Professor Carolyn May
21st March, 2014
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-respect is literally defined as “a proper respect for oneself as a human being.”1 Respect, from the same dictionary, is defined as “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way.”2 Thus, it is fair to say that the act of respecting yourself is understanding that you, as a human being, are important and treating yourself in an appropriate way. However, society’s concept of self-respect has drastically altered this definition. The self-respect society preaches and teaches about is defined by society’s morals on sex and image, rather than a person’s own values.
Yahoo! Answers is a surprising place where this is clearly demonstrated. One question asked “Why do most women have no self respect about sex? Before or even during and after their marriages, the've [sic] opened their legs for just about anything and any reason.”3 Another asks whether or not strippers have any self-respect, despite showing interest in being one themself.4 Yet another asks what happened to “self respect and morals,” stating that “I never slept around like kids are doing these days. My parents stressed saving my virginity until marriage, and I am still a virgin today.”5 Of course Yahoo! Answers isn’t the only place we find this. The website Elite Daily posted an article under the Gentleman subsection of the Dating section titled “A World of Women Without Self-Respect.” Their basis of judgment on whether or not a woman has self-respect is pretty clear a few lines in: “Believe it or not, there used to be days when women respected themselves and their bodies by placing a moral value on sex. That is, they did not have sex for fun. They would abstain from licentious behavior until they were faithfully wed.”6 A review from website Examiner on a “self-help” book for girls to “gain self-respect” titled “Laid or Loved” by Jennifer Austin Leigh revealed an excerpt from the book, “Top 10 Ways to Attract a Dream Guy.” Among those were “Be respectful of yourself and him. This means knowing who you are, what you stand for, your values and being committed to living them.” However, a later one says “Dress well, and in a way that shows your personality without flashing all the goodies. Guys like style and a little intrigue, not slutty fashion.” So, even when society does attempt to define self-respect as sticking to your values and living them, it draws the line at your image and sexuality. If you love your body and value flaunting it, you still don’t have self-respect. You’re just promoting “slutty fashion.”7
Speaking of loving your body and flaunting it, it has recently become popular to take a picture of oneself with a sign to promote a message and post it on a public forum, such as Tumblr or Instagram. I’ve come across two of these on a Tumblr in the form of gifs. Each of these gifs is basically the same thing. A girl unzips her jacket or lifts up her shirt and over her otherwise naked breasts, she has a sign taped that reads “self-respect.” In war with these images, I have seen others posing full on nude or nearly nude with a sign reading the same thing: “self-respect.” Then there are the images containing women who are chubby or fat and once again, nude or nearly nude, with signs proclaiming their self-respect and self-love for their body, fat and all. So, what’s the difference here? All of these girls have self-respect, according to the literal definition. Each of them is treating themselves and their bodies according to their own personal values. However, the girls in the first example are doing something else: they are attempting to measure other people’s self-respect by their own standard. By questioning someone’s self-respect based on the status of their virginity, or whether or not they believe in placing a moral value on sex at all, by teaching young girls self-respect by teaching them about sexual morals, not about loving themselves, we are lying about what self-respect actually is. Beloved character Inigo Montoya once said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” What society really says when it teaches and preaches this kind of self-respect is, “I don’t respect then, so I refuse to believe they respect themselves.” Self-respect is not defined by society’s standards, your mother’s standards, your spouse’s standards, or anyone’s standards but personal ones. Whether or not, someone respects you does not define if you respect yourself – you do.
1. “self-respect.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2014. Web. 21 March 2014.
2. “respect.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2014. 3. Stratec. “Why do most women have no self respect about sex?” Yahoo! Answers. Yahoo!. Web. 28 March 2014. 4. Cheryl. “Do you think strippers have no self respect?” Yahoo! Answers. Yahoo!. Web. 28 March 2014. 5. Cory. “What happened to self respect and morals?” Yahoo! Answers. Yahoo!. Web. 28 March 2014. 6. Waters, Preston. “A World of Women Without Self-Respect.” Elite Daily. Elite Daily. 15 June 2012. Web. 28 March 2014. 7. Wagner, Jennifer. “Self-help book for teen girls to gain self-respect” Examiner. Examiner, 7 July 2009. Web. 21 March 2014.