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Freedom lives in more than fashion

Tuesday, September 21, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:37 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

The other day, I read that women’s fashions in the near future will cover more of the body. I certainly hope that is true. In fact, I can hardly wait. I’m really tired of looking at women’s bare midriffs, hip lines, breasts and knees. I just don’t find that kind of information about women’s bodies useful. The main reason I’m fond of old movies is because the women in them are usually well-dressed.

I know a lot of women think getting dressed up is old-fashioned. They prefer casual dress on every occasion. Sometimes I think it’s unfortunate that women’s advocate Amelia Bloomer, who began her campaign to change women’s dress in the 1840s, didn’t live to see women’s attitudes become more in line with her own. Bloomer, who published a temperance newspaper called The Lily, thought women’s garments were too restrictive and favored shorter skirts and knee-length underpants that became known as bloomers. Most women rejected her ideas, however, favoring looking nice over being comfortable and continued to dress in the fashions of the day.

Although some women seem to think women dress in certain ways to please men, I find it hard to believe women would have tortured themselves with corsets, girdles and bustles to gain men’s attention. I’m more inclined to believe they did those things for themselves because they thought it made them attractive. As for women these days who walk around scantily clad, I’m not really sure why they do that. I see it as a sign of insecurity — a belief that if they don’t exhibit themselves, they will be overlooked.

I find that most women who dress well do so because they take pleasure in putting their best foot forward. They are not really interested in pleasing other people.

Some mothers have been distressed about the choices in clothing available to young girls. I guess I never really understood why these mothers didn’t boycott clothing stores and raise a big stink over that issue. One would think that with all the tragedies affecting young women, parents would be outraged at the idea of someone attempting to put their children’s bodies on display. But I suppose with our society’s preoccupation with sex and nudity, they didn’t think it would do any good.

There was a great deal of discussion in my neighborhood last week about one of the area schools attempting to enforce a dress code that would require girls to cover their midriffs. It’s amusing to me that it is so often on issues such as dress codes and firearms that our concept of freedom resides. I’m not sure in some communities that the denial of the right to vote would get as much attention as telling people what to wear or demanding that they give up their guns. One would almost be led to believe that it is for the protection of these rights that young men and women march off to war. In the absence of civics, what is one to believe?

I have always thought it rather strange that so many Americans seem to think women who keep their bodies covered are oppressed. Women I have spoken to who wear particular garments for religious reasons certainly don’t think of themselves as underprivileged. They wear their clothing with honor and dignity. They simply don’t see their apparel as a form of imprisonment.

I can hardly believe that those of us who earnestly fought for women’s rights could have been so misunderstood when I witness what some believe to be the exercising of those rights. Although both men and women have the right to walk around half-dressed and be as sexually promiscuous as they please, I would certainly not have taken one step in a protest march to advocate for it.

And I can’t imagine how it happened with all the attention domestic abuse received, the laws that were changed and the shelters that were organized that the mothers of men would not teach them better than to abuse their wives. It is just inconceivable to me that with the number of women who have endured domestic violence that it would still be with us. In my naiveté, I assumed that mothers would take every opportunity to address this issue. And now, more than three decades later, we’re still dealing with it.

When I began as a civil-rights advocate, a mentor told me to always remember that social change is never permanent. Nevertheless, I thought it would at least last through one generation before it was time to march again. This time, though, the ones who have the problem should march for themselves. At some point, people must understand that they have to participate in their own salvation.

Civil rights for all was a just and honorable cause, and I’m glad I participated. I regret the lack of an educational component which would have undergirded the process. I advocated for that as well, but people seemed to think that no one would ever forget the prices paid. That was a mistake.

So, let’s go back one more time to the day when women said they would refuse to allow themselves to be used as sex objects. On second thought, let’s don’t. In that direction lies deception.


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