There are unwritten rules about what women should and should not wear. Many of these rules are wrapped up in a single idea: modesty. People have been using modesty as a reason to shame women and their bodies and their lifestyles for millennia. If you don’t cover enough, you don’t deserve to be respected, it says. You don’t even respect yourself.
But no matter how many religious communities and media sources tell me otherwise, what and how much I wear is not an invitation for judgment. It will not tell you how much I respect myself, how sexually active I am, or how religious I am.
Modesty is based on the idea that sexuality shouldn’t be expressed in public. Thinking about or- God forbid- talking about sex is taboo and wrong. And somehow avoiding this is entirely the responsibility of women. If men see you as a sexual object, it’s your fault for wearing whatever it is that you have on. Because it must be something that uses mind-control powers to cause them to forget that you are a human being, deserving of respect and dignity.
Every person feels comfortable and confident in clothes that cover a certain amount of his or her body. This amount naturally varies between people, between seasons, and between different contexts. The concept of modesty, however, claims that there is one level of coverage that should be maintained for everyone. If you choose not to maintain this standard of dress, you are labeled as “slutty.” When you are disrespected, people consider it to be understandable.
I don’t understand, though. Adding another foot of fabric to my skirt doesn’t make me more human. Putting on a sweater doesn’t earn me respect. I should be able to walk around town in a bikini if I want and not worry about being harassed, because I am ALIVE, I am HUMAN, I have FEELINGS, and I have inherent DIGNITY. What I wear and why is my business and mine alone.
I saw a great Jordanian ad about this topic a few months ago (see below). It says, “Those who see you as meat without the hijab, see you as meat under the hijab.” If someone thinks that the amount of clothes I wear should determine the amount of respect I deserve, the problem is with them. As a society, we need to get used to the idea that we are all different and that each person should be able to choose what he or she feels comfortable in.
The concept of modesty- the idea that a certain amount of my body needs to be covered in order to be “appropriate”- needs to disappear. If my dress gets you hot and bothered, remember that I am a person, not a sex object.