Sexual assault is a hot topic. Administrator’s from varying college campus across the nation, have tongues so fresh with tips on preventing sexual assault that the echo of their words are still vibrating in their mouths. It’s such a buzz phrase and buzz problem that quick-fix solutions are popping up ceaselessly. Preventing sexual assault, however, will not be accomplished through programs promising to re-educate college students on the dangers of partying. The change needs to start earlier.
Middle and high school dress codes read like an ancient set of rules forbidding women to show anything below their necks. “Thou shall not show off your shoulders. Thou shall not wear pants too tight. Thou shall not wear a skirt shorter than the length of your arms against your thighs.” Why are these rules so targeted at restricting the fashions of women? I once overheard our high school proctor, who deemed herself the “Dress Code Nazi,” that the reasoning behind all these limitations was because our exposed female shoulders were too distracting for the male students.
Fast forward to college. When a woman is harassed or sexually assaulted, her dress is immediately called into question. Was her skirt too short? Her shirt too low? Her dress too tight? If so, then she was asking for it. This mentality stems from the middle school dress code-idea that women are merely objects of arousal for men; their bodies are far too distracting to resist and therefore warrant any actions that may result.
Slutwalk, which began in Toronto, Canada, is a protest where participants argue against the notion of excusing rape due to a woman’s appearance. They started when a Toronto police officer stated that, “women should avoid dressing like sluts.” In a Slutwalk, women dress up in what society would deem “slutty” and parade around major cities such as Chicago and New York City. A Slutwalk points out the flaws in how our culture views women and rape. Rape is not excusable because a woman’s thigh was exposed or because her bra was showing beneath her blouse. Her dress does not label her a slut and, therefore, acceptable to assault.
Ending the rape culture that has suffocated our society needs to begin with reevaluating our opinions on women and how they dress. Instead of teaching college-age, often female, students tips on how to avoid being sexually assaulted, start young and not gender-specific. There is no quick-fix program that will magically erase sexual assault. The rape culture is established at birth. In order to change things, our society needs to be committed to making a difference from the beginning.