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She asked for it or did she not?

Too many times I have been told to dress “right”. Often times I have been asked if I dressed a certain way to gain more “male attention” or to be more precise, to “tease men”. Every day, I am reminded that if I stay out too late, I could “invite trouble”. The list goes on.

I was born and raised in a society that says that women and girls are assaulted for a reason. A society that yells that when women go around wearing low‐cut tops or short skirts, they’re just asking for it and a woman dressed in skimpy clothes should not be surprised if a man tries to exploit her because she invited it in the first place. If a woman is a sexual tease, she is going to get in trouble and she needs to be taught a lesson. My Nepali society tells me to come home early because only women who hang out in bars and stay out late are sexually exploited. My society tells me that “good girls” don’t drink because if a woman is raped when drunk, she is at least partly responsible for letting things get out of control. My society tells me that in the majority of assaults, the victim was promiscuous or had a bad reputation, and claims that a lot of women lead men on and then cry rape.

In this culture of victim blaming, women are told everyday to change their own behavior in order to avoid being assaulted or raped. A woman is made to believe that it is in her hands to “avoid” a dangerous situation. A victim is told that she could somehow have gotten out of it or at least not gotten into it in the first place. This proliferates the belief that women are at fault when they are attacked, and leads to a lack of accountability for men.

There’s a long history of victim-blaming in order to protect perpetrators, and to normalize and legitimize sexual harassment and assaults. Society has long trivialized sexual violence with dismissive phrases such as “boys will be boys”. Masculinity has been defined as dominant and aggressive and femininity as submissive and passive. Society has spent its energy on teaching women to avoid being raped, rather than on teaching men not to rape.

The fact is that women dress to feel comfortable, to feel confident and good about themselves, and every woman has a particular style that accomplishes these goals for her. Women hang out in the bars because they want to have a good time, like men. Women who stay out late might simply have been caught up at work. Women do not ask for it! But society removes freedom of expression by limiting what women are allowed to wear and by blaming victims of sexual assault.

I am well aware of the limitations that fear puts on women’s lives. Everything a woman does to avoid rape or sexual harassment usurps her time, resources and freedom. To say that a woman shouldn’t go out at night or do this or that is to aid and abet the forces that would keep her from exerting her rights, reaching her full potential and pursuing her own happiness and well-being. Imprisoning women is not the answer. The solution to sexual assault is not to further curtail women’s freedom.             

A picture taken on March 4, 2008 shows South African women marching against the abuse of women and to defend women’s right to wear miniskirts, in downtown Johannesburg.

It’s high time that our societies started changing their perspective on victim-blaming before countless other women and girls are forced to bear responsibility for a crime that they have never committed. We need to put the blame where it belongs, which is on the people causing the harm.

While it’s important that women continue to be empowered and educated on how to avoid rape, it is equally important that this education be extended to men. We need to teach our boys about consent and to hold them accountable. Men and women need to come together to change this culture of victim-blaming, and to help create a more equal world. All women want is the same room as men to move, to grow, to explore, to achieve, to be safe and at ease in the world.

Clothes don’t speak. But I do. And I’m telling you, “I’m not asking for it.” No woman is. No matter what she wears and does.


Author: Preeti Shakya

Editor: Anne Thomas



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25.11.2017 | 9:58