On the nights of the 24th and 25th, USF College Players performed The Vagina Monologues, a somewhat controversial piece that celebrates women’s sexuality and strength. The play is a series of monologues and poems, each from the point of view of a woman. One such poem, titled “My Short Skirt,” deals with the idea of a woman’s short skirt being an invitation for unwanted sexual advances. Considering that April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month, this is as relevant as ever.
First of all, let me say this; I love short skirts. I love them on me and I love them on anyone else. I love anything that shows my thighs, whether it be tight or flowy. I’ll pair a short skirt with heels, flats, socks and stockings, or any other possible accessorie. It’s not just revealing skirts that I love either. Low cut tops, cropped tops, tight tops, and more. Dresses, pants, shorts. What’s even stranger is that I love the opposite of this style just as much. I love turtleneck sweaters and skirts that touch my ankles. I love wearing layers. I love wearing baggy sweatpants, big coats, and old boots.
What isn’t strange about any of this, however, is that I will still experience some form of sexual harassment, regardless of what I’m wearing. Whether a woman is wearing a burqa or a bikini is irrelevant to the fact that, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, almost 20 million American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape. That’s 1 out of every 6 women. If these statistics only count on reported incidents, then the numbers are probably even higher. This also doesn’t even count the endless amounts of cat-calling and other forms of harassment that women face on the daily. When this behavior is dismissed with something as trivial as a woman’s short skirt, it does nothing but damage.
Fashion is an integral part of a person’s sense of self. What someone chooses to dress themselves in reflects how they see themselves and how they want to be seen. For a woman, this is even more true. Clothing has been used to both oppress and empower women, and this juxtaposition still holds true all around us. When the lines are blurred between when something is oppressive or empowering, sexualized by us or by them, it can make it difficult to decide how to present ourselves as women. A culture that dismisses rapists and shames victims only adds fuel to the flame.
I experienced my first form of sexual assault when I was six years old. A middle-aged man sat me on his lap, touched my thighs, and told me he thought I looked “precious in that short little dress.” After that, inappropriate comments from men and boys about my body and clothing were normal. Puberty only made this worse, with then my clothing decisions having to get an approval from my parents, and a wrong choice earning me a possible detention at school. As a teenager, I was often afraid that wearing something revealing would have me labeled a “slut,” and that whatever consequences came from my wearing of something deemed inappropriate were my own fault. I learned that my short skirt was a distraction, and that it was my responsibility to cover myself up. I’m saying now that it is not.
I love short skirts, and I will continue to wear short skirts. The amount of times that I have been followed, yelled or whistled at, and sometimes even grabbed while walking through Civic Center will not stop me from wearing clothing that is comfortable for me. Often, women are depicted as beautiful, exotic, sexual entities in mainstream media and fashion. Just look at any American Apparel ad and you’ll see this. It’s true; we are. Women are beautiful when they are free to be themselves, whatever that may be. They are exotic in that they are complex individuals, and they are sexual when they embrace their own sexuality for themselves. Inviting slut-shaming and rape culture shames women and promotes harassment and assault for everyone. For men, the statistic of rape is around 1 in 33. It’s speculated that 64% the trans* community has experienced some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. Sexual harassment and assault are never okay and as April ends, I hope we all can think about the language we use and the decisions we make every day that can affect how these statistics play out.
As for me, I will never take responsibility again for someone else’s perception of me. My short skirt and my turtle neck sweater have one thing in common; they are never an invitation and everything under them is mine.
Photo courtesy of Emily Pinnell-Stewart/Foghorn