“Consent is not something I wear.” (Photo Credit: amplifyyourvoice.org)
When I was younger, around middle-school age, I used to wear whatever I wanted. Well, ‘whatever’ meaning whatever my parents could afford and/or hand-me-downs from the big sister. You get what I mean. I wasn’t as self-conscious as I am today about what I wear. If I wanted to wear a tank top, I wore a tank top. If I wanted to wear a short skirt, I wore a short skirt. If I wanted to wear short-shorts, I wore short shorts. So long as I was comfortable with the clothing I adorned myself with, then that’s all that really mattered.
Oh the days of naivete.
Once I hit high school, a lot of that changed. As I became more cognizant of kinds of messages mainstream media were sending me in regards to what it means when a woman wears certain types of clothes, I became less and less inclined to be as ‘free’ with my clothing choices: show off your legs (but not too much leg, cause short shorts and mini-skirts means you’re ‘asking for it’), wear things that enhance your silhouette (but nothing too tight because you’re a hussy if you show off too much of your figure), if you’ve got a bust then you should flaunt it (but don’t wear anything with too deep of a v-neck ’cause that makes you skeezy) and on and on and on.
Up until that point, I really had no idea that what I wore had such significance. And not only was mainstream media feeding me these messages, but my friends were buying into it as well and only reinforcing these ideas. It got to a point that I somewhat internalized a lot of it and used this line of thinking against other girls and women. Not only was I seriously regulating what I wore to school and around my friends but I judged my fellow peers and classmates for dressing like ’sluts.’
Trust me when I say that this was not a time in my life I’m particularly proud of. But I also don’t think that I’m the only person who’s thought like this before. I was talking with a friend recently about wearing dresses and skirts and we got on the topic about what’s an appropriate length. I said that I felt like women should be free to skirts as short as they want but my friend felt differently. She basically said something to the effect of, ‘if you wear short skirts, you’re a hussy’ and even though I’ve heard this time and time again, I was still shocked to hear her say that.
This whole line of thinking, that the more skin a woman chooses to expose or whatever she chooses to wear, period, must mean that she ‘gets around,’ just feeds into victim-blaming and in the larger sense, rape culture. Let’s get something straight here: regulating what women wear or do will not change the patriarchal, misogynist institutions and narratives that exist that allow for abuse to happen in the first place; this only serves to reinforce them.
But unfortunately, while many of us are aware of this, women are still forced to live their lives on a ‘rape schedule‘: ‘I have to leave the party early because it’s not safe to take the train late at night,’ ‘Carry mace or pepper spray with you in case someone attacks you,’ ‘Always keep an eye on your drink so you can ensure no one tries to slip you something,’ ‘Don’t walk alone at night.’ I used to find myself thinking these things on a day-to-day basis and you know what? It’s exhausting. But I did it anyway because the fear of being attacked is so strong that I would do anything to prevent it from happening, even though you can never ‘prevent’ it from happening in the first place. I guess it’s kind of like a placebo.
The fact of the matter is is that these institutions and this kind of rhetoric are still extremely prevalent today. In my case, it stifled who I was. I didn’t wear anything that would make me look me look ’slutty’ or what I thought would distract men and make them take me less seriously. My style, my creative outlet, was buried underneath years of internalized misogyny. Instead of breaking down this rhetoric, in my ignorance, I used it against myself and other women. I was always so fearful that I would be attacked or assaulted because of something as seemingly simple as my clothing choices.
But what I’ve come to realize, thanks to friends and my Women’s Studies education, is that I will no longer live my life around a rape schedule. Yes, it is important to be aware of your surroundings and such but I cannot live my life in a constant state of fear because that is no way to live. This is not to say that I am completely free from the shackles of patriarchy (I don’t think I ever will be, let’s be real here) but I’m taking steps towards liberating myself; I am not as fearful about taking the bus or train late at night, I am more free with what I choose to wear. I hope that by challenging this victim-blaming narrative, not only am I freeing myself, but I hope that it will inspire other women to live their lives free from the constraints of a rape schedule.
So all of this is to say: I and women everywhere should be able to wear whatever the hell we damn please, thankyouverymuch. And if we choose to wear mini-skirts or a low-cut top, that does not make us ’sluts.’ Kthxbye.