On Tuesday the 21st of April, the DA marched to Mpumalanga Legislature to hand over a memorandum opposing discrimination. This march comes after ANC MP’s told DA Mpumalanga Deputy Leader Jane Sithole that her dress was inappropriate, with someone even likening her dress to one “worn by prostitutes”. What she wore, which had no bearing on the issue that was tabled, came to eclipse the meeting. This is what she wore:
Sithole shows no cleavage, the dress is fitted but not tight, and it falls below her knees. What is inappropriate about it? I honestly cannot picture a prostitute wearing this classy dress, not unless she is a high-end escort.
This got me thinking about the ridiculous emphasis we place on what women wear. The words “slut” and “whore” are so readily used when women wear short skirts or show cleavage. This attitude has extended into actual legislature. Uganda’s anti-pornography Bill, dubbed the Mini-skirt Law by the media, criminalizes the “representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement”. The Bill has become misconstrued as justification for attacking women who wear revealing outfits in public. A horrific act occurred even closer to home when taxi drivers and hawkers in Johannesburg sexually assaulted a 25-year-old woman named Mwabisa Ngukana at a taxi rank, for wearing a short denim skirt. That’s right. A woman was abused for daring to wear an article of clothing that showed off her legs while in the company of men. And she must have deserved it, because her body does not belong to her, it belongs to the male gaze. That’s essentially the argument projected by society. In 2011, a Canadian policeman, Constable Michael Sanguinetti, spoke at Toronto University, telling students that women should dress modestly to avoid getting raped. This statement is highly problematic for two reasons. One: it feeds into the notion that men are animals that cannot control their sexual urges. This normalizes men’s violent sexuality as a basic part of men’s genetic makeup, and thus validating and excusing their actions. Two: it is victim blaming that makes victims the instigators of their own abuse. By stating that women must dress modestly, it essentially states that women decide whether or not we will get raped, by what we put on our bodies. Thus, the onus for the crime is placed on the victim, not the perpetrator. In cases of rape, people ask “What was she wearing” or “Did she drink or take anything?” rather than “Why did he rape?”. And that is a problem.
The policeman’s remarks led to the first SlutWalk, held in Toronto. Since then, annual SlutWalk’s have been held all over the world, from Latin America, Asia, to right here in South Africa, where I am from. These marches aim to challenge victim blaming and slut-shaming by bringing awareness to the multitude of sexual offences that occur daily.
This obsession the world has with what women wear is ridiculous. What this does repeatedly, is feed into the notion that women are to be judged by their outward appearances, that we are not real people constructed by more than what we wear. This attitude that focuses on the victim’s actions is too defensive. Women are told to dress modestly, to carry pepper spray, to take self-defence classes in order to be able to protect ourselves from danger. But how about we teach people not to rape? How about we encourage people to view women as more than just sexual objects? How about we create a world where people have sexual ownership of their own bodies? The day we learn to respect each others bodies and minds is the day we start to regain our humanity.