". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Indecent Exposure

According to a recent article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Atlanta City Council is considering an amendment to the city's indecency laws that would make certain currently popular fashion trends illegal and thus punishable by fine. The common denominator among targeted styles is the revealing of the wearer's underwear: specific practices mentioned are excessively baggy pants (intended to reveal the boxer shorts or thongs underneath), sport bras worn as tops, and the showing of one's bra straps.

As one who often cringes at the sight of all the trends mentioned in the article (as well as some that are not), I find myself applauding this proposal and watching with interest to see if it succeeds in passing. (I would, however, encourage the proposal's sponsor to add ridiculously low-cut pants and excessive midriff-baring to his list of infractions.) But not surprisingly, opponents are already lining up to fight the measure. Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, has stated that the law will not withstand a court challenge. If you're thinking that such a challenge would hinge on freedom of speech (expressed through one's clothing), think again. Instead, Seagraves says that the primary basis for fighting the law would be that it is discriminatory because it unfairly targets black youth.

Huh? I understand that overly baggy pants can be traced to rap culture, but I'm not sure the other styles being targeted share that origin. And even if they do, the time when rap culture was limited to the black population has long since passed. I live, work, and attend church in a predominately white, affluent Chicago suburb, and I commonly see people of all ethnicities and ages wearing many of the offending styles. (Truth be told, I don't see a lot of males in my age group wearing baggy pants, but I do see a surprising number of women my age & older wearing outfits that in my opinion they in particular have no business wearing.)

I'm curious to hear what others think of this attempt by members of the Atlanta City Council to legislate some decency and modesty among the residents of their city. Does it have any hope of succeeding? If the measure passes, it is enforceable? Or is the whole thing a waste of time? Certainly it is reasonable for our government to make laws requiring decency in dress and behavior--we have all kinds of rules against nudity, indecent exposure, public intoxication and disturbing of the peace--but is it realistic to start specifying what types of dress are acceptable?

I tend to think that to a certain extent the answer is yes. Underwear is underwear--it is not meant to be revealed, and I don't think I should have to avert my gaze to avoid seeing that of another person. But I am more conservative than most people. So I would be interested to hear what you think.


Anonymous said...

Having watched quite a few similar legislations passed over the years, I have gained a certain skepticism.

It isn't that there isn't some need, but rather that these are given low priority, and are rift with loopholes.

So it is banned to have undergarments in view - solution then taken - no undergarments.

Is this an improvement?

What is the real issue at the base?

Lack of respect.

Lack of respect for one's self as well as those one affects going through life.

Refusal to admit that what *I* choose to do affects *you*, and vice versa.

Lack of strong beneficial personal character and respectable morality, too. So many these days simply don't care. They don't know anything beyond what they, personally, desire, and aren't concerned with how they affect anyone, including themselves, because there isn't the scope of comprehension to understand what one throws out there *will* come home to roost, and roosts are full of uncomposted manure which piles up fast if you don't face it, deal with it and clean it up.

I'm with you in that we have serious concerns here.

But how best to address them.

What if one of my straps breaks while I am out and I can't safety pin it so that it is 100% out of view of my neck opening or arm hole, both at modest levels? Do I get ticketed because I have to finish checking out to get my groceries home and feed my family?

What if the elastic in my waist gives out and I can't find the safety pin I normally keep in my purse so I have to hold them up as I dash? Do I get a ticket if an officer sees me or someone complains?

Both of these scenarios are actually reasonable, even if not the majority, and will be swept up into the current legislative proposals.

How will this jive with nursing moms? Is there some clause about nursing? If there is, can it be used for some brazen woman to fully expose herself and then protest that she was only 'feeding her child'? We saw that happen in a neighboring city. The woman had her top about 80% -off-, and the judge not only dismissed the charges but made the ruling that it was legal for women to be topless in their city.


Can you believe it? We couldn't, but it's true. Then we had a huge problem with women coming to -our- cities, topless, and protesting that it was okay, they were from 'that' city.

Uhm, no. Head on home with that deplorable conduct, thank you.

Answers? I haven't any wonderful magic formulas to offer, but a caveat.

Be careful of what is passed, and how, because it _will_ be challenged and mocked, and that may likely result in pulling its well intentioned teeth.

A fellow MLer. :)

Kim said...

I honestly don't think that more legislation will solve the problem. I'm more of a libertarian so I hate to see the government gain any more control over things, they have far too much imput into our daily lives.

If you are going say that you can't show underwear, what about a bikini or bathing suit at a public pool? What about tank tops with thin straps, if you aren't wearing a bra would those straps have to be covered since it's functioning in the same manner? Honestly I would rather see someone's bra straps then to see women skipping bras all together so they can get around a law! I have seen plenty of less than modest outfits that wouldn't fall under that law. How long until we have a dress code in order to leave the house? Who is to be the judge of what is acceptable and what is not?

It's one thing to say that nudity in public is illegal, it's a different thing to legislate what types of clothing can be worn.

Cheryl said...

Wow--thanks for the very thoughtful comments!

As I was thinking about this yesterday and cheering on the Councilman's goals, I also knew there would be some complicating factors in enforcing such a law, and both of you have effectively pointed some of those out. Still, I think there could be exceptions for things like swimwear and breastfeeding and the occasional wardrobe malfunction. And while I understand that there will always be people who will "push the envelope" and try to take advantage of the exceptions, I don't think good laws should be avoided simply because there are those who will not abide by them or who will take advantage of the exceptions. So right now I am still coming down on the side of having some more stringent dress guidelines (since as Anonymous points out, too many people just don't seem to have their own internal code). Perhaps it's just a little too hard to legislate the bra strap thing, as much as I would like to (any woman knows that sometimes that bra strap slips out no matter how hard you try to keep it hidden)--but I think the practices of wearing underwear as clothing and of letting one's bottom underwear show above the waistline of one's pants would be easy things to address.

Then of course, there's the whole issue of enforcement. It could be argued that police should be spending their time on things more important than people's clothing. On the other hand, history shows that when Mayor Giuliani (did I spell that right?--or is it Guiliani?) went after small infractions such as jay-walking it had an effect on more serious crime as well.

Throwback Mom said...

I would love to see such laws passed, but, I think it would be difficult, and probably a waste of our tax dollars to try to enforce it.

It is bad enough having disgruntled neighbors calling the authorities over a noisy backyard BBQ that they just so happen to have been left out of, can you imagine me sitting by my picture window and calling in all of the fashion crimes.

I guess I can wish and pray and hope that parents and individuals come up with enough respect for themselves and others to dress respectfully. But alas, when our baby girls have clothing marketed to their parents (for I am sure the 6 month olds with "Little Hottie" emblazoned across the chest did not buy it for herself) that is grossly offensive, we have nowhere to turn.

It is a delicate balance. I want to land somewhere between fashionable and chic, without breaking our budget, be it ever so small, and without looking silly.

It is hard to legislate morality, and it can be a slippery slope. IF we start dictating appropriateness in dress, will that leave me without a pants option? I hope not!

p.s. you can put me on your loop or whatever it is called. I don't blog nearly as often as I should though!

Presbytera said...

I don't find anywhere in the constitution that gives the federal government the right to dictate clothing. Decency starts in the mind and heart and is really a part of the 6th commandment "We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do..." If it were the government's job to regulate fashion, we would either all have our ankles covered or the legislature would spend the beginning of each session updating the fashion code.

I think we are seeing a call to repentance everywhere we look in our society and this is just one symptom of a nation not under the Triune God.

Cheryl said...

I don't know if anyone is still reading this post, but I'll add one more comment. I agree that the Constitution doesn't grant the government the right to dictate clothing. But I guess the question is whether the things mentioned fall under the umbrella of clothing or of nudity. I think that if someone went walking down the street naked or dressed in lingerie most of us would probably object and expect the government to intervene and make the person either get dressed or get off the street. So I guess the question is at what point the level of undress goes from being a fashion choice to being nudity.