120368622I have a no tank top rule in my house. For both my sons and my daughter. If you are leaving the house, I don’t want you going out in public without a shirt over your tank top. Unless you are just playing in the yard.

Nothing is wrong with tank tops. I just don’t think they are an appropriate item to wear to school or to a restaurant that isn’t directly adjacent to a beach.

I have a rule in my own mind, this rule is that any woman regardless of age should be able to wear whatever she wants without being judged for it. This rule is sometimes in direct conflict as to how I feel about the idea of my own nine-year-old daughter becoming a teen and wearing whatever she wants.

I have no idea how to marry my own views on feminism and women being able to wear what they want without being “shamed” for how much they expose with the notion that my own kid will one day grow up and want to wear a skirt that barely covers her girl parts.

I know my daughter is smart and good and all shades of awesome and hopefully she will continue to be so as she grows older. I know that we are raising her to respect herself and teaching her that her mind and heart are the most important things she possesses and that  no one can judge her for how she looks or how she dresses.

I also know plenty of teen girls who are smart and good and all shades of awesome who wear things that when I consider my own future teenager wearing cause me to get all pearl-clutchy. I look back on my own teen self and sometimes I can’t even imagine what I was thinking when I left the house looking like I did.

It’s such an easy thing to think about in the abstract. I think of young teens wearing tank tops and short shorts and all of these other sorts of “sexualized” items of clothing and I think:

You go girl. You can wear anything you want and if you are doing it to attract sexual partners that is all fine too and you go out and have fun and be you and don’t let anyone ever tell you how to dress. 

When I think of my OWN kid doing it, the thought process is more:

You go girl, but please come back in the house and put a cardigan on over that and some tights under those shorts and you go out and have fun but realize that some people in the world will judge you for how you dress and it scares me because now you are more open to street harassment and one day you can realize your own sexual nature but can you please do it while you are studying abroad and not living at home anymore and when you fall in love and are with an amazing person who respects you and cares for you and please be safe. 

God, being a mom is hard.

I was such a bad teenager. I was a disaster, heartbroken over my parents divorce and wanting people to pay attention to me and a good way to get people to pay attention to me was by wearing ripped up fishnets and push-up bras and high heels and lots of lipstick. I’m not romanticizing my teen self in anyway, because I was a sad little train wreck. I know all girls sort of go through something like this, to varying degrees, and I can appreciate girls as needing to and deserving to be allowed to express their own sexuality through their clothing choices. But can we leave my own daughter out of this?

I also know there are plenty of girls who chose to dress in a manner considered revealing or (ugh) immodest who are doing it not for any other reason than they like the way they look in what they are wearing.

I contemplate and understand all of this. I hate the modesty moms. I feel guilty and torn when I think about my own personal feelings regarding this whole issue because I’m a feminist. I believe in women and girls being able to do what they want and look how they want.

I think parents can do their best. We can try everything we can think of to raise girls who are strong and fierce and in charge of their own minds and bodies but can we control the middle-aged man who sees them walking down the street and catcalls them? Can we control the boy who was passively raised to believe that girls who dress a certain way are “asking for it?”

We cannot, and that is what scares me.

We don’t worry about this with boys. My own sons have not grown up in a world where they have clothing choices that can be used to bare their sexuality and their sexual bodies to the outside world. I have never told my teen son that he has to rethink his outfit choices because he is showing too much ball sack. I don’t worry about my boys wearing something and someone calling them a “slut” because they are exposing too much leg. It’s a whole different world for girls in regard to clothing.

And as the mother of sons I raise my boys not to be those boys, who judge girls on how they dress, who teaches them not to objectify women and who has lengthy conversations with them about respecting women and consent. But I’m just one mom with three boys. I’m a drop in the bucket considering the entire male population of earth.

Ideally, we would live in a world where girls can be free to dress how they want without fear of being seen as sexual objects, unless they want to be seen as sexual objects. But we don’t.

I love clothing. I love fashion. I love expressing my own femininity and sexuality through what I wear. But I’m also old, and married, and I no longer feel in danger because of what I wear and who sees me wearing it. But I know for a fact that I was in danger many times for what I wore as a teen. And I’m not talking about exciting, sexually-charged FUN danger, I’m talking about the sort of danger that causes a girl to cry a lot. And I also realize that what I wore and what I didn’t wear is not the single reason for any victimization I suffered. Even nuns get raped. But I also know that certain men were attracted to me because of what I wore.

I’m sure some people would say that I’m terrified of my daughter’s sexuality. Of course I am! I basically think any women who isn’t is LYING. You look at your daughters, and I don’t mean the ones who are off at college, the younger ones, and the wee little ones, and you consider all the shit and heartbreak and terror of growing up female, the hormones, adolescence, the sex, and tell me you don’t look at these children reading Pinkalicious and braiding their pony’s hair and you tell me you don’t get scared too. I want my daughter to always experience any sexuality in a healthy, consensual, happy way. I never want her catcalled by some creep on the street. I don’t want her ever feeling coerced into sexual conduct for any reason. Or worse. I want her to learn the force of her own sexual power but I never want her to feel objectified or in danger because of it.

I have no answers. I wish some great mind would tell me what my world view should be and how to couple my own views on what I should feel in regard to my own daughter. I think if you ask any woman who considers herself a feminist and who also has a daughter how she feels about this issue they are bound to have their own conflicting answers too. I never want my own girl to feel judged for how she dresses. I never want anyone to assume anything about her sexuality based on the length of her skirt. But it will happen, because this is the world we live in.

Even though I’m all for girls of any age wearing whatever they want and never being judged for it, I badly want my own daughter to put a sweater on over all of it. I hope I figure all of this out before she gets older.

(Image: getty images)