Does this seem a bit reminscent of evolutionary psychology and gender essentialism to anyone else? Still, it’s a view that’s worth exploring.
This is the first guest post I’ve decided to publish (see my thoughts on the issue here). It’s in response to my posts Why Women Wear Revealing Clothes Part 1 & Part 2 as well as A Personal Reason to Wear Shorts. The author of this guest post asked to be left anonymous, but may well be reading the comments if you’d like to get in on the discussion!
Jeana was generous enough to let me share some thoughts I had from the male perspective regarding the “Why women wear revealing clothes” series and her follow-up “A personal reason to wear shorts” article. What follows is candid and sometimes politically incorrect. But if you’re on the Atheist section of Patheos, then I’m confident you can handle it.
First let me say that I encounter these body issues constantly as I have been married to my wife for 23 years and have a college aged daugther. Both of them have body issues. For my wife, it’s that genetically, she holds weight in her mid-section. This really only affects her dramatically when she is overweight. But even at “normal” weight, it means that she never has the V-shaped shoulders to waist pattern that most women desire. And for my daughter, she tends to have the large thighs issue and tends to just be overweight in general. My daughter and I have had lots of late night conversations surrounding this and lots of frustrated trips to the mall when it’s time to buy a special dress for a school occasion. And don’t even get me started on how she gets during swimsuit season though fortunately I’m never in tow for those shopping trips.
I first wanted to touch on some of the background surrounding the why women dress revealingly. There are numerous completely valid reasons for this. Females tend to naturally “run hotter” than men do. That’s just a fact. Hormones are at play here and it’s not sexist to say that. It’s just biology. And that’s a very good reason to dress cool. Comfort also plays a role. Women are constantly wearing things that are at the very least uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful. My wife is real cranky when she’s breaking in new shoes, for instance. And I know that both my wife and daughter lose their bras just about as soon as they get through the door at the end of the day. I know I’d never want to be harnessed up like that. So what woman could be blamed for wanting to wear less restrictive clothes during their off time, hanging out, or just going to Target?
And to the guys out there, there is also a perfectly logical answer for why women intentionally wear revealing, even sexy, clothing for the express purpose of looking good and being notice that has nothing to do with her being a flirt or a slut or a tease or any of the other things you might normally think. And it all has to do with power.
Evolutionarily and historically, women have generally played a role in society that ranged from property to second class citizens. In ancient times, women were pretty powerless. For most of human history, women couldn’t hold property. They were instead traded as property themselves (as in a father would sell her in an arranged marriage to a potential suitor). In this light, can you blame women for learning the obvious lesson that if they had no legitimate power in society, that they could wield some power by influencing the men who did hold the power? And given that female bodies are the ones we find attractive (just pay attention to advertising if you want to dispute that), and women obviously possess the attractive female bodies, they naturally learned to use that to their advantage. And this power has been used in the workplace (in that last century or so that women have even been allowed to work), social settings, and romantic relationships. And who can blame them for using power the only way, until recent decades, that they had? This is not a criticism. This is basic anthropological stuff.
So what I’m saying is that a woman can and does dress revealingly to be sexy on purpose but NOT for the reasons that most men think they do. Yes, it’s to get our attention and gain favor but it’s not always, or even usually, for mating purposes. It’s instead for influence and power purposes. They don’t necessarily want to date you or sleep with you just because they wear revealing things around you. It’s not even usually a particular male’s attention that they want but generally just being “marketable” to males overall was, again historically speaking, the ticket for women to accomplish their power objectives. But many times it’s not about the power objective at all. This has been going on so long, like I said it’s evolutionary and evolution takes a long time, that doing this is now just part of the dynamic of being a woman…even when there is no power being attempted to wield.
But this creates a dilemma that even modern women still haven’t gotten past. Evolution takes longer than societal change. So even though women of today can hold legitimate power via owning property and businesses and become CEO’s and possibly, come November, even be elected President, women still innately see the need to utilize their ability to affect men via their “looks” as a power card. And OTHER WOMEN are still threatened when a woman is doing it. You see, if someone is getting the positive results of power with their looks (which isn’t exclusively done via revealing dress but it definitely can be part of the equation), other women who also want that power get jealous. This is why women are MUCH more critical of themselves and each other than men would ever be of them.
It’s this criticism by other women that has led to body shaming of all kinds and stripes. When women compete for the same influence, again whether that be in the workplace, social settings, or romantic interests, other women feel their own influence wane when someone else is getting more influence. So the one on the wane attempts to get the one using their influence to back down by shaming the fact that she is being revealing in the first place or by mocking what she is revealing. Shaming for being revealing in the first place would be remarks that might range from “inappropriately dressed” to outright saying she’s “slutty.” But if no headway is made there, they can resort to shaming the body part(s) being revealed. These are much more specific insults and thus harder recover from psychologically. These kinds of insults could range from “fat” to “saggy” to “flat chested” or “anorexic looking” or “manly looking” and any number of other insults.
But ladies, here is what you need to know. Only women (and maybe a few gay men) think in these terms. I know that empowered women shouldn’t get their self worth from what men think of them. But the bottom line is that while you shouldn’t put undue emphasis on what men think, there are legitimate levels of interest you can hold in what men think of you physically. And we are a whole lot more flexible and wide ranging in our tastes that you likely realize. Not every man will like every feature of every woman. But there is a subset of men that will like any feature you have…even the ones you detest or think are freakish.
I have tried to convince my daughter of this. I have always found with her, even when she was little, that platitudes just never worked with her. She needed specific examples or she didn’t buy into what she was being told. So when she got to be old enough to know what strip clubs were and that men, and not just creepy men, went to them, I was able to use this as a good illustration. I told her that many married men went to strip clubs and not all of them were “cheating” on their wives. Some of them, myself included although I used a work friend as my example for her, actually went WITH their wives.
She naturally wondered how a wife would be able to stand their husband’s going there at all, and if the wife went too, how could she handle being right there watching. I told her that for these fortunate men that had confident, secure, understanding wives, that the wives knew their husbands weren’t after another woman but rather a temporary and free of entanglements encounter with someone that possessed something they liked but didn’t necessarily like as much as they liked the traits their wives had to offer.
To illustrate, in my case, I married “my type” of woman (think Jacqueline Smith from the Charlie’s Angels time period) but I’ve also got a soft spot for ebony women. For my work friend that I was using in my example to avoid using myself, he also married his “type” but had a particular fetish for Asian women. He calls them “spicy egg rolls” and says it with a poor Chinese imitation that I always found hilarious. The bottom line, I told her, was that at these clubs there were BBW’s (for those unfamiliar with street lingo that means “big beautiful woman”), small breasted women, tattoed and pierced women, tall women, short women, women with big butts, etc. I told her that all these traits make up a wonderful buffet of female traits and that while certain things on a buffet line are more popular than others, everything on a buffet has its fans. And so it is with female physical traits as well.
And if I could convey to the female readers the lesson that I was trying to pass on to my daughter, it would be this. You are beautiful and your traits are beautiful. Even those problem areas are a draw to certain subsets of men out there. So be confident. Have some swagger. Because confidence is more sexy than any physical trait that you or anyone else has. And to come full circle, it’s also more sexy than revealing clothing.