La La How The Life Goes On

Short Shorts, In Short

Posted on: September 9, 2015


A thread in a group on Facebook blew up today when a mom, upon seeing all the “Back to School” pics of kids, thought it wise to communicate her shock at the parents who would allow their daughters to wear such short shorts to school. She finished it with the classic passive-aggressive chestnut, “To each his own.”  This is what I thought when I saw that post:


It was really something. Sexism, rape culture, and religious posturing all rolled into one sweet post. The point this mom was trying to make was this: “Girls showing all that skin on their legs is inappropriate for school and reflects poorly on the morals of their parents.” You don’t need me to tell you that she got shut down. And hard.

But she had a couple of defenders. So let’s walk through this, shall we, in the interests of education.

  1. It was 100 degrees over vast swathes of our country yesterday. Most schools lack air conditioning. So if you want to sit for 6 hours in jeans in 100 degree heat, you go ahead. I won’t be forcing my daughter to do it.
  2. The notion that showing skin equals moral turpitude is so antiquated that I am consistently stunned when someone voices it. These girls (and I emphasize the word “girls”) were not showing nipples or outlines of genitalia or anything that really would be considered inappropriate for a school. They had on shorts that showed some thigh. GASP! Get the smelling salts! I do believe I have the vapors!
  3. The connected opinion that these shorts are “distracting” and therefore inappropriate is the ages-old attempt to control women by controlling their bodies. Countries that stone women for not wearing burqas use this exact language. The body of a female is distracting and must be covered so as not to excite the males in their presence. The woman’s body must be covered, bound, hidden, shamed–all in service of male superiority.
  4. And if they do elicit responses from the males, well what did they expect with those shorts on? As if wearing any article of clothing says, “You may physically or verbally harm and abuse me” or “these shorts obviously imply sexual consent.”  All decent people know that what someone wears is irrelevant to his or her sexual availability. But this is our rape culture. The normalizing of victim-blaming and the promulgation of the virgin-whore complex.  Nice girls dress like THIS. Nasty girls dress like THAT. All of which is false. I can recall girls from the local parochial school, all long skirt and high collar, giving blow jobs behind the mall on a Friday night. Meanwhile the girl in the  miniskirt and Iron Maiden shirt was home studying to get her full ride to Phillips Andover. Their outfits signified NOTHING about their sexuality. Except to those dirty-minded individuals who could not see anything but.
  5. This obsession with modesty would be more credible if it included an obsession with what boys wear. Oh my god! His Boston Celtics tank top shows his arms AND armpits! His boxer shorts are peeking out over his jeans! What kind of no-morals child would show his underwear?! What kind of no-morals parent would allow him to! But there is not associated concern with boys because 13 year old boys are not sexualized like their 13 year old female counterparts. That, in fact, is what infuriated me the most about this mom’s post. What the rest of us saw were young girls of all ages, maybe 3-15, heading off to school with smiles and hopes and laughter. This mom saw short shorts. And she saw sexuality. If you look at a photo of my 11 year old child and any thought of anything sexual about her enters your mind? Sequester yourself from children and seek immediate counseling. You need help, if not law enforcement intervention.

So here’s my final thought on this today. If any boy or man EVER harms or disrespects my daughters, I will weep a thousand rivers of tears if any notion of “what did I do/not do/say/wear to deserve this?” ever entered their minds. And I would literally end my life if anything I had said or done had contributed to them feeling that.  But this is the world we live in. Where joyous photos of young girls heading off in the summer heat to learn and grow and blossom becomes a rhorschach test for misogyny and sexism. For “boys will be boys” and “nice girls don’t.” Well you know what? If your son’s or husband’s or uncle’s behavior toward women relies on a hemline or a neckline, you have larger problems than haberdashery can solve. If you cannot see a girl in shorts without sexualizing her at the age of 11 and making sweeping judgments about what crimes she will deserve to suffer, you are a cancer on our society. If your son cannot go to school and see a girl in shorts without acting the fool and being disrespectful, you need to raise a better class of boy. Don’t you dare put your son’s failings on my daughters. Put them on yourself, where they belong.


5 Responses to "Short Shorts, In Short"

PLEASE POST THIS on Facebook and anywhere else it can be read far and wide. and thank you for putting words to the outrage and fear I feel when this shit takes center stage — I fear for my girl and yours, and all of our girls, that this is still how people think and act towards them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Mari Brennan Barrera 508-989-8293

You know that I hang on every word you write. So to say that with this, you have outdone yourself is saying something, indeed. That last paragraph is the most important handful of sentences I’ve read in, well, maybe ever. I’ve shared it far and wide. My Village has, too. Our girls, all of them, are richer for having you in their court. As for me… what I wouldn’t give to be able to give you a proper hug for your wisdom and candor. Love. Love. Love.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this since you posted yesterday. I wanted to reply here instead of FB, just for the relative anonymity (fear of judgment much?). Anyway, I keep thinking that the easier part for me will actually be teaching the boy the correct attitude toward girls’ dress: i.e. what they wear never, ever relates to how you treat them, relate to them, think of them, etc. It’s *very* clear-cut. There’s no in-between there. The trickier thing, I think, it parenting the girl. I think of myself as a feminist parent, but if I draw any line for S’s clothing, does that mean I have internalized sexism? I don’t let her wear leggings as pants, because I think they reveal too much butt, which is a private body part. Not a shameful one, but one that the whole world doesn’t get to see. To me, that’s a precursor idea to later healthy sexuality: i.e. your body is yours to share with whomever you choose, hopefully in a mutually respectful way. But unfortunately, even though I am super careful to avoid body shaming and even praising based on appearance, I can see how clothing limitations could evoke the unintended belief that girls’ bodies should be hidden. Thoughts?

Totally agree. Healthy sexuality. And the basic rule of life: there is a time and place for everything. I think you are hitting the exact right point, differentiating between what’s fashion and allowed and what’s a private part. For the record, G doesn’t actually own any short shorts. They are not her thing, But her friends–all of whom to a person are lovely girls–do. And they wore them. And what you saw was much leg. But not even a glimmer of ass cheek, which is where I would draw the line for my family. It’s hard to articulate, but I guess what I think we are both saying is that private parts stay private and that showing skin in and of itself is not inherently inappropriate. The larger point being the WHY. We don’t disallow ass cheek reveals because the boys or their moms will think you are a slut or because the boys might touch you. We disallow ass cheek reveals because people don’t walk around showing their ass cheeks at school. End of story. Your tits stay in your shirt in high school because HS is not the appropriate venue for getting them out. You want to get them out on a Saturday night? Your business. For me, it’s definitely about the “why.” My dad was always concerned that my miniskirt-wearing would earn me a “reputation” I remember thinking, “A reputation for what? Skirt wearing?” He was that generation of oldster who equated fashion choices with statements of sexual availability. I am pretty sure my clothing kept him up nights worrying. 😉 That’s the corrupt mental process I don’t want to pass on to my girls. That people (ie, males) are excused from bad behavior based on whether you wore flip flops or boots. That anything can be determined about a female wearing a tank top other than she likes that tank top. Sister, it ain’ easy dismantling The Patriarchy. 😉

Very helpful response, thank you! Sometimes it helps to have someone to sound things out with. 🙂

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