It's time to stop policing women's clothing and start raising our expectations of men.

When it comes to what we wear, women can't win.

There was a time in our history when a woman showing her ankles in public was considered whorish. That sounds extreme and ridiculous now, of course, but the same mindset that compelled women to wear floor-length, chin-high dresses—that men are basically animals with limited self-control—is still alive and well.

We see it in school dress codes that disallow off-the-shoulder shirts because shoulders are too sexy for boys to handle. We see it in op-eds about how leggings are causing boys and men to stumble. We see it in debates over exactly how many inches a skirt length or tank top strap needs to be in order to be considered modest enough to rescue boys and men from the abyss of lust and temptation.


The fact that humans engage in such debates while simultaneously sexualizing women to sell just about everything is a perplexing paradox. The fact that bikinis and burqas are both icons of objectification is an equally confusing conundrum. And since everything between those extremes is subjective, we slip into a sea of unanswerable questions: How much skin is too much skin? How much of a woman's leg is acceptable to see in public? Are shoulders and collarbones too sexy? How about knees and ankles?

We emerge with no answers, but one clear conclusion: Women can't win, no matter what we wear. Is it possible that our clothing is not the problem?

We have plenty of examples of men separating women's clothing from their sexual impulses, so the idea that men simply can't help themselves when they see skin is bunk.

The way some people talk, you'd think that men have zero control over how they see a woman. If her shirt shows a centimeter too much cleavage, or if her pants hug a curve a little too tightly, it's all over for the poor, helpless dude.

But is that always the case? For the folks who have an issue with leggings—have you ever seen a woman bobsledder or speed skater in the Olympics? They wear skin tight outfits that show every single curve in their bodies. But somehow I've never seen men ogling speed skaters as a habit, nor have I seen women complaining that bobsledding outfits are causing their sons/husbands/brothers to think impure thoughts.

Why? Because men are not beasts, incapable of compartmentalizing and contextualizing what they're looking at.

Is it possible that some men watch figure skating in order to look at women in skimpy leotards? Sure. Do some men watch women's swimming events just to see the women's bodies in their suits? Maybe. But my guess is not many do. Most men recognize that the outfit and the body parts it might reveal are secondary to the feats the woman is performing on the ice or in the water, so they compartmentalize accordingly.

How is that possible? Because it's not about what women are wearing.

When we make women responsible for men's thoughts, we do a disservice to both women and men.

It is grossly unfair to tell girls that they are responsible for the thoughts of the boys around them—but that's the message they get when we tell them their clothes are a "distraction." And boys get the message, too. What do we expect to happen when we tell boys that their sexual thoughts can't be helped and are caused by a girl's clothing choice?

We’re still having to fight the erroneous idea that women and girls “ask” to be raped by the way they dress. While there's a place for discussing clothing as an element of how we present ourselves to the world, as soon as we put blame on women because boys and men can't control themselves, we are on the wrong path.

We've got to stop selling the idea that men are helpless slaves to their sex drives, because it's simply not true. Yes, sexual thoughts happen. Yes, you might see things that turn you on. But being human means rising above animal instincts. You have the ability to shift your gaze. You are capable of choosing how you view someone. We all have to manage our thoughts and exercise self-control, and the only person responsible for what's happening inside your head is you.

Responsibility for men's thoughts and actions should not be placed on women's shoulders. Ever.

Besides, if women were to stop wearing everything that might have a chance of turning on a man, we’d be back to the era of chin-high, floor-length dresses again. And even then, some men would still objectify women. Because it's not about what women wear and never has been.

It's long past time we start start raising society's expectations of men instead of focusing on women's clothing.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less