Hi SAFER family! Megan introduced herself earlier and I thought I would follow suit before delving into some ruminations…
My name is Selena and I’m SAFER’s other Co-Communications Coordinator along with Megan. I recently graduated from New York University with a bachelor’s in Media, Culture, and Communication. I currently work at a corporate public relations firm in Murray Hill where I coordinate day-to-day media relations strategies. When I’m not developing social media and digital outreach plans, I can most likely be found knitting ugly scarves, taking too many photographs, or eating endlessly.
I thought I’d take a minute to talk about clothing. When it comes to the issue of sexual assault, I am sick and tired of talking about clothing. For a while now, there has been talk of the term “Skinny Jeans Defense” that reemerged after an Australian jury voted to acquit a man of rape arguing that the victim’s tight-fitting pants could not have been removed without collaboration, and therefore, consent.
The sad truth is that variations of this “argument” have used for over a decade now and yet it is still being thrown around as an actual reason for acquittal of a rapist. How is this possible? Let’s take a look.
In the recent gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Texas, the media has repeatedly been guilty of placing the blame on the victim. A recent article in the Huffington Post calls out the coverage not only as victim-blaming but victim-silencing:
The New York Times reported on the community’s response to the girl’s dress and appearance, implying that she asked for it. The Daily Beast focused on how this crime has divided the town of Cleveland, TX and has affected the reputation of this nice and hospitable place. A Fox News piece is centered on the difficult defense of the suspects and on the fact that they all knew the girl was 11. Another article from Fox News Houston brings to light the perspective of Quanell X, the new Black Panther Leader, who stands up for the suspects, all black males.
A few days later, the Wall Street Journal published an article by author Jennifer Moses asking mothers why they let their daughters, and pay for them to, dress like “prostitutes” with “plunging necklines, built-in push-up bras, spangles [P.S. what the hell are spangles], feathers, slits and peek-a-boos.”
Moses theorizes that mothers are funding their daughters’ mini dresses and heels because they are conflicted about their own past.
We are the first moms in history to have grown up with widely available birth control, the first who didn’t have to worry about getting knocked up. We were also the first not only to be free of old-fashioned fears about our reputations but actually pressured by our peers and the wider culture to find our true womanhood in the bedroom.
While Moses’ effort is relatively innocent in nature, it is precisely this kind of conversation that contributes to the quickly evolving but ever present rape culture in our country and abroad. She is addressing the parents who are looking to their children as reflections of themselves, and wanting to relive their glorious youth through their children. But she is also inadvertently telling existing and potential assailants that their crime is excusable in the face of dark eyeshadow and lipgloss. She bridges the gap between clothing and promiscuity with the threat of violence.
We wouldn’t dream of dropping our daughters off at college and saying: “Study hard and floss every night, honey—and for heaven’s sake, get laid!” But that’s essentially what we’re saying by allowing them to dress the way they do while they’re still living under our own roofs.
As Moses describes her own generations’ regrets and battle for clarity in the messaging surrounding female sexuality, it becomes increasingly evident that the same line of uncertainty is still not only prevalent but prevailing in today’s society. Although today’s generation of young women have been fortunate to inherit the benefits of the birth control pill, less fortunately, it has inherited the message that women are to feel guilty about having sex. And in order not to feel that guilt, ditch the Spanx and put on a turtleneck.
I wouldn’t want us to return to the age of the corset or even of the double standard, because a double standard that lets the promiscuous male off the hook while condemning his female counterpart is both stupid and destructive.
In 1999, the outrage caused by the first successful use of the “Skinny Jeans Defense” in Italy launched a global movement that is now known as Denim Day. Immediately following the disgraceful verdict, the women in the Italian Parliament protested by wearing jeans to work. With a hop, skip and a jump, the protest spread to the California Senate and Assembly, and with that, Denim Day LA was established. By asking communities to make a statement through fashion choices, Denim Day recasts the role of clothing as means of protest against misconceptions that surround sexual assault. This year, Denim Day LA and USA is April 27, 2011.
The longer we reprimand our daughters or their makeup but do not reprimand our sons for their crude college Halloween party invitations, the longer we perpetuate the double standard, and the longer we let the clothing conceal the crime.