I have to confess, when I put on my clothes in the morning, I do not consider it a moral decision. Then again, should I?

Slut Walks

At the beginning of May a policeman advising women not to dress provocatively, as a way of ensuring their safety, prompted a protest termed Slut Walks. The outcry was at the idea that the victim was becoming the focus of responsibility, rather than the attacker.

Is this simply good advice that provoked an overreaction? Or does it point to underlying problems in how we view what women wear?

…most women who are raped are not wearing short skirts.

The truth is, most women who are raped are not wearing short skirts. If we view how a woman looks as male stimulus, then aren’t we objectifying her whatever she wears? How about if what she wears has nothing to do with provoking a reaction? Or how about if she wants people to look at her and find her attractive, without being assaulted?

A Target?

Women are fed such mixed messages about appearance. Everything from perfume adverts to spot treatments seems to say that you need to look good to be loved. Then again, if you look a little too good, you might get attacked.

Where is this line between looking good and not making yourself a target? I think that really, there is no distinction. It just depends on who’s selling the message. If a company needs more money, its product will buy you love. If a rapist needs an excuse, it’s because you were wearing a short skirt.

No wonder so many of us have issues with our bodies…

When I put on a short skirt in the morning, it honestly doesn’t have anything to do with trying to impress. It has to do with the fact that a long skirt would get caught in my bike chain. Or that I don’t feel any need for those extra inches – it’s not like I have my bum on display (and who’s ever warned builders about provoking sexual harassment). Oh, and I’m happy with my legs.

No wonder so many of us have issues with our bodies. We’re taught that the combination of their weakness and allure put us in danger, so they need to be kept hidden, and then we’re told that we have to flaunt them in bikinis and look like the unattainable image of the Venus goddesses.

So you can’t have brains and boobs?

A friend of mine’s mum always used to comment when the women in CSI wore low tops. In her view, this meant they would never be taken seriously. So you can’t have brains and boobs? That doesn’t bode well for the female sex.

Long Skirts Too

Just as shocking for me, as the idea that you can’t wear a short skirt, is the idea that you can’t cover yourself entirely. I am always surprised by the reaction of such a large number of the British public towards Burkas.

Most businesses produce clothes so unethically, that it’s hard to think about who’s made your clothes and what kind of conditions they endure. For most of us, clothes are far more about trying to impress, than about an awareness of the impact our shopping has in developing countries. Yet we find moral problems with people dressing in a way that expresses deep values, albeit ones we may disagree with.

…clothing may express freedom in different forms…

So yes, wearing a short skirt makes me feel free. If I’ve chosen to wear it. If I want to wear it. As for others, clothing may express freedom in different forms, such as identification with faith.

Do our clothes provoke a reaction? It seems so. But letting that reaction force you to dress differently would be the ultimate way of giving over control of what you wear, of yourself, to others.

About The Author

As a student of Comparative Literature, I love reading, writing and struggling with my French. I have a passion for travel and have so far been to six of the seven continents...Antarctica has yet to appeal to me. As well as working for MouthLondon, I'm an editor (and occassional contributor) of the King's creative writing magazine, the Notebook.

9 Responses

  1. kerry renshaw

    The trouble is, that most of us agree that clothes are a form of communication. There’s much written about this in cultural studies, the majority of it by women. As just one example, I know of a PhD thesis on the leather jacket. So clothes convey a message. What message does a short skirt and a low top convey? Agreed, not a message “I am here to be raped”, but a message nonetheless. And the different outfits a man or woman choses carry different messages, and they are therefore used as a means of communicating, and I’m sure if you thought about your morning choices in depth you’d arrive at some conclusions. There are many factors here, but one thing is sure – clothes are never neutral, not even the cotton uniforms they used to wear in Mao’s China


  2. Rosa Lia | Culture Editor

    I agree. Clothes are not neutral in their statements, but I think it would be wrong to presume that these statements are clear cut. I also think that we should be able to better inform people’s judgements by thinking more about why we wear what we wear rather than feeling that we have to dress a certain way.


  3. Jackson

    It would be entirely unsurprising to me if the women featured in the following videos

    The blonde model in this pop video looks incredibly sexy, not slutty – though she looks like she might be a bit haughty and full of herself, which is unattractive.


    Similarly I’d say ‘Nicole’ is very attractive, certainly not slutty.


    And the woman in this video.


    It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if a rapist would target those women over women who dress like lap dancers. Also I could well believe the Beyonce at 1:00 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViwtNLUqkMY would be a more likely target than the Beyonce at 2:10 (thought there’s not a lot in it).

    Most rapists, except perhaps extreme psychopaths, though often likely to exhibit a grossly inflated self esteem are probably self loathing – having surrendered to the ‘false prospectus’ (as Theodore Dalrymple describes it in All Sex All The Time essay), their sense of worth, identity, so tightly bound up with their sexuality – attractive women who are ‘unattainable’, who far more likely have self respect i.e. haven’t so completely surrendered to the false prospectus – well most probably be taken as a grievous implicit judgement on their wretchedness.

    Or perhaps worse still, not having self respect, as such, but have used their sexuality to win rich unscrupulous men, like, say, Fred the Shred Goodwin, or much worse.


  4. Jackson

    If my comment seems not to respond to the question – it’s because this was linked from Moral Maze program on Slut Walk – I can’t seem to comment on BBC site.

    Maybe more on topic – Sex is powerful, I can see why people try to play down its power by saying “it’s just sex” or “a bit of fun” hmmm… yes well, let’s see how long you can go without it; it clearly is not just sex for the vast majority of human kind, considering the compromises they make for it.

    What chance is there that this power influences people to down grade, for sex to take priority over, very important aspects of character development?

    One very important human potential that can be sabotaged by over sexuality is parenthood; the apologists won’t be able to leaverage State, tax payers, money on behalf of the sexually corrupt indefinitely, so this harsh, obvious, reality will tragically become more obvious, more harsh, with time.

    As my last comment makes quite clear, I can see the appeal of a short skirt, but that doesn’t make it right – I think the sort of woman who feels liberated, or free, by wearing a short skirt, is probably no stranger to sex outside of marriage (liquid love, Bauman) and is less likely to be able to make the smooth transition to ‘happy families’ should she wish; and even if she does, she’ll have to contend with a society of people not so able to adapt.

    I wonder, for such women, if they do find a man who is romantic, decent, ergo doesn’t watch pornography (sadly probably quite rare these days), if they fall head over heels, want to settle down, will they be happy, say, about him working with scantily clad young girls?


  5. LittleZ

    Jackson, your comment doesn’t make anything clear, to me. But that could be just the wanton cruelty to the common comma… on the other hand, as a wearer of short(ish- I am in my late. er. mid-20s) skirts who also has been forced to cope- through various personal circumstances, a very long time without sex, married or otherwise- I’m not so sure your point would hold up even with grammar intact. The argument about assault ‘because’ of skimpy clothes- which you seem to have got all confused about- applies just as clearly to your claim that such outfits ’cause’ both the onlooker and the wearer to be unable to maintain relationships- which is to say, that you can’t read a woman’s mind by her outfit.

    (What is a ‘short’ skirt anyway? There’s quite a margin between a 11″ one and a 20″ one. With high or low shoes? Thick tights or none? With a quiet, high-necked shirt or a low tight one? Come to that, is the wearer 26 and swaggering and roving her eye, or 17, shy and unaware that it’s anything other than fashionable? And which one of them bothers you more? Does it matter, in fact, if she actually has legs that bear up to showing- what if they’re very hairy, say? Would that be okay? I should think your imagined philanderers would be far more restrained then…)

    Besides, where does the claim that only virgin brides can ever, well, be brides, or at least enjoy their husband and children, even belong in a debate about sexual assault anyway? Or is it just that ‘that sort of woman’… actually, I give up, it’s such a mean-spirited, presumptuous mindset I can’t even think my way into it. (Though your definition of what women ask of a man is a little… odd. No suggestion that he should have not had sex before marriage, I notice… just oh god the very idea of him looking at rude photos… you really don’t spend much time listening in on mixed-gender bunches of students, do you? What about women who read pornography, are they decent? Can they ever be loved?)

    (Yrs, LZ, friend of at least 10 un-virginal wives, slender-legged fashionista… oh, and very modern ‘maiden’. Yes, really. Told you that you couldn’t tell.)


  6. Jackson

    Thank you for pointing out the comma thing… rather stilted and tedious and not surprisingly it’s not the first time someone pointed it out (I use to be worse believe it or not). As far as my poor grammar having a bearing on the merit, or lack of (there I go again)… in my argument it possibly does say a lot, but I think I’m improving.

    I may well be confused, even wrong.

    “I should think your imagined philanderers would be far more restrained then…”

    Are you saying philanderers don’t exist? I think for many men and women some binge drinking would loosen up any such restraint.

    Maybe I am a little too mean spirited, I wish I weren’t, read Bauman… he’s much less mean spirited than I.


  7. Jackson

    Well, you may or may not see the relevance of the following. I’ll begin with something fairly directly (for me anyway) responding to the question of ‘does wearing a short skirt make you free?’
    What is free?
    I’ll quote an essay that I highly recommend http://www.city-journal.org/html/10_3_urbanities-all_sex.html

    “The sexual revolutionaries’ ideas about the relations between men and women—entailing ever greater sexual liberty, ever less mastery of the appetite—were so absurd and utopian that it is hard to understand how anyone could have taken them seriously. But mere absurdity has never prevented the triumph of bad ideas, if they accord with easily aroused fantasies of an existence freed of human limitations.”

    Here’s a link to an important forum discussion – I think girls heavily influenced by MTV culture (and there must be a lot of them) probably do think wearing a short skirt enhances their sense of being free; obviously primarily for the wrong reasons.

    But that may not be so obvious to a disturbing proportion of society

    With regards to pornography, I don’t think it will ever properly be considered a decent pastime in whatever media but I’m particularly concerned about the visceral nature of video.

    Discussed here at 04:30 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQi5D-MTpfg&feature=related
    I’m quite sure that many people will be moved to jeering laughter by the notion that pornography could be compared to cocaine in terms of addictiveness. I’m quite sure because that’s a rather typical consequence of an eroded moral sense.

    Something like being desiccated; take the following dialogue – this also addresses the point “No suggestion that he should have not had sex before marriage, I notice…” From my point of view there is every suggestion and I’m not just being pedantic when I point out that I said ‘outside’ marriage. I’m ambivalent about religion so my idea of marriage doesn’t necessarily mean being formalised in the traditional manner – but it probably should. I’m thinking less in sequential, logical, linear terms, more in broad metaphorical, moral, terms. (hope that’s not too many commas)

    That dialogue:
    I asked the Royal Academy’s chief of exhibitions, Norman Rosenthal. A man much reviled by some academicians (a few of whom resigned from the academy over the exhibition), he is clearly very good at his job. Somewhat grubby and unwashed, he has the charismatic capacity to antagonize at 100 yards; and when he speaks—hundreds of words to the minute—one feels one is listening to Mephistopheles.
    “All art is moral,” he said. “Anything that is immoral is not art.”
    There is no such thing, wrote Oscar Wilde, as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. Presumably, then, Mein Kampf would have been all right had it been better written.
    “The picture raises interesting questions,” continued Rosenthal.
    “What interesting questions does it raise?” I asked. “Because it must be possible to formulate them in words.”
    “It raises a question, for instance, about the exploitation of children in our society,” said Rosenthal.
    “Some might say that the use of a child’s palm to produce a picture of a child murderer, when the child could not possibly appreciate the significance of the use to which its palm was being put, was itself a form of exploitation,” I replied.
    “If so, it is very minor by comparison with what goes on in the rest of society.”
    “But why must we judge everything by the lowest possible standard?” I asked.
    Rosenthal simply couldn’t see what the mothers were objecting to. It seems that a life spent in the cultivation of the plastic arts can desiccate a man to the point where he has little sympathy with people whose existence is on a less rarefied plane.

    If men (studs?) have, or have had, lower standards (with regard to sexual relations I’m certain they have) I don’t merely suggest, I advise people not to use them as the standards to live by.



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