Why young women are exposing themselves: Part one

Posted: Feb 17, 2004 12:00 AM

You may have noticed that many young women wear less, and more sexually provocative, clothing in public than they did a generation, or even 10 years, ago.

It is easier to notice, however, than to explain.

But explaining it is crucial to understanding what has happened to men and women in the last 40 years and where male-female relations are headed. Women exposing their bodies in public is a big deal. Playing with the sex drive, the most powerful force in nature, is far more dangerous than playing with fire. Even if one welcomes this development -- and for the record, as a male I am turned on, while as a man I am turned off -- it begs for explanation.

I will offer at least five reasons that may be less obvious but more important than the valid ones usually given -- peer pressure, women buy what stores sell and the sexual revolution.

The first is "equality."

By equality, I do not mean the belief that men and women are equal human beings, a belief that all decent people hold. Rather, I mean the feminist and politically correct definition of equality: sameness. Men and women have come to be regarded as the same, not simply as equals.

Thanks to feminist doctrines that pervade education from kindergarten through graduate school, men and women increasingly believe that the sexes are largely identical. Therefore, the arenas wherein women can feel and demonstrate their feminine distinctiveness have narrowed appreciably.

By showing more of their bodies, women can announce that they are women. There are other ways young women can publicly demonstrate their distinct female identity -- for example, by wearing feminine clothing and other feminine behavior, being a wife, being pregnant and being a mother.

But those ways are increasingly ignored, deferred and discredited. Among egalitarians, being a wife is no different a role than that of husband, and motherhood is no longer regarded as distinctively female. Husbands and fathers are supposed to play identical roles, and because of the movement for gay equality, mothers have been declared unnecessary -- two fathers, most well educated people now contend, are every bit as good for a child as a mother and a father.

So, for the young woman for whom marriage, pregnancy and motherhood are remote or even undesirable given the anti-traditional education she has received, her primary vehicle of proclaiming she is a woman is literally to expose the fact.

A second, related, reason is the death of femininity.

In the past, expressing one's femaleness was done through expressing femininity. In addition to the female roles of wife and mother, there were numerous ways of doing so. One was, of course, dress. But in the name of equality and comfort, distinctive female dress -- such as dresses and skirts -- has been largely abandoned. A young woman who wore a dress or even a skirt and blouse to a college, let alone high school, class would probably be considered stranger by her peers than one who wore a see-through top.

Today, instead of women wearing feminine clothing, they either wear essentially male clothing (such as pants and pants suits) or flesh-baring sexually provocative clothing. Feminine attire -- i.e., clothing that is very female but not very revealing -- is rare.

Femininity was also expressed by sexual reticence. Again, such a notion is laughable in much of contemporary society. The idea that a man made great efforts to be allowed sexual contact with a woman rendered women feminine in men's eyes. They are different from us -- they are feminine. Women who act as sexually available as a man -- through their behavior or their dress -- are not perceived as feminine, since they are perceived as being male-like.

Likewise, the myriad ways in which men treated women as women -- such as opening doors for them -- all declared that women were feminine, i.e., different from masculine. That is why many feminists opposed men opening doors for women -- it reinforced notions of femininity, a value that feminism has sought to extinguish.

So, femininity is largely a dead concept. Ask most young women -- or men -- what it means, and you will get either a blank stare or a hostile reaction.

Thus, many women are now saying: "I am a woman. And I will declare it in one of the only ways left to me -- I will show you my female body."