History (or herstory), many say, consists of repeating cycles. One cycle involves the mildness and wildness of women.
In recent history, the 1920s was a wild phase. Women, often known as “flappers”, started smoking and drinking in public places. They even dressed in revealing attire. Revealing for the 1920s, that is. After the 1920s the depression helped usher in a return to more conservative behavior on the part of women and this conservative movement seems to have peaked in the 1950s. After that there was a return to more liberal values (the sexual revolution) and then yet another swing towards conservative value.
The past decade has seen a swing back to more wild behavior, as exemplified by reality TV and girls gone wild videos. Not surprisingly, this wildness has in turn given rise to a new culture of mildness.
At this time, the culture of mildness is fairly modest (pun intended). There are a few web sites such as ModestApparelUSA.com, ModestByDesign.com, ModestyZone.net and DressModestly.com that advocate more modest dress and behavior on the part of women. Not surprisingly, religious groups, such as Regnun Christi, are involved in endorsing a more modest way of life. Also not surprisingly, those who endorse conservative values are also advocating mildness.
It might be thought that this mildness movement is a reaction to the empowerment of women. This has some truth.
As was discussed in a previous blog, the empowerment of women enabled them a greater range of choice. Some women made use of this freedom, to greater or lesser degree, to adopt a wild way of life. Since religious and conservative groups tend to oppose wildness, they would naturally oppose such choices.
Of course, the fact that someone is opposed to wildness does not entail they are opposed to the empowerment of women. After all, a person can be for choice and still consistently oppose certain choices. This is because accepting that the freedom of choice is a moral good does not entail accepting that every choice made is morally good or wise. So, someone could be opposed to wildness and yet be for the empowerment of women.
However, a person could obviously be opposed to wildness because they are opposed to the empowerment of women. This sort of person would want to limit (or eliminate) the choices available to women-perhaps under the guise of being opposed to wild behavior. In many cases, people assume that those who oppose wildness are in this category-they are committed to taking away the empowerment of women by imposing restrictions on dress and behavior.
This is a matter of serious concern-even a cursory examination of history shows that oppression and restrictions are the norm rather than the exception. While oppression tends to be a universal thing, women tend to be prime targets of those who hate freedom and wish to control others. Because of this, it might be suspected that the new mildness movement is yet another attempt to oppress women and roll back the gains made by women. This is a reasonable concern and raises many questions, including the question of whether empowerment is consistent with being mild or not.
If mild behavior (modest dress and so on) is imposed and not chosen, then it is obviously not consistent with the empowerment of women. However, freely chosen mildness can be quite consistent with empowerment.
If a woman freely and consciously chooses to dress modestly and behave in a restrained manner, then she is still acting in a way that is empowered. After all, she is acting on her choices and is not being controlled or unjustly restricted by others. While it might strike wild people as odd, some people actually prefer not to be half naked in public and see acting with restraint as both good and desirable.
It might be objected that such women are merely being influenced by others-they think they freely choose to be mild, but they are really being controlled in subtle ways by a variety of influences.
In reply, this is probably true-we are all influenced many ways by a multitude of influences. But, there is a world of difference between being influenced by external factors and not being free. If freedom means being completely unaffected by anything else, then none of us are or could ever be free.
It might be objected that being mild is inherently a state of being oppressed because it involves such things as deferring to men, restricting one’s sexuality and so forth. Thus, mildness is not consistent with empowerment.
This is a very reasonable point. If a woman chooses to act in ways that take away her choices and thus reduces her freedom, then she is taking away her own empowerment. There is also (some claim) a certain paradox in the claim that a person could freely give up their own freedom. There are various clever arguments to show that this is impossible…or at least involves some major problems.
In any case, it would certainly seem to be a bad idea for a woman to choose to be mild in ways that take away her freedom in important ways. While every choice does mean accepting limits and giving up other options, there are some choices that seem to be inherently inconsistent with remaining a free person. For example, if a woman chooses to defer all decision making to a man, then she has given up her freedom. Other cases are less clear. For example, many westerners think that women who accept the dress codes supposedly endorsed by Islam (especially the full covering of the body except for the eyes) are being oppressed while some women who dress that way claim it is a free choice. Laying aside cultural bias, choosing to cover almost everything seems to be just as valid a choice as choosing to expose almost everything. So, if a woman can freely choose to wear a thong and teeny tiny top, then a woman should be able to freely choose to wear a burqa. Naturally, whether a woman is forced to expose or cover up almost everything, then she is not free.
Within certain limits, mildness is quite compatible with empowerment.