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Davis, California

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Dress to impress (or, you know, not)

If you’ve ever worn a skirt (or shorts, or a dress, or heels, etc.), chances are you’ve been catcalled by some random dude you never have, and probably never will, meet. It’s also highly probable that after said catcall, you felt exceedingly self-conscious about what you were wearing. Are my shorts too short? Is my top too low? Would creepy strangers leave me alone if I were wearing sweatpants?

The answers to these questions are clearly, emphatically, no. But sometimes, when you’re all alone on the street somewhere, it’s easy to question, or even blame yourself, for the offensive choices of others. Or maybe you’re the kind of person who has the guts to call these assholes out on their behavior — in which case, you’re awesome. Keep up the good work.

However, this type of self-blame happens far too often and it’s not necessarily just a case of being too intimidated to respond to the aggression of others. In fact, I would argue that this self-blame is the result of some much larger issues that revolve around the way we perceive and police women’s bodies — namely, the clothing they choose to wear.

Take, for example, the Steubenville rape case that happened in 2012, in which a girl was brutally raped by a group of boys from the local high school football team. Rather than condemning these boys for the heinous crime they committed, there was an overwhelming amount of support to protect their reputations as star football players. Furthermore, the victim was ostracized by her community and made out to be just as guilty as her rapists because of things like what she’d had to drink, and what kinds of clothes she’d been wearing, which are ridiculous attempts to justify the brutal crimes of actual criminals.

This is just one example of many. There are tons of similar cases out there that prove that the urge to justify criminal behavior is exceedingly common, and it comes at the expense of women’s bodies. It’s no wonder then, that there’s an urge to pull down our skirts at the sight of an ogling creep a few feet away. We want to protect ourselves, not just from physical violence, but fromthe common knowledge that if something were to happen to us, one of the first questions asked would be in regards to our wardrobe.

Sound crazy? Well, that’s because it is. But the lengths that we go to in order to police women’s bodies no doubt instills in us a kind of fear that makes these types of things legitimate concerns — things like school dress codes that train girls to cover up and keep from being punished, or the shaming of women who “show too much skin,” or who have the audacity to embrace their own sexuality.

Issues like these make it clear that perceptions about gendered clothing perpetuate rape culture with claims like “she was wearing a tight dress and therefore she was asking for it.” This type of rhetoric hurts survivors of sexual abuse and victimizes sexual abusers, the criminals. This is why, in 2014, the knee-jerk reaction to rape is to question the validity of the victim’s claims. It’s why we have women like Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University student, who has taken to carrying her mattress around campus as a statement against the school’s decision to not remove her rapist from the university. It’s why the clothing we choose to wear is indicative of our worth when it comes to the amount of support we get when crimes are committed against us.

This needs to change. Here are a few simple steps we can take to ensure that it does: Stop shaming people for wearing what they want. It’s not your body. Therefore, your opinion, like other people’s wardrobes, is totally irrelevant. Don’t blame the victim, because wearing a skirt is nowhere near as offensive as raping someone. Furthermore, don’t blame yourself if you ever are, or ever have been, a victim. I don’t care if you’re wearing a miniskirt or a parka because it is truly, without a doubt, not your fault.

And dudes, stop catcalling. That is seriously the worst.

 

If you want to join the fight to stop catcalls 2k14, contact ctspiller@ucdavis.edu.

 

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