Meme comparing protecting an iPad with women dressing modestly sparks debate

Photo: Twitter/Getty Images

Memes are like the proverbs of our day — an easy way for people to communicate commonly held beliefs when they don’t feel they have the right words themselves. One meme that made the rounds last year and has just resurfaced on Twitter this week is communicating a message many find problematic. Here’s the message of the meme: Just as girls should put a cover on their iPads to protect their value, they should dress modestly to protect themselves.

“Once my dad forwarded this to me on Facebook, and I don’t think I’ve rolled my eyes so far back in my life,” Twitter user Gwen wrote, posting a screenshot of the story. In three days, the post has 2,000 retweets, more than 6,000 likes, and 185 comments from others who are not OK with this analogy.

“A girl bought an iPad, when her father saw it,” the story begins. “He asked her “What was the 1st thing you did when you bought it?’ ‘I put an anti-scratch sticker on the screen and bought a cover for the iPad,’ she replied.”

He goes on to ask about why she covered the iPad and whether she thought it decreased the device’s value or beauty. Of course, the answer is no.

“Yet if I had asked you to cover your body which is much more precious than the iPad, would you have readily agreed?” he asks in the end. “Indecent dressing and exposure of your body reduces your value and respect.”

This isn’t just a story that should make young women groan out of exasperation with their out-of-touch parents. It’s dangerous, particularly when you assume the woman’s “value” includes her safety from sexual assault.

“Not only is that a victim-blaming idea that presents a double standard for the expectations of how women dress compared with men, but it also takes responsibility away from people who perpetrate sexual violence,” Laura Palumbo, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, tells Yahoo Beauty. “Although people may react that this is a well-intentioned or protective way for a father to react, it’s something that for that daughter sends the message that is very shaming and blaming about their body. It suggests that their body is a problem to be solved by the way that it is dressed.”

Unless the father is literally talking about wearing protective gear during extreme sports, the assumption that dressing modestly protects women is also false. Palumbo said that 1 in 3 women worldwide is a victim of either domestic violence or sexual assault, and that’s a problem that persists across all cultures regardless of the standards of modesty.

Another problem with a simplistic analogy like this is that its focus is on young women, when children, men, and the elderly are also victims of sexual assault. “Not only does this meme send a negative and victim-blaming message to women, but it also confirms the myth in our culture that makes all of these other survivors of sexual assault invisible,” Palumbo noted.

Many commenters on Gwen’s tweet found the story offensive.

But others found some humor in it as well.

If there are parents out there who are looking for a good, positive message to tell their children about how they dress and present themselves to the world, Palumbo has a suggestion: “Send a message to children that no matter what they are choosing to wear, they are always worthy of respect and of having their boundaries honored.”

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