I went to an ice cream shop with a friend the other day and enjoyed my favorite flavor, cookies n’ cream, while sitting on the shop’s front porch. As usual, the place was busy with families, couples on date night, and teenagers enjoying their youth. I couldn’t help but take notice, as most others did, when three teenage girls came walking up from the parking area. Each one had a similar version of the same outfit. Tank top, low cut, worn with high-heeled boots and shorts so short their butt cheeks were escaping the fabric. Their make-up was heavily applied and they seemed very aware of the attention they were receiving.
I heard one mother tell her young daughter, “Don’t think you will ever be allowed to dress like that.” The girl, who was probably about seven or eight, replied with big eyes, “I know, I won’t.” But then said a little softer, “But boys like girls who dress like that.” I turned away, but not before I saw the mother’s look of shock.
In the past couple of months, and even more so in the last two weeks, we have heard numerous accounts of prominent men being called out for sexual harassment and assault. Yet, it still surprises me every time I hear women saying that they are free to dress and act any way they want and the men are all, 100 percent, to blame. Now, before every women’s rights activist starts shouting that we shouldn’t blame the victim, let me say that no woman deserves to be treated with disrespect, harassment, or violence. Men need to keep their hands, and every other body part, to themselves unless expressly invited to do otherwise. Also, I know there are victims who never wore a provocative outfit or flirted in their lives. However, there are some situations that could have been avoided and women have to get past saying that men need to change (because men who do these things are not going to change) and take the responsibility for themselves or these assaults will keep happening.
We all live in a world where the topic of sex and sexual images bombard us every day. Very provocative images of women cover magazines, movies, television, and billboards. Women go around wearing short-shorts, mini-skirts, low-cut shirts and less. These sexual images are chalked up to women’s rights to express themselves and feel free with their own body.
Let’s get real. Why do women dress like this? Think about what the young girl at the ice cream shop told her mother. We can say we feel comfortable or beautiful. We can say it’s a form of expression. But, we all know that when we dress to be sexy, it is an effort to attract men (or for some women, it is an effort to look better than other women, but still ultimately to be more attractive to men). It does feel good to be thought of as beautiful and sexy, there is nothing wrong with that. I believe that we can achieve this in other ways.
In the last few days, two women, an actress and a politician, have come out with similar views. They have each faced angry backlash, but they are absolutely right. When women wear provocative clothing and flirt with men, we are sending a message. Unfortunately, we don’t always get to choose who receives this message. There are men out there who are so warped that they feel like the message is an invitation. They are awful, but as much as you want to say that their misguided thinking is their problem, when they act on these thoughts, it becomes their victim’s problem. We can’t control these men and their criminal actions because we don’t know who they are until they have committed a crime and it becomes public, but we can control ourselves and take steps to reduce our vulnerability.
Stop getting drunk in public places, like frat parties. If you weigh 108 pounds and you have to fend off a man of 200 pounds, you are less likely to be able to kick them in the groin if you are so drunk you can’t lift your leg.
Don’t go to or leave parties or bars alone. You are stronger in numbers. You and your friends need to have a pact to watch out for each other. This goes for leaving any building at night.
Be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to your instincts. If you are getting signals that someone is behaving inappropriately, don’t ignore it. Get away, stay away, and get help. By keeping quiet, you let the criminal get away with his criminal actions and he will continue to assault other women.
Wear clothes that cover your assets. The politician who spoke out about women wearing modest clothes said that maybe she is “old school.” Well, maybe old school is what we need. Think about it. Our grandmothers didn’t have a problem attracting men. Women in generations past wore long skirts, little make-up, and high-collared shirts, but the generations have continued, so they must have shown their beauty in other ways. The thing is, a good man will love you in jeans and a sweatshirt. You don’t need to put it all on display for everyone to see. Your body is not what makes you special!
There is a small fraction of men who will prey on women until they are stopped. We need to do everything in our power to take away their opportunity to harass and assault. It is not a matter of who is to blame, it is a matter of stopping it before it starts.