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Hot-Pants Verbot: Women’s Choices And Revealing Clothes

Cities in Uganda, Malawi and Kenya have seen idling men strip women, apparently for wearing revealing clothes. At this year’s 2015 CFDA Fashion Awards, Julianna Margulies worn the ”most undressed” title, according to Hollywood tabloids. We didn’t know that was a thing, but it probably can be expected after Rihanna’s all-sheer-but-for-some-Swarovski-crystals gown last year. An insatiable media dubbed Rihanna’s gown “Drake’s Revenge Dress.”

The Daily Mail2 years ago, run a story, “Men turned OFF by women in revealing clothes,” in which they reported some agency’s statistics that some 45% of British men preferred women in modest “Duchess of Cambridge” style dressing, and that only 22% of them would respect women in revealing clothes.

Much to our consternation, a common denominator in these stories is the “male onlooker.” Gazer, if you will. It’s Drake, it’s the British men, it’s the Daily Mail’s Dacre. This is the world as told from a perspective that completely disregards that of the dresser, the woman.


Public evaluations and female bodies

Even when public evaluation of  women’s dressing does not explicitly relay gender-related assumptions, it still portrays a world that obsessively frets over and seeks to control female bodies, and never male ones.

In Germany, a debate ranges on about the prohibition of hot pants for school going girls, dubbed #Hotpants-Verbot on Twitter. The fashion world, is broiled in discussions about the sexual objectification of female models that take to the catwalk in their early teens.The age of the women [girls] involved makes these last two discussions interesting as it might be argued that teenage school going girls are not empowered enough to make firm appropriate decisions about how revealing their dress should be. One wonders, however, why German schools did not institute dressing standards for boys too, and why the Fashion world is not worried about the sexual objectification of young male models.


Renowned researchers argue for “redistribution,” against “objectification.”

In More Than a Body: Mind Perception and the Nature of Objectification, psychology scholars from the University of Maryland, Yale University, and Northwestern University question the proposition that removing a piece of clothing affects perceptions of capacity for action, thoughts and feeling. Does dressing in revealing clothes lead ones audience to focus on ones body at the expense of ones “mental and moral status”?

In a study where respondents are exposed to dressed and undressed subjects and asked to rate the subject’s mental capacity, the scholars find that respondents do not see undressed/partially dressed subjects as objects without minds. Rather, they perceive them as “experiencers” – people capable of pain, pleasure, emotion, and desire. They, thus, describe a “redistribution of mind” phenomenon in which unclothed subjects are not seen as not having a mind, but as having a different kind of mind – one less capable of self control and moral responsibility,” but one more capable of feeling, of experience.


Who sees?

According to the experiment, women rated clothed women as having more mental capabilities than unclothed women, but perceived unclothed men as having more mental capabilities than clothed men. The opposite (but in the same sense) was true for men. Men ascribed more mental capabilities to clothed men than to unclothed men, but more mental capabilities to unclothed women than to clothed women. These results were not significant, and were lightly theorized to mean that seeing the opposite sex unclothed induces perceptions of mind.

I love this study (and dare you to find one that is thoroughly as done that argues to the contrary) mainly because it quells all proponents of controlling women’s dress choices. Even people that could argue that a controlled mind is better than a feeling mind ought to be reminded of artists – song writers, painters, poets – people’s whose very existence and success is predicated upon a very feeling mind.

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