With the discussion on dress codes in school, but more so with the larger rhetoric about “my body, my choice”, I’d like to express my opinion on the subject. The basic theme I continually hear suggests that “Men should be solely responsible for treating women with respect.” I’d like to start by saying men are responsible for treating women with respect, but not solely. A teacher in a classroom deserves respect from their students because of who they are i.e. a teacher. Women (and men) deserve respect because of who they are i.e. a person. However, when a teacher is in a classroom, although the teacher always deserves respect, they do not always get respect. If you saw a teacher who had a class out of control and the teacher just continued to teach as if they were all behaving, you would say that it is at least partially the teachers fault for not controlling the class. Of course we would think that the kids should behave and of course it is ultimately their fault for misbehaving, however we would also say “they’re just being kids and the teacher is not doing anything to help the situation.” What we mean by that is that it is in a kids nature to be loud and active if they are not being properly disciplined by an authority figure. Furthermore, it is the teacher’s responsibility to demand respect from the class.
Similarly, if a man looks lustfully at a woman it is ultimately his fault, but not solely his fault. It is in a man’s (and a woman’s) nature to see a member of the opposite sex as a sexual being, because… we all are sexual beings! As Saint John Paul II said in “Love and Responsibility”
“Unfortunately man is not such a perfect being so that the sight of the body of a person, especially of a person of the other sex, awakens in him only a disinterested fondness that is followed by simple love for that person. Actually, what it also awakens is “desire,” i.e., a wish to “use” that is concentrated on the values of sexus while disregarding the essential value of the person. And this must be taken into account.”
– Karol Wojyla, “Love and Responsibility”
Since we are sexual beings, we must act accordingly. This means (both men and women) recognizing our sexuality as something very real and very powerful.
Therefore women DO have a responsibility to try to avoid awakening a man’s natural sexual desire by exploiting their own sexuality. Conversely, it is the man’s responsibility to keep his sexual desires in check (and vice versa!). What it really means is that men and women are co-responsible for respecting each others dignity. Being co-responsible is what equality is really about, which is why I cannot subscribe to most forms of Feminism. Recently it has felt as if the prominent form of Feminism that is taking over the media is the kind that blames men for everything and women don’t have to take any responsibility. I believe this is what the whole issue of dress codes in schools is really about. I (ironically) have no respect for a woman who paints FEMEN across her bare breasts and runs around screaming obscenities about how they want to be respected. I do have respect for a woman who uses her position of fame to speak her views civilly at the U.N. like Emma Watson did (even though I might disagree with some of her views). I have respect for Taylor Swift who said in an interview that she recognizes that the way she dresses has an influence on young impressionable girls.
If women want to be respected, if they want to be seen as a whole person and not simply a set of body parts, then they must demand respect from men. Demanding respect by taking more clothes off or starting a Facebook petition (because those always go somewhere…) is not what I am talking about. Demand respect by helping men respect you. Cover up parts of your body that might lead a man into looking at you only as a sexual object and not as a person. Don’t dangle a steak in front of a hungry lion and then get mad at the lion for desiring to eat the steak! Women, if you want to be seen for the beautiful person you are, for your personality, for what’s inside and for what is deeper than your physical appearance, then show that off instead of your body. I can’t promise every man will respect you, (some will never and that is a very important issue that needs to be dealt with) but the men who are real men, the men who matter will have the chance to see the deeper, more true you.