I’m sure you have seen the news that in Ireland a man has been acquitted of a rape charge on a 17-year-old girl following the use of the girl’s underwear as evidence. In court the underwear was passed around as evidence and the defense lawyer stated that by looking at the way the girl was dressed, the jury could see that the sex was consensual.
Outrage has followed these remarks with people taking to Twitter to show their support, posting photos of their own underwear, stating that underwear is not consent. People also took to the streets in protest and outside the courthouse in Cork, where the trial took place, people hung up underwear on washing lines.
“It is no longer excusable to pretend that these are small and isolated incidents as they are having major repercussions not only in society but in law.”
The fact that everyone is talking about this creates a great opportunity for discussion on rape culture. Rape culture is an atmosphere that normalises and trivialises sexual assault, particularly towards (but not exclusive to) women. The idea that a woman’s clothing or underwear is indicative of consent is most definitely a part of rape culture, not only because it ignores the fact that consent can be withdrawn at any time, but also because it contributes to the idea that a woman’s clothing is there to serve men and has nothing to do with the woman’s personal preference.
Now if you ask any thong-wearing girl or woman, I am certain they will tell you that they still wear thongs on days they don’t want to have sex, and also that they wear said thongs for their own benefit and not for the gratification of any male they may come across. The same can be said for any other item of clothing.
The fact that such an idea can pass as evidence in a court is, quite frankly, scary. The very idea that all women’s clothing choices are influenced by sex ought to be laughable, however other examples surround us in every day. School dress codes that have a hundred and one restrictions on what a girl can wear as opposed to the often basic requirements for boys is but one.
The idea that a girl’s appearance may be ‘distracting’ to boys in her class (or worse male teachers!) is a heavily embedded concept in our society that needs to be talked about, questioned, and changed. It is no longer excusable to pretend that these are small and isolated incidents as they are having major repercussions not only in society but in law.
It is not all up to women to tell the men they know that men don’t own or have the right to police women’s bodies (although it doesn’t hurt to remind them), it is up to men to tell themselves, to tell each other, to call each other out on language or behaviour that reinforces this culture.
Only then can we hope that victim blaming on this scale will be eradicated.
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