With my ears tuned to the subtle frequency of gendered inequality in every day life, walking to class has become a disturbing experience.
In the crowd of people all walking into the same classroom, a male football player and his female friend pointed out the two female soccer players walking ahead of us and began commenting on their “booty” shorts. The girl began by saying how they were wearing “practically nothing” and lamented her own “middle school days” when she thought those kind of shorts were acceptable. The male passionately agreed with her while shaking his head and said “If they were my daughters, I’d never let them go outside!”
While these kinds of statements still enrage me, they no longer shock me, as a father who has the power to keep daughters hidden away and dressed according to his discretion seems to be a common theme within our patriarchal society.
The archetype of fathers within novels, movies, and television shows who will not let their daughters leave the house wearing “THAT outfit or THAT makeup” leads to the commonly used phrase “where do YOU think you’re going, young lady?!” As a culture, we have come to accept the “fact” that fathers are simply stricter and have authority to regulate a daughter’s appearance before leaving the house because they know “how men think.” They say “we know how that kind of outfit will make men behave,” and while our society veils these kinds of comments under the sheer fabric of “protection,” the reality they presuppose is harsh and disgusting. The idea that it is common for men to criticize, hyper-sexualize, and commodify women’s bodies is the root of the problem. We are not being protected by fathers who tell us to “put on more clothes,” but subjected to a society who refuses to change and commends us when we bend to its will. When we do not question why men think this way and only choose to try and avoid the harassment altogether, we become part of the system that depends on our absolute silence and fearful docility.
Clearly men are not the only propagators of this system of suppression and hatred, as women participate just as frequently, if not more, by calling out the girls that they find to be differing from the acceptable norm.
While the football player in the story mentioned above did not start the critique of their clothing, he vindicated his female friends attack by reaffirming the common stance of the “watchful fatherly eye.” The double standard that girls are supposed to show less skin to exemplify discretion and dignity, while at the same time bare skin in order to be considered desirable, is rooted in the patriarchal construct of control over women’s bodies, actions, and minds. The departure from these “rules” signals a cohort of societal police forces seeking to put the girls back in their place of “modesty” and “normality” where they belong.
As the football player was allowed to regulate his own clothing choices for the day, composed of his jersey and basketball shorts, these girls were ridiculed for simply putting on their team’s practice outfit. Their shorts were too short, and consequently they “lost” their accountability as athletes, students, and humans who could dress themselves. In the male’s mind, they would have been better off under his lock and key, unable to parade around in such attire.
Whatever it is that he thinks he is protecting them from, he surely does not recognize it to be himself.