Trigger Warning: This blog post talks about the themes of sexual assault and victim-blaming.
In the US, one in five women and one in sixteen men will be sexually assaulted while in college (National Sexual Violence Resource Center).
CAPS Crisis Center Hotline: (408) 554-4501
Before I moved away for my first year of college, my parents sat me down at the dinner table one night to have a talk with me. The realities about on-campus sexual assault had become clearer over the past decade or so, and so my well-intentioned parents wanted to have a no-bullshit talk with their daughter about her safety. They went over binge-drinking, the buddy system, emergency contact numbers, and towards the end my dad casually added, “Oh, and be conscious about what you wear when you go out to parties.” A loving comment, supporting victim-blaming culture, rooted in true concern about his daughter’s well-being. It was a no-nonsense piece of advice, no beating around the bush about the issue. If you wear sexually appealing clothing, something that shows a bit more skin for the guys, of course you should expect to get more attention.
Clothing can be a powerful and empowering source of self-confidence. An outfit is an outlet for your personality, a way to express your identity. It can shape the way that others see you. So yes, sometimes when I’m feeling confident, I wear an outfit that I know will get me some compliments and a bit of attention at a party; a low-cut top, a tight dress, something that shows some midriff. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t care about people’s reactions to my outfit, because in this situation, that’s part of the point of wearing it. But more importantly, I’m out to dance, have fun with my friends, drink, and hopefully avoid a hangover the next morning. I’m not asking to get raped.
But unfortunately, when victims of rape report their rape to their college or the police, one of the questions they’re often asked is, “What were you wearing that night?” And many victims are stunned by the question, thinking to themselves, “What do my clothes have to do with the horrible thing that happened to me?”
The implication behind this question is that what a victim was wearing during their assault can legitimize or delegitimize their rape. If a girl wears a short, tight skirt while she went out drinking, maybe she was “asking for it”, especially if she was flirting with the guys at the bar. She was certainly looking for sexual attention, so she shouldn’t have been surprised or alarmed if one of the guys gave it to her. With the way she was dressed, getting attention was inevitable.
I don’t think people in our society believe that they’re engaging in victim-blaming when they make these comments. To them, they’re just speaking truth. When men are aroused, and clearly the girl in the above scenario was trying to arouse them on purpose, their judgement gets foggy and they can lose control. They start thinking with their pants and not with their brains. And that’s when sexual assault can happen.
This assumption is not only dangerous, it’s blatantly insulting men. Saying that men lose the ability to control themselves is saying that they revert to animals the second they see something that arouses them. A woman’s leg, or the back of her thigh, or an off-the-shoulder top can undo thousands of years of evolution? It can devolve men to the point of being unable to make rational decisions? They simply become beings of instinct without any control over themselves? This assumption strips men of complexity, of moral compass, of intelligence, of their ability to make choices. One of the most fundamental, universal assumptions in our society is that humans have the ability to make choices. It separates us from being nothing more than hairless apes. It’s the foundation for our government, for our economy, for our structure of society. We are autonomous beings, with a degree of complexity, intelligence, and self-awareness unlike any other species known to humankind. But the second a man sees too much skin, he loses that autonomy and becomes a slave to his sexual impulses, because he is nothing more than a meathead. That is ridiculous. That is insulting. That is directly contradictory to the basic foundations of our society. That is exactly what we are saying to all young men, not just rapists, when we blame sexual assault on someone’s skirt.
When a victim is told that if they had worn less revealing clothes that night they wouldn’t have been raped, it’s not just damaging emotionally and psychologically, but it shifts the blame for their attack away from their attacker and onto their tight jeans or their crop-tops. It misses the bottom line- that no matter what you are or aren’t wearing, no one has the right to have sex with you without your consent. Whether or not you were looking for sexual attention, no one has the right to have sex with you without your consent. If you were flirtatious or not, no one has the right to have sex with you without your consent. You could skip through the streets, completely naked, and no one would have the right to have sex with you without your consent. You could dance around completely nude in someone’s bedroom, and they would not have the right to have sex with you without your consent. With or without clothes, in a nun’s habit or in your underwear, sex without consent is sexual assault. And clothing cannot give consent.
Slut Walk is a transnational movement against sexual assault, victim blaming, and rape culture. Our bottom line- it is NEVER the survivor's fault, and blaming rape on the survivor's clothing is NEVER OKAY. We march for all survivors. Show your support for Slut Walk by attending this Friday, April 28th from 12-4 between the Learning Commons and Benson Memorial Center. The march starts at 2:30.
- Sarah Locklin
Feminists For Justice (FFJ) PC