The Gender Gap Of Showing Some Skin

For guys, there's nothing complicated about summer style. All you really need to do is keep it simple, remember to wear deodorant and stick to a few basic rules. According to almost every guide to the male summer wardrobe, your shirt shouldn't be unbuttoned too low and your shorts shouldn't be too short because "nobody wants to see that, bro." "That", of course, means "your body," which is your body and no one else's, and you should keep it to yourself. As far as menswear conventions are concerned, it'd be a little weird for a grown ass man to walk around with his legs entirely exposed. That said, if you want to break the rules, the costs are pretty minimal: You might experience a little side-eye and your friends might crack a few jokes. Regardless, you can still freely walk down the street minding your own business.

For some guys, summer is also a blessed time because it's the season when girls wear sundresses and tiny shorts. Women's bodies aren't like men's bodies—people do want to see "that." In fact, sometimes it feels like men consider women's bodies part of the summer scenery, like you think we exist for the enjoyment of your eyeballs. Maybe you think there's no harm in checking women out on the street, but even if you try to be discreet about it by hiding behind sunglasses or whatever smooth move you read about on the Internet, it's pretty obvious and bothersome. Or maybe you're bold and unashamed about it. Maybe you've even yelled, "Hey, how you doin?" or "where ya goin'?" or "hey, sweet thing" at a woman while you were hanging out of the passenger side of your best friend's ride, trying to holler at her.

"Look, Emily Lever, if that even is your real name," you might want to say in your gruffest voice, "Some women show a lot of skin because they want and enjoy male attention." This is true, but hardly universal. While some of them might revel in every man's approving stare, some (or most) might just want attention from a guy they know will be at a party they're on their way to, not from every single lonely thirst monster sitting on the terrace of a bar at happy hour. You can't read minds. Maybe that woman over there is wearing shorts because, like you, she just likes to feel the breeze against her legs. Maybe she wants some vitamin D, and—NOPE—not that kind of vitamin D. When you assume your attention is always welcome, you contribute to the unsettling climate that can ruin summer for most women.

Funny thing is, no matter how I dress, there are still fuccbois around to catcall me.

I like to wear shorts and crop tops when it's hot out because I don't want to feel muggy and sweaty, but I hardly ever go out dressed like that. My desire for physical comfort is diluted tenfold into an unease I'm no longer really conscious of anymore. It's become second nature. I just know that if I leave my building wearing shorts with a 2" inseam I'll regret it because a temperature-appropriate outfit will make me feel too exposed. All it takes to ruin an otherwise pleasant walk to the train is a group of guys who always hang out on a street corner I have to pass on my way, and their laser focus on me every time I walk by. I become acutely conscious of my legs. A minute ago they were just the limbs that got me from point A to point B and, all of a sudden, they're a woman's legs walking down the street in a pair of cutoff shorts, fair game to be stared at. The men always stand on either side of the sidewalk, so I have to walk between them, an arm's length away from those two dudes, which is uncomfortably close. It's hardly a life or death situation, but it's an every single day situation, whether I'm walking past that corner, or getting catcalled by some dude as he drives past me, or even sitting on the subway by myself as night falls. It's a familiar routine: I get unsolicited greetings, comments, or so-called compliments, I'm unsettled and my first urge is to cover up my body without making it seem like that's what I'm trying to do because then they know they've gotten my attention and that means they winIt's like schoolyard bullying, complete with my mom's constant insistence that it just means they like me. So I ignore whoever's harassing me until he's far away. Then I spend a while wishing I could make myself very small and disappear. I need to talk myself down for a little bit and tell myself I shouldn't let the 1 or 2% of dudes who have no boundaries spoil my day or prevent me from dressing comfortably. I've gotten good at reassuring myself, but I've still left my skirts and dresses to gather dust in my closet. I go out in jeans and over-sized shirts because, OK, I'm a little bit scared. Funny thing is, no matter how I dress, there are still fuccbois around to catcall me.

Maybe this disparity between how men and women are treated in public isn't actually about the amount of skin exposed. Think of our dads in the 70s, rocking shorts almost as short as Rihanna's. (Or don't. Sorry for that mental image.) They were dressing according to common norms just like women do when they wear sundresses, but they weren't made to feel vulnerable and uncomfortable for occupying a public space. If some men think, consciously or not, that women exist for men to stare at—if they don't think about whether women appreciate it or not—then the season of watermelon and ice cold beers will always be first and foremost the season of the fuccboi scrub. So get it together. Stop intruding on females' personal space. Let everyone enjoy their summer.

Emily Lever is a French-American writer who wishes she led a life of adventure. You can follow her on Twitter here.

  • Adam S

    this article is #yesallwomen x #menswear

    not that that’s a bad thing.

  • Related Posts

    Reading this article, I want to say firstly, it’s a shame the author can’t wear these things because she is too uncomfortable. As a dude, I’ve been hit on by thirsty girls I find unappealing and I was caught thinking to myself “damn, this must be way worse for a female” because I can just put on something ugly, forget to shower, and boom! No one pays me any attention. However, these days it’s almost like we’re shunned for striking up a conversation. I think the author is talking about catcalling and maybe has no problem being engaged in a more down to earth conversation, but in my experience more people (men and women) have been conditioned to be suspicious of a stranger making polite conversation.

    If I’m on the subway by myself or walking through the city on a long trip, I like to pick the brains of people on the way, sometimes I find the confidence to compliment a girl on what she’s wearing. What if you never said anything to that girl? Maybe you guys might not have hit it off. I’ve been drunk enough to participate in the same sleazy catcall bullshit that men so often do on occasion. But in general, and especially when I’m not under the influence I try to be a good person and I’m not out to make people uncomfortable. But, I think the idiots are fucking it up for the rest of us who appreciate just engaging with the people, whoever they may be, sometimes to flirt, sometimes just to pass the time.

    My point is somewhat of an aside to what the author was getting at, I think, but I’d like to open up to floor to hear others thoughts on this… nice guys, cool guys, creeps, fuccbois, and pretty girls included.

    • London Calling

      Excellent point(s). I completely empathize with the author and am embarrassed to hear of the way she’s been made to feel but I do wonder if it’s okay to even attempt to talk to a woman we may find attractive nowadays.
      As males, we are conditioned to make the first move and be bold when approaching a female but it does appear to be very unclear what is acceptable. I’m in no way condoning aggressive or troglodyte behaviour but surely it’s okay to admire-read: NOT leer at-a woman we are physically attracted to.
      Having said all that, if Emily is letting her skirts and dresses gather dust then I think men generally need to revise the way we interact with the opposite sex because this isn’t the first article I’ve read on this topic.

  • Eduardo Meneses

    Nice to hear the women’s perspective… the “No Scrubs” link bumped it up like 10 notches

  • Dieter Rams

    first it was how take ivy sucks because it featured (gasp!) white, heterosexual, males doing normal college things (omg so racist), then why the American flag on shorts is horrible because it’s “a symbol of imperialism and oppression everywhere”….and now this. omfg.

    “im emily lever, my life is like, really hard, because it’s like, hot in the summer and i just want to wear my favorite short-shorts and crop top but then feel soooooo uncomfortable when guys catcall me. ughhh.”

    maybe you should just never go outside again and spend the rest of your life in the comfortable bosom of gender studies department at princeton and hang out with other women like yourself with an inflated sense of their own importance that like to sit around and complain about shit like this all day.

    • Emily L

      Hey dude take a chill pill / it might help if you didn’t keep consistently reading all my articles since the unimportant things I write about get you so riled up

      • Jimmy T

        kind of an unfair response. you can’t write something and not expect your readers to engage with it seriously, even when your article is posted on a site known for its irony. no matter how much irony goes into an article, saying “you should chill because it’s actually not important” is kind of unfair to your readership — a readership that is loyal enough to pay attention and engage critically with both your articles and the website. without that readership, four pins would be worse off. i might not particularly agree with dieter’s point, but i respect what he has to say and think we all stand to gain when everyone’s voice is considered.

        • azermu

          That’s what’s up

    • kb2003

      Also, I’m pretty sure not 100% of the dudes in Take Ivy were hetero, despite appearances… It is the Ivies, after all, and they’ve always been plenty gay.

    • scott b.

      Actually, her point is very valid and this is how many, many women feel about how some men treat women. To feel constantly threatened and to know that if something happened you could most likely do nothing about it is a feeling no one should have to feel on a daily basis. And catcalls, being undressed by a stranger’s eyes or stared at and hit on all the time is threatening, No, not all these situations are meant to be threatening, but as a woman, how do you know?

  • FyuuR

    Douchebags are always going to stare. Either deal with it, or move on and ignore them.

  • Anthony Sykes II

    I don’t care about your feelings Emily.

    Also that greek male body worship tip. Socrates my nigga

  • Dumb dude

    Do you think it’s possible to perceive the world from a perspective other than victimology? Do you think it’s necessary to regulate every male behavior? Who is your audience for this article? Do you think that the fashion nerds who follow this blog are also those who cat call you on the street? Does it seem reasonable to simply dismiss men’s summer style as thoughtless on a blog dedicated to men’s fashion? My first inclination is to react negatively to these tired themes. But that response is as typical as the feigned sympathy. I mean you seem to be clearly demanding the attention of men or else you wouldn’t be voicing your opinions here. But at the same time you are offended by it on the streets. I guess one is solicited and the other isn’t? I just don’t really understand how this relates to four-pins at all. Can you shed some light?

    • scott b.

      I think it is obvious that many of the men on this blog need more education in how to respect women.

      • Rick

        Scott…seriously man. Ask yourself if he could he have asked those questions in a more respectful manner. Not many women are reading this so your contrived manners crusade isn’t really getting you anywhere.

        • scott b.

          You know what Rick, you are right, I did not read his comments as carefully as I should have. He does have some valid questions… but I should have addressed his questions and not just blanket commented. As far as my “contrived manners crusade” goes, men need to learn that just because a woman wears something tight and happens to walk by him, she did not wear it just for him to catcall, stare and pursue. I’m not saying you should not look at women, that is just stupid. I am not saying that you should not talk to women. There is a time and place for everything. I’m saying that this is a much deeper issue and it deserves some careful consideration by all men. Why do women feel threatened by men on a daily basis? Why do women feel they can’t wear a certain type of clothes when I can wear pretty much anything that I want?

    • Emily L

      I don’t know what demographic you think should bear the blame for catcalling, but everyone from dudes from the hood to prep school boys does it…also my remarks on men’s summer style were building off of Jake Woolf’s piece on dressing simply. Style is never thoughtless (which I was careful to point out), it’s more that as a man, how you dress doesn’t affect the degree to which you feel safe in a public space.

    • Peter Pottinger

      Hear hear! I know PLENTY of girls who wear short shorts and tank tops, and they have NEVER been victimized. You want to know the secret? They don’t victimize themselves!

  • Tony

    You’ve raised a few valid points here Emily, but to me this article is ridiculed with contradiction and a little insecurity. If I’m to understand this correctly you feel as if:

    1. You can’t walk down a sidewalk during summertime because your hotness is such a distraction.

    2. Although other women dress for a broader invitation for attention, you sometimes dress more provocatively to attract the attention of a certain man and would like everyone else to understand that.

    3. You consider being hit on simply because of your attire (the desired reaction to your outfit by that one guy at that one party,) akin to being bullied if it’s by someone you didn’t intend to be approached by when you got dressed.

    A uninvited man invading your space and making you feel uncomfortable is unacceptable. That is indisputable. I also can’t help but think that this is rooted in the perceived judgement or comparison by/to other women. They may disapprove or find your choice unflattering. It may even be jealousy. Spin it however you’d like. I’m not one to act like double standards don’t exist, but to many, including myself, this is such a reach. If you would like to go on your merry way and enjoy your summer like you claim to want, dust off your dresses and shorts, invest in a nice pair of headphones, and get over yourself a tad. I’m sure that’s what the woman walking behind you in the exact same pair of shorts did. And she’s enjoying her summer just fine.

    • Emily L

      1. given that LITERALLY 99% of women experience sexual harassment in some way, I don’t really consider it an indicator of hotness…
      2. i was addressing the tired, dumb argument of “if you don’t want to be leered at you shouldn’t dress like that” by citing a few of the unlimited reasons why a woman would dress a certain way.
      3. learn what a simile is.

      i don’t know why you’re so eager to take me down a peg but your condescension does you no favors.

      • Peter Pottinger

        literally 99% of statistics posted on the internet are false and made up, I know this because 85% of the time I make up 50% of my statistics.

  • Peter Pottinger

    Holy shit so you’re good looking and you get attention, cry me a river?

  • PCD

    Consider yourself fortunate to be a woman. As a woman, you receive unwanted comments from strangers because they think your exposed skin looks good.

    If you were a man, you’d have to either deal with receiving unwanted comments from strangers because they think you look bad or cover up almost 100% of your body (“nobody wants to see that, bro.” “That”, of course, means “your body,” which is your body and no one else’s, and you should keep it to yourself.)