From the files of “yes, sexism is alive and well,” come two stories from different sides of the globe.
In Iowa, an all-male state Supreme Court has upheld a decision that a dentist firing his nurse for being “irresistibly attractive” is legal. Dr. James Knight fired his dental nurse Melissa Nelson because he was worried he may cheat on his wife if he continued to be exposed to her fashion choices.
In Italy, a Catholic priest has said that women bring sexual violence upon themselves by dressing in provocative clothing. Piero Corsi, a priest in the small town of San Terenzio, wants women to consider whether their clothing brings on violence and sexual abuse.
Isn’t it great to be a modern woman, living in a first-world country, with so many freedoms our foremothers fought for us to have?
Oh, except for one thing: Can someone please tell me what I should be wearing?
See, I was going to leave the house wearing my usual outfit today: jeans, sneakers, t-shirt. My hair in a ponytail. (Yes, I’m the mom of an infant.)
But then I paused. What if I pass by a man in the street today who is turned on by how my breasts look in this cheap green t-shirt?
If I wear something a little more dressy when I go out with a girlfriend for dinner, do I need to be worried about causing possible infidelity of the man at the table next to me?
What if a man stops me on the street to tell me, as Dr. Knight told Melissa Nelson, that if I see his pants bulging, I would know my clothing is too revealing?
Guys, I’m really worried about this! I hadn’t realized that I needed to be so considerate of men’s feelings every time I left the house.
I consult every woman’s style guide, the magazine shelf at my local bookstore. But all I find is advice telling me that short skirts are in, that I should have my hair done this way or that, or that I should choose from a page full of nearly identical high heeled shoes for my next special occasion.
This is so confusing. Everywhere I look, I’m being told to dress a certain way, to spend hours preening and primping, and to try to look attractive everywhere I go.
But now that these new stories have come to light, I find myself in a quandary. I used to feel so free about what I wore, as long as I wasn’t indecently exposing myself then I figured I could wear anything I liked. Surely this is what feminists have been fighting for?
So what do I do now? Should I continue to wear my regular clothes, disregarding the feelings and emotions of men I encounter along the way? Or should I cover up head-to-toe, regardless of weather or occasion, secure and relieved in the knowledge that I won’t be jeopardizing any marriages?
Most importantly, could someone please just tell me: Does my bum look irresistibly attractive in this?
Tessa Needham finished her PhD in Performing Arts at the University of Western Sydney (Australia) in 2008. Her thesis explored the potential of performance to provoke change, and part of her research was Bodily, a solo theatrical performance about body image. She loves technology and the creative arts, and is passionate about the different cultural forces affecting the body image of girls and women. She teaches computers and does freelance creative work: www.tessaneedham.com.