The Right Coast
May 18, 2004
Prager on Women's Dress
By Mike Rappaport
Dennis Prager, the radio talk show host and writer, is one of the most intelligent social conservatives around these days. Prager has recently written two columns (here and here) on the provocative nature of how women dress. Here is how he starts the first column:
You may have noticed that many young women wear less, and more sexually provocative, clothing in public than they did a generation, or even 10 years, ago. It is easier to notice, however, than to explain.The five reasons are: 1. The movement towards equality, or rather sameness, of the sexes; 2. the death of femininity; 3. powerlessness due to the lack of a feminine role; 4. sexual harassment laws; and 5. a desire to attract men.
I don't necessarily want to endorse Prager's analysis, but he certainly has something important to contribute. Consider his analysis of the fourth reason, sexual harassment laws:
Women feel freer than ever to dress provocatively in part because men can say nothing about it. Omnipresent sexual harassment laws and "consciousness raising" seminars in businesses and schools have frightened men into not making any sexual comments to a woman.Interestingly, Prager seems to be implicitly making the claim that women who dress provocatively "assume the risk of" or at least "induce" certain kinds of harassment. Clearly, this is a view that is at odds with both the prevailing and the elite view. I suppose that one can always argue that men must restrain their speech and behavior even when exposed to provocatively dressed women. While this may make sense, it places strong social and legal sanctions in the service of allowing provocative dress, and the question is whether the benefits of such dress exceed the costs. While liberal feminists and much of American culture would appear to argue that the benefits are worth it, there are others -- social conservatives, more radical feminists -- who would argue that permitting provocative dress is a dubious value.
In the end, I am not sure what to think. I do not favor most sexual harassment laws, preferring such inappropriate behavior to be addressed by firms and schools. But whether or not such laws are in place, private and public institutions must still determine the appropriate norms of conduct. Prager’s argument is important, but so are the considerations on the other side. Living here in San Diego, where provocative dress sometimes seems to reign supreme, I am conflicted.