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Why young women are exposing themselves: Part two

Tuesday, Feb 24, 2004

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In Part One, I offered two reasons for the increasing exposure of young women’s bodies. One was the loss of female roles and identity, leading many young women to announce they are females in the only way left to them — by showing their body. The other was the near-extinction of the concept of femininity, including the demise of feminine dress.

The ending of sex-based roles, probably the major goal of feminism, has brought some blessings, but it has also harmed countless lives. Roles, to use the most venerated word in feminism, empower both sexes.

As much as feminists may disdain the roles of mother or wife, those roles have bestowed power as well as meaning and satisfaction on the vast majority of women in history. When all is said and done, heading a home and being married to a good man are far more satisfying to most women than college teaching or corporate work. The ending of women’s roles has left innumerable women more free to choose their life’s course, but often less happy and, yes, less powerful. Roles empower (as well as constrain) people.

Women derive power from feminine roles, and men derive power from masculine roles. At the core of feminism is an envy of male roles and power and a belief that women should have the same. But, as a recent New York Times Magazine cover story noted, women graduates from Ivy League universities are increasingly leaving the corporate world to raise families. Having the same power as men did not fulfill these women.

Now, the third reason. With no feminine role to aspire to, many young women feel powerless. The one area of power left for them is sexual. The more a young woman has bought into feminist notions of equality (i.e., the sexes are essentially the same and there is no such thing as a woman’s role), the more she is likely to flaunt her sexual power. It is the only power left to her. This helps explain why female students at Harvard — among the highest achieving young women in the country — have just launched a magazine featuring Harvard women posing nude.

A fourth reason may be surprising — sexual harassment laws.

Women feel freer than ever to dress provocatively in part because men can say nothing about it. Omnipresent sexual harassment laws and “consciousness raising” seminars in businesses and schools have frightened men into not making any sexual comments to a woman.

As a result, the normal check on a woman flaunting her body is gone. A woman can reveal her breasts or cross her short-skirted legs near a man, but he is forbidden to say so much as, “You have great legs.” In fact, he can be fired or sued for saying nothing and merely “staring.”

One reason women dressed more modestly in the past was fear of men’s verbal reactions. No more. There are vast checks on his sexuality, none on hers.

We should either drop all sexual harassment laws (except those prohibiting threats — “Sleep with me or you’re fired”) or apply them equally to women. If men create a sexually charged work environment when they talk sex, women do the same when they show sex. “Hostile work environment” — a trial lawyer enrichment program created by feminist anger at men — should be either dropped as a legal concept or applied equally to women’s dress.

A fifth reason is the most obvious — a desire to attract men.

Every woman knows that the quickest way to attract a man is to have him notice her. So it makes sense to assume that the more of her body she shows, the more men will be attracted to her. The problem with this approach is that unless all she wants is sex that night, provocative outfits are not usually in her best interest. Why not?

This leads to the sixth and final reason: women’s naivete. It is doubtful that women have ever been as naive about men as are large numbers of contemporary educated women. I believe that my grandmother who never went to school understood men better than the average female college graduate today.

So, as a service to any woman who is confused by the difference between “cute” and provocative as regards women’s clothing, this may help. What you often call cute or attractive, men see only as a sexual come-on. If you wish to dress for sex, you should be entirely free to do so. But if you want love and attention, you have to know the difference between dressing for sex and dressing to be cute and attractive. The more skin men see, the more they think sex, not love. And that includes guys your age, your male teachers, your clergyman, your mailman, and the old man next door.

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