Recently I had the joy of attending and photographing the annual Minneapolis SlutWalk. If you’ve never heard of it before, one of our very own bloggers wrote beautifully about the walk and rape culture a few years ago, check it out here. To summarize, a bunch of people got together for a walk on the Stone Arch Bridge area October 4. They were encouraged to wear whatever they wanted to, from bikinis to burkas. Because what a person is wearing is no indication of his or her desire for a sexual encounter. The marchers carried signs with sentiments such as, “My dress is not a yes,” and “My body, my rules.” The concept behind the march was to raise awareness of rape myths and the rape culture they support.
Hopefully if you’re reading this blog, you know what rape culture is, and you know that it is not a good thing. For those of you not in the know, rape culture is a term that refers to myths, attitudes, corrupt policies, and behaviors that contribute to the social and cultural apathy toward sexual assault and rape. For example, victim blaming, or believing that the victim’s clothing, behavior, or blood-alcohol level was a come-on for her assaulter, is a very prevalent part of rape culture.
After photographing the marchers as they crossed the Stone Arch Bridge, I followed behind the group, feeling really full and deeply satisfied to be a part of something with such an important message. As we walked along, we passed a number of wedding parties having their photos taken as well as numerous bikers, walkers, and sightseers. Most of them looked amused, happy, or interested. A few faces I saw as I walked past, however, looked skeptically and disdainfully at the marchers who were dressed in outfits that were, let’s say, not quite weather-appropriate. I immediately felt defensive and glared at these people, thinking how shallow and ignorant they were for judging the outfits of marchers who were protesting being judged by their outfits.
The march ended with some hurrahs and hugs. As I walked back to my car, I began thinking about how ludicrous it is to think that someone deserves to be sexually assaulted because of his or her attire. As my thoughts wandered on in this thread, I started to think about my own judgements and observations about other girls. I began to wonder: how have I contributed to rape culture?
I am not what anyone would consider a ‘party girl.’ That is, I am an extreme introvert who stays home all the time and avoids large social gatherings. As far as how I dress? Fairly conservatively, but that’s mostly due to my love for comfort– big sweaters and black leggings all the way! I realized after the SlutWalk that my choices are my choices, and it would really bother me if someone was constantly judging me for the way I behave and dress. Like, if someone were constantly calling me a prude because I don’t like to drink or have casual sexual encounters, that would bother me.
What I realized is that I am guilty of having done this to girls who live a different way than I do. Now, I don’t name call, because that is juvenile. But I have definitely looked at a girl with a really low cut top and judged her as promiscuous without even knowing her. But how someone else dresses is her choice, not mine! I don’t have to like it, I don’t have to dress the way she does. I do have to respect her (and her bodily autonomy), I do have to refrain from snap judgments. Girls who like to drink, party, have casual (safe) sex are not inherently bad people, although society, media, and religion have taught me they are.
I used to tell myself that my judgments came from a ‘good place,’ like I was worried about her safety or something. But really I was just thinking I was more responsible and mature than she was because I can keep my nipples covered. But by judging a girl based on her outfit or her propensity to drink, I am contributing to rampant rape culture. I am silently agreeing with the cop whose first question for a rape victim is “What were you wearing?” I am silently agreeing with the man at the bar who thinks the little blonde in the short skirt is ‘asking for it.’
Bottom line, no matter what she’s wearing or drinking, no matter if she’s smiling and laughing or not, no matter if she’s dancing or sitting at the bar alone. enthusiastic consent is the only kind of consent. And it’s not just up to police officers, judges, and policy makers to abolish rape culture. It’s up to us, men and women, to stop blaming the victim of sexual assault and start holding the perpetrator 100 percent accountable.