The query that was read in meeting last Sunday "Do we honor Friend's traditional testimony that men and women are equal? How do we work to make these ideals a reality?" The first thought that came into my mind was plain/modest dress. This seemed very ironic and somewhat humorous to me as traditional dress for women has been seen by our liberated culture as a sign of the patriarchal domination of women. So how did I so quickly come up with the thought that plain dress is in fact a way to help make the equality of men and women a reality? Obviously one of the ways women in our society are enslaved is that they are viewed as sex objects, by men, by the media, by themselves. Burning bras was supposed to take care of this, but strangely it didn't. It was supposed to make men no longer see women as sex objects, but as people. Women could now wear whatever clothes they wanted to, and the uncovering up of the female body was supposed to make women feel freer and more like men (they don't feel compelled to wear bras, do they!).

When I compare the exploitation of women's bodies in the movies, on TV, in magazines, and on the street, between the early 70s and now, it is obvious things have gone horribly wrong! And I don't think people are even aware of it - except those of us who were concerned about such things back in the 60s! When I complained to the local librarian that one of the teen comic books in the library had fully nude women in it - one of those graphic novels - and that it exploited women, she looked blank and said it was very popular and they couldn't remove it!

I remember as well being outraged at the suggestion of adults in the 60s that if women didn't want to be treated as sex objects why didn't they wear more clothes! Well! Who did they think they were! Women could now wear whatever they wanted and that was that!

So now at the ripe old age of 57 I ask the same question: when will women see that men are biologically programmed (thank God) to see a naked, or near naked woman, as a sex object, and if women want to find true equality in this society it is time to wake up and keep our bodies to ourselves where they belong! This now feels so obvious to me that I really no longer understand why it seems (or seemed) oppressive at all. When will women wake up and claim that equality that God gave them. It is up to us as women to do so, beginning with our own dress.

Barb

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Replies to This Discussion

I don't think of camis as showing a lot of breast, though I admit it does depend how much breast the person has to start with. Most camis just don't have the support to stay up if you're well-endowed, but wearing a bra under them works fine, IME. They do show a lot of the upper-chest (above the breast) area though, which is a thing you don't see when men wear shirts, which is where I see inequality of clothing expectations. Scoop necks are normal on women, but the 4 inches below the voice box are hidden on men unless they're topless.


Mary Linda said:

I'm going to present a different perspective about dress based on my observations of the teens and young adults who are my sons' friends at school and in Southern Appalachian Young Friends. Many, I'd say most, of the young women wear very revealing clothing. They wear short skirts and those tiny camisole tops that show a lot of breast. The pants the wear are low-rise and the tops are short so their bellies and lower backs are exposed. The boys wear low-rise, very tight pants and low-rise shorts with baggy t-shirts or no shirts or very tight t-shirts. My two oldest boys attended/attend a public art high school where creativity rules. There and at SAYF, PDAs are the norm but the affection is not sexually exploitative or negative. Especially at SAYF, all the beautiful young people spend as much time each weekend as possible in what are known in Quaker circles as "puppy piles". These amazing young people are aware and affirming of their sexuality but don't act on their sexual impulses and are respectful and totally cool with one another. They take gender/identity equality as a given. I believe that when we raise our children with the understanding that we are all sexual beings and that our bodies are gifts from God, they can own their sexuality and be in relationship with others in healthy ways.

I wear lots of  kinds of funky thrift-store clothing. I show skin, happily feeling the wind and sun on my shoulders not because I want to feel like a man but because I rejoice in my womanliness. I love my body. I love that I can create life and nurture a baby with my breasts. I give thanks when I bleed each month. I love that my man loves my curves, bumps and valleys. I love this body and I'm grateful to God for giving it to me (and for giving me parents who affirmed my "temple" as good). I wear clothing that makes me happy, not because I want to be objectified, which will happen if I wear sweatpants or walk naked, but because I own my body. 

A couple years ago I visited a sauna / bath-house. It was sex-segregated since it was a public one (I'm given to understand that the private sauna in an apartment building in Finland would be mixed-sex). I came away with the opinion that young women ought to visit the sauna at least once to get a chance to see what real skin on real women's bodies look like, to counter the false reality presented by heavily-Photoshopped models. That roll on your stomach? Yeah, pretty much every woman's got that, don't worry about it. Cellulite divots on butt and thighs? Stretchmarks? Totally normal. 

Karen Mercer said:

 "Survival of the fairest" is a social struggle that nobody really wins at in the end. The less attractive fall into apathy and depression, the most attractive into constant anxiety over every pound and blemish. It is no coincidence that a worldwide study on body image revealed that the people with the least body self-esteem and most reported unhappiness about their bodies were from places where scanty clothing is the norm and ideal. Rio de Janeiro came out lowest in body image. I'm sure there are people in Rio who are happy with their image, but I am guessing a large proportion of them are people who would be rated "Hot" rather than "Not".

I suspect, though, that for those of us who grew up in societies where women routinely wear pants, the eyes do not go "straight to the crotch" because what we are seeing is not a novelty.  Granted, I'm a straight woman, but my eyes definitely do not go straight to the crotches of every man I see (nearly all of whom are in pants).  I've caught men ogling my backside, occasionally (I have a particularly ample backside, which doesn't make staring at it OK, but might make it at least sort of understandable.  Those blousy 1980's jeans didn't do me any favors), but never my crotch. 

Long dresses are more uncommon and attention-garnering in the U.S., I think, than women in pants, unless perhaps the woman is wearing especially tight or brightly-patterned pants.  A woman in properly-fitted pants or jeans doesn't get very much ogling around here because pretty much all women wear them, and wear them in ways that are utterly pragmatic and non-seductive.

I have to confess I'm always a bit mystified by the consternation about overtly sexual clothing versus overtly modest clothing . . . as if there is nothing in between.  Today I'm wearing a skirt (gathered, below the knee because that's the length I prefer), T-shirt (v-neck but not very low-cut), and jean jacket.  Not Plain and not worn in any attempt to be particularly modest, but I'm definitely not going to get any wolf whistles on my lunch-hour walk.  I made the skirt and the T-shirt and jacket were bought on clearance, so the whole outfit was cheap, but it's good-quality clothing.  It's all machine-washable; no dry-cleaning chemicals needed.  It's comfortable.  None of it is faddish so I can wear it now or wear it ten years from now and it will still look OK; I won't have to replace it with something trendier.  I look nice enough (this matters, to some extent, at my job) but I'm not going to attract attention.  I'm clearly not trying to flaunt my figure (ha, ha) but I also don't look as if I'm hiding in my clothes, which actually _would_ draw attention since I live in an area that doesn't have many Plain or modest-dressing sects. 

For the record: I would not be ashamed to meet Jesus like this.  No, I'm not as covered as a woman would have been during his time, but then I don't live during his time, do I? 



Leslie Rodgers said:

Exactly!

I ONLY want to look sexy to my Beloved, and I don't even want to be sexy to him all day every day.

A  friend's foreign born husband requested early in their marriage that she not wear pants. He told her when a man sees a woman in pants his eyes go "straight to the crotch"   or "straight to the bottom" and that he'd prefer men look straight at her beautiful eyes instead. As an American girl raised to follow the fashions such a thought had never crossed her mind. After watching men and women interact for a few weeks she concluded her husband's advice made good sense, and began choosing modestly loose and long dresses for herself .

Your heading "Plain Dress: The New Bra Burning" caught my eye, and made me laugh because I remember well the feminist bra burning era.  The fashion industry seems to have quickly steered it into "We're liberated, we can dress as trashy as we want" instead.

 

Re: Bras themselves- as a young nursing mama I quickly learned wearing bras really made it dificult for me to make enough milk. You never see a cow in one, do you? When I switched to going braless everything worked just fine, thank you. I simply changed from the usual "hoist the girls up in front" look  to dressing in a way that didn't emphasize the breasts. (loose-layered-comfortable).

Plain Dress for me cures a lot of "problems".

Depending on your body type, finding "properly fitted" jeans can be very difficult, especially given current fashion regarding their construction and over-reliance on elastic. I attempted to buy jeans a few years ago, after getting rid of several pairs that were 5 sizes too large (I lost a bit of weight) and starting to fall apart. What I found was universally low-rise sausage-casing. I could not find anything that'd continue to cover where the good lord split me if I had the audacity to do something so unusual as...sit.

I'm a very thin gal, but I've got hips, so while even the smallest size I could find was gapping at the back of the waist, it was a struggle to try to pull them up over my butt & hips. I determined that I needed one size for my waist and about two sizes up for my rear! But the fashion is to be squished into your jeans like a sausage in its casing, so finding jeans with a small waist and enough room to move down below that wasn't happening, and since they're so tight on the thighs down to the knee...trying to sit meant the jeans stayed anchored at the knees and the waist pulled down in the back to get around the longer line that occurs when the human form bends.  Skirts anchor at the waist, so when I sit, the hemline might rise an inch or two--much less of a visual problem than exposing the top inch of my back end, IMO.

When asked why I wear skirts every day and if it's a religious thing, my standard answer is that I gave up on finding jeans that fit the way I want them to...and that's true.

Alethea Drexler said:

A woman in properly-fitted pants or jeans doesn't get very much ogling around here because pretty much all women wear them, and wear them in ways that are utterly pragmatic and non-seductive.

Oh formal dress is ridiculous. At my company's holiday party I had a below-the-knee long-sleeve collared wool dress. There were a lot of wives/girlfriends (I work in a very male-dominated field, so I only actually saw one female coworker there, and she also wore a long layered outfit) in tiny little dresses that had me wondering how they weren't freezing. I was cold even in my wool dress, but of course the men had undershirt, shirt, tie (which acts like a scarf), plus suit jacket so they all thought it was quite warm.

Karen Mercer said:

Certain situations, like beaches, parks and casual dress have always allowed for more leeway, and the sexes are a bit more equal there but with formal dress, the differences can be huge. The original swimsuits were nearly identical for men and women, covering the whole torso and upper arms and legs. Now that the sun is so damaging, perhaps that will catch on again.

I'm one of these women.  I actually wear skirts most of the time because I have such a hard time finding pants that fit.  The only jeans that fit me are the old-school Wranglers, which have high waists because they're meant for women who ride horses.  I own three pairs of jeans (one that fits and two very old pairs that are too big but still wearable for around-the-house purposes, even though they're stretched out of shape and look really bad).  I have a waist that is one size, hips that are at least a size bigger, and thighs that are at least a size bigger than that.  Skinny jeans and low-rise anything are the bane of my existence.

I mean, don't wear pants if you don't want to, but I still cannot see that there is anything inherently  indecent about them on women.  Frankly, a man could ogle where a woman's crotch would be even if it were under a skirt.  Some people are just creeps.  If they persist in staring even after I've made a reasonable effort not to show off my "assets", that's their problem, not mine. 

And, yes, I will call a guy on it if I catch him taking too much interest in my anatomy.  I think the biggest problem is that too many of us are "nice" and let people get away with staring at us--if they got caught more often, maybe they'd finally learn.



Mackenzie said:

Depending on your body type, finding "properly fitted" jeans can be very difficult, especially given current fashion regarding their construction and over-reliance on elastic. I attempted to buy jeans a few years ago, after getting rid of several pairs that were 5 sizes too large (I lost a bit of weight) and starting to fall apart. What I found was universally low-rise sausage-casing. I could not find anything that'd continue to cover where the good lord split me if I had the audacity to do something so unusual as...sit.

I'm a very thin gal, but I've got hips, so while even the smallest size I could find was gapping at the back of the waist, it was a struggle to try to pull them up over my butt & hips. I determined that I needed one size for my waist and about two sizes up for my rear! But the fashion is to be squished into your jeans like a sausage in its casing, so finding jeans with a small waist and enough room to move down below that wasn't happening, and since they're so tight on the thighs down to the knee...trying to sit meant the jeans stayed anchored at the knees and the waist pulled down in the back to get around the longer line that occurs when the human form bends.  Skirts anchor at the waist, so when I sit, the hemline might rise an inch or two--much less of a visual problem than exposing the top inch of my back end, IMO.

When asked why I wear skirts every day and if it's a religious thing, my standard answer is that I gave up on finding jeans that fit the way I want them to...and that's true.

Alethea Drexler said:

A woman in properly-fitted pants or jeans doesn't get very much ogling around here because pretty much all women wear them, and wear them in ways that are utterly pragmatic and non-seductive.

I delayed responding to this discussion because I had a deja vu kind of reaction and didn't really know how to reply. I have raised 9 beautiful intelligent teenagers who were all very comfortable with their bodies etc., two of whom are now happily married and have children. They did not follow fashion, the girls wore comfortably modest clothing (as adults some continue this and some didn't), they were not prudish or inhibited, or unliberated. They are healthy, well-adjusted adults.

I, on the other hand, along with Karen, am one of the walking wounded - a casualty of the sex and beauty obsessed culture I grew up in. We were all "liberated" women, whatever that means. All smart, all beautiful, all trying to be popular, cool, uninhibited etc. That was a dead end. I wanted more for my girls and we got it.

But the reason I started this thread was to share with everyone how truly liberating "plain" dress has been for me now at the age of 58! I feel beautiful, truly. In this world but not of this world, and that is where I feel God wants me right now. I am free to be who I am with NO concern for what others think (women I mean) because I am so obviously NOT playing the game that there is nothing to say. No more concern about the right shoes, the right dress, hairstyle, etc. etc. I am finally TRULY liberated!

This may not be everyone's issue, but God knew it was mine, so here I am. I wish everyone could feel so blessed.
Barb
Karen - I didn't mean I was hesitating replying to you, just to the idea of strong liberated teens immodestly dressed being somehow good (sorry if I paraphrased that badly - no sarcasm intended but that's what I took from that post). Just wanted to clear up what I was referring to. Barb

I was trying to respond when my computer decided to act up.  Very frustrating. 

This is an incredible discussion.  Everyone has made such thought-provoking comments. 

Due to my education, I'm a history and culture freak.  And I've had college course work as well as my own pursuits of studying the history of textiles and clothing.  Pornography, sexual abuse, and rape are nothing new in human history.  Humans have been representing or misrepresenting both male and female forms in incredible detail all the way back to prehistoric times.  There were even temple prostitutes in some cultures.  Rape is a crime of control, not a crime of sexuality, which is why war so often consists of "rape, pillage and burn." 

Personally, I admire the Europeans for their openness about the human body, male or female.  What is more beautiful than Michaelangelo's rendering of "David," though a Jewish friend of mine who got to see the actual statue wondered why this Jewish shepherd boy was not circumcized.  <G>   And what's this cultural weirdness Americans have about the female breast?  Not just the weird bias against breastfeeding in public, but this thing about "You can show a breast but not the nipple," like the nipple is the devil's invention?  How weird is that?  Our bodies are what they are, and yes, it is horrible the way the media presents images that imply the impossibility of what we SHOULD look like.  

Now, does this mean I'm going to go running off to a "clothing optional" community?  No, because I make the choice not to and I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that.  What I'm saying is that we need to de-stigmatize the human body.  

As for burkas, I heard a female Episcopal priest give a splendid sermon some years back drawing the analogy of how Americans EXPECT women to dress is our own kind of burka.   I actually had someone I worked with ask me if it was part of my religion that I didn't wear make up.  I was not then a Quaker, and many Liberal Quakers I know do wear make up, but the answer I gave her was, "I have 2 kids to get off to school in the morning.  I don't have TIME to put on make up."  <LoL>  

I have great jeans I've found at thrift stores -- elastic waist, side pockets, and NOT "form fitting."  I can do all kinds of chores, indoor and out, in them, and I'm quite certain they don't sexualize me in any possible way.  (My 27 year old daughter calls them "old lady jeans."  That's fine with me.) 

I believe what is important in terms of plainness and simplicity, is that within our Quaker Testimonies, we find what works for each of us.  We don't have a Quaker Dress Code.  I love the concept of "Modern Plain," which means, I believe, modest, not attracting attention, frugal, and simple. 

One thing I have been doing is an idea I got from a friend's daughter who is not at all Plain.  She buys all black, white or neutral clothing, so when she goes to the closet, she never has to worry about what matches and what doesn't.  I started doing that gradually a few years ago, and while I still haven't weeded out all my "other stuff"  (I wait until a garment is no longer wearable before I toss it), I have found this GREATLY simplifies MY life, but it's not for everyone. 

I find wearing a long skirt is cooler in the summer than wearing pants.  I find putting on an apron at home keeps my clothing cleaner when I'm doing chores. 

What I'm saying is -- My interpretation of Modern Plain meshes with my pursuits of simplicity and frugality and practicality.  That's what works for me. 

And since I'm 59, I'm not really worried about being a sex object, though I do think that's an issue in our society.  My kids and I have an "inside joke" that I'll share with you and it's the IPT Score, e.g. the In Poor Taste Score.  And If I were to go outside in a tube top and a pair of "Daisy Duke" cut offs, I can guarantee you I'd be worthy of a 10 on the IPT scale.  <VBG>   I just think people should look in the mirror before they go out the door and ask themselves, "Is this the image I want to present to the world."  Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't.  It's something folks should think about.  

"If everything's black, it always matches" is what I started doing in high school. At some point I decided that I shouldn't have ONLY black t-shirts, so I got a red Toasters one and a green Flogging Molly one, just to change it up a bit. My mom was getting on my case about too much black clothing. Now she just gets on my case about wearing a black skirt that's faded toward brown with a black shirt that's faded toward navy *roll eyes* Anyway, I figure black skirts go with everything, so I wear those every day. Though I need to sew up the one that got sucked into the escalator...

Betsy Packard said:

One thing I have been doing is an idea I got from a friend's daughter who is not at all Plain.  She buys all black, white or neutral clothing, so when she goes to the closet, she never has to worry about what matches and what doesn't.  I started doing that gradually a few years ago, and while I still haven't weeded out all my "other stuff"  (I wait until a garment is no longer wearable before I toss it), I have found this GREATLY simplifies MY life, but it's not for everyone. 

I find wearing a long skirt is cooler in the summer than wearing pants.  I find putting on an apron at home keeps my clothing cleaner when I'm doing chores. 

Yeah, sorry--I could do without the "respect" accorded Victorian women.  Upper-class, well-behaved, Victorian women might have been put on pedestals, but working-class women, servants, widows, financially-dependent unmarried sisters and aunts, nonconformists (either by choice or because of learning disabilities, mental illness, etc.), were fair game for neglect and abuse.  Even women whose status entitled them to be treated with deference were also treated as children and non-citizens in the eyes of the law.   Being put on a pedestal also means you have to stand very still and won't have room to run or dance.

I'm not trying to generalize this into saying that conservative, "modest-dressing", modern Christians treat women the same way.  For one, I don't really think they do, and I don't know enough of them personally to be able to tell one way or the other.  I'm just saying that the idea that Victorian women were treated with kid gloves actually applied to some women only.  The ones who didn't have a certain social status were very vulnerable.

Karen Mercer said:

What I wonder is, would women be willing to give up any of the easy socializing of today in order to get back the sort of respect that our ancestresses took for granted? Would we have to give up some of our "naturalness" to get it back, or is respect and civility compatible with easy natural approach to sex of European and British TV?

I wonder this because I have a bad reputation for prudery due to my dress and interest in traditionalism (undeserved IMHO) but I was using a Christian movie database the other day and found a movie rated moderately sexual for having shown two couples (dressed for sleep) talking in bed. Yes, I went...HUH?! (It also labelled the film, about a father and son who are Orthodox Jewish Torah scholars, as having a mildly pagan worldview which floored me as well) Is there a middle ground where we can enjoy the best of both views without having to give up too much either way? What would that look like?

Sorry, I accidently clicked reply and don't know how to delete it :)

Mackenzie said:

"If everything's black, it always matches" is what I started doing in high school. At some point I decided that I shouldn't have ONLY black t-shirts, so I got a red Toasters one and a green Flogging Molly one, just to change it up a bit. My mom was getting on my case about too much black clothing. Now she just gets on my case about wearing a black skirt that's faded toward brown with a black shirt that's faded toward navy *roll eyes* Anyway, I figure black skirts go with everything, so I wear those every day. Though I need to sew up the one that got sucked into the escalator...

Betsy Packard said:

One thing I have been doing is an idea I got from a friend's daughter who is not at all Plain.  She buys all black, white or neutral clothing, so when she goes to the closet, she never has to worry about what matches and what doesn't.  I started doing that gradually a few years ago, and while I still haven't weeded out all my "other stuff"  (I wait until a garment is no longer wearable before I toss it), I have found this GREATLY simplifies MY life, but it's not for everyone. 

I find wearing a long skirt is cooler in the summer than wearing pants.  I find putting on an apron at home keeps my clothing cleaner when I'm doing chores. 

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