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Thoughts on covering up, slut-shaming and the nature of masculinity

January 8, 2010

I’m going to call out some bull-shit.

To follow-up on Elizabeth’s post yesterday about rape prevention and culture, and some of the comments that twisted the author’s thoughts in that posts: I have to say some things about men, women, power, rape, and sexual assault. I read an article yesterday (via UPI) about a U.S. marine telling Australian women to “cover-up.” The marine Captain John Campbell said he saw too much skin during a night in Darwin, Australia:

“It’s about having standards, ladies,” he said in the letter published Tuesday. “What are standards? Well, it can begin by dressing in a manner that leaves something to the imagination, to say the least.”

He [Campbell] said women who “dress with less than nothing on” are sending men mixed messages.

This is just another horrid example of blaming the victim. For example: “How does one not expect to get raped if  she wears a mini-skirt?” Because, of course [insert sarcasm], when a woman chooses to wear revealing clothing, she is basically saying to the world, “Hey, please sexually assault me today!” WRONG. In other words, should a man be victim-blamed if he wears short, tight pants and then gets sexually assaulted?

Additionally, Captain Campbell is reinforcing the idea that men cannot control their sexual urges when they see women wearing revealing clothing. This implies that men don’t have control, which is not only wrong but diminishes the power of men. Women can wear whatever they want. And men are able to control their sexual urges.

It also makes me cringe when a woman tells me that she “likes” being catcalled on the street all the time. Yeah, it’s nice occasionally. But depending on the situation, for myself, I don’t like it. I feel powerless. So stop with the crappy victim-blaming, commenter trolls (you know who you are). And if you forget about GAB’s comments policy, it’s here. Let’s talk about rape prevention, culture, power at a respectable level.

So I guess I’m going back to my oppression, masculinity, and power post I wrote months ago, you might want to take a look; it addresses many of the issues above, including victim-blaming, which needs to stop.

Do you have any thoughts/comments about rape prevention and culture, masculinity, and oppression that you’d like to share?

9 Comments
  1. hippocampa permalink
    January 8, 2010 9:09 am

    That Campbell guy expresses exactly why what he proposes doesn’t work: “Leave something to the imagination”. That implies that it is more exciting for him to see less of the naked skin, doesn’t it?
    And that is the whole point, it’s not about the dress of a woman, but the fact that the person is a woman.
    A while back they did some research in Egypt about sexual harassment, and it turned out it didn’t matter a hoot whether the women were “modestly dressed” or not (BBC report here).
    My theory is that if a woman is demure, she risks an assault because she looks like if she can be easily dominated, and if she’s brazen and self conscious, she risks being assaulted in order to “teach her her place”.
    It’s indeed what you say, as if men can’t control their urges? People blaming the victim have no respect for men, and obviously also not for women.

  2. Jessica Mack permalink*
    January 8, 2010 9:48 am

    Good post, Emily. The point about being able to wear what one wants and expect indifferent treatment is an interesting one. While I wholeheartedly agree that wearing a short skirt does NOT and should NOT enable sexual misconduct or abuse, I think it’s a mistake for women, men, or anyone for that matter to assume that he/she can wear what he/she wants and be treated the same. Because I well understand the threat of sexual violence, starting or even comments when I go out in a short skirt, I’m conscious of how I cover up depending on where I am. I feel OK altering my behavior because I KNOW I can’t trust most men, and I would rather than flout that.

    We are social creatures who rely on superficial indicators (skin, clothes, language) to gauge identity and personality. If a man were to wear a speedo and a shirt walking down the street, he would get laughed at most likely, not cat called. But he would be ogled and perhaps ridiculed, and yes, judged for what he wore. It’s no different for women.

    I see young girls wearing completely inappropriate clothes all the time. Should they be penalized with disrespect and abuse? of COURSE not. That is another issue. But we have to realize that how we present ourselves visually to others will inevitably indicate how they think of us or treat us. We should be more cognizant of that connection. As much as there is no excuse for a man to abuse or disrespect a woman, we women also DO have a responsibility and agency in that situation — whether it’s fighting back or helping prevent that from happening to begin with. To me, that is empowering, and not burdening.

    • January 8, 2010 10:31 am

      I would make a distinction between agency and responsibility. Agency: if you know that you’re likelier to get harassment or abuse because you’re dressed in a certain way, then you have the right to decide to avoid it or the right to dress the way you want to dress despite what will happen but you don’t have a responsibility to do either.

      (But you know what? In my experience, harassment and abuse happens no matter what a woman wears. I’ve been harassed when covered in several layers head-to-toe against winter weather. The only thing I ever did to my appearance that reduced the amount of street harassment I had to cope with was when I dyed my hair deep wine red when I lived in San Francisco. It went from daily comments and whistles to pretty much nothing overnight. ).

  3. January 8, 2010 4:45 pm

    By focusing on clothing, we are still placing responsibility on women, not the criminals. It is not the survivor’s fault that someone else is committing a crime against them and tries to use their appearance as an excuse. Yes, I know that in our culture, we judge people by what they wear. People dressed in expensive clothing get treated better, people in tattered clothing not so much ect. But expecting women to alter their behavior and presentation, even in a real or perceived threat of assault is still sexist. It is still a form of oppression having to constantly police yourself when you should not have to. You should be safe and secure in your gender from harassment. Women are raped because they are women. Not by their dress, or anything else. It is their gender. It is about power. And in patriarchy, women are controlled via fear. The best way to enact this form of control is to enact it on their bodies. Hence, the “what did you wear to set him off” myths.

    We need to be focusing on the people committing the crime! Sure, we are taught that if we dress a certain way, or hold our keys when we walk we are safer. And we may “feel” safer doing those things. But is that really safety? Is that really freedom? It is one thing to feel safe. It is another to have it a reality for women. And according to the UN, 1 in 3 women worldwide will be sexually assaulted, women are not safe. Besides, most women are raped by people they know, in places they feel safe anyway. So, the clothing argument is just a distraction from the facts. It is not a crime to wear a mini-skirt. Some people may not like it, some may think it has no taste, or whatever. You may deserve to be written up in some fashion blog stating how silly you look, not at the police station reporting your assault.

    If you haven’t read “The Rape Of Mr. Smith” I also recommend it.
    http://www2.binghamton.edu/counseling/20-1-program/Rape%20of%20Mr.%20Smith.pdf

  4. January 8, 2010 5:35 pm

    Great post and I whole-heartedly agree. An additional point – Darwin is REALLY hot, and I’d wear as little as possible too.

  5. January 12, 2010 12:38 am

    I think you might be taking the original essay the wrong way (disclaimer: I haven’t read it).

    I’ve repeatedly had male friends/siblings/etc say something along the lines of “I try not to think X-rated stuff, but it’s just a lot easier when people around me aren’t dressed skimpily”. That’s just a basic human urge – when we see something, it’s going to stimulate a reaction. That’s no excuse for acting inappropriately on that reaction. But we shouldn’t expect people to read our minds just so we can dress however we want.

    I guess I’m trying to say that both guys and girls need to cooperate in appropriate&moral behavior. There’s a difference between being appropriately attractive and deliberately provocative, and if people are dressed like they want sexualized attention they’re going to get more of it. That’s the difference between clubbing and work – in one setting, you aren’t dressed to distract, and in the other you are. Again, however provocative someone may be it’s no excuse for assault, but I don’t think the comments and OP have addressed the real and useful relationship between how we present and how others perceive us.

    • January 12, 2010 1:01 am

      Just as an addendum to my comment, when I say “deliberately provocative”, I mean putting on your clubbing outfit and doing a minor striptease, something along those lines. Because this has actually happened in completely inappropriate places, and you know what? I don’t blame guys for thinking “That girl is sexy” when someone shows up in fishnet stockings and bends over every 5 minutes. Thinking != acting, and acting needs to be approved by both parties, as always.

    • January 12, 2010 10:51 am

      Who are you to say what is “moral” and “appropriate”? Did not realize that God was reading this blog…

      While I agree with Jessica’s statement about associating how we present ourselves to the public in order to empower ourselves, I also agree with Elizabeth’s comment on agency and responsibility, which is a *huge* part in talking about slut-shaming and sexual assault.

      This article is not about girls wearing mini skirts and skimpy clothing; it’s about how that translates to rape and sexual assault. I suggest you read Elizabeth’s comment above: I find that catcalling happens no matter what you’re wearing or what you look like. Happens to old women, skinny women, large women, young women, women wearing mini-skirts, women in sweats, etc. In fact, it also happens to men!

      Your comment does not add anything to the discussion; in fact, it is irrelevant and if you have questions for the author (myself) or for other people, ask away. We want to further this discussion of sexual assault so I would appreciate some thoughtful questions!

      I would like you to explain further about your thinking ! = acting and why acting needs to be approved by both parties. I’m not sure what you’re getting at there.

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