Rape Culture: Does ‘Fashion’ Put Women At Risk?

It’s Friday night. The past week of classes have been hell and you’re ready for a fun, carefree night out. You grab that brand new crop top with the lace back from Forever 21, slip on your favorite pair of skinny jeans that make your butt look great, and slide into those classic black pumps. Your friends give you the pep talk, “whew girl, you lookin’ hot,” “the boys gonna be crawlin’ when they see you walk in,” etc. You feel confident.

At the party, you have a few drinks and meet a great guy. You dance together, talk, and do the usual flirty, “let’s get to know each other” routine. However, the night ends in a dark place when this “nice guy” takes it too far.  He tries to take you upstairs, and what starts off as foreplay quickly turns aggressive.  He ends up forcing himself on you, but you manage to get away before it escalates anymore. You’ve just been sexually assaulted.

You’re hurt and confused. You speak out, but you’re shut down with harsh judgments: “Look at what you were wearing,” “Going out in that outfit, you were practically asking for it,” “You were inviting him into make a move,” or “You can’t give mixed signals like that.”

All too often is blaming the victim the case.  Encouragements at the beginning of the night turn into criticisms of apathy the next morning. The victim takes responsibility for being assaulted, but is confused. She thought she looked great? Isn’t that what she wanted? But she didn’t think that meant being assaulted.

We say stay in pairs, watch our drinks, don’t go with a guy alone anywhere, and of course have that handy rape whistle. However, girls are still getting sexually assaulted and raped. There has to be another reason as to why guys at parties see girls as objects they can manhandle however they want. If guys are looking at us, then the next logical step is to look at the outward appearance of us girls, specifically our clothing.

The media and fashion industry tells girls what they should wear to parties, screaming “LESS IS MORE,” go ahead and wear that cut out dress with mesh and make sure it’s just short enough cover your hooh-hah, call yourself a yoga hoe or an office hoe or just plain hoe for a theme party. These are not the labels us girls want the opposite sex to view us as.

It seems for “night out on the town” clothing, fashion has told us it’s less and less like actual clothing and more like lingerie, which tells guys that we want to have sex. I mean lingerie is supposed to be used as type of foreplay. Maybe you do want to have sex and that’s why you’re wearing it, but it should be a choice made between two people, not something forced on you because of a piece of fabric you put on.

If it’s our bodies that are the main issue, then why don’t we question what we’re told to put on them?  We’re being told that our bodies are to be used to attract men and more importantly, men are being told that women are objects, so won’t guys deem it acceptable to treat us as such?

Us girls, especially at this age, look at life with eyes wide open. We want to be loved and accepted. And if someone is telling us wear this, do and say this and you will be noticed and accepted, we’re going to do it. If a party is themed and tells you to look like a hoe or slut or whatever other degrading name they want to call you, you’re going to do it because it’s the theme and if you don’t participate, people are going to think you’re some type of outcast.

When it comes down to it, it’s not our fault. It’s not like we wake up thinking I want to dress like a slut or a whore. We don’t think “hey I’m going to wear this body-con dress so a guy tries to have sex with me against my will.” We may put on these clothes, but only because we are told that this is fashion, this is what will get us noticed, this is what tells others we are acceptable and trendy. We are told this through media and the fashion industry.

At the end of the day, people have the ultimate choice of what they put on their bodies, and in no way should people who commit these crimes of rape or sexual assault be excused. They should be punished and questioned as to why they think it is acceptable to shrink women down to vessels for their own sexual enjoyment. But maybe a part of the answer to this question is the influence of the media and fashion on all people with their ads exploiting women’s bodies and saying, “if a woman is wearing this, she wants to have sex with you.” Men with deep issues, the men who attack innocent girls, are taking these messages literally and might be thinking what they are doing is acceptable. It is, however, never acceptable. 

This may not be the end all-cure all, as a matter of fact I’m sure it’s not. Women get assaulted and raped in broad daylight or just walking home with jeans and t-shirt. But maybe it’s a place to start a conversation between young people about sexual assault and rape in the party scene and where it might all stem from. Maybe it comes from the media and fashion industries telling us the way to party is to party with barely anything on. In all seriousness, I have a killer dance party in my kitchen with sweats and an oversized t-shirt on. Why can’t that be acceptable at parties?

So next time you’re going throw on those cut-off shorts that show the weird bottom butt cleavage and you get the catcalls or pervy looks, think who is telling me what to wear again? Do I want to conform to being valued by the media’s body standards or by something deeper?

We are not objects. We are women. We are strong human beings who think for ourselves. We are in control of what we wear even if it means not wearing the super trendy clothes. We just have to remember that we make the choice. The choice to recognize the ridiculousness of fashion trends telling us to exploit our bodies, and say, in the words of Fat Amy, “eh, bettah not.”


Featured image via flickr


  1. what a distasteful piece. you say you don’t want to blame women for assault but throughout your article you are continuously condemning revealing clothing. you call for women to “reject the media’s body standards” under a guise of empowerment, but really what you’re issuing is a veiled wag of the finger at people who dress in a way that makes you uncomfortably aware of their sexuality. the problem *does* lie with men, robin, and conversation should be centered on how to raise (and, if they’re already grown, how to teach) men to respect women’s boundaries, regardless of how they’re presented.

    • You’re mistaken – in the good words of Dave Chapelle – “you may not be a hoe, but if you dress up like one than perhaps everyone else would think the same”

      like I say: “if you put a goat in front of a tiger, the tiger won’t smile at it”.

      • That doesn’t mean rape is okay. There’s a big difference between seeing someone and thinking they’ll be more inclined to have sex with you and RAPING that person. If you pay attention to Chappelle’s language, he seems to understand that, whereas you seem to miss it.

      • I never said it is, I think rape should be punished with death and death alone, even torture before death if applicable – but I strongly do believe men and women are equally responsible in certain cases of rape.

      • You’re a God damned idiot and one of the worst “college liberals” I’ve come to know. This entire article contradicts itself, just as you’re doing right now.

      • Only greedy pigs take what they want without being offered.

        If you see a juicy piece of meat in front of you, you don’t take it. It’s called self-control.

      • LOL self control? what do you think all of these other dudes do? as most of us practice self-control for many things in life not just women, some may at a certain point end up losing that control and hence the consequences, how about women do their part and try not to test men with their obvious biological sensitivity? that way both the parties would be glad and in peace.

        In any case – I still think of course rape is utterly odious and should be dealt with harshest of punishments.

  2. I’m not sure how many women are actually dressing to get attention from males. I know I don’t, yet I still have been sexually harassed. There are hot days when I want to wear shorts. But the reality is, I would have to look hard to buy longer shorts. The average shorts sold for women look sexy on me, as they do on most women. I’m going to wear what I want and the reason behind what I chose to wear is certainly not for male attention and it’s not for competing against other women either.

    I think the attitude of women as sex objects has little to do with how they are dressing or presenting themselves. We have this whole “Women are for pleasure” idea ingrained in us pretty much from birth. Women need to start commanding respect, no matter how they are dressed.

  3. As a teacher, I have always been amazed at the simple statement I get from teenage girls: “When I dress like this, I get attention from the boys.” We have failed to get across to girls that the male is visually driven, i.e., turned on by what he sees, and interprets that as a mating dance or availability for sex. I once sent my girlfriend back upstairs to change with the statement ‘if it’s not for sale, don’t advertise it!’.

    • If a woman in a short dress is too much for your “visually driven” little mind to handle and you’re going to have to rape her, then I suggest you castrate yourself.
      If this is not the case, then I suggest you quit propagating rape myths, especially in a setting where young men and women are listening.

      Lastly, quit talking about your girlfriend like she is property!

      • Madeline, you missed the point. relationships are two way streets. Women want to be treated equally, not as objects yet fashion trends yell “Look at me!” to others (men and women). That makes it harder to see those women as persons since you have to spend so much energy “not looking” at the display in front of your nose. Notice that men’s fashions do not yell Look at me most times, rather, the male fashions tend to be quite subdued visually for everyday clothing. if you’re wearing clothes that say Look at me then expect people to look. If some want to look a bit closer than you want, well, they should know better but not everyone is a well balanced individual who can separate the visual message that a sexy outfit gives from the reality that a woman is a person who deserves respect too. You’re playing right into the idea of “women as objects” to be watched and you refuse to believe it.

    • So what you’re saying is if Im very “visually driven” and I dont like your face, I can beat the shit out of it? Because that is exactly what it sounds like. I mean why not right? Because society has failed to teach me that if i dont like something i shouldnt go up to it and do something horrible to it, and since i didnt like your face i automatically interpreted that you probably want me to bash it up and are readily available for it.
      And did you seriously use that kind of analogy with your girlfriend, because that totally didn’t make you look like a chauvinistic pig. Its as good as the analogy i just used to rebut your first point.

  4. “There has to be another reason as to why guys at parties see girls as objects they can manhandle however they want.”

    Yes, there is another reason than the nonsense in your piece. The reason being any guy who assaults a girl is low-life scum, plain and simple. Clothing is not the issue here, and never will be. Not wearing sexy clothing will not stop women from being raped. Men who are taught from the start of their lives to respect women, and anyone else, and their boundaries. That is when fewer rapes will happen in the situations you described.

    • Rachel, Even those men who would never mistreat a woman will find it hard some times, to look away from the display and treat a woman as just another individual. if there’s lots of skin showing, no matter what the relationship is, I find the energy I put into consciously keeping my eyes “up” takes away from a significant portion of my concentration. I don’t want to look down and I fear that even a slight accidental drop of vision will get a negative response from the woman who is showing off so much of her body. Is that really fair? Can you really honestly not know the effect that revealing, sexy clothes has on another person, man or woman? YES, wear sexy clothes and you are affecting the other person, even the good, trustworthy ones. YES, though you’ll never know it, they cannot relate to you the same way as if you were dressed more modestly, if only because so much of their energy is being used up trying to NOT look.

  5. As a guy, I can go to a store and get clothes that easily cover my body. Robin’s point, Ashley, is exactly what you brought up. You “would have to look hard to buy longer shorts.” Its the societal norm that girls wear shorter shorts that show off more of their legs. Even underwear that is longer and more like a guy’s is called boy cut. Robin is taking issue with the media and society and how they present the idea of what a woman should be like. Women are NEVER asking for it by what they wear. Let me say that again, women are NEVER asking for it by what they wear. But after working at a college bar for the last three years, I must wonder the motives between a girl wearing something extremely revealing and another girl who dresses more modestly. Does what she wear change how much fun she has out dancing with her friends? Certainly not. Does it change what type of person she attracts? I believe so. I’ve always been told growing up that we often are with people who are mirror images of ourselves. So, ladies and gentlemen, if you dress and act like a drunken “hoe” (men and women) chances are you aren’t going to get the polite, well-mannered member of the opposite sex that has good intentions.

    I do agree however that the person to blame is the perpetrator of the crime. I believe Robin believes this to be true also. I don’t think the perpetrator is the only person to blame. A society that tells girls they should dress this way when they go out or that doesn’t allow you to purchase clothes that are loose fitting without labeling you a “tom boy” is to blame. That is Robin’s point. If you disagree and believe something completely different then I encourage you to put yourself out there and write an article.

  6. I see where you’re coming from but I respectfully disagree with your opinion. Even if I decide to walk out naked, I will not be “asking for it”. Like the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” looking at a woman in the wrong way is done no matter what she decides to wear. So really it isn’t about what women are being told to wear because what I want to wear is my choice regardless if its a barely there dress or jeans and a T-shirt. It completely comes down to that attitude men have and how the culture of their ‘perfectly fine’ opinions still exist. If a guy is doing anything to a woman without her consent there are no two things about it, he’s wrong, no explanations needed.

  7. My issue with this article is that Robin blames the fashion industry for slutty clothes. A so called “fashionista” does not dress like a slut. What is considered “trendy” at the moment would be lose fitting clothes and long lengths, such as boyfriend jeans, dress pants, a long coat, and maybe a long pencil skirt. It just really annoys me that Robin blames fashion, when the truth is that people in non-fashionable cities and suburbs are the ones dressing the trashiest.

  8. That certainly explains why women in countries that wear things like bureaus are objectified and raped. Oh wait, no it doesn’t.

    Men aren’t tigers. Grow up.

  9. You should not be ALLOWED to write an article like this. It is not a matter of debate, it is not a “maybe.” The only person responsible for a rape or sexual assault is the perpetrator.

    Reading the line “So maybe we shouldn’t be pointing the finger at the men who can’t seem to control themselves” made me feel physically sick.

    • Yeesssss, thank you. That’s really all there is to be said on this piece. It’s just fundamentally wrong, and the mentality and ignorance in this is the reason that rape culture is being propensiated.

  10. Totally! Like in all the fundamentalist Muslim cultures, where women are required to cover most of their bodies! They’re totally getting respected by men and are never victims of sexual violence! I mean, boys and men are just stupid animals who can’t be taught to keep their pants on, or to keep physical distance from women who arouse them, so it’s up to us to cover up, right? Gee, what a thinker you are. Why has no one thought of this before??

  11. I think that it goes both ways. Of course, the rapist is to be blamed for the crime. Robin is intelligent enough to know that. But it is still a CHOICE for a woman to dress immodestly in public, fully knowing that men are “visually driven”. A woman who dresses like that knows that she will be getting some attention, which mostly just includes lustful looks from people of the opposite sex (maybe even from the same sex…). In a generation where pornography is exploding & women are clearly been advertised in every direction as sexual objects, shouldn’t we be smarter than to simply go along with this and dress the same way as the women in the advertisements or the music videos? Of course, I know there is never an excuse for a man to rape a woman, no matter what way she is dressed. But it goes both ways. Women do not understand the way men think and operate, especially those who look and/or are addicted to porn: their view of women is completely changed and usually have a hard time looking at an attractive woman in skimpy clothes without undressing her with his eyes. People who are saying that a woman can dress anyway she wants are probably too selfish and insecure to be able to dress modestly enough to attract the right guys. First and foremost: Men – need to stop watching porn, stop thinking of women as objects for their own sexual pleasure, and learn to show some flipping respect for their fellow and equal humans. Women – need to stop dressing provocatively and then wonder why they only attract the men who want them for one reason, and they need to learn to have enough self respect to be happy with how they look and secure enough in themselves to cover up the body. GOES BOTH WAYS PEOPLE.

    • Every person has the right to dress however the hell they want. You can’t possibly know someone’s motives, feelings, and level of self respect simply by looking at their outward appearance. Don’t tell women that they “need” to dress modestly. Just….hop off.

  12. “So maybe we shouldn’t be pointing the finger at the men who can’t seem to control themselves”— wait. I’m going to stop you right there. It’s definitely the rapist’s fault. Definitely. No one ever asks to get raped and no one wears anything that they want to get raped in. Let women wear what they want. Police the assaulters instead.

  13. This article is totally sexist. Rape is an act of violence that uses penetration only as a portion of the violence. Rapists rape all sorts of people, all ages, all genders. It has little if anything to do with theattire of the victim. Nuns have been raped and they generally wear extremely modest attire. People that touch others inappropriately are sick as well. It does not matter what I wear…all ages and genders have grabbed my butt. Apparently I sit on my best asset, However, it belongs to me! Its just not right.

  14. Holy shit, the vast majority of the comments are the most ignorant pieces of shit I’ve read in some time. All I was thinking was that maybe women should dress a bit more conservative anyway. And it’s not all on the women or men, I do think that these rape victims have a tendency to pick clubs or bars that have predators. These “nice guys” that they find out are rapists are just good actors with low morals and strong arms. We should teach everyone that it’s dangerous to go it alone and to watch out for your friends.
    And it’s a stretch but maybe in the future we can have less of a mentality where it is a good thing to go out with your friends and come home with your Fuck buddy for the night.

    • Why should women be the ones to change their actions? And do you really think that is going to fix how predators view women? How a woman is dressed should never factor in to whether or not they are to be treated with basic human civilization. Just because a woman is dressed half naked doesn’t give anyone permission to treat her any differently than a woman wearing pants and a sweater.

  15. I think it’s clear from the opening and closing that this author is not excusing the actions of rapists by any means. I think the purpose of this article is to shed light on the fact that there are systems in place that are larger than the individual that feed the “rape culture” that exists in our society. The author would agree with me when I say that a rapist is never justified in their actions against a victim. That these actions are wrong, and punishable and gross, and awful, and numerous other negative adjectives. They shouldn’t be let off the hook. But I also think we need to pay attention to the make up of our society, and to our culture which has in some way told those perpetrators that this action was even an option. I am a strong advocate for the potential for good in each person, and that includes people who have done sick and horrible things to others. I think this article boldly dares to do what very few do and tries to examine the systems that told men that rape was even an option. Of course it’s not perfect (no article will ever be perfect) but I applaud this article for taking a new perspective. If we hope to face these problems in our society, simply telling men not to rape women can only be so effective. We NEED to do what this article does and examine the systemic injustice that tells people that this horrible thing is even an option. We need to look at the fashion industry, at the pornography industry, and at media as a whole. We need to look at the sexualization of our culture, the confused idea that ones sexuality is their identity, and many other things in our society that do contribute to this issue. This author never let men off the hook for violating women, what she does is open eyes to the ways that many other facets of society, specifically the fashion industry, contribute to it’s prevalence and continuation in our society.

  16. No. Regardless of if she shows up to a party NAKED, a woman (or man for that matter) is in no way responsible for being sexually assaulted/raped. Rape has been happening since human existence, in all countries, to women of all kinds and ages. A rapist is a sort of sociopath, it is usually not an accidental crime. One does not “accidentally” rape, and if this individual is predisposed to harm women in this manner, then trust me, it’s not the victims’ clothes that caused the crime.


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