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Jewish World Review May 4, 2001 / 11 Iyar, 5761

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Consumer Reports

Consider modesty --
AN anonymous teacher in Layton, Utah, has caused an uproar by writing a letter to the editor of the high-school newspaper complaining, "Girls are dressing like hookers, and then they wonder why they are being sexually harassed."

The parents are very upset. "I think it is rude to say girls are being sexually harassed by the way they are dressed," Mary Olsen -- whose daughter, Alicia, attends the school -- told the Associated Press.

This is just a guess, but I'll bet what the girls at the Layton, Utah, high school are wearing pales in comparison to some other parts of the country.

My family and I recently spent a day at Busch Gardens, in Williamsburg, Va. It's a lovely park, well-maintained and attractively decorated with flowers and trees. But the young ladies visiting the attractions were often dressed in ways that, frankly, would lead people from other countries to conclude that roughly 20 percent of our female population is engaged in prostitution.

A bikini top with shorts was common attire (even on very overweight girls), which is bad enough but does not fall into the 20 percent. No, another little fashion touch adds salaciousness: Many of the girls we saw had opened the button on their very short, hip-hugger shorts and pulled the zipper about halfway down. With their shorts unzipped and forming an arrow to their privates, and a bikini or tube top, they walked about as unselfconsciously as you like.

Now, I don't entirely blame the girls. I was young once, and based on my own experience, I know that girls can be surprisingly stupid about sex and do not always appreciate the effect their clothing produces on men (though by the time a girl reaches high school, she knows). But what are the mothers and fathers who see their kids leave the house like that thinking? Perhaps they are as weak and ineffectual as the principal of a Houston area middle school, who fretted to the Houston Chronicle that he didn't quite know what to do when students violated the school's dress code.

"It's a time-consuming affair," Steve Busch explained. "A lot of times, you have to call the kid in and talk to them. And if they don't have clothes to change into, then you have to call the parents. And if the parents aren't home, or if they're working downtown, what do you do? Then you're holding the kids out of class, and they're missing the instructional process."

Gee, it isn't really that difficult. Memo to Mr. Busch: Here are two possible solutions to your problem.

1) Send a note home to parents reminding them about the dress code. Then, on the assumption that some parents will not be willing or able to police their kids' clothing, demand that every student bring to school and keep in his or her locker one of Dad's (or some other man's) big old shirts --the sort little kids use for smocks in art class.

Or, 2) simply lay in a supply of such shirts and keep them in your office. Then when a child comes to school in a tube top, or wearing spaghetti straps or a halter, simply hand her a big shirt and explain that she will wear it until the school day is over. Simple, no?

But this brings us back to the anonymous teacher (whose school, by the way, has just such an extra shirt policy). His or her choice of words may have been ill-advised, but the point is a serious one. For years, women have been attempting to force men to take them seriously as doctors, lawyers, teachers and colleagues. Do not treat me as a mere "sex object," they insisted. But when those same lawyers and teachers permit their daughters to wear their jeans unzipped and their breasts practically bare, they leave boys and men little choice about how to treat them.

It's like waving a red flag in front of a bull and then complaining when he charges. Norman Mailer once complained that the sexual revolution had spoiled sex by making it too ordinary. It has also gone a long way toward killing femininity, which requires, for its best expression, some degree of modesty.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate