Let women wear what they want

By Gabrielle Pickard
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, June 30, 2012
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The notion that a women who is walking down the street wearing a short skirt, a "revealing" top and a pair of high heels is "asking for it", is surely as old-fashioned as believing women should walk five paces behind their husbands as a sign of respect.

Fortunately, however, not everybody shares the view that women of the 21st century are "asking" to be raped or assaulted if they wear a short skirt.

Controversy was ignited on the online community after a micro blog was posted by the Shanghai No. 2 Subway Company appealing to female passengers to dress in a "dignified" way to avoid sexual assault.

The blog post showed a photo of a woman standing on a metro platform dressed in a see-through dress. The image was accompanied by the words: "It is no wonder if you dress like this in the subway and get harassed. Girls, please be dignified to avoid perverts."

The patronizing, antiquated and condescending comment naturally sparked debate and outrage amongst Sina Weibo users, who posted comments such as: "According to this logic, all men can harass women in swimming pools."

The debate reached even further heights when, in protest of the micro blog, two women, one wearing a short skirt, covered their faces and stood on a Shanghai platform holding placards that read "Yes to coolness, no to perversion" and "I can be coquettish, but you can't harass me."

While I personally feel appalled that women in this day and age should be told to dress "respectfully" if they want to avoid being sexually assaulted, I feel equally as bemused by the fact that in voicing these views, I am considered to be an "angry feminist".

As the UK's Daily Mail wrote on its report on the Shanghai Metro dress advertising campaign: "The image….. has led to cries of discrimination and sexism by angry feminists."

The very fact women who are in opposition of the highly sexist campaign are regarded as "angry feminists", is proof that society still holds strong beliefs that women cannot, simply put, wear what they want.

Further proof that the view that provocatively dressed females are asking for trouble is not confined to an antiquated minority or restricted to countries like China, was a poll published in The Sun titled, "Rape: Did we ask for it?"

The poll found, somewhat alarmingly, that four in five women in the UK believe a rape would be taken less seriously if she had been drinking or wearing a short skirt.

And these attitudes that women who dress provocatively, have drunk too much or are a little flirtatious, are not just patronizing and old-fashioned but, unfortunately, are having a damaging effect on conviction rates. For example, in 2004, 14,000 allegations of rape were made in the UK and just 5 percent of the men accused of rape were convicted.

So let's examine some evidence that could help silence the stanch view that women who bare skin are asking to be sexually assaulted.

According to official crime statistics compiled by Nation Master, the highest rape rates are in African countries, such as South Africa, which has the highest incidents of rape in the world. Women typically cover up in South Africa and women traveling to the country are also advised to cover up, to avoid any "unwanted stares". The "logic" that being scantily dressed promotes rape is therefore completely obliterated in the case of South Africa where women don't routinely show their skin but are subjected to the highest incidents of rape in the world.

This comment posted by a Peace Corps volunteer on the Donut Orbitals blog sums up nicely the situation for women in South Africa: "In a purely selfish sense, I am constantly thankful for being male in South Africa. The way women are treated here is nothing short of grotesque."

Instead of droning on about who perpetuates this terrible crime, society should devote more time to prosecuting the true perpetrators - the rapists, and give the victims the sympathy and support they deserve.

The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit: http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/gabriellepickard.htm

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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