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Dress for the Job You Want

I recently saw a string of tweets posted in 2017 by a gay man criticizing “modesty culture”. He was appalled at how some men would devalue a woman’s worth on account of how skimpily the woman dressed — even going so far as to tell the woman she should cover up. His objection was based largely on the fact that as a gay man he never felt it would be right to judge a man’s worth by his skimpy clothes or tell a man he believed was dressing provocatively to cover up.

Now, there’s something a little off-putting about someone whose perspective isn’t normal telling everyone else what normal should be. I’m not saying (yet) that he’s wrong in his conclusion, but he’s using the wrong argument to get there.

The reason men aren’t and shouldn’t be concerned with how they present themselves around other men is that men normally aren’t and ideally shouldn’t be sexually attractive to other men. If homosexuality were something that were supposed to exist, then maybe men’s (and women’s) social and cultural norms would have developed to accommodate them, and there would be a “modesty culture” among men. But that’s not the way the world is supposed to be, and once upon a time everyone knew that, but now we somehow don’t.

What I would want to know, then, is how women feel about men who dress in ways that are sexually provocative to women. Because perhaps men should be dressing more modestly for women’s sake, as the sexual attractiveness of men to women is a thing and, more importantly, is supposed to be a thing. And if a man’s appearance is distracting to women in, say, the workplace, or in some other context where that kind of allure is counterproductively distracting, maybe that’s a problem that needs addressing. Because there are situations where you want your people focused on the tasks at hand, not on someone who dresses provocatively.

As for the issue of “worth”, it’s of course true that a person’s intrinsic worth has nothing to do with his or her clothing, but it’s also just as true that clothing conveys messages. That’s why, male or female, you wear a suit to an interview and not a bikini (unless, of course, you’re applying for the job of bikini model) — you want to convey the message that you’re a pro. The way some people dress, well, that also conveys the message that they’re pros — the other kind of pros — and then they’re annoyed when other people see them that way. Well, as the saying goes, “Dress for the job you want.”

(And some people do want the job, by the way. Back in high school, I was friendly with a girl who dressed very provocatively. And one day, in the context of what conversation I can’t recall, I told her — shyly, quietly, privately, and not wanting to hurt her feelings — “You dress like a slut.” And she replied, “I am a slut!” She was dressing exactly how she wanted to appear to others. More importantly, she knew exactly what dressing like that would mean to others — i.e., she was under no illusion that people ought to see past her clothing to her inner worth. She was living in the real world.)

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Mike, Who Speaketh His Mind

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