Sexism and ‘short shorts’


In the summer, boys dress for the warm weather, but girls dress hardly at all. Most high school guys are in baggy shorts, while many of the girls are wearing shorts so short that parts of their rear end remain exposed. The “distressed” versions — with rips and ragged hems — are often called Daisy Dukes, after a sexy character who wore them in “The Dukes of Hazzard” TV series (backstory to follow). They’re not a great look even beside a swimming pool, but girls are wearing them on downtown streets.

No matter how fine the girl’s character or perfect her figure, the effect is trashy, hollering sexual availability. That the boys checking out the half-naked girls are themselves well covered confers on them superior status. (Do note that I am writing from a hetero point of view.)

Britney Spears recently sent the celebrity media atwitter with an Instagram offering of herself in half-unzipped Daisy Dukes and nothing on top, though her hands were strategically placed to cover the nipples. Not doing the latter could have gotten her thrown off the social media app.

“We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature,” Instagram’s Community Guidelines state, “but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram.” That includes nipples. (Nipples in the context of breastfeeding or medical matters are permitted.)

Some girls may miss the point that Spears is selling her sexuality, not her computer programming skills. Women interested in being taken seriously should dress in a way that moves the public’s attention north of the crotch. That does not preclude body-skimming outfits that reveal a female form, which, well done, can be quite sensual because they suggest rather than shout. The line here gets thin at times, but parents shouldn’t want their daughter to flash “skank” in neon.

Speaking of parents, some are trying to stall the fashion industry’s determination to push tawdry clothes on their daughters. They have written stores asking for less-revealing clothes, and the salespeople have passed their complaints on to the manufacturers.

But to no avail. Short shorts are a big seller.

Whence came this concept in children’s clothing? A professor of fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology explained that childrenswear designers are being pressured by kids who want to dress “aspirationally.”

And what is their aspiration? To be like Britney Spears.

Reporting on the battle a few years back, The Wall Street Journal interviewed a mother from Sanford, Florida, who tried to stop her 12-year-old from choosing shorts with a tiny 2 1/2-inch inseam. The seventh grader won, arguing, “Some of my friends wear shorter shorts than I do.”

Catherine Bach, the actress who played Daisy Duke in the sitcom, wore those denim cutoffs to the chagrin of CBS network censors. They insisted that Bach wear flesh-colored pantyhose under the shorts to obscure some of the nakedness. This was 1979.

The show’s creators may have thought that portraying the Duke family as Southern country folk who sat around the table and said grace would cancel objections to the costume. If so, they were wrong. The Coalition for Better Television, a conservative Christian watchdog group, called for a boycott of the show.

Bach herself had mixed feelings about the short shorts. Some feminist journalists complained that they were sexist. Yours truly obviously agrees, but would the latest incarnation of feminism accuse me of body shaming?

Well, next time you see a young couple where the girl is in short shorts, note what the boy is wearing. Odds are that his sexual parts are nicely covered. The issue is female dignity and gender equality, and little more.