We seem to be reading story after story lately about girls being sent home from school for not dressing modestly enough. But one mum is refusing to teach her six daughters to dress modestly, instead focusing teaching them body positivity and self respect.
Jessica Martin Weber says she grew up with "very restrictive" modesty standards, and she's taking a different approach as a mum. In a recent Facebook post she explained her decision to not teach her children to dress modestly.
"Modesty is too subjective and true modesty is about attitude and our heart," she wrote. "To us, enforcing modesty standards is about controlling people and we have found that is counter-productive and undermines our commitment to respecting bodily autonomy."
Jessica's post was accompanied by a picture of her with two of her daughters, explaining that what her daughters were wearing could be considered inappropriate by some, and modesty by others.
"We never, ever tell them something isn't OK to wear for modesty reasons," she said. "I don't regret this decision as we watch our daughters bloom with confidence and dress for themselves rather than for the gaze of others."
Jessica said her children are expected to follow their school's dress code, but other than that, are allowed to dress however they like. But they are expected to be able to answer six "practical" questions about their clothing choices:
- Can you participate in the activities you will need to do without worrying about your clothing?
- Is it practical for the weather?
- Will the clothing you wear seem out of place in that setting or will it communicate respect for where you are and who you are with based on the social norms of that setting?
- Are YOU comfortable with the parts of your body that are showing and that others may notice those parts and though we are not responsible for the actions of others, how will you feel if someone says something about that?
- Can you tell me what inspired you to pick that outfit and what you feel it expresses about yourself and communicates to others?
- Are your genitals adequately protected and safe from accidental harm or accidental exposure?
All of which seem like fair and sensible questions, and no doubt Jessica and husband Jeremy are raising girls who have a good head on their shoulders. But it's hard to have these conversations without noticing that they are always about how girls are dressed, not boys.
Because girls are apparently the keepers of their own virtue, and are responsible for what others think of them – and the actions their outfits may incite – while boys can pretty much dress however they like without issue.
In her Facebook post Jessica says, "Focusing on what is or isn't OK for other people to see of our bodies, in my opinion, leads to shame. Shame makes everything more difficult, including when sexual assault or harassment happens because then one wonders if it is because they dressed 'wrong'."
Jessica's 7-year-old daughter summed up her understanding perfectly, telling Huffington Post, "I wear what I like but I make sure my vulva is covered."