Is There a Connection Between Sexy Clothes and Sexual Violence?

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Is There a Connection Between Sexy Clothes and Sexual Violence

In October 2017, The New York Times published a stirring report about Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein, and allegations that he sexually harassed actresses like Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan. That was just the beginning. Since then, many more women have come forward, accusing Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment.

It has spurred on the sweeping #MeToo movement, which has become a global rejection of the abuse of male power and the inequality between genders.

Amidst this uprising, a controversial argument has come up again and again. Namely, those women are sometimes to blame for the sexual violence they experience. Why? Because of how they dress.

In fact, a UK-based Sexual Assault Research poll found that 26 percent of people think a woman is either partially or fully responsible for rape if she wears sexy or revealing clothes.

But is there any correlation between sexy clothes and sexual violence? And if so, does that excuse the people committing acts of violence against others?

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Mayim Bialik blames women for sexual violence

In her controversial op-ed published in The New York Times in October 2017, actress, Mayim Bialik, described herself as a “nontraditional”-looking woman” who has had “little desire to diet, get plastic surgery or hire a personal trainer.”

Bialik believes it’s because of these decisions that she has had “almost no personal experience with men asking me to meetings in their hotel rooms.”

She continues by saying, “Those of us in Hollywood who don’t represent an impossible standard of beauty have the “luxury” of being overlooked and, in many cases, ignored by men in power unless we can make them money.”

In short, Bialik implies that by choosing to not look like other actresses, she has escaped sexual violence. As for the other women? They’re pretty much asking for what happens to them – more or less.

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On the one hand, Bialik believes women should wear whatever they want, but not yet: “In a perfect world, women should be free to act however they want. But our world isn’t perfect…we can’t be naïve about the culture we live in.”

And what culture is this exactly? That men can, and do, sexually assault women because they dress a certain way. But is that true?

Do sexy clothes equal sexual violence?

Research finds that the problem of appearance and violence goes much deeper than a mere outfit. In fact, there’s a lot at play when a man is sexually violent with a woman.

For one thing, the objectification of women is a long-standing problem and when a woman is objectified sexually, it can reduce her personhood and identify, leading to something called dehumanization.

Dehumanization is dangerous because when we stop seeing another person as a human – as one of us – a whole slew of negative behaviors can follow, such as sexual assault, lower moral concern for the individual, and victim blaming.

Objectifying media content, as well as associating women with animals and objects, all contribute to the abuse of power in sexual relations and can lead to aggression and even violence.

But what does science say about a woman’s outfit and sexual violence?

Several studies reveal that when a woman wears provocative clothing, they are rated as being more seductive, promiscuous and sexually experienced.

And this goes without saying. A man can perceive a woman as not only sexual but also sexually attractive, depending on what she wears.

However, this cannot, and should not excuse a man for losing his self-control and acting out his sexual desires – all because of an outfit, and all without consent.

Sexual violence: with or without sexy clothing

“What Were You Wearing?” This is a common question many sexual assault survivors have to withstand, implying that what they wore is a contributing factor to the suffering they experienced.

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“What Were You Wearing?” is also the name of a powerful exhibition at the University of Florida, showcasing the actual outfits women wore at the time of their sexual assault.

Instead of racy and seductive pieces, the clothing you see are everyday outfits, like overalls, a sports jersey, a hoodie, and pajamas. Exhibitions like this challenge the notion that a woman’s outfit causes sexual assault, and so do the testimonies from many Muslim women who cover themselves in modest clothing and even wear the hijab.

While out in public, and completely covered, these women share that they experience aggressive and indecent sexual behavior, along with grabbing, touching and even verbal abuse. One woman shares that even when completely covered from – head to toe – she was raped.

So, if it’s not the clothing, what is it?

A problem of “gender dysfunction”

Above, we mentioned how women are often blamed for the experience of sexual assault because of their clothing, suggesting that men are powerless in the presence of an attractive woman.

Isn’t this ironic, however? On the one hand, men abuse their power when exerting sexual violence on a victim. Yet, the explanation and excuse for this behavior is that they have no choice. Similarly, when women are faced with sexual assault, they often feel as though they, too, are powerless and have no choice.

In an interview with BBC Newsnight, Academy Award-winning actress, Emma Thompson, weighed on this imbalance of power between men and women, calling it a “gender dysfunction.”

In short, women do not have enough power and enough voice in matters of sexual violence. On the flip side, men have far too much power, and sadly, many abuse it, as we’ve witnessed with men with great power, including Weinstein and many others.

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Who’s to blame for sexual violence?

While it’s easy to blame women for the sexual violence they experience because of an outfit they wear, this is an easy way out for perpetrators. It removes responsibility and allows sexual violence to continue.

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This type of victim blaming points out a larger problem at play here, and something which needs to be rectified in society.

The inequality between genders is irresponsible, but it doesn’t support either men or women or the types of healthy, respectful relationships we aspire to build between them.


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