Is My Skirt Too Short?: The Rape Culture Pandemic

Rape culture: a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalising or trivialising sexual assault or abuse.

Rape culture puts the onus on women and girls to avoid sexual assault. Every woman I know takes precautions to keep safe, and women being shown ways to avoid or escape assault seem to do the rounds on social media every few months.

We’re told to try and avoid walking in the dark or on your own, lock your car as soon as you get in, if you go on a date with a boy make sure it’s in a public place and always tell a friend or family member where you’re going. These precautions have become second nature to women, becoming a normal part of our everyday routines. As much as I’m grateful for this information, I also feel very disheartened that we have to take these measures. What I would give to be able to go to a club and not worry about whether my drink may have been spiked.

Providing women with safety precautions is just one example of rape culture and victim blaming, and how the responsibility of sexual harassment and assault is put on to the victim’s shoulders rather than the perpetrators. The way women dress and behave, the places they go, the amount of alcohol they drink; none of these things contribute to being assaulted or raped. The only factor that determines whether someone is raped is a rapist.

Revenge porn

Revenge porn: The distribution of sexually explicit images or videos without the person’s consent.

This trend of victim blaming is also prominent when it comes to revenge porn.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began and lockdowns have been put in place, there has been a spike in image based sexual violence, with the UK Revenge Porn Hotline seeing cases rise by 22% in 2020.

In November 2020, a discord server was leaked, containing thousands of Irish women’s explicit photos and videos. There were images from individuals sharing content with partners, Onlyfans content, and even child pornography. At the time of the leak revenge porn was not illegal in Ireland. Legislation to pass a bill to make revenge porn illegal seemed to be moving along without much urgency, however after the leak of the explicit photos and videos and a petition with over eighty-four thousand signatures, a bill was finally passed in February making revenge porn a criminal offence. A great step forward, but definitely too little too late. The pictures and videos that were leaked have ruined the lives of so many young women in Ireland, not just because of a breach of consent and privacy, but because of the backlash they have received for taking the pictures and videos.

A common theme I observed on social media in the aftermath of this leak was men, and unfortunately some women, shifting the blame towards the victims for sharing the explicit content, rather than blaming the men who shared them. A classic example of victim blaming. This situation comes down to consent, or in this case, lack thereof. These women and girls may have consented to their photos and videos being seen by someone they trusted. But they did not consent to the images being shared with others, making it a complete violation of trust. So, if you see your mate showing people their partner’s nudes, don’t just sit back and watch, call them out on it!   

It’s interesting that a lot of men seem to have no issue with receiving nudes from women, and in fact, often actively encourage it, yet when these nudes are leaked, the same women are met with shame and degradation. Why are women considered sluts for sharing images of their body? Why has society come to sexualise women’s bodies so much? Revenge porn is another way for men to hold power over women and their bodies. Maybe it is a way to get back at an individual for a messy breakup. Whatever the reason, it is never ok to share explicit images.

Slut shaming

Slut shaming: The action of stigmatising a person for engaging in behaviour judged to be promiscuous or sexually provocative.   

Revenge porn can also be associated with slut shaming.

Slut shaming is a common occurrence, especially with the rise of social media. Platforms like Instagram have given people the perfect opportunity to anonymously troll women without facing much backlash. Nearly every time I scroll through social media, I see women being criticised for the clothes they have on, how much makeup they’re wearing, the way they pose for photos. I wasn’t aware that choosing to wear a dress that doesn’t go down to the floor determined how often I have sex, were you? Not that a woman’s sex life warrants any abuse or judgement anyway.

After doing some research on Instagram I found that many women shared the same experiences of being slut shamed and told they are ‘asking for it’ based on the clothes they were wearing; a very sad insight into the unprovoked harassment women face both online and in the real world. Clothing never has and never will determine consent. It seems that there is a perception that women dress for men, to look appealing to them and send a message that they are looking for sex. Not once have I chosen an outfit and thought ‘I’ll wear this dress, so men know I want sex’. The idea that women dress for men suggests that the main function of a woman’s body is for male pleasure, which is completely crazy if you ask me.

The reasons behind women being described as sluts are often absolutely nothing to do with their sex lives at all. Seemingly, things like the company we keep, being on birth control, or even how much alcohol we drink can lead to a woman being labelled a slut. The term ‘slut’ itself is completely rooted in misogyny. I often hear of women who enjoy a lot of sex being branded as ‘sluts’, and yet, personally, I have never heard of any man being described in this way. For men, its often quite the opposite, being congratulated and applauded on all their sexual conquests. Who decided it was one rule for women and another for men?

In 2011 the first ‘SlutWalk’ took place in Toronto after a police officer advised women that they could avoid sexual harassment and rape by not dressing like ‘sluts’.

The movement has now spread across more than 200 cities in 40 countries. SlutWalks aim to dispel the misconceptions that rape culture and slut shaming rely on, with the walks often ending with speeches from sexual assault survivors and members of anti-assault organisations. Although it is inspiring to see people come together in support of each other in events like these, there should not be any need for them in the first place. Slutwalks started because a figure in authority, whose job is supposed to be to protect the public and prevent criminal activity, essentially implied that women who dress in a certain way are asking to be victims.

PSA: I could walk around town completely naked and I’m still not asking for it. Clothes do not determine consent. The only thing that determines consent is a person telling you they give you consent.

Sadly, this pressure for women to dress and act a certain way starts at an early age. Dress code policies in schools are significantly aimed towards girls. My school, like many others, had numerous rules about uniform; the length of skirts and dresses, the amount of makeup that can be worn, brightly dyed hair, piercings. Even being able to wear your own clothes in sixth form came with its own issues. I was admonished for shorts that were deemed ‘too short’ or a visible bra strap, all of which may ‘distract boys’. I find it quite worrying that seeing some of a woman’s thigh or a strap from a piece of clothing is enough to possibly distract boys and affect their learning in the classroom. Dress code policies reiterate and potentially even encourage this behaviour towards women and girls. It is incredibly worrying that girls have these outdated rules and perceptions thrust upon them from such a young age. School uniform policies that teach children as young as junior and secondary school age that skirts and dresses must be worn at a certain length are a problem centred in the traditional attitudes of how men perceive women’s bodies. Or perhaps they think they’re doing us a favour? Maybe they are trying to help us to avoid experiencing sexual harassment by informing us about how to dress around men? Whichever way you look at it, ultimately it all leads back to misogyny that has become such an unquestioned part of our society.

It’s sad that people, especially women, still have to deal with all of these issues. But times are changing, laws are being passed, women are feeling more empowered than ever. Hopefully in the future we will see the end of slut shaming and the culture of victim blaming and rape culture. Let’s keep going!  

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Worried mum

As a parent of girls this article is very thought provoking, I must admit that I do worry what message the clothes they wear will send to men. After reading this article I realise this is unfair but I am now even more worried for them. Let’s hope things change and men listen to what the author has to say.