Note to Self: Women May Dress Any Way They Want

I had my first “a-ha!” moment in a while yesterday and since it’s been so long since my outlook on something shifted on a dime, I thought it would be important to share. I’m sure most men think the way I did until yesterday and now that I reflect on it, it’s embarrassing. Without any accounting for taste or style, no woman should ever be harassed, shamed, or made to feel unsafe for how she dresses. Not only that, women are asking for nothing by dressing any way they want. And they certainly don’t deserve to hear “that’s what happens when you dress that way.” Woodstock ’99 taught me that..22 years later.

Honestly, I feel like an asshole for it taking me this long to reach this conclusion. I knew for a long time it was the truth, but I always wanted to somehow give a small percentage of blame to the female. I know what dip shits guys can be and I believe women know this too, which aided me in reaching this wrong conclusion. If you know, then you shouldn’t want to dress a certain way, right?I’m a dumbass. I am sorry for my ignorant opinion and hope it never hurt anybody.

Many months ago, I posted on Instagram saying I wouldn’t follow people who showed too much skin. I wasn’t really worried about relapsing into porn. I just didn’t understand, and still don’t, why so many people want to show off their bodies. But I don’t need to understand. Just because I don’t understand something doesn’t make it wrong.

Now Let’s Talk About Woodstock

I almost went to Woodstock ’94. It was the 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock and I was 18 years old. I’d attended a bunch of huge concerts, including many by the Grateful Dead to crowds of over 100,000. I couldn’t find anybody else willing to drive to mid-state New York, about 6 hours away, or who wanted to drop the $100 or so for tickets. Now they would be $1,500 for general admission. I wanted to see acts like the Zombies and Johnny Cash, but I didn’t want to see them alone. So I stayed home.

In 1999, there was another Woodstock festival in Rome, NY. A lot changed in five years. Music that made you think by artists like Pearl Jam, REM, Arrested Development or Tori Amos was replaced by the hook-laden anger metal of bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit and Rage Against the Machine. You weren’t going to hear U2 talk about ending world debt. You were going to hear The Red Hot Chili Peppers play an encore of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” while food and souvenir stands were set ablaze during the final night of the festival.

Why Are You Teaching Us About A 22-Year-Old Festival?

I watched a lot of that festival on MTV… until MTV bailed. Deemed too dangerous by their producers on-site, the VJs, camera people and other staff fled by early afternoon on Day 3 of the festival. The heat, dehydration, lack of food, adrenaline-fueling music and copious amounts of alcohol and drugs left a lot of people on edge by the end of the long weekend. What was supposed to be an idyllic tribute to the spirit of the 1969 festival, much like the 1994 reboot was, did not end as planned.

I was 23 years old in 1999 and spent most of that year in a part-time job doing design for a daily newspaper. I didn’t need much money because I saved a lot working in Japan the year earlier. One thing I learned living in Tokyo as a 22-year-old straight, white American male: I was the world’s asshole and with good reason. All of the men in their 40s and early 50s causing so much strife in the world today? These were the young men/old boys who caused Woodstock ’99 to end with riot police and hundreds of firefighters trying to quell dozens of major blazes.

Ironically, the final song played at the festival, as it burned to the ground, was Megadeth’s “Peace Sells But Nobody Is Buying.” Even at 23, I couldn’t stand my contemporaries, be they entitled frat boys or angst-ridden, pre-emo depressive types. I was in the process of evolving from one set of friends to another because the former were starting to act like douchebags. Going to Woodstock ’99 was never a consideration.

A Different Kind of Woodstock Movie

Last night, I saw a documentary on HBO Max detailing how that iteration of Woodstock went so bad, so fast. It was poorly planned by a couple of original Woodstock promoters who, now in their late 50s by 1999, didn’t understand youth culture anymore. Sure, they could book the music, but they couldn’t tell you what made it popular.

They could attract 400,000 kids and young adults, but they couldn’t tell you who was arriving, or why. This documentary highlighted two of the types of people who attended: that mid-to-late 20s former frat boy looking to get his unexplainable anger and frustration at the world out through the metal bands that would be playing, and the late teens/early 20s female who still embraced hippie culture and was there for the likes of Alanis Morissette and Jewel. Get those boys drunk and those girls high and you’ve got a bad formula.

Things Take An Even Darker Turn

Toward the end of the documentary, the filmmakers listed some of the damning statistics of that weekend in New York. Among them was the fact that 10 rapes and dozens of other sexual assaults were reported. It’s estimated hundreds more were never officially recorded. Most disgustingly, one of the organizers said something like, “it was only 10.” That’s 10 more than should have ever happened. These guys didn’t care. The original “Peace, Love and Music” guys in 1969 were now getting rich off $4 bottled water in 1999.

I’m guessing it’s long dead, but in the mid-90s, there was still (or maybe it was renewed) interest in hippie culture. That style of hippie folk music morphed into Sarah McLachlan, Dave Matthews or The Indigo Girls, but was still contemporary and non-threatening in 1999.

The females finding themselves at Woodstock ’99 also found themselves with an interesting option. They could participate in the nostalgic 1969 act of public nudity with a 1999 spin. Now, there were booths where young women could be body painted while a crowd of these frat boys watched the disrobing, painting and final reveal. While there were some of the greatest musicians of the era playing nearby, hundreds of these guys wanted to watch the breasts of women five years (or more) their junior.

This Photo and lead photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels

Of Course There Was Pornography of Woodstock ’99

I discovered Woodstock ’99 pornography online some point after the festival. Apparently some of these body paint vendors found another avenue for revenue, posting video of these girls getting painted. When many people think of body painting, they think of the illusions of clothing created for Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, or maybe animal-like creations that take hours and hours to finish. I think that is genuine art. That’s not what was happening in New York. It was little more than get the girl on-stage, make a big spectacle of getting her top and/or bottom off, paint her with something quick for 10 minutes, then reveal the whole thing to the crowd, and the home video audience.

In a world where commercials for Girls Gone Wild videos were flooding the airwaves, you’ve got to wonder how many of these Woodstock ’99 attendees realized they’d end up naked in videos on the Internet. And much like Girls Gone Wild videos, I’m going to guess the vetting process for age was perfunctory at best. If there weren’t plenty of 15-to-17 year-old girls getting painted I’d be shocked.

Also, there were plenty of topless female moments in the crowd captured on video. The throng’s bad energy was summed up when Rosie Perez had to admonish the crowd chanting, “Show Your Tits!” A celebrity in her late 30s can handle that. I’m not sure if a drunk or high 20-year-old woman being angrily directed to show her breasts for the first time has that same capacity to stand up for herself.

Facing the Truth of the Situation

Body painting was never a genre that grew on me. It’s not real nudity to me. I saw the videos and then never thought about Woodstock ’99 again. Until last night, that is.

When the documentary talked about the sexual assault and rape, I thought back to who I was at 23. I would have gawked for a few minutes at the girls being painted, then gone and listened to the music. While I hope I would have helped stop a sexual assault, I know I wouldn’t have participated. And whether walking by or crowdsurfing above me, I would not have copped an uninvited feel on a topless woman.

There were no interviews with the rapists or assaulters. Shocking, right? But I know the mindset of guys in their mid-20s back then. Sadly, it’s the same mindset of those same men (and so many others) today. The disturbing thinking is along the lines of “if a young woman is going to walk around half-naked, she needs to expect advances” or “if you don’t want to get raped, don’t walk around like that.”

Recognizing My Faulty Thinking

That kind of rationalization is bullshit at best and criminal at worst. The concept of “It’s wrong to put your hands on a woman unasked, even if she’s naked” is basic. It’s obvious. It’s about the only rule at a strip club. So why did I think for so long if a woman dressed a certain way, she should expect certain treatment? Ironically my position with nudity was it wrong to judge, but skimpily clothed was apparently OK to judge. Wow. Wrong, Josh. The easy out is saying I grew up in a different time. What happened in social and gender politics, and the amount of “looking the other way” wouldn’t stand today. But it did in 1999. That’s no excuse. I was a hypocrite.

Should women expect a man to be sexually charged and inappropriate if she’s dressed sexy? I now say no. Frankly, a woman should be able to expect more out of a guy. Should a woman expect a guy to look? Yes. That will never change in the heterosexual jungle. But like a museum, no touching. And like a museum, don’t bother anyone. Including that woman.

A woman should not have to tolerate being sexually harassed or shamed no matter what her outfit. Same with hair and makeup. Ever. Not only that, it shouldn’t be a concern. Being assaulted is something many women fear; we need to address the behavior of men that ignites that fear.

This Toxic Shit Has to Stop

We’ve got to start calling this sexism out. It’s not healthy, and I think it needs to not just start with women. Many men at 23 have the ideal of a “perfect woman.” Had I married that stereotype, we would have been divorced by 30. That’s because the definition of “perfect woman” changes, until a guy is mature enough to realize she doesn’t exist. Women, I appreciate how much you are calling out this unhealthy thinking of men. Men, when you hear another guy draw a conclusion about a woman based on appearance, correct their behavior. Call it out. Loudly. Publicly. Men who sit by idly while their friends talk like this: Cut the shit. Speak up.

Even if somebody is dressed 100% inappropriately, like showing up at the office in a bikini, they shouldn’t be mocked or treated differently. Barring mental illness, they made their decision freely, even in opposition of any dress code. They deserve the same respect you show anybody who isn’t breaking a law. Live and let live, but make sure others are letting them live, too. It’s not enough to do the right thing individually and stay silent.

Sure, you can tell a lot about a person based on the way they dress. But you can’t tell everything. And it’s just an uncool move to draw conclusions about their sexual behavior, or in any way cross a line into physical contact, based on how a woman is dressed. If you don’t like it, it’s your problem, not the woman’s. They don’t need to know better. You do.

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