The topic that won't go away. Well, it can't. It's too important.
The title is deliberately misleading, but as the entire topic is about being provocative, I thought I would begin with a provocative statement.
Here's the problem.
Some (many?) people believe that what a woman wears has a direct impact on her risk factors for sexual assault, including rape.
Some of these people will state quite firmly that:
1) They do not believe any woman deserves to raped due to her choice of clothing.
2) Nevertheless, they believe that some women dress like whores
I find it hard to see how these two opinions work together. But I try to be patient and understanding with those who hold them, because there was a time when I would have agreed with them.
That is to say, when I was younger, I would have agreed with both statements.
But at some point I looked at how they contradict each other, and it was an epiphany. Therefore, I keep talking about it in the hope that others will have that epiphany. It's all I can do.
Those who hold these contradictory positions are not all men, in fact it's quite possible that more of them are women. After all, who raises the next generation of men? Who criticizes what women wear most of all? And women often have low self-esteem and much doubt about their appearance.
Sadly, this is what we're dealing with.
And we laugh. It's funny. And we all know what she means, right?
I've been told, many times, if I ask what precisely constitutes "slutty" clothing, "oh you know it when you see it".
You bet we do. We've been trained to. From the day we were born everybody around us who designated themselves the decency police have pointed it out. Good grief, how could we not learn this. Dress codes, parents, friends, the media, everybody has an opinion on what women should wear.
I've blogged before on the arbitrary nature of what is and isn't deemed acceptable, and won't bother repeating myself on that. I'm fairly sure that most people who read it did not have their opinion changed by it. In fact I don't expect to change anyone's opinion, it's too deeply ingrained in the psyche. That training worked really well.
A while back I had a polite disagreement with a very good friend about it. She was sincere and emphatic. If women dressed modestly it would be "better". It would "help". But she could not say what modest was. She got quite irate when I demanded a definition, and we both agreed to drop the subject.
But without a definition this argument goes nowhere.
We don't actually fix anything with "should". We can shout all we like about how men are fully responsible, for rape and it doesn't seem to make any difference. Especially all the time their mothers are teaching them about good girls and bad girls.
I don't believe I actually have any friends/readers who would agree with the crazies who think that women "ask for it", but I know I have a few who are still confused on those two beliefs above. And it is confusion. It is cognitive dissonance of the highest order. That's why it causes anger when it's challenged.
I am a pragmatist. I understand cause and effect. It's something you cannot escape from and it's why we find ourselves here. People getting cause and effect wrong creates so many problems in our world, and yet we see it all the time. And this is where the provocation idea comes in. So let's look at that carefully, because this is important.
We can see very easily that aggression in all its forms, from bar fights to military invasions, can be a result of provocation. As a child I hit people for teasing me. Perhaps you did, or perhaps you wanted to. It's wrong but it's so damn natural, this is not something we will ever overcome, and you can quote me on that. Dogs bite when they are teased. So do snakes, as my son found out when he was younger. And...don't poke the bear. We all understand provocation. OK?
And while we're here....provocation is not a cause. It is never allowed as "just cause" for violence.
What we forget when we call clothing provocative is that clothing is inert. It does not do anything. It doesn't poke, it doesn't tease, and it certainly isn't aggressive. People might do that, but garments don't. Attitude can be provoking, words too, but a piece of cloth? Maybe a flag?.........no, not even then. It's the attitude behind it that causes the anger. The poke, poke, poke.
You with your hand up at the back? Did you say "Yeah, just like guns don't kill people, people kill people. Ha ha ha. Spoons made me fat. HA HA HA.". You look very pleased with yourself. No, not like that. There is only one purpose for a gun, and you know it. Spoons and skirts are not analogous to guns in any way. Don't be silly.
No, the reason that people call clothing provocative is because they believe they know the intent of the wearer. What they mean is "she's wearing that to get male attention."
Is she? Are you sure? No, you're not. That may be the case, but just as likely:
1. It's all she's got clean right now.
2. If you've got it, flaunt it.
3. It was on sale.
4. It's the latest fashion.
5. It's to impress her friends.
6. It's comfortable.
7. She just likes it. Actually.
Not that any of this matters really. Nobody's else's business, but the fact remains that when you look at what anyone is wearing, unless it's a uniform you really have no arcane knowledge of why it is being worn. No, you don't. So quit saying you do.
And what if she is wearing it for male attention? Is that wrong? Back in the days when women wore pretty bonnets, they chose them with the intent to impress male suitors.
Do men never dress to attract female attention?
Humans are vain creatures. We are programmed to seek attention in this way.
The very first item "worn" by humans was most likely beads. When an ancient human collected such items that could be strung around the neck, who did they do it for? Can you see your own necklace? Did they have mirrors? No, it was "look at me, I'm pretty, I have beads". Anthropologists strongly suspect men did this first, based on the fact that in the animal kingdom it is usually the male who "displays".
But is the attention sought sexual?
Sometimes it must have been, it certainly is for peacocks. But there is far more to our vanity than that.
When you get dressed in the morning you do so for many different reasons. Sometimes it's the first thing out of the closet. Sometimes it's an agonizing decision. But to a greater or lesser extent there are two things that we do - sometimes subconsciously.
We wear what we think looks good. That is to say it "suits" us. It minimizes flaws and maximizes our attributes. You get compliments when you wear forest green? You'll wear it more. When you are choosing a single item of clothing with the help of other people, there will at some point be an agreement that this one looks better on you than that one. Maybe an expert can explain why, but often it's just one of those things. Unless you are deliberately trying to look bad for some reason, the choice is obvious.
We wear what we thinks "says" something about us. This can often be for business reasons. There is such a thing as power dressing. If you are actually in the public eye there is a genuine career benefit in being trendy and in choosing certain styles. You may need to research this, or take advice, but there are certain unwritten rules, and they change. Watch Hilary Clinton's earrings for a lesson here. In some lifestyles (including mine) looking quirky is not only acceptable but expected. If I do a show in very "plain" clothing it is a bad business move. The more colourful I am the better. But there are individual choices here too. Extroverts tend to dress differently to introverts, because we seem to like to warn people. Is it vanity or is it authenticity? Does it really matter?
Is any of this sexual? Unless you are one of those who thinks everything is sexual, I'd assume you'd think not. Self -image is far more complex and interesting than that.
But that word provocative, what does it mean? It means intent to elicit a reaction.
This is a huge assumption.
Is this person trying to elicit a reaction?
Possibly. Possibly not.
If you say "obviously" then you must be a mind-reader. Clearly this person doesn't object to attention, but you absolutely do not know their motives for such an unusual appearance. No, you don't. You can make all sorts of guesses, but any of them could be completely wrong and really is the height of arrogance to insist that you can tell just by looking.
I think this is hideous. But it's none of my damn business. I didn't have to pay for it, and it causes me no harm. It causes nobody any harm.
Is it provocative?
Oddly enough some people think so. People with extreme appearances like this are frequently insulted, and sometimes attacked physically. How can you justify that?
Well, here's the truth. People justify it by saying "what do you expect if you look like that?"
Now, let's be very clear here. They may not actually say that a weird-looking person deserves to be beaten up. But they are saying it's "understandable". They are saying that if you go around looking very unusual you shouldn't be surprised if you are bullied.
They claim not to be blaming the victim ("Oh, it's still wrong") but at the same time they see it as normal, or "human nature" in some way.
In other words, all you have to do is conform, and you won't get picked on.
Really? It's certainly true that bullies quite often single out targets based on appearance. Whether it's deliberate or accidental. Ask the fat kid. No question at all. And saying this is wrong is stating the obvious. It's also stating the obvious that if we shrug and say nothing we can do about that - that's how bullies are, we are enabling them. But I stated early on here that no amount of shouting what people shouldn't do is going to change anything one way or the other. Telling bullies to resist taunting or harming her is not going to work. They seek out victims, and if they don't find a "suitable"one they'll pick at random.
And telling her to look normal so they leave her alone (and move on to somebody else) may sound like good advice, but it's not.
Because there's no such thing as normal. Unless you mean a newborn. And is that with or without hair? And which skin colour?
And you don't need me to tell you that skin colour is a BIG issue when it comes to bullying.
What would normal mean there, if we defined it? The most common?
At it's absolute peak, (visibly) white people were about 27% of the world's population in 1950. This is now dropping again and expected to reach single figures later this century. There is nothing normal about being white. We are a mutation.
Ah you say, you can't use that as an example. Skin colour is not a choice. Quite so. But then neither is sex. So being female is normal, because we are the majority, but we are still treated as a minority, more so in some places than others, but let's just say that equality is not here yet. No, it's not.
If it were we wouldn't be having this argument in the first place. Because it's all about what women wear. Because we are the bullied ones. We are the ones being told what to do and what not to do. We're the ones being told that our clothing causes problems.
When this was discussed recently, and I used the example of a Muslim girl being chastised by her father for not covering her face, because it could cause her to be raped, I was told this was not the same thing. Well, two things that are different are never the same, but I contend that the analogy is sound because it is different only by degree. The argument remains the same, and the solution offered by the argument is just as ineffective.
If a girl wearing a face cover worked as an effective protection against rape, then by now all women would cover their faces. Yes, really. We all wear shoes to protect our feet, and I don't need to tell you how profitable sunscreen is.
But here is just one example of a Muslim country that has found it serves no purpose.
If the solution really were that simple, after all these years of women suffering this crime of violence, do you think we are so stupid as to not follow it?
"Slutty", or provocative. or whatever you want to call it, is a moving target. It varies by date, place, occasion, and social group. To many religiously conservative people a woman showing her shins is a slut.
In olden days a glimpse of stocking........
And yet, those who insist that modesty "helps" continue to rave on. They ignore the data. The data shows that the vast majority of rapes are committed against fully dressed women with no history of provoking anyone. In other words the idea that the provocative clothing has any connection to violence against women is simply wrong. But a lot of people still believe it.
But here's another angle. One recent study has suggested something quite different:
No. Let's be perfectly honest here. Seeing clothing which is tight or shows more skin as "provocative" is a matter of opinion and taste. If you find a person's clothing offensive, or any aspect of their appearance come to that, you don't have to look. That's how the Amish deal with it. They look away. They don't condemn, or persecute, or bully. Just because they opt for an ultra modest style of clothing doesn't mean they insult ours. They keep their opinions to themselves.
It is not "common sense" for women to dress modestly. It solves nothing. And there is no solid definition of "modest". At best it means "like me".
We can not live our lives based on what other people think of the way we look, because there will always be somebody who disapproves.
That invisibility cloak might just work though. Making women invisible seems to be the goal.