As a child I remember my church leaders sharing stories of how girls had a responsibility to dress and act appropriately or else they’d cause boys to have indecent thoughts. This is true in some fundamental conservative groups. If those boys acted on these impulses, the blame was placed on the girl. Not the boy. Not much was mentioned on the consequences of what a boy wore but rather what he thought or felt on how a girl dressed.
We were conditioned to think as women that we were the ones to blame for the bad behavior of males. If we didn’t wear that short skirt, tank top, short shorts, halter shirt, high cut skirt, then that boy wouldn’t have assaulted us or worse.
Sunday school teachers used many metaphors to get their point across. One referred on how not being dressed modestly is like rolling in manure. Yes, you get attention but mostly from pigs.
Or another friend shared how she was told to put a t-shirt over her ‘revealing’ one-piece bathing suit while at a youth pool party. The leaders didn’t want her to tempt the boys. Her suit had bows on the sides that revealed a little ‘skin’. Heaven forbid if a boy got the wrong idea.
The big thing I got out of these messages was I was to blame for any ‘bad’ thoughts a boy might have due to what I might be wearing.
What’s sadder is I really believed I was to blame for the actions of boys or men that tried to sexually harass me.
One day this all came back to haunt me. My mother had called the high school and told them to release me for the day. We didn’t have a phone as Dad didn’t believe in them. Also they expected me to walk the three miles home. It was around 11ish when I was approached by a man who threatened me at gun point to get into his car or else. I freaked and somehow got away.
I was shaken but the real horror didn’t come until I had to testify against him at trial.
While on the stand, I was forced to relive the nightmare but one thing stuck in my head. His attorney said, “My client had entertained dark thoughts when he saw you in your tight jeans. He wouldn’t have thought them otherwise.”
So right there in the court house, a lawyer only reaffirmed what I’d been told as a child and as a teen:
You’re to blame for any violation if you happen to wear something revealing.
I didn’t think otherwise as I was taught throughout my life that I was to blame for the bad behavior of boys and men by the clothing I wore.
Later, I went home and burned those jeans.
I was horrified. I felt I’d been violated all over again. I know this is one huge reason why I didn’t date until college. I didn’t want to encourage any unwanted behavior and it felt safer to stay by myself.
But this didn’t stop the harassment from other men. The catcalls, men thinking they had the right to grab my breasts or butt, the disgusting whispers in passing, and other things continued. Once I even had a guy try to pull me out of my car while at a stop light. He yelled disgusting things he’d do to me and got angry when I didn’t respond.
Unfortunately society still judges people on how they look, act, or what they wear. We see this on TV, social media, and in the schools. The way a person dresses can have a big impact on how others can treat them. Right or wrong. We need to be aware of our surroundings and be prudent.
Saying that, it still doesn’t excuse the behavior of others. No one chooses to put dark thoughts in your head. No one acts on impulses to rape or sexually harass a girl or woman just because of what they wear.
No matter what anyone says, no one can put thoughts in someone else’s mind. They CHOOSE how they act.
Thank goodness there are YA books out there that address this topic. How I wish they’d been there when I was seventeen years old and in that court room.
Hannah mentions on the tapes how she was no longer seen as a person but an object after a so-called friend put her on a ‘list’ for having the best ‘ass’. Girls going through this can see what Hannah did and realize they have other options. Warning though, this book does deal with suicide which might be a trigger for some.
Very painful and haunting account of a freshman girl is raped by her brother’s best friend. This novel follows Eden throughout high school. Mostly it’s a story of strength and courage.
Story of a cheerleader who is raped at cheer camp and the rumors that follow her after the act.
After Deanna is caught in the back car with an older guy, she’s labeled a ‘slut’ and has to deal with what happens next. Zarr does a great job showing realistic characters that are multi-layered.
Meet Kim Baccellia
I’m a YA author and Staff reviewer for YA Books Central. I’ve been a part of the Cybils-Children’s and Young Adult Blogger’s Literary Awards and I’m very passionate about diversity in YA/children literature. I graduated from BYU with a degree in elementary education and also attended CSU Fullerton grad program in bilingual/bicultural education. I’m a former bilingual teacher. I love parrots, yoga, poetry, Jaime from the Outlander series, and anything Parisian. I’m a total bookaholic. A good place to find me is either at the local Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf with a nommy iced tea latte or a Barnes & Noble where I’ll be perusing the YA section.