Are moms responsible for the way their daughters dress?

by Michael Foust, Guest Reviewer |

CHICAGO (Christian Examiner) – A Chicago-area author and blogger learned the power of social media this week when a five-year-old post about modesty and girls went viral, generating more than 1 million reads and sparking pushback against a column that would be considered tame in most conservative circles.

The original blog by Shelly Wildman was posted in March 2011 and titled "How Your Daughter Dresses Matters," and referenced a Wall Street Journal column from around the same time that also dealt with the issue.

"[I]t's been an interesting week," Wildman wrote Thursday.

Wildman has three daughters and in her 2011 column said she has had many battles about modesty in her home. She bemoaned the notion that "probably 80%" of clothes in stores are not appropriate for girls to wear and that girls everywhere – at school and even at church – are dressing immodestly.

She included a quote from the writer of the Wall Street Journal column that read: "We wouldn't dream of dropping our daughters off at college and saying: 'Study hard and floss every night, honey—and for heaven's sake, get laid!' But that's essentially what we're saying by allowing them to dress the way they do while they're still living under our own roofs."

"Think about that," Wildman wrote. "If, as mothers (or fathers!), we're encouraging our daughters to dress inappropriately, that's basically what we're saying. At the very least we're saying, 'Here's my daughter. She's on display. Take a good, long, hard look at her.' Ugh. The thought of anyone looking at any of my daughters inappropriately just makes my skin crawl."

Wildman said she worked with junior high girls at church and told them that "dressing a certain way attracts a certain kind of guy."

"I doubt very seriously that the kind of guy you want to attract is the kind of guy you're dressing for when you dress like that," she said she tells them. "Besides, you are above that. You are better than that. You deserve better than that. So dress for the guy you deserve."

Wildman concluded her 2011 column by encouraging moms "to see your daughter as the precious gift she is and to help her see herself that way too."

"It is my prayer that we can encourage our daughters to reflect the image that God has of her—one that loves her completely and loves her enough to give up His life for her," Wildman wrote. "She's that important. She's that special. Let's help her to reflect that image to the world."

But not everyone agreed with Wildman's column. In addition to more than 1 million reads, the column also attracted 174 new comments. (She did not make all of them live.)

One woman wrote, "The way some of you are commenting, it sounds like if there was a case of rape, you'd blame the woman based on how she was dressed. Sad. BOYS HAVE TO BE TAUGHT TOO!!!"

Wildman, in her Thursday post, said some readers were missing the point of the original column.

"To those who called me misogynistic and who told me that I'm contributing to the rape culture in this country, I'd ask you to please read the post again, slowly this time," Wildman wrote. "Because nothing in that post speaks of hating girls or women. Nothing. In fact, I am the most pro-women mother on the planet—I've raised three of the most intelligent, strong, independent women I know.

"Furthermore, there is nothing in that post that calls out a certain style of clothing—that's not a discussion I care to have. I'm not here to tell you WHAT your daughter should or should not wear—that's a discussion parents and children need to have together. I also don't believe you're going to hell if you wear a bikini—I have no interest in that discussion either. I simply want you to think about what you wear or choose to let your daughter wear and WHY."

Wildman also said she was troubled that the comments posted this week were "far worse" than the comments posted five years ago. Discourse in the country, she noted, "has denigrated."

"People today seem to get upset so much more easily, blaming others and pointing fingers," she wrote. "There's not much room for conversation anymore. For instance, many of the comments I received were along these lines: 'Oh yeah? Well, when is someone going to start telling the boys how to act?' or 'I should be able to dress however I want; boys just need to be taught to respect women.' Finger pointing and blaming. The problem is, that's not what this post was about! I could write a hundred posts on the problem with the way boys are not being taught to respect women in this country, but that's not what THIS post was about."

Wildman concluded her new post by encouraging Christians to "think deeply about being a little counter-cultural in this one area."

"I was not trying to address mothers of sons. I was not trying to point fingers. I just want us to think," she wrote. "When it comes to culpability I think we are ALL responsible for keeping girls safe, and this is one way, as a mom, I am simply trying to do that."