The Sexist

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.

  • Allie

    I agree with Frankie's comment on getting more attention when clearly out with your girlfriend. I have definitely noticed more attention than when alone. One time I find a bit confusing, as I was walking to the store with my girlfriend and some recognizably male voice(s) yelled out of a passing truck "faggots". I don't really see the purpose.

  • Allie

    In response to "S". YOU say "NO", it's rape.

  • LeftSidePositive

    I agree with this so much that I'm going to repeat it and put it in bold:

    As to the whole getting explicit consent/ wearing a condom/ whatever “is a mood killer” argument… if any guy cares more about “the mood” (ie his pleasure) than a woman’s mental or physical wellbeing, IMO, he should not be allowed out in charge of a penis. But that’s a bit off topic, sorry.

    WELL SAID!!!!!

  • C. Boston

    I always find a VERY big problem with people such as Frustrated who say, "I can't always trust a women is actually raped when she says she is. Women make these sort of things up."

    How many women does it take to construct a generalization? How many stories? If five women do something, is it enough to challenge the credibility of a million? THOUSANDS of guilty men get away with rape simply because our society thinks it's okay to make assumptions about how much women lie based on several anecdotes (that may or may not be true). I'm sure there have been hundreds of incidents where men are lying and accuse others of stealing from them, but never have these incidents been used to discredit the honesty of their entire sex. One man's folly is his own, but one woman's folly is every woman's burden. It disgusts me.

  • Alex

    Thank you LSP :)

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  • Rox

    Really great article.

    I've not commented on here before, but I just wanted to say I'm confused about LeftSidePositive and Hannah's response to Frustrated's comment where he said..."next morning started sex again…she wasnt into it mid way…I stopped…asked her what was wrong…told me she felt bad about cheating on her current BF…had TOLD me they were taking a break"... "so she classified it as rape…"

    In the past, I've had sex before and lost interest halfway through. If you don't convey this to the person you are with, are they supposed to know that very second? Can we really expect men to realise the very instant we have second thoughts/feel ill/feel guilty/are bored/just don't feel into it anymore? I would never consider it rape if I changed my mind during the act of sex, and the guy I was with carried on. But I WOULD consider it rape, if I asked him to stop and he ignored me and carried on.

    Am I wrong?

  • mike

    I feel that the lack of male perspective on this issue is unfortunate. How can we truly understand rape in a forum dominated by the female perspective? We can't.

    There has been no mention here of the fact that psychologically speaking men are more visually stimulated than women. As a male who struggles every day with trying to keep my eyes to myself I wonder why so many women take such efforts to make themselves so visually distractive - from short skirts to low-cut tops - I feel it is disrespectful to men like me who try to show respect women by looking them in the eyes when I talk to them, and not at their chests. Its not a man's fault that we're visually stimulated and easily turned on by what we see, that's just how our brains work. I'm not saying men are blameless when it comes to rape, they should be punished severely. But isn't it more important to combat the problem from both directions?

    On the one hand shouldn't we be educating men about the importance of consent, teaching respectful values towards sexuality and cultivating a culture shift?

    And on the other hand, should we not be educating young women about the psychological effect of how they dress and present themselves has on men? I wish we lived in a society where women could wear what they please and be fearless around any man, but based on my experience of being a man in locker rooms and in pubs and bars, I know that we males are more often than not caught off guard when a pretty woman in suggestive apparel walks by.

  • Alex

    Mike: I suggest you go and read this post:

    The cliff-notes version:
    Even if women dressing or behaving in a particular way elicits a certain impulse from men - never mind that we live in a society which expects women to dress and behave in that way, and criticises and shames them when they don't - it is highly disengenuous to both sexes to suggest that men *have* to act on those impulses.

    We are all more than just a product of our biology, people. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that 2000+ years of civilisation, philosophy, morality and ethics means absolutely nothing.

  • Hannah


    'If you don’t convey this to the person you are with, are they supposed to know that very second? Can we really expect men to realise the very instant we have second thoughts/feel ill/feel guilty/are bored/just don’t feel into it anymore?'

    I definitely think women are taught that it is impossible for men to notice our feelings all the time during sex.

    I think the emphasis on verbal non consent ('if I asked him to stop'), apart from being completely unaccessible to people who are deaf and non verbal, comes from the idea that men are free to carry on until someone says no, or that rape becomes rape at the point where someone says no.

    This just does not pay attention to the reasons why people might not be able to say no: disabilities, fear, shame, embarrassment, guilt, resignation, etc.

    Various people have commented that it is unreasonable to expect men to notice that women are not into sex THE SECOND they lose interest. Not one person has given a time frame for how long they think women can be disinterested in sex before men should REASONABLY be expected to notice. How long is long enough? A minute? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Two hours?

    I think it makes far more sense to expect men to be in touch with the feelings of the woman they are having sex with 24/7.

  • Frustrated

    Various people have commented that it is unreasonable to expect men to notice that women are not into sex THE SECOND they lose interest. Not one person has given a time frame for how long they think women can be disinterested in sex before men should REASONABLY be expected to notice. How long is long enough? A minute? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Two hours?

    I think that all people being on a spectrum...some men would figure it out almost immediately (5-10 seconds), some connected and yet caught up men more time (30 seconds-1 min)some could be much longer...

    Hannah...I you think it needs to be instantaneous I recommend that woman refrain from having sex (or in my case initiating) till they have some ownership over the situation and them selves. Things happen to people that can give them say that all the blame is attached to the man not noticing first sells women way short...2 people consensual acts...means both people have a responsibility.

    I pray Hannah that any man not possessing jedi like skills of emotional linkage stay far far far away from you and your casual labeling of rape.

  • Hannah

    Unfortunately Frustrated, such men do not stay away from me. I was raped when I was fourteen. It was a horrific experience. Luckily, as the man was a complete stranger, and I was dressed conservatively, I was sober and I was relatively young, nobody thought my labelling was casual. Maybe you disagree.

    'to say that all the blame is attached to the man not noticing first sells women way short…2 people consensual acts…means both people have a responsibility.'

    I'm confused. You had sex with woman who did not want sex. How is this consensual?

    One thing that I thought about a lot after I was raped was, what was turning him on? I was crying and screaming and kicking before he exerted further force on me to shut me up and keep me still. Was my distress arousing to him?

    What was turning you on? Her disinterest? Her upset? What was making you want to have sex with this disinterested and upset woman?

  • Frustrated


    I'm fighting back the desire to be sarcastic with you as obviously you and your twisted perspective are the product of a horrible violation. Thank you for explaining how it came to be, it helps explains your willful misunderstanding and your inability to see the tragedy of a momentary mis-communication between lovers.

    I pray that some day you are able to understand and experience a consensual and fulfilling sex life.

    good luck

  • Alex

    Now, hang on a sec, before we dissolve into personal insults... "a momentary mis-communication between lovers"? Obviously it's nothing of the kind. Because she's calling it rape, and both parties are obviously still sensitive (to say the least) about the whole episode. That's not a "momentary mis-communication" that's a bucketload of misunderstanding, trauma and conflict which is obviously still relevant.
    To label it a mis-communication shows a remarkable flipancy about what happened here, a worrying dismissal of experience, and a possibility that no-one is exempt from the possibility of "willful misunderstanding"...
    I really think that this post here is starting to become relevant:

  • A

    Where is the moderator on this thread? Frustrated should not be allowed to comment anymore (after using "I pray that some day you are able to understand and experience a consensual and fulfilling sex life" as a comeback to a previous commenter's completely logical cross-analysis of the strange stories he was telling - could you be any more condescending and patriarchal!! this is the "you just don't understand because you're not getting enough dick" line of argument. and it's stupid.)
    First of all does anyone else notice that he said the woman had not been into sex since that morning? It's a reasonable assumption to make that she had no more interest when she woke up that morning and was sober. Therefore all this argument about exactly how long after you've been fucking someone who does not want to fuck you back are you raping them (which is a ridiculous argument to be having FYI and just more rape apology) is null because she hadn't wanted sex since the morning, before he had even initiated it. A lot of people don't feel comfortable just saying "I dont want to have sex with you" and signal this in many other ways, which doesn't take rocket science to figure out. If you are not mature enough to understand that people communicate this way in sexual situations then you are not mature enough to be having sex. Any sexual contact made after her feelings changed that morning was NOT completely consensual and therefore plain NOT consensual. And here we have arrived at the definition of rape.

  • Frustrated

    I apologize for the sarcasm...I truly do wish Hannah discover true sexual intimacy with someone she can be loving and unguarded with.

    This conversation is pretty much over...I can see that many of the people here are pretty mystified at what I went through with this false rape accusation. I admit that gives me some faith in humanity.

    Those who wish to call it rape...considering this woman herself doesn't herself consider it such and has apologized to me since (please read all the parts I wrote)...are allowing themselves to be stuck in a cycle of willful denial... and here are some of teh details from what Ive already written here.

    ...she and I both in..she climbed up on me...

    ...she stopped and moments...within 15-30 seconds of me realizing it I stopped as well...

    ...she stayed with me and I was her shoulder to cry on talking about her ex-bf most of the day!!!!

    For this to be called rape by her was self serving, and a sign of her mental and emotional instability.

    For someone in this forum to call it rape by shaping it into whatever twisted fantasy they have in their own minds is further evidence proving there are some women/men out there who will invalidate the true horror of rape by trying to classify this within it.

    THIS IS MY WHOLE REASON FOR POSTING! We all have an idea of what rape is...the 1.5 seconds of "I don't want it anymore" after 15 minutes of mutual sex...IS NOT RAPE when the other partner stops when he figures it out (and yes this happens pretty quick, some faster {1 -10 seconds?} than others {11-30?})

    What a sad sad situation this is...

  • Hannah

    Yes please someone moderate this thread.

    Frustrated, thanks for your concern re: my sexlife. I've never had consensual sex with a man but that's probably more due to my lesbianism than me having been raped and ruined for life as you seem to view it.

    I did read all your thread, including the part where you provided a shoulder to cry on for the woman who didn't want to have sex with you. Who said chivalry was dead?

    I just don't understand, even with the details about her climbing on top of you, and apologising for her accusations (more on that later), how you think this 'sex' was in any way normal. Does it not bother you that you had sex with someone who burst into tears?

    Really, does this seem normal to you?

    Are you going to put this all down to 'mental instability'?

    Is there not a tiny tiny bit of you that thinks that maybe, perhaps, you did something not quite right?

    As for her climbing on top of you, 'Yes means yes!: visions of female sexual power & a world without rape' has a brilliant introduction by Margaret Cho which explains the reasons that women initiate sex that they have no desire for. Please read it.

    As for her apologising for her accusations, this is the kind of thing you do when you want to smooth over something socially. Have you never apologised for something you didn't feel sorry about? I do it all the time - at work, I do it about ten times a day. It doesn't mean she doens't think you raped her.

    If someone accused me of raping them, and then later they apologised for it, I definitely would still not feel right about it.

    Does the fact that this woman said you raped her not incite a tiny inkling in you that feels uncomfortable with what you did? Any inkling at all?

  • AubreyC

    I was at first appreciating "Frustrated's" side, until he got to the point where he believes "No woman's rape story."

    @Frustrated Personal experience does not cancel out facts, and the fact is that the majority of women who are raped and report it are telling the truth.
    One third of all the women in our armed forces will be raped. Most do not report it exept to medical personel, and when they do even with proof, most are raped by their superiors, who then beat the charges, and *the* *majority* *of* *those* *CONVICTED* receive *ONLY* a SLAP ON THE WRIST, SUCH AS REASSIGNMENT.
    The Pentagon has aknowledged this, and is working to better it.

    The civilian statistics are slightly better-*only* one out of six women in the US will be raped-FAR more worldwide.
    Rape is INCREDIBLY common, and for you to assume otherwise based on your own bitterness, is the same as someone who once had a bad experience with a black person stating that all black people are lazy, shiftless liars, or, in your case, that all women are liars.

    In other words, you pass the misogyny test, my friend.

  • BobTrent

    A woman may dress and behave provocatively because she wants to attract a man to come and fuck her, but this is hardly an announcement that she wants just any "Tom, Dick or Harry" to just invite himself to help himself to her without her consent. Most likely she will want to choose which suitor of those available she wants to fuck her. If no respondent pleases her, she might reject them all.
    Even if she is a total give-it-away-for-free whore it is unlikely that she wants to be beaten, threatened with death, or simply overpowered, nor have her upper lip "Clintoned" (or "Billed").

  • BobTrent

    Where do you get the idea that rape has absolutely NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with sex?? A power trip is much easier when perpetrated with a knife, gun or other deadly weapon rather than risking one's genitals!

  • BobTrent

    Naah. A rapist just thinks she's playing hard-to-get, or is a prick-teasing bitch, or is just like his slut mother who molested him as a child, etc., etc.
    "Dorothy," a man who is like your hypothetical guy isn't a rapist, even if he's pushy.

  • BobTrent

    "Emily H.," welcome to the third planet from the sun.

  • BobTrent

    Did ya know that there are rapists who will back off if the woman puts up any resistance, even verbal only? They prey on "freezers," fraidies, women who don't object and are like passed-out women but are awake?
    If she doesn't wanna and he goes ahead, he's a moral if not a legal rapist.

  • BobTrent

    For a female to wear a short skirt is for her to be feminine, just as wearing a knee length, midi or ankle length skirt is being feminine.
    A woman who asks to be raped can't be raped. Her asking is playing a game.
    A woman wearing anything from a burka to stark naked isn't asking to be raped.

  • BobTrent

    Practically all males are given the message "DO NOT RAPE ... ANYONE."
    Some choose to ignore the message. Such are called "rapists" or "potential rapists" who haven't worked up the courage or haven't yet found the victim they are searching for.

  • BobTrent

    Would you apply the "guilty until proven innocent, or at least 'not guilty'" to all crimes or to males accused of rape only?
    "Guilty until proven not guilty" sure would make prosecutors' jobs easier. Bare accusation would do quite well unless the accused could prove he was in Timbuktu at the time the crime was alleged to have been committed.

  • BobTrent

    And just how would a person (women/females occasionally have been accused of rape) prove that the alleged rapee consented? A sworn, notarized statement or permission? Four witnesses? Permission (consent) may be revoked at any moment, without advance notice. Before entry, during a thrust, between thrusts, or during climax. As many unfortunate men have learned, consent may be withdrawn after the penis is withdrawn. Just a hazard of fornicating?

  • BobTrent

    Chopping hands off might also be fairly effective, as would gouging eyes out

  • BobTrent

    Don't have jury trials of men/males accused of rape. Have only administrative judge hearings in which the judge is paid only if she finds the accused "guilty."
    Would that be good enough? Or should a judge who finds a man accused of rape "not guilty" be put in the public stocks, whipped and spat on?

  • BobTrent

    Hmmm... what should the occasional female rapist have done to her? Infibulation?

  • BobTrent

    Some are very nice people whose only serious character flaw is that they are RAPISTS.

  • BobTrent

    About as good an analogy as can be made. Women, being human beings, generally expect, or at least hope, to get something they want or feel they need in exchange for allowing or inviting someone to have sex with them.
    A few are so despondent from depression that they don't care. A few are mentally deficient to the point that they aren't able to care. But most hope to get something they value in their own way.

  • BobTrent

    Especially since the male psychic mind-reading powers are tuned to a different frequency from those of females.
    Really, it's worse than that. Male ESP is on AndroModulation while female ESP is on FemaleModulation and never the twain shall meet.
    The DNA in every cell nucleus in the male body is coded "male" and the DNA in every nucleus in the female body is coded "female."

  • BobTrent

    Come on, now. Who would want to fuck/make love to a woman with such a mindset?
    If he was asleep (drunk/wasted) and she stimulated his penis to erection, climbed on top, started pumping and then lost interest, from that moment until she pulled off of him, he is raping her. He should go to prison for 20 years and be forced to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. He should already be in chains before he wakes up.