“That outfit turns a No into a Maybe”: is this OK?

A year or two ago I stumbled across a brochure outlining the The Top Ten Questions Teens Ask.

Within that brochure you will find this gem:

If you are saying No, but wearing a Yes, your No becomes a Maybe.

When I first read this I laughed out loud. It is just so wrong that I could only shake my head. And it wasn’t just the copious capitalization.

Even the ‘reviews’ reek of biblical times. Behold: “it delivers science-based moral truth about why teens should steer clear of sex outside of marriage.”

After reading this and feeling the outrage, I moved on with my life, but in the years between then and now, it has popped into my head again and again.

…turns a no into a maybe…

What is it about this that I object to, exactly?

There’s the whole ‘because the Bible says so’ aspect. There’s something obscene about quoting a book written thousands of years ago — when women were traded like clams — to guide the actions of 16 year old girls today.

But I think what it really comes down to, for me, is this: there is a clear ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ in the story, and the good guy loses.

In one corner, we have a young woman wanting to wear an outfit that isn’t a hessian-sack. Maybe to express her individuality, maybe to fit in with her peers. But she’s told no, that’s not allowed, because…

In the other corner, we have Mr Rapey Pants, the horny teenage boy who thinks visible skin is a barometer for sexual appetite.

It’s the injustice of the whole thing that makes me twitch.

As you may have picked up on, I’m going to breach Betteridge’s law and make the case that the quote from the devil-pamphlet is not the vile tripe that at first it seems.

But before I get your blood boiling, let’s see if we can agree on a few things first.

Imagine you have a child, and that they are now at the age where they can make their way home from school unsupervised. You give the young child some advice — something along the lines of: “If someone offers you a lift, even if they say they know Mommy and Daddy and are driving and ice cream truck, say no thank you and keep walking.”

When reading that, did the phrase ‘victim blaming’ pop into your head? Is the above implying that if the child were to be abducted they would somehow be at fault for ignoring the advice? Does this somehow let paedophiles off the hook? Perhaps it sends the message that ‘paedophiles will be paedophiles’ and it is the rest of society that must adjust their ways.

No, of course not. You know that paedophiles exist, so you are quite simply saying something to your child that you believe will keep them safe, in the unlikely event that their paths cross with this particular type of person.

OK how are we doing, are we in agreement so far?

Onward!

Let’s bring the age up to late teens. Imagine you have a teenage son and he is going out with his friends. He is just getting to know the city, so you feel the need to impart this wisdom: “Have fun with your friends, but don’t go hanging out down near the railroad tracks; it can be quite dangerous. There be gangs down there and a lot of crime and not a lot of punishment.”

You haven’t said anything that “represents everything that is wrong with society today”, you haven’t implied that “drug dealing gangs will be drug dealing gangs”, or that somehow your son will be to blame if harm does befall him.

No, you simply have the desire to keep the child safe by offering advice based on reality. An ugly reality, sure. But reality nonetheless.

Still in agreement? Aah, good.

Deep breath, we’re getting to the meat of it…

Let’s switch out the imaginary teenage son for a teenage girl. You’re beloved daughter. And she is starting to be invited to parties, you suspect there is booze and boys at them thar parties.

Just as you know that paedophiles might exist in your area, you are concerned that would-be sexual predators might be present at these parties. You think that these young men might be more likely to prey on girls with revealing clothing than they are on their librarian-esque counterparts. So you impart some advice: “sweetie, there are some boys out there that might think that your outfit means that you are willing to have sex with anyone. Might I suggest covering up a little more.”

Even as I write that it feels horrible, but if you believe that this statement reduces the risk of your daughter being sexually abused, then why wouldn’t you give this advice?

Does it really matter if the internet says you’re a terrible person for saying such a thing? Does it really matter if it sends a ‘bad message’? Does it really matter if it sets off ‘victim blaming’ alarm bells?

If you don’t believe that there is such a thing as a nasty little shit that will see a tube top and a mini skirt and think it gives him the right to get sexually forceful, then this doesn’t apply to you. If this character is a work of fiction in your mind, then by all means do not impart this advice.

But if you do think this sort of person exists? Well…

When dealing with the topic of sexual assault at a societal level, the fact that a woman’s clothing is even part of the discussion is ludicrous. The fact that it’s raised as relevant in court is infuriating. The fact that there are creatures out there that believe “clothing + no = maybe” is disheartening.

The reason for this article is that I think there is a dangerous message floating around: suggesting that a woman’s clothing could have an effect on the likelihood of her being sexually assaulted is taboo and should never be done.

Including in the advice that you choose to impart to your child.

The message I would like to put out is: it’s your kid, you do whatever you need to do to keep them safe.

I only exist while you're reading my posts.