I won’t recount the videos circulating on social media of DeVon Franklin defending his wife, actress Meagan Good, at a talk where an audience member told her to “cover up” in magazine photo shoots or Amber Rose arguing with hosts Tyrese and Rev Run on their TV show “It’s Not You, It’s Men” about how women should dress.
I, quite frankly, don’t want to get into a religious debate about the necessity for or virtue of so-called “modesty” in women’s attire.
I want to talk in secular–in political and sociological–scientific–terms about this whole issue of society policing what women wear.
This idea that women invite sexual harassment and assault by dressing “provocatively.”
I think it’s crucial that women in this culture induce a shift in the way men perceive our clothing almost exclusively as a form of sexual messaging.
I think we should keep telling them (men) until they finally understand and accept: interpreting the things that we (women) do with our bodies–including how we dress them–as sexual signifiers is unfair, shiftless, and irresponsible.
It forces women to act with a degree of mindfulness that is unrealistic and oppressive and places the responsibility for men’s depravity and criminality on our shoulders, where it does not belong.
It makes us culpable for crimes that are committed against us, and it reduces us to the lowest common denominator of our “fuckability,” which is repressive, dangerous, and sickening.
To a certain extent, American culture is rape culture. Rape is normalized or at the very least justified as everything from a male behavioral reflex to a necessary plot device in a TV show due to our attitudes about gender–our stupid obsession with hypermasculinity.
Time and again, we hear college administrators, religious leaders, law enforcers, pundits, and politicians–male and female–say that women need to do everything that they can to avoid being harassed, molested, or raped.
We need to cover our bodies (though Muslim women that wear traditional garb are denigrated for covering their bodies); we need to drink less alcohol; we need to use less recreational drugs; we need to avoid dating web sites and social media hook-ups.
We need to stay out of elevators with strange men; we need to stay out of parking garages with strange men; we need to run during daylight hours in well-lit, crowded areas; we need to go to gas stations and ATMs during daylight hours in well-lit, crowded areas.
We need to refrain from kissing, hugging, necking, petting, or doing anything remotely sexual with any man with whom we’re not prepared to have intercourse.
We need to carry guns or other weapons.
In other words, we should live on a tightrope–within a range of decisions and circumstances no wider than a wire.
All of this in the so-called Land of Free. The Land of Liberty.
We hardly ever hear these same authorities address men about rape prevention.
They never tell them to stop assuming that women are signaling their sexual availability, willingness, or predilections with their clothing.
They don’t tell them to stay sober so they can make better decisions about whether or not to have sex with someone or navigate the intricacies of sexual consent with a clear head.
Men are never told not to take a kiss, hug, or even a hand-job as a guarantee that full-blown intercourse with a woman is forthcoming.
They’re never even told the easiest, simplest message that you can give a person about handling his aggression, which is “keep your hands to yourself.”
No–they’re told it’s perfectly understandable that you would touch that absolute stranger’s body in an intimate way without being told that you can.
She was wearing a tank top/shorts/miniskirt/bikini after all. Exercising her right to wear whatever she wants. Or maybe just trying to stay cool on a hot summer day.
She must’ve wanted you to invade her space and privacy, violate her sense of safety and sanctity, and make her feel uncomfortable and powerless to protect herself from unwanted attention and/or contact.
That woman that agreed to go out with you? Or make out with you? She must’ve wanted you to penetrate her body and possibly infect or impregnate her against her will.
It sounds crazy, but it’s true. In so many words and ways, that’s exactly what certain sexist authorities do.
They assure men that their failure to regulate their urges or control their actions is natural and forgivable.
They make excuses about testosterone, and they blame women, either purposefully or inadvertently, for making it difficult for men to refrain from attacking them.
They ignore what anyone that has studied rape knows about its reality, and they act as if this very complicated problem has a very simple solution.
They say, “If women would just cover themselves, then men wouldn’t be tempted. Rape wouldn’t happen.”
I’m sorry. We say this. Americans in power and Americans outside of power. Men and women. Boys and girls.
But this is the most egregious and convenient inversion of patriarchy that exists in our culture. It’s wrong, and it needs to stop.
Because every female victim of rape is not a scantily clad party girl that’s had too much to drink and is flirting outrageously with her potential attacker.
Every women wearing a short skirt or bustier or tight jeans isn’t trying to seduce someone. Many are just trying to be rebellious in a culture that says “good girls”–yes–cover up.
Every rape that occurs isn’t the result of a woman being inappropriate or even imprudent.
Infants get raped. Elderly women get raped. Lesbians get raped.
Women in sweatpants get raped. Women in turtlenecks get raped. Women in nun habits get raped. Women in nurse’s uniforms get raped.
It’s not a woman’s appearance that makes a man rape her. Men rape because they want to rape. Many rape because they think they can get away with it. Many do.
Men rape on impulse.
They rape because they’re drunk or high and rationalize their decision to push past a woman’s “no,” or her intoxicated state, with an impaired sense of judgment.
They rape for revenge.
They rape because they’re violent and do everything with an excessive degree of dominance and force.
They rape because they are impelled by psychiatric disorders like pedophilia or conditions like somnophilia (a paraphilia in which a person is sexually aroused by someone that is unconscious).
They rape because in the eyes of the law the sort of paraphilic sex they want is a crime, but they have it anyway. They force themselves on people that are not qualified to consent because of age, state of mind, level of cognition, or degree of lucidity.
Yes, some men rape because they’re sadists. Some rape because they’re misogynists.
Some rape because they’re insecure or “unattractive” or have a terrible track record when it comes to finding willing partners.
Some even rape because they believe in the myth of rape (that in order to rape a woman, she must be a stranger; you must jump out of the proverbial bushes; you must beat her up and then force her at gunpoint or knifepoint to have sex).
So when they force their date or girlfriend or even their wife to have sex when she’s saying “no” and doesn’t want to have it, they don’t think they’re raping her. They’re just doing what they’re entitled to do as a man that has spent money or time or both on her.
Men rape because they believe that they are more important than women, and they don’t have to respect women if they don’t want to. They rape because they think of women as sexual objects more so than people with the same sort of ideas and emotions that they have.
Even still, there is no prototypal rapist, and no prototypal rape scenario. So to generalize that “women tempt men” with their clothing is to ignore the sociology–the psychology–of rape.
It’s a much more complex phenomenon than we like to think, which makes it scarier–yes–but so it is.
You cannot prevent rape by forcing women to cover up. You cannot blame rape on women’s appearances.
Generalizations about women tempting men with their clothing ignore the biology of rape, too–the truth about testosterone.
Yes–men do produce 10-20 times more testosterone than women, and testosterone affects sex drive, competitiveness, aggression, and confidence, but men’s baseline levels vary.
So you can’t say that testosterone “makes” men rape when not all men have the same levels, and some men are capable of stopping themselves from assaulting women or have no desire at all to assault them.
Too, testosterone levels typically spike when risk or a threat is detected, not necessarily when men are sexually aroused.
If men’s testosterone levels are affected by sexual stimuli (and this is not all men or does not occur in response to all forms of stimulation), it usually takes 15-20 minutes for this to occur–more than enough time to remove themselves from whatever situation is getting them all worked up before they do something unwanted.
(For the record, this information is coming from the Archives of Sexual Behavior–the official publication of the International Academy of Sex Research.)
For whatever reason, America has a really hard time admitting the things that we do wrong. We like to lie about things to cover for our failures and shortcomings.
The truth is women don’t invite men to rape them, no matter what they’re doing, and they shouldn’t have to curtail anything they do in order to keep from getting raped.
Rape shouldn’t be so “normal” in America. It shouldn’t be something that one in every three females experiences. It shouldn’t be something handled so incorrectly and ignorantly that hundreds of thousands of women won’t even go to the police when it happens to them.
It shouldn’t be something that we blame on clothes or anything other than the cultural attitudes, conditioning, and practices that encourage and allow it to happen.
With that said, America on the whole needs to do a better job of teaching our boys to respect girls and women, view sex as an act of love and reproduction and not conquest and recreation, and channel their urges in harmless and unobtrusive ways.
We need to stop making excuses for boys’ and men’s sexual misbehavior and get help for our family members and friends that are struggling with disorders and conditions that make consensual, legal, and healthy sex difficult for them.
We need to stop indulging ourselves as parents by allowing our children to learn about sex from pornography and pop culture rather than from us through honest, informed discussion and exposure to academic sources.
We need to have explicit talks about consent and rape–what they are and what they are not–with our sons and our daughters–before they reach dating age and/or become sexually active.
We need to refrain from talking about sex in stereotypical ways–saying a girl “asked” to get raped because of a certain behavior or a boy “couldn’t help himself.”
We need to stop being lazy and relying on sexist myths and stereotypes to govern ourselves and our sex lives rather than dealing with each other as individuals–getting truly intimate with each other.
We need to destigmatize female nudity.
We need to put sex education back in school and teach curricula that cover sexual violence, legality, consent, and healthy ways to channel sexual energy and frustration.
We need to work to ensure that the full range of self-expression is available to American girls and women, and the full range of self-expression is available to American boys and men, but that does not include sexual harassment, molestation, or rape on either side.
We need to stop falling back on bullshit, sexist rhetoric like “cover up” when we have enough information and resources to actually address gender differential problems like rape in ways that are much more intelligent, realistic, and productive.