The Myth of Modesty

With the House of Representatives recent passing of the extension to the Violence Against Women Act, sexual assault and domestic violence against women have been brought to the attention of the country once again. The original bill, passed in 1994, provided sexual assault services and programs to combat domestic violence to women free of charge. The new extension now includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered citizens as well as Native Americans and immigrants.

Bearing in mind the passing of VAWA, it brings up questions of why violence against women is so prominent and how it can be combated. The concept of “rape culture” refers to the images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validates and perpetuates rape. This includes, but is not limited, to jokes, music, TV, laws, words and imagery, and other concepts and ideas that make violence against women seem socially acceptable and almost inevitable.

One of the most common scapegoats used to explain rape is the excuse of women lacking modesty. This idea simply means that because a woman was not dressed modestly, she was asking to be raped. This myth, along with others, fuels rape culture and excuses violence against women as a response to women’s dress rather than a fundamental societal problem.

Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized…

In a comment given by the Toronto Police on January 24, 2011 a representative said “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” It is comments like these that place the blame of rape on the victim, the woman, rather than on the assaulter.

The term slut, historically used with negative connotation to describe a women’s promiscuous behavior or, in other cases, her profession, has been used in recent times to describe a lack of modesty a woman shows. Leaving behind the historical connotation of being a prostitute or promiscuous, slut is now used fleetingly to describe an immodestly dressed woman, irregardless of her sexual endeavors. The idea that a woman could be responsible, partially or completely, for a man’s ‘uncontrollable’ sexual urges is beyond ridiculous. Ideas that perpetuate this mentality only encourage rape culture and do not even begin to get to the root of the problem, which is the act of rape.

Rape is not about lust or sex, but about control. A woman is not asking to be raped by dressing immodestly, nor is a woman dispelling being raped by dressing modestly. The problem is that modesty is a social construction implemented throughout history to suppress women and place men’s sexual desire as their responsibility to control. Our sexual violence programs focus on prevention and how to avoid rape as victims, always geared toward the victim rather than the perpetrator. Instead, there needs to be a larger focus on sexual assaulters and perpetrators of violence against women.

In order to combat this negativity, women have taken to the streets in protest in what they self proclaim as “Slutwalks” in places such as Toronto, demanding respect and protection as victims of sexual violence and making a unified statement against rape culture.

Teaching females to value modesty only encourages rape culture when, in reality, the focus should be on teaching males how to treat females. This modesty myth is only hurting women, forcing them to feel responsible for a man’s sexual desires, and words like slut only further reinforce rape culture concepts and ideas.

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