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Burqhas and Bra Straps

Soon after the Afghanistan was liberated, women lined up to start taking driving tests.  When reading the news accounts of this marvellous event, what struck me was not their amazing liberation, but the reason they wanted to drive in the first place: to stop the unrelenting sexual harassment as they walked down the street—get ready for it—in their burqhas. Now I can’t think of anything sexier than that, can you? For all you know, she might have three eyes, a warty nose and seventeen fingers under all that, but hubba hubba!

In these societies, a woman is so dangerous that she has to be covered so as not to incite men’s uncontrollable urges. Well, obviously it’s not working. Women evidently need more covering. Perhaps they could attach rods to their heads, from which they could hang curtains. They would be a six-foot square walking box, maybe with a periscope on top so they can see out. Would that halt the temptation?

But as ridiculous as I think it is to blame women for men lusting after them, sometimes I wonder if we in the West haven’t gone too far in the other direction. I remember as a teenager dressing without giving any thought to what effect it would have on hormone-raging 17-year-old boys whose thoughts, approximately every 2.3 seconds, apparently turn to sex. My eyes were opened when I was married and Keith would comment favourably on some outfit I had once worn. I’d look at him in amazement and say, “But, darling, that made my knees look fat.” He’d look at me equally bewildered and reply, “Honey, fat was the farthest word from my mind.”

I have never been a teenage boy, but I’m married to someone who once was one, and in conversations with him and with other couples, all the men have said, without exception, “It is so hard to learn math when someone is sitting next to you with a low-cut top and a mini-skirt.” And all of us women looked at these Neanderthals incredulously for thinking that way.

But apparently boys do think that way, no matter how pathetic we women think that is. And girls imperil themselves when they forget that. I know older generations have been complaining about what teenagers wear forever (Honey, that mammoth skin draws too much attention to your cleavage), but perhaps we need to give this some consideration. We are asking an awful lot of teenage boys, while asking hardly anything of girls. When I was in high school, the height of social embarrassment was if your bra strap was showing. Today, that’s stylish, as if we really need to remind boys what’s underneath our tops. Personally, I don’t think most girls intend to be sexually provocative. I think they honestly just want to be “pretty”. But if pretty now means jeans cut low enough around your hips that you can see the top of thong underwear, then maybe we need to change our definition.

It’s not only clothes, though. A few years ago I remember reading a story about a California case where a 17-year-old was convicted of rape. A girl invited him and his friend into a private bedroom, where they proceeded to do some pretty grown-up things together. One boy completed the act and left. The other boy then commenced, but several minutes later the girl said, “Um, I think I should be going now”. The judges decided this boy was supposed to interpret her comment as “stop now”, and calmly cease and desist. He certainly should have. But he’s a 17-year-old in the middle of a rather exciting act. We’re putting girls in a lot of danger when we tell them that boys will always stop even if the engine’s going; that it’s never the girls’ responsibility to stall that engine in the first place. We’re teaching our daughters to trust boys to stop, even if our daughters dress unwisely, talk unwisely, and act unwisely. Boys should never take advantage of girls, and sexual assault is always, absolutely, wrong. But that doesn’t mean we should throw common sense out the window and pretend that girls can do absolutely anything they want and still be safe and respected. Life just doesn’t work that way, and we females need to wise up.

Maybe it’s time dads—or other important males—sat down with girls and told them exactly what teenage boys are thinking. Burqhas are evil, but Britney Spears’ fashion sense probably doesn’t contribute much to the public good, either. Let’s find a balance we can all live with, and then maybe math scores would finally start rising again.

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Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
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