Preaching Conditional Respect

“Girls,” the pastor preached from the pulpit of our youth service, “you have to respect yourselves. Cover your skin; you’re not meat on display in a window! When us guys see you dressed in those booty shorts or mini skirts we can’t help but look. We’re visual beings and it’s in our DNA to end up staring. If you want to be respected, dress modestly.”

Sad fact number 1: I heard this multiple times from different preachers while I was growing up.

Sad fact number 2: I actually believed all of that for a really long time.

It sickens me now that I ever thought that way, but it sickens me more that a lot of people not only buy into conditional respect, they also preach it. 

What’s even more frustrating is that these kinds of messages are usually targeted towards women. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard someone go, “Well, if you want to be respected girls….”

Don’t show off too much skin. Don’t get drunk. Don’t be so opinionated. Don’t be loud. Don’t be out late.

And it’s not just limited to the church. It’s ingrained in our culture. From the time we are children, most of us are taught that being treated like a decent human being comes with a list of prerequisites.

I find this problematic because if something particularly terrible, like rape or domestic violence happens, instead of immediately sympathising, we start going through the list. What were you wearing? Why were you drinking? What time were you out? Were you drawing too much attention to yourself? What did you do or say?

Instead of finding comfort the victims often end up on the receiving end of a barrage of unnecessary questions. They end up having to defend themselves while the abuser, on the other hand, is handed a bunch of excuses society largely deems acceptable.

She was drunk. She nagged. She wore a really short skirt.

That list is what makes us all miss the point and forget that when someone does something bad to someone else, the one at fault is not the victim and the one who should receive sympathy is not the abuser.

And this goes for all acts of violence; not just the ones where women are the targets. Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, or background, there is no “right reason” to abuse anyone in any way.

It’s about time we stop telling ourselves that respect only comes with conditions. It’s about time that we teach our kids that no matter what, we should see everyone as equals and treat them as such.

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