“It’s not a lack of female modesty but a sense of male entitlement that leads to sexual violence. And the idea that we women can change men’s behaviour by changing our clothes is not only disconcerting, it has been debunked – as millions of women know all too well, no one every avoided a rape by wearing a longer skirt.” – Anne K. Ream.
A news story slipped under the radar relatively unnoticed this week. It’s a shame; perhaps it would’ve been better, more of a lesson for the young girl in question, if she had been made a spectacle of. She didn’t kill anyone, she didn’t attack anyone, she didn’t even steal a Snickers from her local corner shop – in spite of rustling up a (somewhat insincere and contradictory) defence for herself in light of her comments, she still seemed to endorse something that should never be okayed and ultimately blamed women for something that is never their fault. Holly Foster, 22, is the most recent winner of the Miss Vintage UK title and with many young women idolising her look and listening to what she has to say, you’d think that she’d pick her words a little more carefully when daring to step a foot in the world of rape culture. “If you dress like a lady you will be treated like a lady. A short skirt or perhaps more a see-through top, encourages a man to come and take advantage, it encourages unwanted attention”. A shocking statement, right? Whether it’s naivety or self-importance that has brought Foster to this conclusion, we’ll never know, but her misinformed statement could prove to be detrimental to those who have suffered at the hands of a rapist – especially as she has found herself fortunate enough to be in an influential position to young women.
It is reported that approximately 85,000 women are raped on average in England and Wales every year and over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year – with these statistics in mind it is ridiculous to believe, as Foster seems to, that what someone is wearing is the sole cause of rape, that women are to blame for the attacks launched on them. She went on to say that “girls my age will go out on the town in skimpy – largely unflattering – clothing and they are surprised when they are not treated with respect.” This uneducated view suggests that only women of her own age are the ones who suffer at the hands of rapists – wrong. 1 in 5 women aged from 16-59 have experienced some form of sexual assault in their lives. Rape isn’t reserved for the scantily-clad ladies on a night out, much like wearing vintage clothes doesn’t necessarily give you a ‘get out of rape free’ card. Rape victims should not be stereotyped in this manner, furthermore Foster is completely vanquishing the right that a woman has over her body – she could be walking down the street in the nude and that still wouldn’t give a man the right to grope her, touch her or attack her.
Favouring a 1950s lifestyle over a 21st century one is not to be frowned at. I, for one, love vintage clothes, the music, the cars… I could go on. But one thing that I find it hard to accept is the relationship that men and women had with one another – the male/female binary was set in stone, a woman’s place was in the home and the man’s role was as breadwinner. Foster says that “if you compare a modern day woman with a vintage 1950s lady, the difference is just that – she’s a lady”, but who’s to say that you have to negate your rights as a woman, i.e. to be able to dress however the hell you want without fear of being attacked, in order to be a lady? Whilst she has adopted a 1950s ‘look’, she has failed to update her mindset – society is evolving, it’s the reason why 1950s values haven’t remained. To a modern audience, Foster’s views are harmful, but she is quick to add (in spite of her controversial views) that “[she doesn’t] believe under any circumstances that anyone should be taken advantage of, however when it comes to clothes young women have to take responsibility for their look if they do not wish to be left in a vulnerable position.” As previously mentioned, women aged from 16-59 have all reported some form of sexual attack, so attributing a victim’s attire to the cause of their attack is dangerous and foolish. Furthermore, she shuns Miley Cyrus’ dress code, stating that she is “giving out the wrong image to young girls” whilst herself admiring burlesque dancer, Dita Von Teese. Miley Cyrus may have hit the news for her skimpy outfits, but what Foster fails to acknowledge is that whilst Cyrus is parading around with just tape covering her nipples, Von Teese is doing exactly the same thing with nipple tassels – just because something is sequined doesn’t mean its message is any different. An 18 year old can be wearing a see-through top and a 45 year old can be wearing a roll neck jumper, but their attire doesn’t mean their message is any different either – neither are relinquishing ownership over their bodies and neither are offering themselves as a rape victim.
It’s a sad world that we live in where women continue to victim blame. Foster may not have meant any harm with her words, but sometimes you need to be cautious when speaking about these things. A rapist is not going to care if you’re wearing a raincoat or a £3,000 vintage suit – sadly no one is exempt from the threat of sexual assault and in a culture where a huge number of rapes aren’t reported, we should be encouraging women and supporting them instead of suggesting that their choice of outfit gave a man the ‘come on’. Rape isn’t a recent thing; I bet that rape was just as frequent in the 1950s, the only difference being that in the male privileged world these women existed in, reporting such an attack wouldn’t have been a viable option – they wouldn’t have been believed in their accusations if we go by the new Miss Vintage’s standards – because apparently, rape doesn’t happen to people wearing circle skirts, does it?
In light of my blog post and due to the reactions of others, Miss Vintage UK has written her own blog post explaining how her words were taken out of context by the media. We need to be aware, the media can manipulate… To see Holly’s post, click here.