I spent four years at a religious high school dealing with a very strict dress code—and a staff of teachers who made it really clear that enforcing the dress code on girls was the thing they took most seriously about their jobs. Women’s bodies, in this environment, were an inherent distraction, and a huge amount of time and energy was spent discussing our bodies and their clothing ad nauseum.
An entire semester was devoted to covering one’s hair. Another semester was devoted to why pants were not allowed.
It was a weird throwback to high school this week when my whole Facebook feed seemed to be chiming in with detailed criticism of the outfits that Melania and Ivanka Trump wore on their trips to Saudi Arabia, Jerusalem, and the Vatican. Dresses, veils, and hats were being dissected just the way long skirts and shirts were when I was in 9th grade.
I will be the first to get up on my soapbox and hurl insults at the Trump women about the policies they support, not to mention the men they married. These are not nice people with despicable policies and an utter lack of compassion for people who didn’t have the good fortune of being born into extremely wealthy people. But that’s the problem with them–their policies and lack of compassion. Melania’s black veil, Ivanka’s hat, not covering their heads in Saudi Arabia–I just won’t make that my business.
I know, especially considering my school experience, that the personal is political, and that how and why you cover your head can have meaning greater than “this outfit looks great with a hat” or “it’s too hot to put something on my head.”
But I don’t have to use the excuse of parsing these women’s outfits to know that this is a family of people that I never want to be near, and that I wish to God had never been given access to this level of power. I just have to look at their platforms, or lack thereof.
If you’re thinking about drawing some grand conclusion by looking at how a woman is dressed, consider the following:
-Do you have any non-clothing-based evidence that this is what they think?
-If the only way they are signaling an opinion is via clothing, how can you be sure you’re right?
If you do have evidence that isn’t clothing (say, a shlocky, smug, self-help book that demonstrates Ivanka is out-of-touch and utterly vapid, and supports her father’s “Muslim ban”) go with that. If you don’t have evidence beyond someone’s clothing, go find more evidence.
Clothing isn’t enough.
Looking back, my most valuable take-away from high school is probably not what my teachers were hoping for. My take-away is that I’m done, forever, policing women’s bodies. I’m done telling any women anywhere what they can and can’t wear, or whether or not their choices are modest or immodest, or flattering or frumpy or something else entirely.
For centuries, probably millennia, women’s bodies have been policed by patriarchal system after patriarchal system. It ends with us. We can stop it by not doing it ourselves.
Again, I have plenty to say about Ivanka and Melania Trump. I am enraged when I think about them. But I’m not going to get caught in the trap of extrapolating ideas from their clothing. Not when their actual words and deeds speak so loudly.