An article by Nira Macaspac
What would you wear if it’s socially acceptable to wear anything?
Isn’t it that us, women, love to wear what makes us feel good. How empowering it can be when we feel confident about the clothes we wear and how we present ourselves matches our personality.
Our wardrobe tells more than just our appearance, it tells people of our personal style. Clothes, therefore, is a form of self- expression. Self-knowledge and self-confidence can be expressed through what you choose to wear, a life-affirming expression of your character and spirit. But there are elements of this expression that affects our individuality when we conform to others’ expectations or meet the standards of our culture and society. There are almost always constraints in our environment. There are norms based on a belief that the way women dress is routinely cited as an incitement to rape. This issue persists because people keep blaming women’s way of dressing up as a cause of rape or sexual assault. Often, women are judged on the basis of the way they present themselves, as though the presence of a skin or a subtler shade of lipstick might have made all the difference between an uneventful occasion, and one on which rape or sexual assault took place.
I cannot stay silent on this issue, especially as an advocate of women. Girls are repeatedly told that they have to cover up or avoid looking attractive to stop distracting men, which is the same as telling them to stop being who they are. Freedom is absent when you allow others to control you. We don’t exist to dress for or cater to what society wants us to be.
Every woman should have the right to choose how to represent themselves on their terms, and they shouldn’t be blamed for being victimized. The assumption that- clothes can speak for women who say no – is unreasonable and damaging. Blaming women or rape victims drives responsibility away from a perpetrator and puts it on the victim’s shoulders. The cultural belief that rape is something that can be prevented if women dress in a certain way won’t solve our country’s crime issues. When authorities focus their efforts on telling women or victims what they should do, we’re further encouraging the transgressor to point the blame to the victim — for he now thinks that it’s her fault for getting raped. This assumption is used to shift the focus away from the perpetrator’s actions towards the character and reputation of the complainer. When women are identified as ‘prey’, liable to be attacked based on what they wear, is a reflection of women’s subordinate situation in our society.
Women are entitled to choose whatever clothes they want to wear – just as men are free to decide whether or not to commit rape. So stop thinking in terms of “respectable” women and those who are “asking for it” – no woman wants to be raped, and every woman who is sexually assaulted is entitled to justice without having to suffer humiliation or the destruction of her privacy and dignity.
There are many ways to respect oneself that have nothing to do with clothing. Decency is a personal preference and is just as legitimate of choice as a woman choosing to dress in a more revealing manner.
It’s about time for everyone to start respecting women’s decisions about what they wear and stop using the ideals of society to control their sexuality or sexual agency. Rape happens because rapists rape. The reason why a person becomes a rape victim is that rapists decided to rape them. Let’s educate people instead of telling women what clothes to wear.
Women already operate with caution. Ask women around you, ask them about the many preventive measures they take just to walk on the street, or every time they ride buses, jeepneys, cabs, or trikes. Ask them how scared they are to be on a bus or jeep with just men or alone with a man.
Telling women to cover up to avoid distracting or provoking men doesn’t actually stop rape from happening. We know that anyone from a nun to a soldier can be a victim of sexual assault.
It didn’t save the girls in school uniforms from being raped. Women in military outfits are being raped. Women in hijabs and burkas are raped too—a lot. Do you know who else gets raped too, babies and children?
Women could be raped even if they’re completely covered up or dressed like men.
Stop telling women what to wear to avoid being raped. Rape has nothing to do with the victim’s manner of dressing. Stop victim-blaming. Instead, let’s raise awareness that any form of abuse, sexual assault, and rape shouldn’t be tolerated and hold those doing the victimizing more accountable.
About the author:
Nira Macaspac is an internationally certified life coach, writer, speaker, and entrepreneur. She is the President of U-Progress Philippines, Inc. and an advocate of women empowerment.