were a club but didn’t have any more of an affiliation to the college than the Film Club or the Martial Arts club).

      • Aeryl

        That may be part of it, I’m borderline Bible Belt.

    • Tracey

      Yeah, she’ll probably already be more savvy about some topics than you were at her age. You are exposing her to more viewpoints.
      Do a YouTube search for “Riley on Marketing”- its a girl complaining about gendered toys. She’s probably five or so.

  • Tonya Richard

    This was all over my extremely conservative Facebook feed yesterday. Made me want to scream!!! I really need to get off of facebook. This was a beautiful letter, I am going to show it to my 3 teenage daughters.

    • alwr

      A relative of mine who is a liberal mainline Protestant posted it and labeled it “a parent being a parent”. I wanted to hurl. She is imposing her standard on other people’s children, flaunting her own children’s bodies while doing so, and asking for a “sanitized world” instead of working to teach her sons to respect all women. No parenting at all, there.

      • The_L1985

        I would have just flat-out SAID that in response. Telling other people what their kids should do is not being a parent.

  • Angela

    I agree so much with everything you’ve said but I do have a question which I’ve yet to see addressed. How do we go about teaching our daughters to dress appropriately without reinforcing the harmful implications of modesty culture? I don’t take issue with girls wearing tank tops or bikinis but the truth is that there are clothes that I would never allow my child to wear. I imagine for example, that you wouldn’t be too eager to deck Sally out toddler and tiara style in hooker costumes, heavy makeup and stilettos, even if it was what she wanted. I believe teens should be allowed a fair amount of latitude but even then I can’t imagine allowing my daughter to go out wearing absolutely anything. However, I have no idea how to have this type of dialogue without it coming across as another version of “cover up”

    • Hilary

      Ditto, this. I prefer modest dress, and don’t like girls or boys dressing hypersexually. But I don’t want to get into the traps of a modesty culture or slut shamming either.

    • Boo

      I think we can teach all of our children, boys and girls, that different situations have different standards of dress. Just watching that show ‘What Not To Wear’ is proof that how we dress can effect how seriously people take us professionally and personally. The point is that we shouldn’t shame our daughters because of their bodies. We also need to see the double standards that teach kids that imply men have rights that women just don’t have (boys can pose scantily clad for pics, but when girls do it they are bad). There is also a difference in teaching boys and girls that a woman’s value and character shouldn’t be based on what she looks like and what she chooses to wear. That is how I see it.

      • alwr

        It occurred to me, in all the brouhaha about this particular modesty blog, that this is also a bullying issue. We are trying to teach kids that they should not judge or pick on others for their appearance, yet the modesty garbage freely teaches both boys and girls to judge certain women and girls by their appearance. Ugh.

      • Hilary

        Good point

    • tulips

      As a parent of teenagers my observation has been that it’s more often lack of skill than desire to pursue extremes that results in outfits/make up that would draw disapproval from the general public. We showed her how to get the “look” she wanted without pushing her into a corner. She didn’t have to decide between the pasties or the nuns habit so to speak. We made it fun. Playing dress up is fun. Trying new things is fun. Concentrating all of your effort on occupying the micro millimeter of space between “unworthy because you are desirable” and “unworthy because you’re not” is no fun at all.

      • Guest

        Yes. There’s such a delicate balance with teenage daughters. I’ve found that helping them achieve the look *they* want can build some good rapport around clothing. And I never forbid them from wearing anything, though there have been a few times where I’ve had to say “I’m sorry honey, if you want to buy that with your own money that’s fine, but I just can’t.” And I explain why, while still giving them the freedom to make their own choices. There are times when I have to just hope that my words will have an impact in the long term, even if not in the present.

        There was a point a couple of years ago where I had a conversation with my daughter about how i was a little worried because all the girls in her peer group in the space of one year had switched to wearing tiny flimsy bikinis. I told her I thought it was sad not because i thought it was wrong to show off their bodies or to experiment with being sexually attractive, but because I felt like they were being socially pressured into wearing something that wasn’t functional and that kept the girls from having any active fun, basically enforcing that the pool was about their sexuality and about no other part of them. What sparked the conversation was an afternoon at the pool where literally all the mid-teen girls lounged on towels or chairs and barely put a toe in the water because their swimsuits were that unfunctional. And none of them even looked very comfortable with it. Meanwhile, the boys all ran around jumping in and out of the water, splashing, doing flips, having fun, etc.

        Anyway, my daughter rolled her eyes at my stupidity and huffed and ignored me and wore the completely unfunctional flimsy bikini for the summer. But the next year she asked for help picking out a two piece that “was cute but still stayed on when you jump in the pool.” Which I was more than happy to do.

      • tulips

        I responded to those types of situations by asking my daughter what her goal was. What did she want? If she wanted to jump and swim and play the suit wasn’t designed for that sort of treatment. If she wanted it for fashions sake and was more interested in how it looked than how it performed in the water it was a great pick. She has both suites now and uses her own discrimination

      • Guest

        That’s smart. I probably brought the issue on myself somewhat by my practice of buying just one swimsuit for the summer. But that’s left over from when they were small kids, so maybe it’s time to reconsider . . .

    • Aeryl

      I think a lot of this comes from their natural desire to push boundaries.

      For example, my mother made a huge deal about leg shaving being an adult thing, so I wanted to do it by the time I was 10. I’ve never made a big deal about it to my daughter, and she has cared less about it, and she’s 12.

      So if you’re not policing what they wear, they won’t want to push back against it, in my experience.

      • alwr

        So true. I also think, after 16 years of teaching teens, that the message about what is appropriate for what time and place is a huge part of this. I will wear a mini skirt for date night with my husband, but will not wear it to teach religious ed or sub teach in a school. The teen girl I saw at the mall last week with her butt cheeks hanging out of her shorts…not appropriate for the mall. Take it to the beach. Instead of saying no to things, approach it from a “this is the space where you can choose to wear that”.

    • sunnyside

      I haven’t had to deal with this as a parent yet, but I have a teenage cousin who is just beautiful – womanly beautiful, even though she’s a girl. And seeing her pictures made me remember being sexually harassed at 11 by grown men.

      I knew the way I was dressed didn’t contribute to it* and my parents never made me feel like it did, but they did steer me away from some clothing choices. My mom was good at focusing on practicality (‘a strapless bathing suit top popped off when I dove into a swimming pool as a teen, it was really embarrassing, probably better to get one with straps’), my dad would just say it was ‘too old.’

      Modesty culture and shaming are out there, it’s probably a good thing to address it – it makes home a safe place and takes away a lot of the power of the body police. I was never shamed and I was always taught that my body/sexuality were my own. My mom had been sexually assaulted by a family member as a teen and she obviously put a lot of thought into how to make me feel safe, protected, valued, as well as able to correctly label inappropriate behavior by others. My parents always acknowledged that my intent was innocent, to look cute/attractive, but they also let me know that certain clothes meant something different to other people.

      Looking back, it all clicks into place – I didn’t intend to look sexual, but in our world a young, slim woman [eta: not a woman, GIRL] wearing little clothes is default sexual. I’m not sure if I would be that direct with my kids or if I’d be kind of vague like my parents, but either way I appreciated them letting me know some clothes would get me attention I didn’t want.

      *I was fully aware that it was b/c of THEM and my status as target was exacerbated by my hitting puberty way early and being adult-tall at 10 yrs old.

      • Lunch Meat

        It sounds to me like your parents did well, and I would also add that it’s important to have conversations about privacy on the Internet. I don’t have kids so will not have to experience this for a long time, but I would frame it, instead of “you are not allowed to take these pictures” (because if a child is old enough to be on a social network, they are probably old enough that they are already thinking of themselves in a sexual way), as “How many people do you want to see this picture of you in a bathrobe? Are you aware that the more people you show it to, the higher the chance someone will spread it beyond your circle of friends? Are you aware that information in the internet never really goes away? You are the one who will be affected by it, so are you okay with it?” (This is also why I’m pretty intent on not Facebooking any baby pictures when I have kids.)

      • The_L1985

        *shrugs* I don’t see anything wrong with a professional photo or a swaddled newborn in an “It’s a Boy/Girl!” photo. I agree that there are some baby pictures you just don’t put on the Internet, but it seems a bit excessive to insist that all baby pictures must stay off the Internet forever.

        After all, we were all babies once! I was quite proud to put my favorite baby picture in the yearbook, because it was such a nice picture. :)

      • Aeryl

        Oh man, I remember being in 7th grade, and getting spring pictures taken at school. For us, that meant getting to pose with props and stuff.

        So I wore a white skirt with black polka dots, a black shirt and held my teddy bear. My mom put that picture up on her desk. And a week later had to take it down because of all the men making inappropriate comments about me. WHILE HOLDING A TEDDY BEAR!!

        It doesn’t matter how hard you try to appear non-sexual, those looking to do it will do it anyways.

      • sunnyside


      • Miss_Beara

        That is gross. How about they not look at the picture and make vile comments about it instead of making your mom remove the picture?

      • Aeryl

        Because that’s what men do to women.

        That’s kinda what I’m talking about when I say this is everywhere. My mom was pretty progressive, as these things go, but she still accepted the cultural idea that women are responsible for how men respond to women.

    • Gillianren

      We have a son, so unfortunately people will care less about what he wears than if we’d had a daughter, but I’m planning to do the same thing for clothing that we’re going to do for language. We’re going to teach “situationally appropriate.” (At least, this is my plan; while my boyfriend has agreed with me about the language thing, we haven’t talked about clothing yet. Because right now, the clothing conversation is pretty well limited to “Is his ducky suit clean? Has he outgrown it yet?”) The torn, ratty jeans you wear to do yardwork are not appropriate for holiday dinners with the extended family. The swimsuit that is fine for the pool is not appropriate for the bus. Yes, you have to wear a shirt if you’re going out, even if you’re going somewhere where you’ll just be taking it off again. After all, that’s how Mommy behaves with shoes, isn’t it?

      • Lyric

        Well, there is one respect in which people police boys pretty hard, and that is the wearing of female-coded things.

        I haven’t entirely decided how to handle this with our boy. (Of course, I don’t have to, yet; he’s six months old, his main interest in clothing is trying to eat the stripes off his grandma’s shirts.) At the moment, my thoughts are that (a) as far as I’m concerned, he can go to school in pink sparkly sneakers all he wants, and I personally think they look awesome, but (b) he should be aware that some people are downright cruel about boys who wear pink or anything else they perceive as “girly,” so he should weigh the pros and cons.

      • Alix

        …not joking here, I’m genuinely curious: would you let him wear a dress?

        That clothes are divided now into “feminine” and “unisex” (that is, manly but women can now wear men’s stuff too) frustrates me to no end. It’s one reason people consistently misgender me – I wear skirts, must be female. >.>

      • Lyric

        I’m . . . torn.

        I really want to say, “Yes, absolutely.” But then there are things like that anecdote I saw somewhere online, where a random man actually hit a boy in a K-mart or something for the sin of liking pink, and I . . . well, I kind of balk, actually. I know it’s hypocritical, but I get scared for him when I try to imagine him crossing gender lines like that, even though I fervently believe he should be able to.

        Maybe if he really wants dresses, I could declare them off-limits for school, so that he doesn’t wear them in situations I’d have trouble extracting him from . . . except, no, that’s still hypocritical, and probably makes it all weird.

        I honestly don’t know.

      • Feminerd

        It’s easy for me, in my childless state, to say that yes, absolutely, I’d let a son wear dresses. I want to say that a lot, but I also try to be honest with myself about myself. So I have to say, I hope I’d say that but I don’t know.

        In real life, it’s not that easy. Good luck with that, should it come up. It’s hard. I think both little boys and little girls in dresses are super cute, though, for whatever that’s worth.

      • Alix

        I get scared for him when I try to imagine him crossing gender lines like that

        I don’t think that’s hypocritical at all.

        It’s so goddamn frustrating, because this is one way us genderweird folks who were female-assigned have it easier: it’s acceptable for women to wear men’s clothes. I can’t, in fact, think of any kind of men’s clothes women are forbidden to wear.

        But how do you break down that binary to let men who want to wear dresses do so, without getting people hurt?

        I guess the only solution would be to let that be his choice, explaining to him the possible consequences, but even then … hell, I’m genderweird and the idea of my nephew wanting to go out in public in a dress terrifies me, too, even as I’m listing places in my head where I know he could get away with it.

      • Lyric

        It’s super-frustrating for a whole host of reasons. Heck, he doesn’t even have to be genderweird; he could just like dresses. When I was a little girl, I remember feeling lucky that I was a girl and not a boy because girls got all the really cool dress clothes (in my opinion, anyway. I couldn’t stand pink, but I loved anything velvety, or satiny.)

        I think your solution is the best solution, as much as there is one; let him make the choice, be sure he knows what he might be getting himself into, and try to establish some safe spaces where he can explore the whole thing, which might be an issue in itself. Although . . . heh. It just occurred to me that one place in this town where a boy could wear dresses in public and not hear one word about it is . . . my church. Specifically, the Unitarian Universalist church.

        I’ve got to point that out to my husband. He’s an atheist who’s used to thinking in terms of “Baptist” and “too loony for Baptist;” the Unitarians sort of blow his mind sometimes.

      • Alix

        Yeah. My brother’s straight and cis, and he loves himself some sparkly sequined halter tops and girly lace-trimmed shirts … or he did until my dad, who was always much more concerned about policing masculinity than femininity, threw some absolute shit fits over them, ultimately going through my brother’s room and throwing away anything “girly.”

        It baffles me, sometimes, that people care so damn much about this stuff.

      • The_L1985
      • Gillianren

        Shoot, I’ll sew dresses for him myself, if it’s what he wants. In the town where we live, he could probably get away with it. Though I must confess I’ve never been all that fond of pink, even when I was little. I much preferred purple.

      • Lyric

        Yeah, part of my problem is that I’m in the Bible Belt. In a fairly liberal, scientifically-oriented town in the Bible Belt, but still.

      • Gillianren

        Oof. I couldn’t manage that. I live in one of the most liberal, open-minded cities in the State of Washington. We tend to slip into New Age, not Bible-thumping, which is a whole different kind of irritating.

      • Lyric

        It helps to find your own circle; southern liberals do exist, I swear we do! But I still feel under siege sometimes.

      • aim2misbehave

        “The swimsuit that is fine for the pool is not appropriate for the bus.”

        This reminds me of learning the even more complex social code of when to break the rules – although a swimsuit is typically not appropriate for the bus, if it’s pushing 110 F out and the bus is at the beach, then not overheating takes precedence over everything except not violating public nudity laws. Or how sneakers are not appropriate for formal events, but for “trendy” formal events like film premieres or high school proms, or more recently even some wedding parties, wearing a clean pair of Converse is considered appropriate.

    • krisya0507

      I think it’s about the intention behind the clothing. I tell my debate students to dress conservatively for tournaments because their arguments should be the focus, not what they are wearing. That’s how I would try to structure all clothing discussions. Does the outfit fit the situation? Does it reflect how you want to portray yourself? If my daughter wore a lot of skimpy clothes, I would want to think about why. If she’s emotionally healthy and just enjoying her body and feeling free in being able to wear things like bikinis and short skirts, I’m fine with that. If I think she’s seeking sexual attention because she is feeling insecure, and especially if she’s showing signs of depression or anxiety, I would want to try to get her help, but it wouldn’t be about the clothing so much as her overall emotional health.

      • Alix

        That said, “how you want to portray yourself” means taking into account how others will perceive you – like any form of communication, it’s not wholly about your own intentions. That’s not to say that one should let other people’s ideas for what one should be wearing take precedence, only that a person ought to be aware of those perceptions.

        Like, if you decide to wear a skimpy bikini ’cause you damn well want to, that’s fine. But you need to be aware that some people will see that and think “She’s trying to be sexy,” even if that doesn’t alter how you dress one whit.

        For a better example, if you’re trying to communicate that you’re powerful and confident in, say, a job interview, you need to wear the kind of clothes the people interviewing you would interpret as powerful and confident, not simply what makes you feel powerful and confident.

      • Feminerd

        That works some, but I know that for more rural tournaments I went to the girls had to wear skirts. Had to. If a girl wore a pants suit, her team would lose.

        My coach put it pretty bluntly. She said it was unfair and sexist, but we were playing to win. If we had to wear stupid clothes to do that, we’d wear the stupid clothes. So we did. There’s not a lot of positive or neutral spin to put on that, though.

      • fiona64

        That’s pretty much the argument our coach made for young women wearing skirt suits for debate tournaments as well. It wasn’t about the argument; it was about the reality that some judges would be rural folks who were likely to be more conservative (I did policy debate in Oregon … which is pretty much rural outside of two cities).

      • krisya0507

        Pants are fine in my suburban area, but that’s pretty much how we talk about it too. I also sometimes have to have the tough conversations with girls who speak more aggressively or don’t soften their word choice that they can’t get away with that the way many boys can. Judges of both genders tend to view an aggressive girl as a bitch and an aggressive boy as strong.

      • Feminerd

        We got less of that; cursing and aggressive language were discouraged for both boys and girls, because we were being professional. “You are wrong”, though, is an inherent part of debate, so anything that said that was fine. We used a lot of pre-written stuff (CX is like that) so the opportunities to mess up weren’t huge.

    • Allyn

      I’ve been talking to my husband about this (though we don’t have kids yet). My parents did a fantastic job of having us dress relatively modestly, and their main thing was “you aren’t old enough for that.” It was never in any sort of a slut shame way, but I think that their intention was that we weren’t allowed to wear “sexy” clothes until we were old enough to understand what it meant and who we were, and old enough to handle any potential negative attention. They definitely focused on practicality (one piece versus two piece swimsuit, etc.), and I don’t think any of us walked away with a weird complex. Once I was in college I started wearing bikinis and never heard any comment from my mom other than “that’s so cute!”
      Even my “purity” ring wasn’t about virginity, it was a reminder that I was beautiful and special and more than enough, and I should never give in to pressure from a guy just because I doubted that fact. It was a really awesome artisan ring with amber and no “true love waits” message to be found.

    • Nancy Shrew

      My mom let me basically do whatever I wanted in regard to makeup, hair, and clothing—at home, in the context of playing dress-up. The message, I suppose, was that “It’s okay to pretend to be a Spice Girl, but you actually aren’t one and those clothes are inappropriate for girls your age”. She grew more lax with the rules as I got older (e.g. I was allowed to wear makeup out by the time I was eleven, more intense makeup when I entered high school). I think that’s a decent way to go about it without bringing slut-shaming into it and making your daughter feel like a “tramp”.

  • centaurie

    The follow up to the original post isn’t much better.

    ….In fact, it’s much worse.
    Seriously, it reads like a juvenile neener-neener wall of text.

    • Boo

      Because when people like her are confronted with their own hypocrisy they respond with sarcasm and insults. She believes her and her family is perfect, so she has nothing to take responsibility for.

  • Hilary

    Sally, listen to your mom. She’s wise and kind and loves you very much.

    Totally off topic, but Happy New Year to all of LJF’s Jewish readers! Shannah Tovah!

  • Trollface McGee

    Wonderful article and wonderful advice. This is the message we need to give kids. Respect and self-respect, not this purity crap.
    The original article, the blatant hypocrisy in those pictures and the comments defending them are horrible (shirtless men aren’t sexual because women don’t experience physical attraction? really??).

  • Limeade

    “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell” Mark 9:47

    It’s pretty clear that someone is responsible for their own lusts, not the one who caused them to ‘stumble’. But I guess telling girls their bodies are shameful is easier than telling boys to gouge their eyes out.

    Lovely letter, by the way.

  • M.S.

    Reading that post you linked to was a little disturbing… the whole time I was reading it I could SWEAR it was written from the father’s perspective, and then imagine my shock to find out it was written by their mother! So disheartening when women degrade women. Really just sad that she essentially called some high school girl a slut.
    A) Its kind of creepy she is trolling through high school girl’s profiles. B) Its weird she blamed the girls instead of her boys… better to say “don’t be a creeper” to her sons. Once again its a girl’s job to not provoke the apparently uncontrollable animal-like sexual desires of these boys. C) How hypocritical that those boys are basically naked in all of their pictures. So, its okay for them to be “provocative”, but not okay for girls? D) How condescending was her tone? E) I could go on and on…..

    • TLC

      My guess is that the parents have access to the kids’ accounts and go through them occasionally to see if anything inappropriate is going on. When my son got on Facebook at age 14, one of the conditions was that I would have his username and password and I could go through it at any time. Not that I did it very often — I just wanted to make sure the photos were appropriate and no one was being bullied.

      I had to explain to my son over and over again that Facebook is NOT private — even if you do have to sign in to it. College, companines and others have software that can get them into your social media profiles and see what you’ve posted. Since he started getting college recruitment letters when he was a sophomore, this was a definite concern. And a couple of times, I had to point out to him what his comments and coversations might look like to an outsider. But I never made him take anything down or unfriend anyone.

      The hypocrisy of this is stupendous. Please, post half-naked pictures of your sons on your very public blog that clearly lists you as a church employee. Then turn around and criticize, condescend and humiliate a girl for pictures she’s posted on HER Facebook, which is not open to the general public? What price has this girl paid at school for this blog? At the church? I can hear the gossip now. . . .

      “But, if you want to stay friendly with our sons online, you’ll have to keep your clothes on, and your posts decent.”

      I wonder how many girls’ parents unfriended these boys because their mom posted photos of them with half their clothes off.

      This was from one of my favorite comments: “I reacted so strongly to this article not because of the double standard, but because of the repercussions of telling males that it is the female responsibility to make sure they don’t break their standards for sexual behaviors/thoughts.”

      There is no way every single femaie can adjust her dress, attitude and behavior to keep every single man from “lusting”. It’s the responsibility of these males to control their own thoughts, behaviors and reactions!

  • AnotherOne

    My daughter, walking by as I read that blog post: “ooooh–do you know those people? those boys are cute!”

    Me: laughing so hard I can’t breathe.

    • M.S.

      Well since she is a girl, its her duty to control her reaction to imagery such as this, right? Shame on her ! What a heathen! (Sarcasm)
      I don’t know if you read, but lots of comments were defending the half-naked boys saying “boys and girls are different, boys are visual beings”. Puke.

      • Aeryl

        I saw this great juxtaposition, of some recent Hugh Jackman magazine covers.

        One was for Good Housekeeping, and he’s wearing a pastel blue sweater and smiling all charmingly.

        The other was for a men’s magazine, and he’s shirtless, with all his muscles flexed.

        The point wasn’t that women aren’t visually stimulated, but that we aren’t visually stimulated by MALE power fantasies, which leads a lot of people to believe that women just aren’t visually stimulated.

      • Lucreza Borgia
      • Ortin
      • Liz

        This. Is. AMAZING. Thanks for sharing :-)

  • Guest

    LOVE THIS. Thank you.

  • Jamie Justice

    Thank you bring home the point that it’s not a women’s job to control the way that men or boys choose to behave, feel, or think. Men and boys are responsible for their own sexual feelings, their thoughts, and how they choose to behave.

    I’m tired of the world we live in that tells our girls that it’s their own fault for unwanted cat calls, harassment, and touches. Parents really ought to focus on teaching their sons to respect women as people not as things that need to be controlled. Boys and men are certainly capable of controlling themselves. Its hypocritical to tell women they must control themselves but its okay for boys to be ruled by their feelings and thoughts.

    Thank you again for writing this powerful piece. We need more parents like you in the world.

  • Sara

    You are a great mom, Libby Anne, and your daughter (and son) is very lucky to have you!

  • another woman named Libby


    This got me thinking…in a perfect world I would love to not care/think about what I’m wearing to the office because I don’t think it will spark gossip or change perceptions of me, but in reality I’m going to keep my thighs, shoulders, and cleavage covered. Not because of any fears of giving men “the wrong idea,” but just because honestly I don’t want my colleagues and clients distracted by what our culture deems inappropriate skin in a business setting. It’s not that I’d get fired (we don’t have a formal dress code), it’s just a personal choice that makes me feel more comfortable, because I know I’m securely within cultural norms.

    So – where’s the line? What’s the difference? I don’t have kids, but if I eventually do, how can I balance “wear what you want!” with the reality of our culture?

    Example: I believe in looking nice for a funeral. That’s a pretty arbitrary societal norm, but it has been reflected in global cultures since the beginning of time – we honor the dead by wearing what our society considers “nice” clothes. But let’s say we’re at an outdoor memorial service, and my (hypothetical) pre-teen son is hot and wants to take off his shirt. Sure, in theory, there’s no reason I should say no – he’s not hurting anyone, and what do we care what other people think? But our society has called that “disrespectful.”

    So let’s apply that to a job. What if my daughter wants to go to her first day of a job or internship in a spaghetti strap sundress that makes her look and feel amazing, but that isn’t considered by society to be “business casual”?

    Or how would I respect this idea of being pro-female and empowering when my daughter wants to go to school wearing a tube top that shows her abs? I guess Libby Anne’s answer would likely be, sit down and have a mature conversation with her, and tell her that there are these weird societal norms that we live in that need to change, but make sure she’s aware of perceptions. But again – is that implicitly condoning slut-shaming?

    “I know you feel great in that outfit, and I love when you wear clothes that you feel great in. I completely support your decisions to wear what you want. I need to let you know that if you wear a tube top, people may judge you. You are responsible for you and you are not responsible for other people’s perceptions. But, unfortunately, and it sucks that it’s like this and we need to work together to change it, people may think your outfit isn’t appropriate for school because it shows too much skin. What do you think you should do?”

    Thoughts? Sorry this turned into an epic comment!

    • Feminerd

      Those are all tough ones. My answer may be as long as your post!

      I think it goes back to some clothes are appropriate for only some occasions. At a funeral, we dress up nicely in order to show respect for the dead, as you said. Undressing, therefore, is disrespectful. It’s not inherently so, granted, but because of societal norms it is. Since being slightly hot for a small period of time isn’t a big deal usually, keep the shirt on. If one feels heatstroke coming on, though, take it off, go sit down, get some water. It’s all contextual :) Same goes for the dress, too. We have norms for what to wear at certain types of jobs, and that means maybe not wearing the super-cute top that just isn’t business casual. There’s nothing wrong with the dress or wearing the dress, it’s just not the right time and place to wear the dress.

      The business stuff- I think it’s fine to wear only what you feel comfortable wearing, even as you are aware of the pressures that make you take certain options off the table. I live in the US South, and it gets very hot in the summer. I wear long pants all the time anyways, even though I know shorts would be more comfortable, because of weird things in my own head. Being aware of norms doesn’t mean one must challenge them all the time.

      I like that theoretical discussion with the daughter, by the way! I think it’d be great. I don’t think it implicitly condones slut-shaming, because it calls out that attitude as wrong and something to be changed. Especially if it comes in the context of a child raised to know she owns herself and is responsible for her own actions and reactions and not other people’s, I don’t see anything bad in it.

    • aim2misbehave

      Also, wearing an ab-exposing tube top is not remotely safe for a laboratory environment, like your daughter probably will encounter in high school. I actually encountered this problem in a college chemistry class – one girl would consistently wear attire that belonged either in the club or in the bedroom. In any case, she had a couple of near-misses, and then one case of a ruined dress and a near chemical burn (fortunately it was relatively inert and diluted, but it did ruin her fake tan!) because she refused to wear appropriate clothing or button her lab coat.

    • Alix

      Honestly? What helps me is viewing clothing as communication. Sometimes I throw on whatever’s handy, and I could not be communicating “Do not give a fuck” any harder. Other times, I take care in thinking through what I am trying to say by what I’m wearing – which means taking into account how others will interpret it, like with any communication.

      That’s not to say we have to just bow to the loudest voices policing our clothes – just like with any communication, we get to communicate too, and we get to push at those boundaries and change the dialogue. But we still have to think about the likely interpretations of our dress, if only to prepare for where we’ll face difficulty.

      So for the funeral, one question would be: who is it for? What are we doing there? Are we there to show respect for the dead? Support for the living? Would those people we’re there for consider stripping off a shirt disrespectful? And then weigh whether or not their feelings matter more than some discomfort. (Health, in my book, outweighs anything – if a person’s actually in danger of heat stroke and people aren’t willing to let them go inside to cool off, letting them take off clothes is damn well the least they can do.)

      Business attire – what are you trying to communicate? What kind of business in it, and what’s your role? If you want to communicate that you are competent, your dress needs to reflect the markers of competency people look for, as appropriate for your work. If you want to communicate you can be trusted, you need to wear the kind of clothes someone coming to your business would associate with being trustworthy.

      And so on. This is all why dressing isn’t actually that simple a task, even though a lot of it becomes more or less intuitive as we get older.

      The sexy thing – that to me is where there are no easy answers. I sometimes feel like we act like it’s too black and white: like the options are “fundie modesty cult” or “anything goes!” But I don’t see people talking much about how there might be a time and a place for sexiness, too, or how we tend to focus so much on being sexy. Or how there are actually differences between looking pretty and looking sexy, or looking sexy and looking raunchy (for lack of a better term – I don’t mean “slutty,” but more like “sexually in-your-face” – something fine when done because the person wants to be that way, and in the proper place).

      I come at the sexy thing from a weird place, admittedly, being genderweird and ace and finding a lot of how folks emphasize and emphatically embrace the sexy …. weird and kind of alienating. (Especially when it happens in business or solemn settings.) I don’t see why it’s not okay to say “look, there are times and places where there really is no need to be sexy, or where looking sexy might be counterproductive” and not have that interpreted as slut-shaming.

      …Yet at the same time, I don’t see why we can’t all just go walk around naked. >.> I guess it’s the intent that bothers me? Naked is naked. Clothing communicates.

      (Long comment is long, sorry. >.<)

      • Feminerd

        I’d walk around naked, except sunburn is ouchy. Not as bad for me, I don’t burn much, but can you imagine the poor guys who burn easily? Sunburnt genitalia probably hurts a lot.

      • Alix

        Oh, I definitely think clothing often serves practical purposes. (Says the fair-skinned person who freckles, freckles, freckles, and then combusts.)

        Clothes are also good for keeping the goddamn mosquitoes off. >.>

      • Feminerd

        Oh yes. I despise mosquitoes so very much.

        Also, shoes are good. When the sidewalk is literally hot enough to fry eggs on, I do not want to walk across it barefoot, no thank you.

      • Alix

        I go barefoot as much as humanly possible, but yeah, even I’ll concede that sometimes shoes are good. XD

  • Theo Darling

    I wish you were my mom
    THAT SOUNDS SO CREEPY I swear I didn’t mean it in a creepy way.

  • krisya0507

    “And to be perfectly honest, I’m not actually primarily talking about teenage boys you will come in contact with, whom I suspect you will find much less hung up on your clothing choices than some would have you think.”
    So true. I teach 16 and 17 year olds every day. I known what they look like when they’re distracted, and it very rarely has anything to do with how anybody is dressed. Attraction is cultural. In societies where women regularly bare their breasts, it’s doesn’t arouse others. Teens watch tv and movies and internet material with gorgeous, often airbrushed women wearing little to no clothing. That has its own set of problems in terms of healthy self image, but my point is that most of them are used to seeing skin. They have grown up seeing their female peers in tank tops, short skirts, and tight yoga pants. It is no more arousing than the jeans and t shirts most of the boys wear because it’s normal.
    I’m not saying teens don’t get aroused–of course they do, all the time. I just don’t think clothing has much to do with it. People are attracted by smiles, hair, the way a person’s body curves, and all kinds of other things. I remember sitting in a desk behind a gorgeous boy and being incredibly distracted by his amazing, glossy, dark hair and muscular shoulders. I’ve seen students staring longingly at each other, but it’s normal teenage crushes. Unless a kid walked in wearing something so out of the norm that it was shocking, like a shirt so thin that you could see nipples, I’m pretty sure nobody would pay much attention.

  • FeministaBarista

    A perfect response to that self-righteous slut-shaming post FYI (for teenage girls). Your daughter is very lucky to have a mom like you.

  • Kat Emralde

    You are awesome. I’m saving this post for inspiration for my little one in 8 years

  • ValPas

    Good post. Unfortunately, those boys/ young men/ men have some pretty strong sexual urges – often – even usually – stronger and more persistent and less discriminatory than women’s sexual urges. And they’re generally physically stronger than women. So, unhappily, it’s women who usually must beware.
    Women are raped far more often than men. Women are physically abused far more often than men. Women have less power in our culture than men. Women are taken less seriously than men.
    So telling a young woman she’s the one responsible for her own body, or that she should simply run if she feels threatened, is not enough. This admonition should be coupled with self-defense training in some martial art. That way, she CAN take responsibility for her own body.

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