As a writer, I usually abstain from getting involved in popular articles criticizing social trends… and politics. The latter because, well, I just don’t have that thick of a skin, and the former because normally it’s a waste of time.
But after reading Michelle Honig’s aggrandizing article , and then Emily Schneider’s response “Modesty isn’t About Shells. It’s About Patriarchy”, which argued that shells are a symptom of a patriarchally imposed system of modesty, I felt compelled to respond and set the record straight. The opinion that Schneider expressed in her piece, that dressing modestly is a set of restrictions imposed on women by men, is closely related to a commonly held but completely false premise – the idea that exposing one’s body is an expression of empowerment and covering one’s body is a result of male oppression of women.
Of course, in order to come to this conclusion, one must overlook the fact that Western women’s fashion has pretty much always been dictated by men, and has always attempted to expose, or highlight, women’s bodies to a greater degree than men. Simply consider the history of 20th-century fashion design: The first strapless evening dress was designed by Main Rousseau Bocher in 1936. Parisian designer Louis Réard designed the first bikini in 1946. In 1954, Roger Vivier unveiled the first stiletto heel for Dior. From very early on, women have been convinced (read: sold a bill of goods) that flaunting all is an exercise of freedom. That covering one’s body is an indication of shame, and that “if you’ve got it, flaunt it,” and anything else is a sign of oppression or domination.