Short Skirts And The Politics Of Sexual Assault

By the fashion world's decree, the miniskirt will be a hot item this spring. Sadly, tastemakers failed to check with the rape apologist population, who assume that a woman in a short skirt is signaling for sex.

As Anna North discussed earlier, the results of an online poll conducted in Britain and called "Wake Up To Rape" were grim, but not shocking to many female writers, self-described feminists or otherwise.

In the Daily Mail, writer Jenni Murray discusses her own rape which occurred more than 30 years ago - but provides some circular reasoning as to why it was both her fault and not her fault she "got" raped. Murray describes going out with her friends, getting drunk, going with her friends to an older man's apartment and continuing the drinking party. Eventually, her friends left and the man decided to assault her - despite her saying she did not want to have sex and trying to leave, the man eventually punched her in the face and raped her.

Still, Murray argues that despite her unwillingness to have sex, and her vocalizing that unwillingness, she should have taken the proper precautions. She would advise women in her position:

[A]t least by taking responsibility for the amount she drinks, and thinking before going to a man's house, a woman would be giving herself the best chance of being safe and, should the worst happen, convincing a jury she had done everything to protect herself.

On the Sexist blog, Amanda Hess attacks the reasoning behind Murray's statements, wondering how we could have possibility reached this state of affairs:

"When a woman says no, she means no. And that's true, even if her clothes are saying the opposite," Murray writes, as if a piece of clothing could provide consent for any sex act with any person. [...]

Under Murray's theory, wearing a short skirt signals that a woman is sexually available to anyone who happens to see her wearing the short skirt. The social cue provided by this inanimate object is to be trusted beyond a woman's actual words ("no") or actions (desperate attempts at escape). Furthermore, this sartorial secret code (short skirt = down to fuck anyone) is accepted not only by rapists, but by society at large-including rape victims, police officers, and jurors. And what if a woman who does not want to have sex with any and all bystanders decides to put on a short skirt? Her punishment for breaking the code is getting punched in the face and raped.

Tracy Clark Flory reminds us that the responses to the survey are really just a well-worn defense mechanism:

Rules give the illusion of control; if you abide by them, you'll be safe. Thinking of rape as it is — a random, unwarranted violation — can be terrifying and paralyzing. It's much easier to think about any kind of assault as being predictably triggered, and therefore preventable. It's a sort of armor women can put on to feel safe and invulnerable.

As I read through all the discussions of why women feel like victim blaming makes them safer, another question kept rising to the front of my mind: why do some men believe they are entitled to sex, even if that entitlement ends in rape or sexual assault?

I suppose I think of these things differently now. When I wrote about being sexually assaulted, I focused more on the events that occurred. What I didn't discuss was the strange brew of feelings that occurs when you find out someone you know is a rapist. After attending the trial, and listening to the testimony of the last person being convicted of the brutal gang rape that occurred in my neighborhood, I often wondered why someone I knew would do that to another human being. The kid I knew played guitar, smoked a lot of weed, and cracked jokes like he was going to become a comedian one day. How could he be part of that?

More to the point - how could any of the boys convicted (at the time, four of the six were minors) participate in something such as that? Even if the testimony at the trial was completely true, that there was one ringleader who forced the girl to have sex, who did most of the beating that left her face black and blue, the one who the other boys may have been afraid of, it still doesn't explain things.

It doesn't explain why there were five people in the room when the rape occurred, who could have stopped it, but chose not to.

It doesn't explain why one boy felt so uncomfortable with the situation that he left - but he didn't tell anyone else, he just preferred not to be involved.

It doesn't explain why, during the despicable act, the boys who said they didn't agree with what was happening still lined up to take their turn with the girl anyway.

Sometimes I think society focuses more on the women who "get" raped than the men who are rapists because we're afraid to find out, or face, the truth.

I was drunk, wearing a short skirt and agreed to go back to his house. Does that REALLY mean I deserved to be raped? [Daily Mail]
On Short Skirts [Washington City Paper]
Why women blame rape victims [Broadsheet]
Original Essay: The Not Rape Epidemic [Racialicious]

Earlier: Study: Women, Young People Blame Victims For Sexual Assault