Blame it on her clothes… and “biology”!

The following article originally appeared on the author’s Man Up! blog and has been reposted with the author’s permission.  David Belt is the Man Up! Program Coordinator for the Missouri Organization to Counter Sexual Assault.

Working in the field of sexual violence prevention, we regularly bump up against men (and women) that – though they report they are “totally against rape” – think that women should be more careful with what they wear when they are out and about.  Some even add in, “… because men biologically can’t control themselves when aroused…”

The following comment from a ‘well-meaning’ father appeared in a response to a recent blog posted on the UMKC Women’s Center blog page.  It is a sentiment that has been echoed by many before and throughout our culture:

“As the father of a daughter, I am 100% supportive of the fact that sexual assault is something that should not occur under any circumstances. The one area that many women seem to conveniently overlook is that biological studies have shown that the most basic way men get “aroused” and become sexually attracted to women is through visual stimulation. While nothing justifies sexual assault, there are many instances where women should be charged with indecent exposure. For example: Wearing a bikini on the beach is a natural situation where women wearing scantily clad bathing suits may be “racy”, but still appropriate. However, a woman wearing that same scantily clad bathing suit in a mall or at a grocery store is inappropriate. One way to dramatically reduce sexual attention in inappropriate environments is for women to dress more conservatively in those environments. I’m not talking about burqas and excessive clothing covering every inch of the body; I’m talking about “dressing appropriately” for the theater you are going to.”

There’s a lot to say in response to those that buy in to these beliefs that both blame what happens to a person based on what they wear as well as exonerate men who are unable to control themselves in various situations for “biological” excuses. First of all, to suggest that “the sins of men are, in part, the fault of women, specifically women in “tight-fitting clothing,” is putting a lot of responsibility at the feet of women. But we know that women that dress conservatively, even in burkas, can be victims of sexual assault. It also suggests that certain types of clothing holds so much power over men that they cannot resist to the point they must respond with violence and aggression – rape is not romance. If tight fitting clothes really caused men to act this way then the surgeon general needs to put warning labels on most (if not all) clothes sold to women these days. Many in the know in this field can tell you that sexual violence has nothing to do with how a woman dresses – as many victims we see are not wearing anything that is particularly “sexy” – and it has everything to do with how a potential perp chooses to behave.

Secondly, as a man, let me just tell you that it is insulting to men to claim that they are helpless to control their own actions. The implication of this thinking is that every male, given any situation where they have the opportunity to take advantage of someone else, could and would commit sexual assault. While it is true that the majority of assaults are committed by males, it is not true that the majority of males are sexually violent. Moreover, to base this on biology as if to suggest by stating something is “biological” is to imply it is instinct or ingrained and, therefore, impossible to alter or change is erroneous in and of itself. We (READ: human beings, both male and female) all have instincts and we are, in fact, instinctual; but instincts are only a part of our decision making process – and, yes!, we do have “knee-jerk” reactions to certain things.  But even those can be altered and controlled.

Bottom Line: Men choose and are solely responsible for how they behave and/or respond to how women freely choose to identify themselves through their fashion – to suggest anything else is ridiculous!

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