I am expecting some flak if this blog gets past Caroline’s scrutiny, so I would like to make it plain that I accept a woman’s choice of clothing is hers to decide. No man should use seductive appearance as an excuse for sexual harassment or worse.
I am also aware that my viewpoint is that of a woman who grew up to expect and indeed tolerate the kind of behaviour from men that would be unacceptable today. Just one example, I worked for a time in a snooty bookshop. One of the men in the packing department had a favourite joke he played on new girls. You would be deep in conversation with a customer, and he would stroll past and throw a very tarty pair of red knickers on the counter “You left these on the back seat of my car last night love”. Hilarious, right?
No one complained, some of us, including yours truly, got our own back in inventive ways, but it would have been unthinkable to get him sacked. I would still take that attitude today.
I went to a girl’s school with very strict rules, in particular about clothing and hair. Any attempts to customise the horrible pudding basin hats, sturdy shoes and neckties were punished. Rulers were employed for spot checks on skirt lengths. If fingernails had a trace of pink varnish, the lab assistant got to work with the acetone. No jewellery, hair tied back.
It was mortifying to bump into some young man you fancied, when in your uniform, I had been known to dodge behind cars.
It is another story now. Seeing girls from the local secondary school walking home is like watching a beauty pageant. Apart from the mascara, flowing locks, and multi-toned hair extensions, the biggest change is skirt length. They are allowed to wear trousers, but rarely take this option. Black opaque tights and micro minis are the order of the day. Some prefer hold-up stockings, a flash of firm young thigh. Walking behind some of the boys, you hear them comparing photos girls have sent them, presumably showing even more flesh. This is a school with a good reputation, a firmly middle-class town.
During the recent holidays a few girls were in their civvies outside the local shop. It was early afternoon, but all were dressed for clubbing. One in particular was showing a lot of flesh. She wore fishnet stockings, suspenders on show, a tiny flared skirt. As I walked past with Spock she made a great show of bending over to lift her bag. If she was wearing underwear it must have malfunctioned, because we saw the lot. Poor old Spock didn’t know where to look, or rather he did just about recall where to look, but he was perplexed, what was going on?
I loved minis back in the day, but flashing just a glimpse of your knickers was considered deeply gauche and embarrassing, not sexy or cool at all.
Reading of the alleged sexual harassment of girls in mixed schools, I can’t help but wonder why anyone is surprised. Girls have the right to dress how they please, but can they really be so naïve as to not know exactly the message they are sending out? To me no one has the automatic right to respect, on the grounds of age, position or sex, respect has to be earned. The papers reported one school where the girls complained they were forced to hold books over their bums when on the stairs, to stop boys up-skirting. Really?
Like it or not, we do form judgments based on appearances. Tattoos have long since lost their criminal, sleazy associations.That said, a person who is covered in them, head to toe including the face and neck, can be alarming to others, and they must presumably seek to convey that threat. If you have the right to look and dress as you please, then you must accept that stereotypes exist for a reason. You cannot forbid others to form an opinion about you.
A combination of peer pressure and raging hormones will make it very hard for a teenage boy to know just what is expected of him. He is expected - not to say forced - to look, but don’t dare touch or make a saucy comment, otherwise he’s labelled a misogynist, or worse a sex pest. We might have looked very demure in our gym slips and knitted hosiery at my school, but believe me, we were no little innocents.
Teenage girls are generally fully aware of the affect they can have, and need to abide by some fair rules.
A Moodscope member.