After a disappointing discussion with a close friend, I’ve attempted to put into writing a compilation of the horrors that women face on a daily basis and how they relate to societal norms as a whole. This is a solution that took me four years to learn, despite encountering the problem consistently since the age of 12… My friend insisted that although a woman doesn’t deserve to be harassed, she’s making a conscious decision to accept the likelihood of harassment when she exposes skin. In his example, the fictional girl is wearing short-shorts.
You might be more interested in simply arguing the point that wearing short-shorts in public is a stupid idea. Skip to the bottom if that’s your issue. But I suggest you read the stuff in the middle because the middle explains why blaming the victim creates a chain reaction and LITERALLY RUINS EVERYTHING OH MY GOODNESS. The end talks about why blaming harassment on clothing is stupid. The middle talks about why blaming harassment on clothing is such an incredibly fucked up thing to do in the first place. Ok.
HERE WE GO! Are you ready??
The implication that by wearing “short shorts” a woman is making a conscious choice to be catcalled, or is accepting her likelihood to be harassed, does not put sole responsibility on a woman’s shorts. Instead, it puts responsibility on everything a woman wears. How revealing an outfit is is subjective. To most people raised in American culture, a sundress is tasteful and casual; to other cultures, a female exposing any skin whatsoever is a disgrace. When a woman experiences harassment, the first question she is asked, or what is always wondered, is “What was she wearing?”
There are lots of reasons why this is a fucked up thing to say. There are lots of reasons why the reason that all of these fucked up things happen is because of that ONE LITTLE IMPLICATION that what a lady wears has a part in the way a stranger makes her feel uncomfortable. You should not imply this. Here is why.
- What men consider attractive and alluring is not unanimous. If a guy has a thing for skinny jeans and thinks that they’re sexy, he will tell you so. Again, modesty is relative. If you enforce the idea that a woman can protect herself by being modest, you enforce the idea that men can’t control themselves.
- The age-old suggestion to “cover up,” which women have been told for centuries, thousands of years, is ineffective. “You were wearing short shorts” becomes “you were wearing high heels, you were wearing a dress, you were wearing tight pants, you were wearing a tight shirt, you smiled, you were wearing an awful lot of makeup.”
- This gives abusers an excuse to continue abusing. It implies that a woman’s clothing is her consent — even just a little bit. Telling a woman that she has control over her harassment is not just a slippery slope. It is a sheer drop into a dark abyss. This statement is entirely male-oriented. It insists that women dress for the approval of men. It insists that women should interrupt their lives to appease men.
- Blaming the victim’s shorts leaves all women feeling alone, wondering who will sympathize with them, feeling embarrassed and ashamed. You leave men with every excuse imaginable, and you leave women with all of the guilt imaginable.
- Literally ANY responsibility placed on the victim will make the victim feel ashamed.
Now have an analogy that is in my opinion far better than the ever-popular comparison of a woman in a revealing outfit to a valuable object in a rough part of town:
When your house has termites, you call an exterminator. You purchase insecticide. You work to prevent further termite damage. Similar to a home with termites, when your community has chauvinistic men with a penchant for sexual harassment, you instruct women not to go out at night and to try to avoid busy streets. You also instruct women to avoid deserted streets. Despite hot weather, you might tell a woman to cover up.
Now back to the termites: when you have termites, you take it upon yourself to get rid of the termites, because termites are termites. But when you’ve got lecherous men, you should not have to take it upon yourself to protect yourself. Men are not termites. By repeating over and over that “boys will be boys,” you are basically saying that, sorry, men are termites. The “boys will be boys” motto is a pathetic way to excuse male immaturity and irresponsibility. It is rampant in our culture, force-fed from birth. If you’re a man, you might find this offensive, and you probably should. But instead, you have fun. When you catcall women, you’re just being a boy! It’s in your nature! You are not held to any societal standard except for reckless masculinity! It’s a free pass to do whatever the fuck you want, and since women are raised to be submissive, polite, and responsible — the exact opposite of the male motto — when women depart from these structures, we are condemned, mocked, blamed, made to be ashamed, our worth diminished. And men suffer from this, too.
All of these things come back to the idea that women are docile, that women are property, that women are decoration, that women are wishing wells waiting for compliment-coins, that women owe kindness to strangers, that women should always smile, that women should dress for men, that women do dress for men, that women exist for men… That men own the world, and a woman on the street without a male companion belongs to the men who pass her by. It reinforces the popular, often subconscious belief that this world is not ours to occupy or explore. That not even our bodies or clothing are ours. That the streets belong to men. That we belong to our boyfriends.
Last year I was leaving a restaurant in a nice part of town, on a date with my boyfriend at the time. A stranger approached us. He looked at me, then looked at my boyfriend. He told my boyfriend that I was hot. He told my boyfriend that I was pretty. He congratulated my boyfriend. And just before he turned to walk away, he told my boyfriend to keep me on a leash.
When a woman is alone, she’s catcalled and harassed, sexualized and objectified. When a woman is accompanied by a male partner, the objectification doesn’t stop. But she isn’t addressed — the partner is, because she’s a fancy car or a nice watch and he owns her.
Regarding safety, sexual assault, rape, and a woman’s clothing:
It’s important to note that most rapes are committed by friends or acquaintances of the victim, NOT a stranger in an alley. Most rapes are also planned in advance. What a woman wears is actually unimportant.
Rape is one of the most underreported crimes in the world because of the backlash people face when speaking up. Again, this revolves around “what were you wearing? where were you going? what were you drinking? you had a choice, you should have known better.”
Plenty of assaulted women are not dressed sexily, including women draped in head-to-toe burqas. Interestingly, veiled women are blamed, too: “He must have seen a bit of her ankle, wrist, hair, neck… Who could resist!?”
Via research conducted by the University of Minnesota: “Over 50% of reported rapes occur in the home. 80% of sexual assaults reported by college age women and adult women were perpetrated by close friends or family members. There is no common profile of a rapist. Rapes are committed by people from all economic levels, all races, all occupations. A rapist can be your doctor, your boss, your clergyman, your superintendent, your partner, your lover, your friend or your date.”
"No other crime victim is looked upon with the degree of suspicion and doubt as a victim of rape. Although there are numerous reasons why society has cast blame on the victims of rape, a major reason found in studies is that of a feeling of self protection. If one believes that the victim was responsible because she put herself in an unsafe position, such as being out late at night, drinking alcohol, dressing in a certain way, or "leading on" the rapist, then we are able to feel safer because "we wouldn’t do those things." But, the basic fact remains that without consent, no means no, no matter what the situation or circumstances."