I’m thinking a lot about yoga pants these days.
And skinny jeans.
This is my 12-year-old daughter’s uniform. Sure, occasionally, she’ll throw on a pair of loose sweats, but by and large, I get a pretty clear view of my kid’s butt in pants every day. Let me be totally honest with you: I see the curves she’s starting to develop, and my heart stops. Most of me wants to celebrate the fact that my child is growing into her adolescence totally confident in her body. She’s strong, and unintimidated by what others think of her. She dresses for comfort, mostly, and not for display. Most of the time, she doesn’t have any idea of the impact she already has on those around her.
The part, however, that stops my heart, that makes me worry, that makes me angry? That impact she has on people because she’s conventionally beautiful (no, really, it’s ridiculous) is going to be framed by others throughout her adolescence as her responsibility to moderate. She will be expected to dress in ways that don’t distract her male classmates if she has any hope of getting through middle and high school without being harassed or assaulted. Because her very existence is inflammatory. Too much. Inappropriate. She and so many other 12-year-old girls in our lives are being told, over and over again, your body is the reason men may assault you. Your body is the reason men can’t control what they say around you, and throw disgusting, unwanted, sexualized comments your way already, even though you’re still a child. Your body makes the boys your age unable to focus on school work. Your body.
My child is not responsible for the actions of others. She is not asking for it based on her clothing choices. She will not be asking for it in leggings at 13, in yoga pants at 15, in a short skirt at 17, or in an ankle-length dress at 21. How will you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my child is “asking for it?” She’ll say something like, “I’d like to have sex, please.”
(and as her mom, I’d like that to not happen for a very good long while yet, for a whole lot of reasons, but for it to still happen when she and the person she chooses decide they’re ready at the same time regardless of when that might be.)
There’s a middle school in Illinois right now dealing with this issue, and not well. The students, however, have launched a protest against what they consider unfair treatment: are my pants lowering your test scores, they ask.
There’s another side, though, and as the mother of an almost 14-year-old son, it’s offensive to me that he is painted as someone who is incapable of compassion, empathy, communication, and self-control where it comes to his sexual desires. I expect better of him, and he expects better of himself. How about we try something out: instead of investing all of our time and energy into reinforcing the idea that girls provoke boys into sexual violence by how they look, we take that time and energy and support our children regardless of gender in understanding that we do have the ability to negotiate interactions with each other that are respectful. Are boys going to be distracted by girls? Some will, sure. But pubescent boys are distracted by EVERYTHING. Encouraging mutual respect will go a lot further than banning tight pants.