It’s a Dress, Not a Yes

“It’s a dress, not a yes,” is a rallying cry at the SlutWalk marches, which demand an end to rape and victim blaming. The movement started in January 2011, when a Toronto constable warned students that to avoid getting raped they shouldn’t dress like sluts. Within months, anti-rape activists began taking to the streets in SlutWalks from New York to New Delhi.

“It’s a dress not a yes” is more than a catchy rhyme. It means that what a woman (or a child or a man) is wearing is never an invitation to rape. Sexual assault is never caused by sartorial display. Too bad Charlotte Allen doesn’t know that.

Allen is a contributing editor to the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank. On October 30, 2011, Ms. Allen wrote an OpEd for the Los Angeles Times equating women’s skimpy SlutWalk outfits with sexy Halloween costumes, writing,

Feminists are in denial of a reality that … men’s sexual responses are highly susceptible to visual stimuli, and women, who are also sexual beings, like to generate those stimuli by displaying as much of their attractive selves as social mores or their own personal moral codes permit.

In response to Allen’s politically negligent OpEd, writers such as Amanda Marcotte, Lindsay Beyerstein, Jill Filipovic, and Hugo Schwyzer lit up the feminist blogosphere with commentary and myth-debunking information.

SlutWalks are a spectacle to grab attention. The name alone makes people sit up and pay attention. But these marches do so much more than shock. SlutWalks provide information about sexual assault prevention and resources for recovery. SlutWalks are safe space to publicly speak out against sexual assault. People show up in sweatpants, jeans or everyday shorts, carrying signs that read, “This is What I Was Wearing When I Was Raped.” They wear flip-flops, thigh-highs, clogs, and running kicks. A particularly heartbreaking sign held high at one SlutWalk announced, “I was raped when I was 4. I didn’t know that footsies were slutty.”

The problem is that rape is compounded by myth—like when Charlotte Allen blames scantily clad women for provoking their own sexual assault. This ignores the fact that boys and men are also raped, and it is insulting to adult men everywhere. Men are not helpless slaves to their own sexual sight lines. Men have the power to make ethical, rational decisions about everyday matters, large and small.

The problem is never what she (or he) is wearing—data shows that women are raped wearing running clothes, jeans, miniskirts, burqas and sweatpants. The real problem is dangerous misinformation about sexual assault that diverts our attention from finding good solutions.

The statistics about rape and sexual assault in this country should serve as a wakeup call. The United States has among the highest rate of rape among industrialized countries. Nearly two people are sexually assaulted every minute. About 17.6 percent of American women and three percent of American men experience attempted or completed rape at some point in their lifetimes. According to The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, one in four girls will be sexually assaulted by the time they turn eighteen. For young boys, that figure is one in six. Yet only 26 percent of sexual assaults are ever reported to the police. Though most men do not rape, as anti-violence expert Jackson Katz points out in his book, The Macho Paradox, over 95 percent of rapes are committed by men, regardless of the victim’s gender.

Yet as a society, we don’t send a clear message about rape. A survey conducted by M. Koss, C. Gidycz and N. Wisnieweski found that one out of twelve college men had committed acts that met the legal definition of rape. Yet most of those men did not believe that what they did was rape. Toss together an alcohol-soaked culture with fuzzy understandings about sexual consent, and rape myths only add to this serious confusion about what constitutes a criminal act.

Currently, the FBI only counts rapes that include penetration of a penis into a vagina by force. This means that coerced rape, men’s rape, drugged rape, anal or oral rape, and rape by objects or fingers don’t even count as rape to the FBI. After eighty years, the FBI is finally considering a change to this archaic definition. (You can urge them to do so by signing the petition below.)

It’s time we are clear about what constitutes rape and it’s time we respond appropriately. We need to change our culture to one that asks not, “What was the victim wearing?” but, “Why is he raping?” This will remain the focus of SlutWalk when it returns to cities around the globe next spring. Perhaps it can get the message across to pundits like Charlotte Allen: Fight rape, not other women.

[iframe 650 300]

Photo of sign at SlutWalk by flickr user cascade_of_rant under Creative Commons 2.0


  1. Karen Wendling says:

    A small correction to a good post: Katz says over *99%* (not 95%) of all rapes are committed by men.

    A lifetime ago, when I was an undergraduate in Michigan in the 1970s, a judge in Wisconsin found a young man not guilty of rape because women dress provocatively. (No matter that the young woman he had raped was not dressed provocatively.) Outraged women in Wisconsin got together a petition for a recall vote, which was successful. The judge kept saying, No, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong, but every time he explained himself, it only got worse. He ran for re-election, opposed by a feminist woman. She won. His parting shot: “That just goes to show the lengths those feminists will go to to win their point.”

    The bad things don’t change, but the creativity and brilliance of each generation keeps hope alive in this now aging feminist.

  2. I was raped at 6 wearing…whatever 6 year olds wear. Fuck Charlotte Allen.

  3. I don’t think a “SlutWalk” was a very good idea…

    I don’t believe all women get raped based on what they were, but I don’t think it’s okay to say that it’s okay to dress like a slut either.

    Rape is wrong.

    however, many see it like this; You wear dimonds in the hood, you’ll get robbed. DON’T WEAR DIMONDS IN THE HOOD.

  4. I believe that woman dresses like “sluts” is just an excuse to justify that a man didn’t commit rape. The excuse can truly be anything though. Some excuses to justify that it wasn’t rape was that the woman led the man on. This can be just a look or simply flirting which does not imply that she wanted sex at all. As a man, I believe that is men’s work that needs to be done on for the prevention of rape. Most guys don’t even know the legal definition and may not know that they have committed rape. Men must be educated on this issue and have prevention taught instead of women being told not to dress as sluts.

Speak Your Mind


Error, no Ad ID set! Check your syntax!