Deconstructing Rape Myths: On Short Skirts (On Lesbians)
A couple weeks ago on the Sexist, we discussed why wearing a short skirt is not an invitation to be raped. Still, doubts lingered. The two main arguments for why women must still protect themselves from rape by ditching the short skirt:
a) Rape is just one big misunderstanding. The proponents of this argument believe that women who wear short skirts are signaling that they are interested in sex. Therefore, rapists will naturally gravitate to these women and proceed to fuck them without their consent, because, hey—the skirt already gave them the go-ahead.
b) Short skirts are just too sexy to resist. According to this view, rapists are well aware that every woman in a miniskirt isn't down to fuck. But they just can't help themselves when they catch sight of those gams, so be a good girl and don't tempt the rapist.
Let's see if we can't address both of these theories at once with the help of star commenter Frankie.
Here's the situation: Frankie was giving her girlfriend a good-night kiss when three men attempted to intercept the PDA. She writes:
After walking [my then-girlfriend] home, three guys who were hanging out around the block of flats where she lived approached . . . I think it was pretty obvious we were a couple, as not only were our arms around each other but they’d just watched us kissing.
"Hey, do you have boyfriends?"
My girlfriend looked confused. "No. I’m a lesbian"
"So you won’t show my friend some love then?"
They shouted a few sexual comments as we walked off, until I shouted back. "Lesbians means no fucking men. Literally."
Their response? Weirdly, it was, "You’re just chicks with dicks anyway."
Gay couples are not unaccustomed to this particular flavor of street harassment. "After speaking to a few of my friends about this, it seems I'm not alone in having this experience," Frankie writes. "All of us have noticed that if out and about as part of an obvious same sex couple that we seem to attract more attention, and often that this attention is negative. However . . . if both members in the couple are conventionally 'feminine', by which I mean thin, average or short in height and dressed in 'girly' clothing, then that attention is nearly always from men and nearly always sexual in nature."
Adds Frankie, "I think I have had a lot more hassle off guys trying to pick me up when I’ve been out in public with a girlfriend than when I’ve been out with a boyfriend, a group of friends or even on my own."
What can account for this? There's no "misunderstanding" of Frankie's sexual willingness here—Frankie and her girlfriend were clearly demonstrating that they were exclusively interested in each other, not the men. It's not that Frankie's body was just too hot to be resisted—she experiences sexual harassment at a much higher rate when she's clearly coupled up with another lady, and far less when she's out alone (and, we can assume, equally attractive). Of course, Frankie's harassers aren't rapists (as far as we know), but they are exhibiting some analogous behavior—they are attempting to gain verbal sexual dominance over someone who clearly doesn't want it. So, what is it?
Perhaps it's time to float another theory: That some rapists rape because they see women (or gays, or trans people, or other groups who are marginalized) who have autonomy over their sexuality, and they just really, really hate them for that. They seek to return control of that sexuality to its rightful owners—heterosexual men.
The sexual advances Frankie has experienced are clearly hate-motivated. If she's out in a same-sex couple that's perceived as insufficiently feminine, she'll get negative attention. If she's out in a same-sex couple that's perceived as fuckable by the standards of some heterosexual male passerby, she'll get negative sexual attention. And if she dares to reject that negative sexual attention ("lesbians means no fucking men"), her harassers will compound the negative sexual attention with some good old-fashioned homophobia—and labor to place the women back in the "insufficiently feminine" zone ("you're just chicks with dicks anyway").
There is no confusion here; there is only hate. On a recent post, a commenter wrote: "If short skirts signal sexual willingness, then it is reasonable to hypothesize that women who wear short skirts are more likely to be raped." In reality, "sexual willingness" is exactly the opposite of the signal that rapists are looking out for. If rapists zeroed in on sex partners who appeared to be "sexually willing," then they would abandon their advances when the woman in the short skirt said "no," or struggled to fight him off, or tried to escape. Instead, sexual rejection only fuels the hateful activity. It is the rapist's desire to inflict pain upon people who are sexually unwilling.
That brings me to the third argument against women wearing short skirts that I've heard over and over again over the last couple weeks. It goes like this:
c) Short skirts prevent women from successfully prosecuting cases. These types claim not to believe that a woman who wears a short skirt is "asking for it." However, they know that a lot of their fellow citizens do think this way—citizens who are likely to be sitting in the jury of a rape trial. So: If a woman is raped while wearing a short skirt, no one will believe her, and therefore wearing a short skirt is irresponsible. Women who want to protect themselves won't wear short skirts.
I wonder what these people might tell someone like Frankie. Don't date women, because it's too dangerous? Date women, but don't flaunt your queerness by kissing or holding hands, because it's too dangerous? Don't reject men's sexual advances, because it's too dangerous?
The reality is that the well-meaning types who propose solutions like (c) are no different from the rape apologists who perpetuate rape myths like (a) and (b). The end result is the same: They accommodate rapists by forcing women to arbitrarily modify perfectly reasonable behaviors (wearing a skirt, kissing other women in public)—and then discrediting rape victims' legal cases by situating those perfectly reasonable behaviors as irresponsible. These attitudes only work to reinforce the rapist's attitude toward his victims—that their sexuality needs to be controlled.
Don't accommodate rapists.