Clothes are not an invitation to unwelcome behavior

In light of recent events with Sigma Nu and recent reports of sexual abuse and sedation, I felt compelled to write this article. As a stylist and a passion for fashion, I find it impossible to ignore the implications of clothing, especially when I was young. Clothing and dress are universal experiences for all people regardless of gender identity, as clothing is an outward form of self-expression. But, as the street yells continued or men slowed their speed-cars to honking, getting dressed became more and more difficult for me because of one disgusting phrase: “She was asking for it.”

I love learning about being a woman, but it’s a scary world to be female. I’m often expected to be “less than”, to fit into one of four or five molds, and I’m seen as a target who needs protection from whatever comes my way, whether it’s a squirrel crossing the street or a man coming towards me.

It pains me that every time I walk alone, day or night, I often have to check behind me.

It hurts, when I walk, to always notice the street I’m on, the shops near me and who they seem to help me if anything should happen at that exact moment.

It pains me that all my conversations with my girlfriends at night end with “Share your location with me”.

But also, as someone who has been able to discover myself through fashion, it hurts that I’m always afraid that what I’m wearing is going to do something bad to me, whether it’s harassment, assault, or kidnapping.

The shocking and disgusting phrase ‘she was asking for it’ is usually used when the attacker claims that the victim’s clothes imply that they want to assault – verbally or physically – them. It takes the human quality and universal rights of the ability to consent out of the picture, claiming that the fabric, instead, sent the real message to the victim. No means no, and my skirt, dress, shirt, socks, shoes, scarves, hat or hair tie doesn’t say otherwise.

This is where the female gaze comes into play. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of transformative videos of women starting to dress for a female look and not a male look. While this term is often heard when discussing movie feeds or Instagram, it also applies to fashion. The feminine gaze is about women who dress and look good to themselves and to other women around them, rather than a male desire. In contrast to the male gaze, wearing the female gaze enhances personal and societal pleasure—that is, the pleasure of women as a group.

Keep in mind that often wearing a masculine look isn’t intentional. In an age of persistent sex with women in movies, social media norms, and other forms of media, I grew up dressing for the male gaze and didn’t even realize I was aware of the female gaze. Only then did I begin to be more aware of what I was buying, if I really enjoyed what I was wearing for myself and how then the clothes would help me discover myself and grow.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can’t dress in a way that makes you sexy or dress in a way that is desirable for men. I advocate instead dressing the way you want, by you and for you. If you want to feel cute, feel cute. If you want to feel the attraction, yes, feel the attraction.

The feminine look and I just want you to feel you.

Unfortunately, it is only in a utopian society where there is no sexual assault and harassment that people will stop attacking and harassing – and yes, women do too, I’m not saying we don’t. But as we continue to fight this injustice, remember that you are strong; You are beautiful; You’re fine and most importantly: it’s not a “you” problem. It’s them.

Haden Phillips is a freshman writing about fashion in the twenty-first century, with a particular focus on students and popular controversy. Her column, “That Fashion, Sweetie” is published every Tuesday.

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