Dressing Up

18 09 2012

Recently the West Midlands police were criticised for launching a poster campaign aimed at giving information to women about how to avoid being raped. While I haven’t seen the posters I understand that they focussed on how to dress in order to avoid “sending out the wrong signals” and thereby becoming a target for rapists.

They were immediately harangued by feminist groups who insisted that the message should be “don’t rape” rather than “don’t get raped”. I agree. I have long advocated that we should teach the boys not preach to the girls. However on the issue of dress I find myself conflicted.

When I see young girls walking around scantily dressed I do wonder about the signals they are sending out. Not that wearing ultra short skirts means that you deserve to be raped but rather that this display of the body can only serve to continue to objectify women purely as objects of sexual desire. It caused one male comedian to speculate recently as to whether the feminist revolution of the sixties and seventies was actually masterminded by a man, as the result of the revolution has been exactly what men wanted – streets full of scantily clad women.

Clearly women should be allowed/able to wear what they want but are these young girls really dressing for themselves or dressing to attract the attention of men and as a consequence attracting the attention of specifically those type of men that see women just as sex objects.

Dressing for attention isn’t a new phenomenon. I recently viewed an exhibition of the lovers of Charles I and II. All of the portraits showed women with their ample bosoms prominently displayed; the bodices plumping up the breasts to the point of overflowing, the waists pinched in. Theses women were dressing almost exclusively with the intention of attracting a monarch or a courtier. In the past making a good match was vital for women as their was no hope of advancement other than by association with or marriage to an influential man.

So my question is really, has nothing changed? Are young women still just dressing to advertise their availability in the same way as Nell Gwynn and her contemporaries did centuries ago? Are the rules the same now in attracting a premier league footballer as they were in attracting a king? Do women still see that their only route to success is on the arm of a man; dependent not on themselves but on the match they make?

In wearing anything that they like, a freedom I would not want to deny, it would seem that some women do still choose to dress not for themselves or for comfort but continue to use their bodies to advertise their availability to potential a potential mate/match.

Having fought so hard for the freedom to dress as we like it does seem to me that it is reasonable to consider just how we use that freedom. Dressing scantily does not send out the message “rape me” but it does perpetuate the idea that women must put their bodies on display in order to succeed.

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