Friday, May 6, 2011

Who's being disrespectful?

I'm wondering - Is a young woman dressed in short shorts and a low-cut, tight tank top in the same category as a young man dressed in over-sized baggy jeans that hang below his hips and show his butt crack?

What I'm asking is this: are young women and young men who dress this way being disrespectful?

Does the context in which they wear these clothes contribute to the determination of whether or not they're being disrespectful?

Of whom are they being disrespectful?

And who gets to decide?

I ask these questions, because a friend whom I greatly respect and admire just blogged about "sluts" and the taking-back of that term, which has been used as a pejorative aimed at women who have been raped and judged to have been attired in "slutty," "sexually-provocative" clothing. My friend says that she finds such a "state of half-undress" to be disrespectful of the women themselves - and of others.

True confession: I used to dress like that, in a state of half-undress. My weekend attire in Berkeley, California, and in Honolulu, Hawaii, in the '70s into the '80s (ages 21 to 35) was a bikini top and short shorts as I tooled around on my 10-speed bicycle. In the early '70s, I even wore a dress that was made of yard-squares (front and back of the dress) of bright yellow and black plaid small-wale corduroy that barely covered my butt with pantyhose and spiky high heels to work in the financial district of San Francisco where I was employed as the executive assistant to the president and CEO of an international insurance brokerage firm.

My choice of dress back then was based on several factors and attitudes. I was young and attractive with a good figure. My 20-something hormones and desire to attract males were raging. I thought I looked good in the clothes that I wore. They were comfortable choices for a sun worshiper. And, the culture at the time, in which I lived and worked, allowed my choices of attire, even if the majority of the culture did not endorse my choices.

As the years have progressed and I've gained weight, rotundness and gray hair, I've made changes in my choices of attire. If I were still svelte and comely, I probably would still wear bikini tops and short shorts on occasion and think nothing of it. Even today, my clothing tastes tend to run to tie-dye and dramatic, over-the-top accessories, although I also favor simplicity and comfort for everyday dress. I'm with Dolly Parton in her philosophy that she's not going to limit herself just because people won't accept the fact that she can do (or be or appear to be) something else.

Now, let me be clear: it was never my desire or intention to invite rape or sexual assault. I was and am a feminist, and it has always been clear to me that No means No and men are responsible for controlling their sexual, anger and aggression behavior.

When I look at the clothing choices of some people - and let's not limit it to young people, because middle-aged folks in clothing that is too tight or age-inappropriate also contribute to this discussion of attire and respect - I am not so much feeling disrespected as I am feeling offended. Disrespect is an attitude broadcast by someone else on or towards me. Feeling offended is about my own sensibilities and my emotional and philosophical, perhaps even moral, response to the stimuli - the person in such-and-such clothing - in front of me.

As much as I am offended by the sight of young men (and women) in jeans worn so low that their butt cracks are staring at me, I must not assume that they are wearing those jeans with the intent and for the purpose of offending me. In many cases, I suspect it may be nothing more profound or thoughtful than simply wearing the uniform of the crowd in which they hang and by whom they are judged on a daily basis.

So, I keep my opinions to myself about how other people dress and figure that young people, especially, don't need my judgmentalism raining on their parade of fashion for fun and fitting in. It is tough enough claiming your own identity and path in the world without hearing the questioning or disparaging remarks of others about something as inconsequential as your clothing choices.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I agree with you. My reactions of 'disrespect' are mine to own and digest and respond respectfully. However, I can and will express my feelings of discomfort. That's my right, too.