Cover Up

Say it’s for respect, say it’s because of religion, say it’s just a rule and don’t ask questions, say it’s arbitrary and sexist.  Just don’t say we need to wear high necklines and low hems so that we are not sexually harassed.  Don’t do it.  Don’t victim blame, don’t lie.  In harassment-heavy countries like Cuba and Egypt, I have seen anecdotally that the amount of clothing is irrelevant.  Cuban guys say piropos to all women, regardless of clothing and almost regardless of age.  White women get slightly more commentary, but no amount of clothing will make me less of a gringa.

In Egypt, it has been found that women believe they get harassed less when they cover up more (more being even more than we do in the West, since it includes the abaya, the hijab and the niqab.)  However, these same women actually self-report higher levels of harassment when they are more covered.  It’s just an instance of intense cognitive dissonance, egged on by years of messaging from men, women, harassers and victims alike claiming, as if in some desperate plea for relief, that if only we could wear the right amount and combination of clothing, they would just leave us the hell alone.  But they don’t.  Women in full abaya and hijab get raped in public.  Women in jeans and modest shirts are assaulted all the time.

To say that I can stop (or even stem) harassment by changing my clothes is an indictment of women and men alike.  It says men cannot control themselves and thus need to be prevented from seeing that which entices them so.  It says women who get harassed must not have dressed properly, it must be their fault somehow.

It still boggles me that otherwise-progressive people fall into this trap.

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3 thoughts on “Cover Up”

  1. Delia, that’s why they are called “Third World”. How dare you question these guys!!! It’s always the women’s fault. That’s also why the phrase “GOD BLESS AMERICA” means so much to us. We’ve paid a VERY high price to be able to live the way we do. Never forget that, and you will make better decisions in the future, and hopefully live a better life. If I didn’t say it already, “Welcome Home”. And finally, “GO BRUINS”!!!! Can you believe it?? The CUP??!!! WOW!!! Joe O.

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    1. With all due respect – I would strongly disagree that street harassment is limited to the “third world.” Women are approached inappropriately, annoyingly and menacingly in our beloved United States every day. Delia’s examples here are certainly more extreme, on average, but the pictures she paints is one of an appallingly common power dynamic, even here, where we so cherish our liberties; ignoring catcalls and advances is an exhausting part of daily life for more Americans than you might imagine.

      That it is an issue here, as well, does not make it any less repugnant, of course. The excuses offered here are similar, also – suggestions that I should run elsewhere, for example, or dress differently mirror those swirling around debates over the hijab, etc. All reasoning along those lines places the blame squarely on me, insinuating that if only I would change my behavior, I could be left to my morning mileage or my evening commute in peace. Personally, I don’t believe that it’s reasonable that in our society, in the United States of America, I can’t unlock my bicycle from the racks in my office building in broad daylight without earning a comment from a passer-by. Our society should be better than that, and it is not.

      Delia, fantastic post, per usual. Keep it up!

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  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. It frustrates me to no end that as you say, otherwise progressive people make all sorts of excuses for why men behave the way they do in certain places and why women should cater to males’ supposed inability to control themselves. This was especially irritating when I visited India where it goes so far beyond the Latin America or even U.S. commentary; there was groping, following, excessive staring, etc. And every article about India that’s geared towards women seems to phrase it in a way that suggests that you need to cover up for your safety, which is understandable, but people seriously need to get real about that subject and THINK about the reasons behind their suggestions a whole lot more.

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