How a woman dresses is never an invitation for unwanted sexual advancement
As women, most of us are used to people commenting about how we look. Oftentimes, we are described by our appearance first, before our other qualities. We also fall victim to people openly commenting on how we choose to dress – our outfits are too tight, too short, show too much skin, shouldn’t be worn by someone “that size” – we’ve heard it all. But one runner was horrified when she read a comment about her race outfit, indicating her clothing was an invitation for rape.
Laurah Lukin, Ph.D., a runner, coach, and assistant dean and professor of medical education at the University of Cincinnati, woke up to a notification that she was tagged in a photo from her half marathon she ran in early August. What she saw was a vile comment next to a picture of her running that said, “That’s because she doesn’t have any damn clothes on and she’s running for her life…No wonder joggers get raped.”
Laurah was stunned by the comment and decided to respond. “Instantly, my brain started rationalizing and justifying my race outfit,” Laurah wrote on her blog. “It was a race! They are competition briefs! They make me cool and faster! My legs move more freely! They’re funny!”
“Then I paused,” Laurah continued. “I was immediately disappointed that my gut reaction to this man’s horrific comments was to defend my wardrobe choice. After all, there were photos from the race of shirtless men, men in short shorts, men in tight shorts; yet he did not feel motivated to comment on their potential for inviting sexual assault.”
Laurah said she felt compelled to go above and beyond simply reporting the comments (which she did) because, as a mother and woman, “it does not address or help change the global and persistent cultural assumption that rape is preventable if a female would simply behave or dress a certain way.” So she made sure this man, and others like him, were crystal clear about her position: “It is not my responsibility to choose a race outfit or workout apparel to deter the temptation of men. The length of my shorts is not an indication of interest, invitation or consent,” she wrote.
“The anthropologist in me realizes that blaming the victim makes us feel safe. It is comforting to pretend sexual assault is something that only happens to people who make bad choices… like racing a half marathon wearing leopard-print competition briefs in Ohio in August,” she continued.
Lukin told Scary Mommy, “It is easier to harbor a subconscious belief that if women just did all the right things, including dressing a certain way, then we would never be raped.”
We don’t understand how clear we need to make it – a woman’s body is never, ever anyone else’s concern. How we choose to dress, carry ourselves, dress up, dress down, tattoo, pierce, or outfit ourselves while running in the heat is not up for debate. Period. We do not owe anyone anything, least of all a total stranger who believes short-shorts mean we may be raped and if we were to be raped, well, we had it coming.
“His words not only propagated the idea that it is a woman’s responsibility to avoid sexual predation, they excused it. They normalized it,” Laurah wrote in a piece for Runner’s World about the comments.
The reactions to her post have been varied. While most were positive, “overwhelmingly, people were calling for an end to rape culture,” others didn’t seem to understand the significance of that man’s sentence. “Some people think the comments on my race photo were trivial and not worthy of attention,” she wrote. “Some dismissed and diminished these comments as simply a rude critique of my clothing choice or my body.” But others “defended the dark ideas behind those comments,” like another person who commented, “If you don’t want to be sexualized, then there are certain things you shouldn’t wear out in public.”
“I do not want my daughter to grow up in a society that normalizes behaviors like victim blaming, sexual objectification, and the trivialization of sexual assault,” Lukin says. “To change this culture, I know I cannot roll my eyes, or ignore comments that place the responsibility of rape on the choices or behavior of the victims. I cannot be concerned as coming across as a frail, oversensitive “snowflake,” when people mock the seriousness of rape culture.”
“I hope that by speaking out, others will be encouraged to speak out as well and help change that culture,” she told us. “Because with enough snowflakes, you can cause an avalanche that transforms the landscape.”