Clothes Make the Man, but Where Does That Leave Women?

by adriennelindsay

Last year, around Valentine’s Day 2012, a female at BYU received a note from a male student while studying in the library. At first, she thought it was a note from a potential admirer. Instead, the page contained a brief reprimand, the gist being that she was dressed too provocatively, and that she should think about the “negative effects” her outfit could have on men. The girl in question later posted a picture to twitter and revealed that she was wearing a knee length dress with black tights and a cardigan. Hardly any skin was exposed other than her hands, neck, and face.

My cousin, in his early thirties and married, brought the story to Facebook, and to my attention. Of course, I immediately assumed he was speaking out in surprise over how ridiculous the actions of the anonymous male student were. Why should does an individual have a responsibility to take into consideration the possible effects the clothes he/she wears might have on another human being?

But alas, we all know what happens when you assume. I found that while my cousin thought the particular situation a bit silly, he ultimately believed that women do need to realize that the clothing they wear can have a negative effect on men, and therefore, should take care when getting dressed every day, lest they look like the are “asking for it.”

Here, an excerpt from his thoughts on the subject:

“My point was that even though people have the choice to dress however they want, they should choose—for their own sake, to dress in a way that doesn’t draw negative attention, etc. to themselves. How one dresses reflects, fairy or unfairly, on their character as a person. Having said that, people shouldn’t be judged by how they dress. But the broader issue is there are many, many men who lust after females dressed “provocatively”—that’s their (the men’s) responsibility. But there’s also responsibility on the part of girls to not invite that. (And parents to explain to their kids the various choices they have and the consequences of those choices.) Yes, I feel that way. Dressing like that is an invitation. Is that an uneducated or sexist viewpoint? No. Obviously that invitation should never be taken. At the same time, I think most women don’t even remotely begin to understand how the male brain works when it comes to sex. I’m not making any excuses—For people who are concerned about these issues, it takes effort on both sides…”

I suppose that maybe, having had a year to cool off, I am less prone to ripping my hair out whenever I revisit this conversation. And yet, there are still pieces of it I find unacceptable. “Dressing like that is an invitation. Is that an uneducated or sexist viewpoint? No.” YES. Yes it is. If I see a man wearing crocs and kakhi pants, is that an invitation for me to seize the nearest boulder and throw it at his face to punish him for his poor fashion sense? Is sexual harassment a suitable RSVP to the “invitation” of the skirt I wear on New Year’s Eve, or the pair of heels I wear to my company Holiday party?

Obviously, my cousin doesn’t do his research. Otherwise he’d know that most rape victims were dressed in baggy jeans and oversized sweatshirts when they were attacked, such clothing that could hardly be described as “flashy” or “asking for it.” Rape is a despicable action, and it is often a senseless act carried out as a power play. As I woman I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that any woman would ever ask for her body, mind, and safety to be violated like that. Instead, I guess the asking is implied by being a part of the “inferior sex.”

Just because I choose to wear dresses and like to look nice does not mean I am accepting responsibility for the way someone else chooses to behave because they are not mature enough to realize I am also a human being and deserve the same kind of respect as every other person on the planet.

Bad fashion choices, short skirts, a babushka, it doesn’t matter to me. The point is freedom of expression. Don’t take mine away, I’ll let you leave with crocs untarnished.

Oh, and my cousin? I replied, a bit heavier handed, hopped up on anger and self-righteousness (I was wearing a skirt above the knee that day), but still persuasive and professionally. The thread stayed up on Facebook just long enough for him to read my response, and then suddenly, the entire conversation was gone. My aunt later sent me a message congratulating me on putting him in his place. Funny how that works.

And when we all got together for Thanksgiving later that year, he didn’t say a thing about my skirt.