What To Wear, What To Wear …

The Toronto Star’s Heather Mallick is taking part this weekend in something called a ‘slut walk’ in Toronto, in protest to something dumb said by a Toronto police officer who was guest lecturing at York University’s Osgood Hall law school. The officer in question said that women who dress a certain way deserve the attention they receive – from wolf whistles to sexual assault (the officer subsequently apologized).

Aside from that sexist bull, what constitutes dressing provocatively? That’s a question Mallick doesn’t even try to answer in her column, because – correctly, she says there isn’t an answer. People see what they want to see when women dress – whether they’re wearing bikinis, sweats, the latest in high society fashion or a hockey jersey and mom jeans? The point is, I guess, that attacks on women will happen no matter what women dress up in, even if they dress up like Wonder Woman. (Daily Mail) as long as there are insecure male bullies who think they can get away with it.

Author: Stephen LaRose

2006 winner of the Canadian Association of University Teachers's Award of Excellence in Journalism for a bunch of prairie dog stuff. Invited into the best homes in Regina. Once.

20 thoughts on “What To Wear, What To Wear …”

  1. “5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!”

    Who knew? (Good link, Katie. Thanks!)

  2. k but….
    i DO notice a difference when i’m walking downtown wearing, say, short shorts vs. wearing jeans in the amount of crude things shouted from passing vehicles, awkward up-and-down stares, etc. you can’t say “it doesn’t matter what women wear” because it does. and i know for a fact that there are a lot of women who know that AND dress to invite that kind of thing.

  3. Katie’s link basically says what I came here to say. It’s makes me angry to think about how much time is spent on educating people on how NOT to get raped, compared to how much time is spent on educating people on what is and isn’t appropriate.

    A couple of months ago I heard an interview on CBC radio of someone giving tips on how to avoid sexual assault. When the interviewer questioned him and hinted that education programs for boys would be in order, the guy didn’t get it. He didn’t see it as an issue for men at all. His stance was all about women protecting themselves. I wish the interviewer had pressed the issue more.

    Sexual assault and rape aren’t just issues for women to deal with.

    (I’d also like to point out that women can sexually assault men and other women, and that men can sexually assault men. I apologize if some of my comment here implies that it is always an issue of men assaulting women.)

  4. Suzy, while some harassers may target women wearing certain things (though that certainly isn’t true all around and I know I personally have been harassed while wearing a parka), that doesn’t mean, as the officer implied, that any woman “deserves” harassment or sexual assault (i.e., she isn’t “inviting” it).

  5. Collette, that’s so important. As long as we keep treating sexual assault as if it’s some natural force like a tornado that we can build barricades against but can’t prevent, we’re never going to get anywhere.

    We try to come up with this advice about clothing and staying in at night and on and on as a way to feel like if we just follow *these* steps, we’ll be safe. I read a powerful essay once that spelled out that the only common factor in sexual assaults is the presence of a rapist.

  6. Thanks for that interview example, Collette. As someone who both both grandsons and granddaughters, I take great exception to the attitude that only girls/women need to be educated about sexual assault. It is a stupid, sexist, and ultimately defeatist attitude, and it’s got to go.

  7. jb: totally, i don’t mean that rapists only rape women in bikinis, or that if you wear a short skirt you’re “asking for it.”

    but what the cop actually did say was, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized…” i guess that doesn’t strike me the way it’s struck everyone else. i don’t read “deserves” anywhere in there. maybe he said it somewhere else?

    i just know a lot of women who want that kind of attention, and i don’t, and in my opinion it’s silly to think that what i wear has absolutely no effect on what passing males think when they look at me.

    {also, i’m thinking more along the lines of day-to-day, on the street, harassment–not so much serial rapists etc.}

  8. Thanks, Suzy, I understand better what you’re saying now, I think.

    I think that the “deserved” was implicit in what the officer said, since absolutely every time a sexual assault is discussed, the idea that the woman’s “sluttiness” somehow “brought on” the attack is mentioned (as we’ve seen in recent cases, this happens even if the victim is 11 years old, or if the commenter is a judge who should know better). The idea is, if a woman can do something “in order not to be victimized,” then if she fails to do it, she’s at least partly responsible for the criminal’s behaviour. Which is not true, of course–but that’s what we’re so often told.

    Never mind that it’s really bad advice. “Avoiding dressing like a slut” does not prevent one from being assaulted.

  9. no for sure–and i completely agree with you on that point. as someone who’s been made to feel guilty in a situation where i {years and years later} realize i wasn’t at fault at ALL, i think it’s horrible to plant that idea in anyone’s mind. and i could see how the officer’s comment may have done that.

    i guess i just dislike big blanket statements, haha. :) there are a lot of sides to every story/argument/issue, and sometimes i feel like the prairie dog only looks at one or two, and does the name-calling thing a bit too often…

  10. I wonder if by “dress to invite that kind of thing” Suzy means, dress attractively with the hope of being admired or desired? I’m sure she doesn’t mean to suggest that anyone actively attempts to solicit sexual harrassment or assault. If she means the first, well, duh! If people didn’t make an effort to attract sexual attention the fate of our species would be at a terrible risk, and way less fun!
    The real issue is that people like this daft officer, and that Winnipeg judge awhile back, are in posistions of influence and authority, and allowing them to make such statements and go unchecked, is perpetuating misogyny in the justice system. Further, it reproduces in society, which is terribly dangerous.
    I agree with LaRose. Slutty is in the eye of the beholder, but that, of course, is not the issue.

  11. jo: “If people didn’t make an effort to attract sexual attention the fate of our species would be at a terrible risk, and way less fun!”
    ok. i try to dress attractively; but i want my husband to look at me that way, not the old man at the bank, or my friend’s husband, or the high school guys in the truck driving past. this is getting way off the original topic, but that’s all i meant by that. meh. again: talking about the public harassment side of things, not the assault side.

    and to address the other thing you said: yep, i do have friends who know full-well that what they wear often gets them harassed and they do it anyway because they crave that attention. i’m not saying everyone who dresses that way is asking for it and i’m not saying everyone who gets harassed dresses that way. just another factor.

  12. OK I’m not about to say that dressing in a certain way is “asking for it”, but at the same time…. somehow in the past few years the Pussycat Dolls et al have co-opted feminism. Halloween costumes for sale for women involve lingerie, or are (a) slutty nurse, (b) slutty schoolgirl, (c) slutty witch, (d) slutty super-heroine, etc. The point Suzy is trying to make, I think, is that if you choose to dress in a way that makes you feel sexy, then you ought not be offended when someone leers at you. If you put up a big sign that says “look at me” you shouldn’t get upset when people look. Just a thought.

  13. “OK I’m not about to say that dressing in a certain way is “asking for it”, but”

    I’m sorry, but my eyes kinda glazed over at the “but.” I think I do understand Suzy’s point–that sometimes, people dress in certain ways to try to get certain kinds of attention–but like Jo said, that’s not what the issue of the post is. The fact that women are sexual beings and express that in various ways and the fact that women are raped are really two different things. Harassment and assault are by definition unwanted.

  14. See, here is the problem. I can’t be disgusted by the fact that 11-year-old girls have Fergie and “burlesque dancers” as role models without being called sexist or a woman-hater.
    Anyway, yes, rapists are evil and it doesn’t matter how you dress. If you have orifices and are in the wrong place by yourself at the wrong time, you may be their prey.

  15. If you think I called you sexist or a woman-hater, then we’re definitely having a miscommunication. You can be disgusted by the sexualization of little girls all you want. I have no idea what that has to do with the topic of this post.

  16. the “asking for it” arguement is absurd. we are each responsible for our words and actions. is someone with a disfigured face asking to be stared at or ridiculed? is someone dressed like a “geek” or a “fag” asking to be beaten up? fearful oafs will attempt those arguements too. get past it, fools. and learn some manners. love your neighbors.

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