The XX Factor

The Modesty Police of D.C.

Going in front of the cameras while in Washington, D.C., while having lady parts is seeming incredibly fraught these days. As has been thoroughly discussed here , whether a woman crosses her legs when she sits down seems to have become a major issue overnight. Now you have Matt Drudge and Glenn Beck getting the vapors because Michelle Obama had a modest amount of cleavage showing in an evening dress. If the trend continues in this direction, within a few years, there will be a national scandal when one of the first daughters dares to show a bit of ankle.

Criticizing Elena Kagan for not crossing her legs particularly annoyed me, because I’ve literally spent years of my life trying to break the habit of crossing my legs when I sit, because I always thought it looked stupid and defensive. Plus, I’ve heard it gives you varicose veins and just can’t be good for you. It puts me in mind of those airline pamphlets about deep vein thrombosis. From a strictly practical viewpoint, it’s less modest than not crossing your legs, especially in a skirt above the knee, since when you cross your legs you run the risk of flashing your underwear and definitely show off more leg. It’s only “modest” in the symbolic sense, a small gesture to signal that you’re properly ashamed of that not-penis lurking so many inches north of the crossing point.

And that’s what this this is all about, isn’t it? The modesty police here or in Saudi Arabia use sex as cover to shame women for having the temerity to walk around in public while possessing lady parts. Creating a situation in which everyone is staring at your crotch or boobs in hopes of finding some transgression from arbitrary modesty standards is just a way to pick on women for being women. I’ve often been tempted to take pictures of what I was wearing when some guy on the street harassed me, just to point out that if your harasser is determined enough, a hoodie sweatshirt and a pair of jeans can be considered hoochie-mama clothes that somehow demand harassment.