Hey, Mesquite. Leave the High School Girls (And Their Adorable Outfits) Alone.
I find the hand-wringing over the homecoming dance dresses worn by high school girls in Mesquite to be extremely creepy. Talking about tight dresses and short skirts on teenage girls is an excuse for some people to ogle young, beautiful women -- many of whom I reckon are not 18 -- disguised as deep concern about morality and propriety. If you care about the sexual well-being of teenage girls, do things that actually help teenage girls instead of gawking at news reports about their short skirts. (Ideas: let's educate our daughters -- and all teens, really -- about healthy sexual behavior instead of pretending they'll suddenly sprout genitalia on their wedding nights. Encourage them to be media literate and proud of their bodies despite what other people -- advertisers, television, their peers -- want them to look like. Don't hold our daughters to a higher sexual standard than we do our sons.)
For women, clothing is seen as some kind of reflection of our sexual behavior, or of the sexual behavior we might unwittingly incite in powerless others who can't -- or more accurately, don't have to -- control themselves around a girl in tight pants. (See Sainz, Ines.) Women and girls always walk a fine line when it comes to their clothing -- whether it's folks grabbing the smelling salts at the thought of a female lawyer wearing open-toed shoes in court or mocking Hillary Clinton for wearing pantsuits (She's so frumpy! Why doesn't she try to look pretty? Because if she did, we'd rib her for that, too.), we love to let women know that no matter what they wear, it's pissing someone out there off. Too sexy? Slut! Not sexy enough? Prude!
If you'd like to get depressed real fast, check out the DMN comments section on any one of their many articles on this subject. The insults pour in: "Porn-queens." "Sluts." "Ho's." One clothing choice can turn a 16-year-old girl into a sex worker in the eyes of the masses. This whole thing is about slut-shaming. Unfounded slut-shaming, at that. Girls being judged by their clothing rather than their actions. As if adults don't know better than to realize the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other. (Wait, scratch that. Most probably don't.)
Anyway, anyone who's ever attended an American junior high or high school knows that teenagers can take care of the vicious slut-shaming all on their own. To that end, we might say that the administrators were doing the girls a favor by sending them home before their peers could draw conclusions about their sexual purity based on their clothing. Or, we might say that making a big deal out of cute, trendy dresses draws more attention to the girls' bodies and shames them far more than they might be if they'd been left alone.
As Tracy Clark-Flory notes on Salon's Broadsheet blog, the girls seem to have had extreme reactions to being turned away from the dance -- crying, fit-throwing, frantic cell phone calls and the like. Part of that, no doubt, is typical teenage drama. But somewhere in there, I suspect, is deep frustration and anger at perhaps one of the first confrontations these girls have had with overt sexism and the idea that they will forever be judged by what other people believe their clothing says about their sexuality.
They came face-to-face with the reality that outsider perceptions about their personal lives will have real, tangible effects on the way they can navigate public spaces -- school, work, wherever. They see boys walking into the dance with little to no concern about their clothing (and by extension, their behavior) and realize that they'll never be able to live as an unmarked human body, but will forever be subject to scrutiny. Just thinking about that prospect is exhausting, and living it is even more so.