This is reposted from August 2015.
(added June 2016) With all of the recent hoopla about the Stanford rapist and his guilt (which is terribly, graphically obvious), I had to add my thoughts to the conversation. While those in his position should never, ever be let off the hook and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, I wonder if we’re giving future potential victims the wrong idea. Are they getting the idea that their safety is the responsibility of attackers? Are we forgetting to teach our children how to keep themselves safe in the first place?
It’s been plastered all over my Facebook feed: high school students protesting the dress code rules in their schools, girls wanting to wear spaghetti straps and short shorts to school each day, or backless dresses to prom. And it just happened again, with a girl who was sent home for wearing a top that went against the school dress code.
The protesters almost always have the same reasoning, and this case is no exception. They feel the school and school board is objectifying female students, sexualizing them and contributing to a culture of rape. They call themselves feminists, and say that if boys are distracted by what the girls are wearing, they need to keep themselves under control and learn to ignore the wardrobe choices of their classmates.
Very little attention is ever given to the fact that dress codes are often unisex, and both genders are usually expected to follow the same rules.
The school staff and school board generally respond with something like “We’re preparing you for the work place and for life. School is a professional environment, and everyone should dress appropriately for it.”.
Parents take the sides of their children, staff have sit-downs with students and try to explain the reasoning, and the students continue to rally support with online pictures showing their outfits as “not that bad”.
The school boards are correct. Life has dress codes. Whether you end up working in a corporate office or at McDonald’s, you won’t get away with your crop top. You’ll likely receive a reprimand and eventually fired if you don’t conform to your employer’s dress code. That’s just life.
But the underlying question here is this: Are we creating a culture of entitled girls that expect the world to cater to them? Are we giving them a victim mentality and telling them that no matter what they do, how others see them is completely out of their hands? Are we telling them that the rules don’t matter?
Because this issue extends very easily into other areas of life. The 14 year old girl getting drunk late at night in a house full of drunk teenaged boys with no sober adult or any kind of supervision wakes up the next afternoon to find she has been raped. Not only that, but online pictures of it are circulating.
Let me be clear: Rape or any kind of sexual assault or abuse absolutely wrong and it is not the victim’s fault.
However, our hypothetical 14 year old could easily have protected herself by avoiding the situation in the first place.
And here’s the thing – teaching our girls that they can wear whatever they want, do whatever they want and spend time wherever they want without expecting repercussions from those choices is ignorant. Because the truth is, violating any school rule has consequences.
Not only is it ignorant, but it’s creating a generation of girls that are as far from feminist as they can get. Because we’re putting their safety and their well-being in the hands of others.
We’re giving them permission and free license to place their safety into the hands of teenaged boys.
As women, do we really want equal rights for our daughters or do we want them to put their safety and well-being into the hands of others? Do we want to raise a generation of independent, informed women who control their own future, or do we want them to depend on others to direct their path?
noun fem·i·nism ˈfe-mə-ˌni-zəm
: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
I’m raising my daughter to make wise choices, to know that ultimately she is responsible for her own protection. And that while she has men and boys in her life that would lay down their own for hers, she can not expect them to stop bad things from happening. She needs to be proactive in protecting herself, whether it’s in how she presents herself, what kinds of friends she makes, or what kind of places and situations she puts herself in.
I also have teenaged sons. I’m raising them to understand that they were given strength and wisdom for a reason – to help and protect those around them that need it, to put the needs of others ahead of their own, and to know that they are always responsible for their own actions.
But not all sons are raised that way. And even if they were, they have the freedom to choose their own actions in any given moment of time. I don’t want my daughter to be the victim of someone else’s poor judgement.
Yes, we need to do a better job of raising our sons. We need to teach them to respect others, to treat others better than themselves, to never put themselves in a situation where their judgement is impaired. But we also need to do a better job of raising our daughters. It must be an equal effort.
I drive defensively and wear a seat belt to protect myself from other drivers on the road, I am careful who I share my secrets with, and I lock my doors at night. Why would I expect my daughter to live any differently when it comes to how she presents herself and where she spends her time?
It starts with girls feeling entitled to break school dress codes. It starts with us telling them that “yes, school boards should change their policies to suit you.” It starts with handing the power of safety and protection from one gender, our daughters, to the other gender, our sons, when we tell them that boys need to stop sexualizing them. It starts with us telling our daughters that “You have no power over how others perceive you,” when in reality, we all have the ability to choose how we present ourselves.
Placing all of the responsibility, all of the power for any one thing into the hands of one gender has never been a good thing.
Our daughters need to have equal rights. They have the right to know how to dress appropriately, just as they have the right to know how to protect themselves by choosing the situations they put themselves in.
Please moms and dads – don’t make your daughter into a helpless victim. Give her the tools she needs to avoid becoming one. Don’t raise her thinking that the world should cater to her.
Empower her to make wise choices, and to make her own decisions. Give her the knowledge the gift of an attitude of not being entitled to special privileges, like breaking the rules. Rules are created for a reason, and there are ways to change them, if needed, without breaking them.
Let’s raise a generation of strong and powerful women, not a generation of helpless women.