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Byron Shire
June 14, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Skimpy Excuses for Men’s Behaviour

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This idea that the onus of female physical safety lies in female clothing choice, rather than the actual behaviour of men is not new.

My shirt is not an invitation to rape me. My dress is not an invitation to follow me home. My strappy singlet is not the reason you lost your job. My body is not responsible for your behaviour.

Last week a Sydney school principal told students not to wear ‘skimpy or revealing’ clothing because it might be ‘inappropriate or regrettable’. She went on to say that she did not want female students compromising the employment of male teachers.

This principal has been asked to apologise. And while a video apology has been forthcoming, the address by the principal, who happens to be a woman, echoes a deeply embedded cultural belief around the cause of assault or misuse of power, by men, against women and girls.

UK research showed that a majority of men, and two out of every five women held this view; that females provoke assault (or misconduct) via their choice in clothing.

This is a myth, or an assumption that is not born out by any evidence. Women are attacked wearing a variety of clothing. To illustrate the point, back in 2013, Jen Brockman, the director of the University of Kansas’ Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Centrex, and Dr. Mary A. Wyandt-Hiebert, of the University of Arkansas’ rape education center, curated an art project that displayed the clothing that assault survivors were wearing ‘at the time’. Alongside the clothing are accounts by survivors of where they were and what they were doing just prior to the event.

Looking at what we wear, as the first approach to the problem, says it’s our fault. It says the victim is responsible for the behaviour of the perpetrator. It says that the assault could have been avoided if only you’d chosen a t-shirt, or sensible tweed three-quarter length pants. It is not the patriarchy that is at fault. It is not a broken legal system that minimises violence against women. It is not a sick society. It is something that you can change if you change who you are and how you present. Men can’t control themselves. It’s up to you, ladies, to avoid perpetrators by staying under their radar. Society accepts that perpetrators assault, rape and kill women and girls. What we don’t accept is what you are wearing or your right to choose what you wear. Because you have no agency. You are a female, and your body doesn’t belong to you; it is a shop with the OPEN sign in the doorway. Your strappy top says ‘come inside’. Your tiny shorts become the reason. You chose this.

It’s a perception seeded in Christian mythology. Remember Eve in the garden of Eden? She tempted Adam. She made him eat the apple. Let’s not forget she was nude.

See, it’s all about choice. Hers, not his. When you choose those denim shorts and the crop top, you choose to have inappropriate comments levelled at you, you choose to be assaulted, you choose to be raped, you chose to be murdered; to have your little body dragged through grassland, dumped and covered in leaves.

‘What were you wearing?’ It’s a question police ask of female victims all the time. Do they ever ask the perpetrator what he was wearing? Is there a particular type of clothing that makes a man more likely to perpetrate violence? A hoodie? A scratchy trackie? A business suit?

This idea that the onus of female physical safety lies in female clothing choice, rather than the actual behaviour of men is not new. It is a pervasive myth that I believe underwrites the lack of compassion and care for what happens to girls.

When the principal made that address, the group she was seeking to protect were her male teachers. Not her female students.

I hope every girl at that Sydney school chooses their mufti day to wear the skimpiest outfit they have. I hope every girl in NSW joins them and every woman, regardless of age. I’ve been part of the Slut Walk before, but maybe it’s not about small groups gathering to protest in the street. Maybe it’s about all of us wearing our tiniest, tightest, and most ‘provocative’ clothing in our schools, our streets, our universities and our workplaces to make the point that no matter what we wear, or where we are, we have the basic unalterable human right to safety. We might skimp on our tops, but that doesn’t mean we’re skimping on our agency. Instead of us changing what we wear, you need to change the creepy, and often illegal way you behave.


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23 COMMENTS

  1. The real question has to be why are you wearing bugger all clothing, no knickers, et al. No man has a right to consider this an invitation. But women need to consider why they dress in what is considered a provocative manner. And both sexes, but women in particular, need to consider the reality of the world Vs their right to get shitfaced on a night out. What I’m saying is, there has to be responsibility in action and deed on both sides.

    • I actually can’t believe you wrote this in a public place where people can see it.

      THIS response is inappropriate and regrettable.

      What if women aren’t dressing in a provocative manner.
      What if they are just dressing.
      Saying women dress in a provocative manner adds YOU in to the equation.
      Well most women aren’t thinking about YOU when they get dressed.
      They are just getting dressed.
      AND,
      what IF women want to dress to feel sexy?
      Is that not ok ? Are women not allowed to feel sexy when they go out?
      Men do things to feel sexy – why can’t women?
      And I think you actually didn’t mean that part about their right to get shit faced on a night out
      – because I just know you aren’t that stupid.
      EVERYONE has a right to get shit faced on a night out
      – even in the nude
      …and still be safe
      Why do women have to be careful about what they wear and men don’t?
      Why can men wear what they want AND to get shit faced on a night out – AND NOT GET RAPED?

      • I respect Mandy’s right to bellow, and his right to comment, as much as it challenges you, and your right of reply, which is very good. There has to be more conversation in society about this. Then the right answer will be settled.

      • Yay Eve! Exactly. Maybe we dress skimpily because it’s so damn hot. Maybe because we’re proud of our toned body. It’s OUR body, we can dress it as we please, wear a burqa or a bikini, and it is saying absolutely nothing about what we want men to think about us or do to us. We dress for ourselves. And even if we do go out with the intention of finding a partner, be they casual or longterm, and dress up to look attractive, that still isn’t an invitation to rape us. Why can’t men see women as people, not just as sex objects? Not ALL men of course but so many just don’t get it. And not just men.
        I remember as a teen going out in a strappy top I’d just made.. My mother said I looked like a trollop. I didn’t even know what that meant and was shocked when I looked it up. I just wanted to wear my new top. I wore a strappy top to work one very hot day. One male colleague complimented me on it and another standing nearby remarked that he was feeling horny. I was completely shocked and grossed out.

  2. Assumptions again… it tires me out. Should I be wearing a female king kong suit in order to feel safe?
    Indeed – let’s protect male teachers at any cost? like hell! Look, it’s getting close to the ‘2021 Feminism
    International Women’s Day Challengers Ahead Festival’ so I suppose young women [as always] need
    to learn how to protect their mind & body. I suggest a ‘Men’s Festival’ for men who use their fist to try
    & get the upper hand of control in all forms of life.

  3. Wow. Even in this region people believe that a man has no control over himself because of what a woman wears. Most of the replies are gobsmacking!

  4. I knew a Spanish man who stared at women’s shoes..including mine. When asked “Why are you staring”? He responded “I find women shoes incredibly sexy!” Very ordinary shoes can elicit extraordinary fantasies it seems. It is all in the mind …possibly?

  5. Mandy, I support the school principal’s principled and reasonable request. In a civil society men are expected to control their baser instincts and brute physical power not to mention other power imbalances. Women also have powers, a sexual power, intellect and sensitivity often superior to men. Womans power should also be managed as appropriate according to circumstances. Sexual allure, a strong feminine power has to be acknowledged in civil society as in a school classroom, of course civil men can and do look the other way or blank out inappropriate sexual allure but our children have to understand this power and to use and play with it appropriately. Can’t believe the hullabaloo – all seemed reasonable to me, unnecessary distraction.

  6. WTF !!! * facepalm *
    When I was in school I found the boys VERY sexually alluring.
    In fact when I was 14 or 15 that’s ALL I could think about in school.
    (I failed geography so badly I think they have a plaque put up somewhere)
    And those boys wore teeny tiny football shorts (AFL) and took their shirts off to play basketball.
    And they were so sexy it sent me crazy – and I didn’t rape any of them!

  7. Let’s not forget that society puts pressure on women to dress in a sexy and “attractive” way. Young girls do not want to be labelled as dowdy or uncool.

  8. Hello Mandy,
    It is correct that what a woman wears is not an invitation for assault. The only person responsible for the assault is the person committing the assault.
    However, I do not agree with your comment that it is part of Christian Mythology that such terrible behavior is provoked by what women wear. I know some people claiming Christian principles claim otherwise, but as a practicing Christian this is not my understanding Christian principals.
    When people make some form of claim that women are provoking the bad behavior by what they wear I find this offensive on two basis. First and foremost it is offensive to those that have been subject to such a terrible crime. Second, as a male, I find it offensive that I lack so little self control that it would provoke to commit such a horrid act.

    I have often visited naturist beaches and never has sight of naked women given the impression that this was in any way an invitation to sex or any form sexual activity.

    The only person responsible for the bad behavior is the person who commits it.

    People should dress appropriately for the particular circumstances (situation) for example I would not wear a formal dinner suit to a pool party nor would I wear a T Shirt to a formal ball. But if I were to be inappropriately dressed this would give anyone the right to assault me.

  9. Well put John. It is all about dressing appropriately. That is what the school principal advising her students.
    Good advice by her.

  10. This is the same paternalistic crap that lead to the sexual assault of indigenous women who didn’t understand the European need to cover women neck to ankle. I bet we could ask Muslim women if the purda protects them and the answer would be no. The responses above reveal more about the commentor than anything else. I hope they don’t have daughters they can blame as statistically 1 in 2 women will be assaulted by the age of 18. Please compound the trauma by telling them it their fault.

    • Teresa. I think you misunderstood my comment. Under no circumstance is the victim of bad behavior responsible for the bad behavior because of what they were wearing. The only person responsible for the bad behavior is the person who commits the bad behavior. My comment about dressing appropriately for the circumstances was a general comment – I provided the example of how it would normally be inappropriate to wear a dinner suit to a pool party. If this comment appeared to imply that I thought the students referred to in Mandy’s article were dressing inappropriately I apologise as this was not my intention. Mandy’s article mentions that the principal “…..went on to say that she did not want female students compromising the employment of male teachers.” I totally agree with Mandy that this was an inappropriate comment.

      I do not know what is appropriate wear for the school . What is appropriate wear for students at the school (or any school) would be dependent on some general understanding or perhaps dress code agreed to by relevant stakeholders which may include students, teachers and parents.

  11. The hypocrisy on this subject is beyond belief ! Was it not you mandy outspoken
    Regarding a poster at the Brunswick heads
    Fair you know the one ? Which the majority of the population who visted the fair would
    Not have given it a second look .. yet we nearly lost the fair over that bull !!
    Conversely the accepted content on music
    Clips and language and clothing or the lack of is all !! Well nothing go see here ..!!
    Yes Men behaving badly is appalling !!
    Yes women behaving badly is appalling !!

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