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Don’t tell me what to wear

  • Published at 12:02 am December 18th, 2019
dress clothing

Sexual assault is never, ever the victim’s fault

Do you remember what you were wearing when you first felt the unwanted touch of a man on your body? You probably do not, because it was not the reason the sexual offender touched you without your consent. 

But a number of armchair sexual violence “analysts” would pick at this very reason, and school you about how your attire is the reason that your sexual offender touched you without your consent.   

Cindy Sirinya Bishop, a 39-year-old host, model, and actress based in Thailand, is trying to fight victim blaming through her social media campaign #DontTellMeHowToDress in order to raise awareness of the fact that dresses do not cause rape, rapists do.  

She posted an online video saying: “Women have the right to dress however we choose, as long as it’s not illegal. Sexual assault and harassment is never the woman’s fault!” 

This came after she noticed a warning issued by the local authorities in Thailand telling women “not to dress sexily” in order to avoid sexual harassment during Thailand’s New Year water festival in 2018. The video went viral on social media and the campaign came to the fore. Cindy talked to Dhaka Tribune at the regional conference for Beijing +25 in Bangkok this November. 

“It is an excuse to blame women for their own sexual assault or rape, among many others. What she is wearing is not the cause of her rape, the rapist caused her rape,” said Cindy. 

“Even if she is walking naked, nobody has the right to rape her,” she said. 

She told Dhaka Tribune that the narrative of a woman bringing rape upon herself because she was wearing a sexy top or she was drunk, has to stop.

Cindy labeled her fight against victim blaming an “uphill battle.”

“I don’t know when it is going to change, but I do believe it’s better than not doing anything. In the end we are dealing with mindset,” said Cindy. 

Cindy is right. 

This is not a battle between men and women. This is a fight against the patriarchal mind-set which dictates that women bring it upon themselves by dressing “provocatively.”

Blaming women for their clothes is not doing anything to curb sexual violence. Instead, it is feeding toxic masculinity. 

Every woman, wherever in the world she lives, should have the right to choose whatever she wants. Be it the women in Iran who are fighting against forced hijab, or be it the women fighting for their rights to wear a headscarf without being called “raghead” by an anti-Muslim bigot.  

When somebody forcefully removes a headscarf from a woman’s head, it is humiliating on many levels. And when a woman is forced to cover her head, it is equally humiliating and offensive to her.

Can we stop telling women what to wear and what not to wear to protect them from getting raped, once and for all? 

Do not tell your daughter that her bra strap might lure a man to rape her. Do not tell your colleague that her skin-hugging clothes might lead male co-workers to rape her. Do not tell your friend that her ripped jeans might provoke men on the bus to grope her. Do not tell your students that showing their hair might “encourage” their male classmates to rape them. 

Do not tell me how to dress. 

Instead, tell men not to rape.

Kohinur Khyum Tithila is a staff reporter at Dhaka Tribune.