Clothes are not consent. Clothes have never been consent. Clothes will never be consent.
This is a good time to bring back the conversation of why nobody’s clothing is them asking to be catcalled, harassed, or assaulted. We just passed the halfway mark of Summer.That means with the peak of Summer comes vacations, heat, and humidity. This typically means that people will be wearing bathing suits, tank tops, shorts, sundresses, etc. and so it feels like a good time to put out the recurring PSA that clothes are NOT, in any way shape or form, consent.
“What were you wearing?” tends to be aimed at women survivors, because when we talk about dress code and policing clothing those rules tend to be around girls/women clothing; about how much of a girls body is showing and how that might impact the young boys and men around them. Policing clothing has also impacted people in the LGBTQIA+ community about what is appropriate for different genders to wear and if someone is deviating from the gender binary then they asked for the sexual and physical violence they experienced. This concept that clothing leads to certain responses is taught to us from childhood. There’s countless stories of little kids as young as 5 getting kicked out of places or denied entry because they were a little boy dressed up as a princess, a little girl whose sundress was “inappropriate,” or a kid exploring their gender expression/identity and it's too "dangerous" to other students. These ideas become ingrained in people so when adults experience sexual violence it becomes, “why would you bring attention to yourself? your outfit made you seem like you wanted it.”
Asking a survivor of assault “what were you wearing?” is a facet of victim blaming. Victim blaming is the idea that a victim is partially or fully responsible for what has happened. So if I am walking down the street and someone walks ups and punches me in the face, victim blaming would be “well how were you holding your face? Are you sure you didn’t look at them the wrong way? Maybe you walked into their fist for attention? Are you sure you didn’t ask to be punched?”. Now I hope we can all agree those sound like absolutely ridiculous and heartless responses. So asking “what were you wearing?” says the exact same thing. If we are being totally real it doesn’t even matter if someone is clothesless. Assaults only happen when there is an assaulter who wants to assault.
To see that sexual violence can happen regardless of what someone is wearing, check at the “What were you wearying?” Art Exhibit from the University of Kansas. The Art Exhibit was created by Ms.Brockman and Dr. Wyandt-Hiebert, after over a decade of work fighting sexual violence and intimate partner violence. They realized a pervasive question that was regularly asked was “what were you wearing?”
To sum up clothing has nothing to do with someone getting assaulted because:
- People get assaulted in bikinis and people get assaulted in sweats and hoodies. Experiences and research shows clothing does not make someone more likely to experience sexual violence.
- This argument is usually not used for men, so if clothing was a prevention method why would everyone not be taught it?
- Sexual violence wouldn’t exist if we could just change our clothes and make it go away.
*girls/women clothing doesn’t really exist, because anyone can wear anything. When we see dress codes in school and at work they tend to be aimed at the tightness, length, and body coverage of what women are wearing.
For more information and a deep dive into what makes some survivors more "believable" check out this article in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminalogy.