A high school principal from Grand Rapids, Michigan, says he stands by his controversial opinion that girls should dress modestly to preserve their virginity.
Jim Bazen, principal at Plymouth Christian High School, posted the online editorial five days ago on Michigan Live, and it has since sparked outrage among women’s rights activists and prompted several thousand people to weigh in on the divisive topic.
Bazen posted the editorial in response to a Grand Rapids Press opinion piece about sexism and school dress codes. He said that because men are sexually distracted by bare or tightly-covered skin that “young ladies should cover up” rather than be considered sex objects.
“I stand by what I wrote because I think that dressing provocatively is degrading to women,” Bazen, 48, tells PEOPLE. “Now, I also wish I’d added, ‘Men, you need to control your eyes. You need to look away instead of make a woman a sex object in your mind.’ But I stand by my basic thought: The way to help women is to get rid of pornography, and get rid of the dress that is provocative.”
Because students wear uniforms at Plymouth Christian High School, Bazen doesn’t have to make the call as to whether a girl’s blouse is too low-cut or her skirt is too short.
“I’m coming at this from a biblical and Christian perspective,” he tells PEOPLE exclusively. “In Timothy 2, Verse 9, it says that women should wear modest clothing. People can call me a pervert or whatever they want, but the fact is, I am coming from the point of total depravity. I don’t put myself above anybody. I say to the ladies, ‘Please dress in a non-provocative way.’ And I need to control my eyes as well and not think in a lustful way.”
Stunned by Bazen’s comments, women’s rights activists in Michigan are firing back.
“Why is that women always have to take the blame for men’s objectification?” Marissa Luna with the nonprofit group, Progress Michigan, tells PEOPLE. “It’s like he’s letting men off the hook, saying, ‘This is how their minds work,’ instead of saying that we should teach young people to respect each other as a real solution.”
Luna, 25, responded to Bazen with an opinion piece of her own, saying that women are tired of being policed and sexualized over what they are wearing.
“Jim Bazen is the problem, not women and girls who wear what they want without the expectation that they are going to be policed or objectified,” she says. “[His] sexist attitude towards women and his proposed solution actually only further engrains the type of thinking that women are sex objects.”
Lori Carpentier, CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, tells PEOPLE that school dress codes are not the answer.
“We agree that there is inherent sexism in many school dress codes,” she says. “This is why we offer age-appropriate, medically-accurate sex education that teaches young people about self-respect, respect for the bodily integrity of others and how to abstain from sexual activity. The best way for young people – male or female – to protect their virginity, is to learn how to set their own boundaries and to respect the boundaries of others.”
“Dr. Dobson says that the two sexiest parts of a woman’s body are her legs and her breasts,” Bazen tells PEOPLE. “A short skirt with a lot of leg showing can incite things in a guy’s mind. And if a blouse is low-cut on top, that is also something that will provoke lustful thoughts.”
“I’ve done a number of surveys of the male population, and it’s almost unanimous on this issue,” he adds. “They are affected by revealing clothing. It does have a turn-on effect. I’m not anti-women. I just don’t want them to be seen as sex objects.”