Modesty: Rape Culture, Rape Apology, Young Women, Young Men

[Trigger warning for rape and body policing.]

I have recently come across a few posts regarding what Young Women wear, and what they are told to wear.  Some say Stop Telling the YW to Be Modest for the YM, and some rebut with Please Keep Telling the YW to Be Modest for the YM.  Of course, whenever we veer into telling someone what to wear, there is a possibility for blame.  If we tell the Young Women not to show their shoulders, their legs, their skin, or even the outline of their body, it sends a clear message: You are responsible for how the boys think and react to your sexual body.

While discussing what YW should wear, two different friends of mine used typical victim-blaming language.  One friend essentially said that he didn’t think women are responsible for dressing modestly for men, but just that the men would appreciate it.  And another friend said that it would irresponsible for him not to teach his daughters that they can avoid unwanted sexual advances by how they dress.  I emphasize the italicized parts, because they are the most vital to understand the rape culture we live in.

The problems with these two statements?  It’s still not a good reason to dress modestly for someone else, even when a benign word like “appreciate” is used.  It’s still for someone else, essentially making women responsible for men’s reactions to women’s bodies.  And when women are responsible for how they dress “making” men aroused, the victim-blaming has commenced.  As for the second statement, how you dress has been shown NOT to affect rates of rape and sexual assault.  It could not be more clear that when we teach our young women how to dress for safety, we are not arming them with safety at all but simply reinforcing rape culture under the guise of concern.

This situation with good friends puts me in a difficult position, aptly described as The Terrible Bargain, where I either keep quiet about their rape apologetic answers or I do bring it up and risk friendships and credibility as I will most likely be seen as a shrill harpy for being so difficult to talk to.  In this case, I spoke up.

I pointed out to my friend that even if we tell our daughters to think a little bit of what they are wearing and how it makes men react, then it is still victim-blaming.  I also talked about how we generally deal with rape as “how can people avoid rape as victims”, as opposed to “how do we hold perpetrators responsible”.  Why are we so focused on the victims?  Because rape culture perpetuates our default explanation to be geared towards the victims.

It’s easier to deal with victims than with aggressors. It’s easier to tell women what to wear and how to act and how to avoid rape, than to root out sexual violence in our society and culture.  Easier is not good enough for me.  I expect more.  Let me say that again: I expect more.  Maybe instead of worrying about how we talk to our daughters about what they wear and and how they act and how that will get them raped, we need to be talking to our sons about how they treat women, or objectify women, or use women.

Addressing rape culture and the rape apologetics that we have all heard is a tricky business, but it is vitally important.  And here’s the rub: people you know, people you like, people you respect, and people you love will, at some point, apologize for rape or victim-blame.  I still do myself sometimes, and I care about this issue passionately.  I am personally committed to eradicate victim-blaming from my thoughts, speech, and actions.  I expect more from myself, so I feel confident that I can reasonably expect more from people in my life.

The truth is that I’m not trying to hurt someone’s feelings when I ask them to examine what they are saying.  I care too much about women to let rape apologia reign.  The truth is that I am not dense.  I understand what someone means when they say they want to protect their daughter by teaching her to avoid rape by dressing modestly.  But like so many other feminists, I expect more.

So in my defense, let’s have a little quote, the portion that deals with how women dress in particular:

Rape culture is 1 in 6 women being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Rape culture is not even talking about the reality that many women are sexually assaulted multiple times in their lives. Rape culture is the way in which the constant threat of sexual assault affects women’s daily movements. Rape culture is telling girls and women to be careful about what you wear, how you wear it, how you carry yourself, where you walk, when you walk there, with whom you walk, whom you trust, what you do, where you do it, with whom you do it, what you drink, how much you drink, whether you make eye contact, if you’re alone, if you’re with a stranger, if you’re in a group, if you’re in a group of strangers, if it’s dark, if the area is unfamiliar, if you’re carrying something, how you carry it, what kind of shoes you’re wearing in case you have to run, what kind of purse you carry, what jewelry you wear, what time it is, what street it is, what environment it is, how many people you sleep with, what kind of people you sleep with, who your friends are, to whom you give your number, who’s around when the delivery guy comes, to get an apartment where you can see who’s at the door before they can see you, to check before you open the door to the delivery guy, to own a dog or a dog-sound-making machine, to get a roommate, to take self-defense, to always be alert always pay attention always watch your back always be aware of your surroundings and never let your guard down for a moment lest you be sexually assaulted and if you are and didn’t follow all the rules it’s your fault.

–Melissa McEwan from Shakesville, on FAQ: Rape Culture 101

Amen.  It’s harmful to young women to be saddled with not only their own growing and changing bodies, developing sexuality, and insecurities, but also with the responsibility not to tempt boys and men.  And not just to tempt them in an impure-thoughts kind of way, but not to tempt them in a it’s-your-own-fault-if-he-rapes-you kind of a way.  No woman deserves that kind of pressure and responsibility.

So not only is the question of rape culture and rape apology a tricky one, but now we get to figure out how we DO talk to our children and the Young Men and Young Women about sexuality, modesty, responsibility, and boundaries.  How do we navigate those waters without victim-blaming?  How do have these conversations without blaming women for men’s thoughts?  If anyone can figure this out, it’s our community here at The Exponent.  I’d love to hear your progressive, body-positive, feminist ideas.

kendahl is a queer fat left-handed INFJ synesthete mother warrior activist social worker abuse survivor unapologetically brilliant powerful witch


  1. I’ve been thinking about the “Please Keep Telling the YW to Be Modest for the YM” post recently as well. This past weekend, for Father’s Day, my husband, son and I went to the “clothing optional” beach in New Jersey. Clothing optional recreational groups have certain rules of social etiquette associated with them: Don’t stare. No sexual activity. And in may places, although clothing may be permitted for comfort at certain times, absolutely no bathing suits or sexually suggestive clothing are permitted (i.e., lingerie as outerwear).

    The reason for this last rule is as follows: According to many naturists/nudists, being naked is not inherently sexually enticing for men or for women. Society has trained us to associate “naked” (and specific clothing) with sex. In other words, these groups believe that “modesty” in terms of covering up certain parts of the body is largely a social construct, and that we as humans aren’t animals that will go crazy when we see a naked person.

    After a full day at the nude beach, I have to say it was very freeing to not wear any clothing. I cannot think of a single instance where I saw anything “inappropriate”. In fact, I didn’t see any sexual activity at all, although there were some couples there who were holding hands. No ogling, no overt sexual behavior, and people were very friendly and no one was checking out your “rack” while you chatted with them.

    The experience has definitely changed my mind towards what it means to be “modest,” and what the intention in modesty rules is.

    • I love this! This makes so much sense: the association between naked flesh and eroticism as a social construct. Part of this construct is whose naked flesh is eroticized: men’s naked flesh generally isn’t (ever seen an action movie where the man’s shirt is off or ripped to shreds?), while women’s naked flesh always is. This is a big part of rape culture; there is a constant focus on men’s desires, while women’s desires are irrelevant and practically invisible.

      • Oh, thanks for your comment Whitney. I was looking for something to say to Madam Curie’s excellent comment besides “this is so cool”, and you’ve done that for me 🙂

    • I had the exact same experience when I went to a nude bath house. I never felt so modest. No one ogled me, everyone was kind and respectful, and I didn’t stare at anyone either. It actually made me realize how much I stare at people’s bodies when they’re clothed, and changed forever the way I understand modesty for myself and others. Thanks for sharing this!

      • Well, now I really want to visit a nude beach or bathhouse, just to see if I can experience the same comfort and non-judgment. I hadn’t thought about it as a real possibility for me until these comments. Interesting!

    • I want to post them, in case people aren’t clicking on the link and don’t know what they’re missing!

      “1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.
      2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!
      3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!
      4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.
      5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!
      6. Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.
      7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.
      8. Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.
      9. Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!
      10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone “on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.
      11. And, ALWAYS REMEMBER: if you didn’t ask permission and then respect the answer the first time, you are committing a crime- no matter how “into it” others appear to be.”

    • Okay, that poster just takes the cake. Love it.

      I’ll never understand why we place the burden of preventing assault so exclusively on potential victims. I shouldn’t have to walk around my very safe, civilized world worrying about whether I’m safe. I’m fine with teaching everyone (regardless of sex) to take reasonable precautions because bad things happen. But it’s ridiculous to believe that women should carry the burden of preventing rape and sexual assault.

  2. I’m not sure I quite understand the import of the quote. The key seems to be the last few words: “and if you are and didn’t follow all the rules it’s your fault.” That part I understand, and that clearly constitutes “blaming the victim.” I quite agree. But isn’t it possible to do the laundry list of protective measures described in the quote without the implication that if you fail to do them and you are raped it is your fault?

    The upshot seems to be that we should not teach our young women techniques for avoiding sexual assault, that to do so is victim blaming. But take “blame” out of the equation altogether and sexual assault remains a reality.

    I live in Chicago, where there are practical realities for keeping oneself safe from sexual assault. And this post seems to be saying we shouldn’t teach those realities to our young women; that to do so is per se victim blaming. Rapists just shouldn’t rape. OK, but that’s not the practical reality we live with, is it? Rapists exist, and they sexually assault women. Isn’t it proper to give them them the training and tools to mitigate such potential assaults? For instance, is learning self defense techniques per se a bad thing?

    I’m confused about where the line is between practical steps to protect oneself and victim blaming. Because the quote seems to say that women shouldn’t protect themselves in any way, because gosh darn it they shouldn’t have to. Which strikes me as naive. So I assume that I’m somehow missing something in the argument.

    • The importance of the quote is to illustrate rape culture. She doesn’t say anywhere that we shouldn’t take those measures, or that it is wrong to protect yourself. The point of the quote is to show that no amount of preparation, defense classes, modesty, care or worry will stop rape.

      The solution to rape is not to take every opportunity away from rapists (though it helps to know that you might be doing everything you can to avoid rape, on a personal level), it is to hold rapists accountable. That’s why a recent SlutWalk sign said “Don’t tell us what to wear, tell men not to rape”.

      Focusing on what the victims are doing, wearing, or saying doesn’t get to the root of the problem. (And it doesn’t do women any favors in the meantime, where they already are living in a patriarchal society and don’t enjoy the privilege men do.) What solves the problem is stopping rapists.

    • Also, I share your confusion about how to navigate the practical steps to prepare YW, YM, my children, or any other youth I work with for the reality of the danger of sexual assault. But it’s not a philosophical exercise for me to say “I’m not going to teach my daughters anything, because I shouldn’t have to”, or something equally naive. I’m committed to getting to the root of the problem. I’ll talk to my children about how it doesn’t matter what they wear, sexual assault is a real danger.

      Being vigilant about modesty won’t do anything for them (see the study I linked to in the OP), but having a parent who will talk to them will. Arming them with the ability to see sexual violence in speech, jokes, media will help them. Arming my kids with the ability to choose friends who don’t routinely victimize, who are not sexist, who also know the importance of boundaries will help them. And being realistic about rape will help them. They should know that rape is underreported, that it is usually committed by someone you know, that there are people you can talk to if you are assaulted, that people might not believe you (because of the rape culture) but that I, your parent, will.

      And the list goes on. I want more input though. My kids are little, and I need ideas!

    • “But isn’t it possible to do the laundry list of protective measures described in the quote without the implication that if you fail to do them and you are raped it is your fault?”

      I think the main point is that this is ALWAYS the conversation around rape-prevention. Its ALWAYS about what the girls could/should/would be doing wrong. Whereas her point is that our focus should be on teaching our boys (who grow up into the men committing these crimes) not to treat women like this in the first place.

      What do you think it does to a growing young boy’s mind to be told that what girls wear tempts them to do bad things? Instead of being told “It doesn’t matter what they are wearing or doing, you have the choice and power to look/walk away” And to be taught that there are times and places that it is NEVER appropriate to make a sexual advance on a women. Its the MEN who need to be taught boundaries.

      The thing that men will never understand is that the quote above is drilled into girls’ heads from the time they are aware of themselves. I am 30 years old, and I STILL constantly worry about how I am “coming across” to men. I fret over what to wear to the grocery store, or to the pool, or to the gym, or when we go out on a couple date. It doesn’t matter where I am, what I’m doing, or who I’m with…I’m constantly analyzing the reactions of men around me to make sure they aren’t going to take something the wrong way and sexually approach me, or that they are going to hurt me. I analyze the way I walk, the way I talk, my eye contact, etc. Everything in that quote is spot on. I have to ward off sexual advances in every situation of my life, no matter WHAT I’m doing, or WHAT I’m wearing. Some men will still cat call or stare or try to approach me sexually. That is a women’s life 24/7.

      • Excellent post, and valid questions. I do think another issue that should not be marginalized is that rape is not always men raping women. I understand the overwhelming majority of rape victims are women; however, that doesn’t mean anything to the victims who don’t fit that norm. Sometimes men are raped by women, men by men, women by women, and women by men.

        My only request is that we do not make the mistake of saying all rapists are men and all victims are women.

        In answer to your question as an idea for reducing the rape culture, I think we need to increase our empathy culture. I think this can be accomplished by expressive individuals and meaningful and open relationships. People need to express their feelings in more meaningful ways. We should have someone we can go to and confide deep dark secrets with. More and more people find counselors are the solution for this need because there is no personal relationship with that person and no effects of judgmental behavior. However, I think an individual who is more accessible is important. A parent can be this avenue for young children in need of learning to share their emotions and feelings. I think it is always important for parents to be empathetic with their children even if they disagree with their children and may disapprove of their behavior. Anyway, just a thought.

      • Chase, you’re absolutely correct to point out that rape is not exclusively something done by men to women. I’ve tried throughout my comments to acknowledge that our dealing with this issue needs to not be sex-specific and that boys/men are victims of sexual violence as well. I appreciate your pointing that out more explicitly.

        And I think you’re right that it’s important that we replace rape culture with a culture of compassion. So often we talk about changing something that’s bad without discussing what we should cultivate in its place. I like that you’re trying to give some suggestions in that direction and would love to hear ideas from others, too.

      • Yes, thank you this point Chase. And (I’m not saying you’re saying this) it’s also good remember the OP which is specifically about YW, modesty and how those issues play into an LDS rape culture. But again, men are victims too. I’d love to write a post on that next…

    • Kevin, the point is not that you don’t teach your kids (regardless of sex) reasonable precautions that will help them protect themselves. The point is that because our society focuses most of its attention on this issue on the victims and what they could/should be doing, we live in a cultural environment in which, when a girl is assaulted, it’s somehow okay to immediately assume that 1. she must have done something to trigger the assault and to then go looking for that; and 2. she must regret her behavior in the time leading up to her assault. A couple of examples:

      The recent coverage in the NYT (of all papers, one that should be responsible and aware enough not to engage in this behavior) of an 11 year old girl being gang-raped by 18 boys and young men. The article actually shows some sympathy for these boys and young men, while uncritically reporting neighbors’ reports of the girl’s dress and grooming habits and their willingness to blame the absent mother. This was a brutal, vicious attack of a child which was recorded by the perpetrators on their cell phones so it could be shown to others (one assumes so that the perpetrators could brag) and which happened in two different locations (they moved mid-assault from one residence to another). It was an extended, violently destructive assault on a little girl–a child–and one of the most influential newspapers in the nation uncritically reports community sympathy for the perpetrators’ who now have to “live with this for the rest of their lives” while pointing to the little girl dressing older than her age as if that’s somehow an explanation for 18—EIGHTEEN!!!! boys and young men raping her? Good God what kind of society do we live in if we can do this?! And you know why we do this? Because we blame women for men’s sexual misbehavior and we don’t bat an eyelash as we do it. And the kind of emphasis on potential victims (because every single woman who ever lives must live with the awareness that she is the potential victim of sexual assault/rape) and their need to do everything possible to avoid being assaulted contributes directly to that culture. If you can’t tell, this makes me so angry I could spit nails.

      And then there’s this absolutely amazing piece from a rape victim, in which she explains exactly what her decisions and behavior were the night she was raped, illustrating why she shouldn’t regret what she did or even have to think about what she should have done differently. She says:

      Rape is not an equation; it’s a fundamental inequality. There are many different choices I could have made the night I was raped. But there is no choice I could have made that would have made my rapist not a rapist. That was never my choice, and it shouldn’t have been my responsibility to carry all these years.

      And that is the crux of the problem–there is no choice I can make, as a woman, that will make a rapist not a rapist. The only choice that could keep me absolutely safe from every possible assault would be to choose locking myself up away from the world (as this author points out in the rest of her excellent post). But that is not realistic. So while I will, and do, of course take reasonable precautions, I refuse to accept responsibility for the vile misbehavior of others. And I will not be confined by the possibility that some day a monster will choose to target me.

      as for what to teach children (whether girls or boys), I would suggest teaching them basic safety precautions but never, ever making connections like “if you dress in this fashion, you’re less likely to be raped” or “if you never walk alone at night, you’re less likely to be raped.” Such formulations imply unavoidably a victim-blaming mentality. And as Tori, the author of that blog post, points out rape is not an equation. It’s not as simple as X behavior + Y situation = Z rape or A behavior + B precaution = C no rape. And it’s misguided to teach people how to protect themselves as if rape were formulaic in that fashion. Not only is it misguided, doing so makes rape more likely to happen because it results in frightened possible victims and excused-in-advance possible perpetrators (after all, most rape is acquaintance rape and not of the violent stranger variety we seem so often to associate with the concept rape).

  3. How do we talk to YW/YM about all this? Something along the lines of, “No, you shouldn’t *have* to do these things. But we live in a fallen world so here are some tips for that reality. They aren’t a guarantee; it’s not your fault if bad things happen anyway.”

    • It’s also important to know the difference between what actually prevents rape and what doesn’t. The quote merely restates what the rape culture consists of. The list doesn’t mean that all those things actually prevent rape. In fact, some don’t. They are illusions.

      For example, it has been shown that what women wear does not affect rates of sexual assault. So then why do we fret over modesty as if it will prevent rape?

      • I dont dress modestly because I dont want to get raped. Thats the farthest thing from my mind when I am getting dressed. I feel like the comments and post is saying that the only reason we are teaching our daughters to dress modestly is because of rape culture. That is so far from the reasons I teach my daughters to dress modestly.

    • Thanks Kate R.! I appreciate that. It’s been awesome to write this and see all the responses, but it’s also quite a bit of work for me to be healthy while I wade through triggering topics. So any support is very much needed. Thank you.

  4. Thank you! The conversations you linked to at the beginning were incredibly frustrating to try and read. I’m glad you are so full of straight-forward, common sense here.

    Anyone who thinks the way you dress will help you avoid unwanted sexual advances has never walked down a city street. I was going to a baseball game this weekend, wearing jeans, a baggy jersey, a jacket over that, and a baseball cap covering my messy ponytail. And I still, because I was walking by myself, got catcalls and come-ons from random men on the sidewalk. It had nothing to do with my appearance, and everything to do with the fact that I was a woman, walking, by myself. And, as other bloggers in those threads mentioned, the men around me thought it was okay for them to be constantly checking in on my “sexual availability” to them.

    Any defense of modesty as a rape-avoidance tactic frankly makes me sick.

    • Yes, Nat. You are ogled because you are a women. Period. It has nothing to do with how you’re dressed.

      Christina Hendricks and I have very similar figures. No matter what I wear, it could be a potato sack, I will get noticed. I can’t help it. And yet, I’m not kidding, I was told to watch how I dress at work, because some people are there for counseling for sexual dysfunction, and if someone saw me and got all turned on and then assaulted someone, it would my fault. Yeah I called BS because you would think people who have advanced degrees in the social sciences would know better.

    • Thanks for sharing this Nat. It makes me sick too.

      Risa, that’s truly unjust that you are expected to not only bear the burden for dressing not to tempt anyone, but it’s among people who should know better. I get that we all need to wear work-appropriate clothing. But bodies are all different and there’s nothing wrong with yours.

    • Ha. This reminds me that the time when I got the most cat calls from random men in the street was when I was on my mission. Seriously. My companion and I were the most modestly dressed women (we’d often see women in the dead of summer just walking the streets in a bikini top and tiny shorts), and I’d be so confused as to why we were getting so much attention in our holey nylons, ugly walking shoes, and long skirts.
      Kmillecam – I’m loving this post and all the comments. So much to think about.

      • Sijbrich,

        Were you serving in a foreign country? I got hit on more on my mission than I ever have in real life, but I think that it might have partially been because I am a tall, blond, blue-eyed woman who served in a Latin American country. Foreign women often are viewed as interesting and exotic because they look so different from the norm.

  5. I don’t think modesty protects against rape. However, it might protect against sexual advances that are within normal limits.
    Teaching modesty to YW is partly about teaching them to not seek sexual attention from boys and men. My reason for encouraging my 13 year old old to dress in a normal but modest way for her age is so that the people around her treat her properly.
    She has looked far older than her age for quite some time. This has worried me because if older boys continue to treat her like she is older, she will start to act like she is older. When I was 11 and 12 I didn’t have boys 3 or 4 years older interacting with me like I am a peer.
    If she was dressing less modestly or if she was dressing in increased sexual or older ways, she would tend to interact with the world around her more this way because they would treat her differently.
    Rape is NEVER the victim’s fault.
    Modestly, however, to me is not about protecting her against rape.

    • I agree that modesty should be about more than just protecting against rape. However, in terms of the issue of what we teach YW/YM, the association between the YW attribute of “virtue” (aka chastity) and modesty is pretty strong.

    • jks, part of what I’m reading in your comment here (and do correct me if I’m wrong) is that you teach your daughter to dress modestly and age-appropriately because doing so allows her to be herself, while dressing in more immodest clothing or less age-appropriate clothing might lead to her having to adopt a persona or attitudes that are not comfortable or appropriate for a girl of her age. In other words, you are helping her understand how to be proactive in asserting her own identity and who she is. I think that’s a really healthy approach to understanding and teaching modesty, and it’s one that can be adopted without making the destructive step of saying that by dressing modestly/appropriately (or the inverse), one will inspire appropriate behavior in boys (or the inverse).

      The problem that Kendahl is pointing to in the rape culture attitude that girls/women should alter their dress in order to prevent sexual assault is that it defines dress as something girls/women do in order to control boys’/men’s actions. Not only does this attitude remove responsibility from the boys/men, it also turns girls/women into objects to be acted upon and reactive agents instead of autonomous subjects who act in a self-determining fashion.

  6. Kevin – View it like this: we need our culture to make men as paranoid about being thrown in jail for rape as women are about being raped.
    So, a when a man walks down the street he should keep his eye out for women who might be potential accusers. He should be so paranoid that he asks for women to walk with him to his car in case he might be mistakenly accused. He should be so paranoid that he never says anything out of line and so all of his actions around everyone are so squeaky clean so no one who accuses him of rape is sure he wanted it. He should be aware that every time he increases his strength by going to the gym he puts himself in danger of being stronger than the women around him, so he should try to be as physically weak as he can to maintain a better balance of power. When he orders a pizza he should be worried in the back of his mind that THIS time might be the time the pizza delivery girl is unscrupulous and will accuse him of rape.
    If you try to view it this way you will see that this is a way to try to spread the BURDEN of worrying about being a victim. If we didn’t blame rape victims so much, rapists wouldn’t get off so much, and fear of being accused of rape would skyrocket. Rape is so difficult to prove. If it wasn’t, men would spend tons more time and mental energy trying to avoid being accused of it.
    This is what we expect of women in our society. To constantly be watchful and careful to avoid being raped. It can be a daily or even constant thing for some women and it is harmful.

    • Oh well done, jks! When we turn the rape apology attitude on its head we see its inherent absurdity. And men would never put up with constantly being told stuff like this. So why do we expect women to put up with it just so men can be comfortable and we can find easy explanations for terrible realities?

    • Yes, yes, yes, and yes!

      I don’t think men really know the constant state of fear women live in. I never walk to my car alone at night, I always look in the backseat of my car when I get it, I lock my doors immediately when I get in the car, I’m never alone with a man I don’t implicitly trust (not that that has proven to mean things to other women in the past), I rarely go out at night by myself, etc.

      Thank you for this comment…you articulate this better than I ever could.

  7. Rape is not about sex. I wish people could get that. Rape is about power.

    All of these things apply more to receiving unwanted sexual advances more than rape, things such as inappropriate comments, catcalling, whistling, ranking people by their looks, sexual harassment, groping, fondling, “inadvertent” touching, ogling, etc. THAT is what all the protection of modesty in dress and action helps with, not so much with preventing it, but of knowing within yourself that you did not invite it. That gives you stronger ground to say NO.

    It is too easy for girls to feel guilty, thinking they led someone on.

    • And actually, modesty doesn’t even help with those things either. I still remember a day about 6 years ago, I was a single mom, exhausted with two little ones. I had to run somewhere and was in my pjs, slippers, hair not done, no makeup on…looking like a train wreck basically. My car broke down and I had to walk 3 miles to my house because I couldn’t get ahold of someone to come pick us up.

      A truck drove by as I lugged my two little children on the side of the road, and he leaned out his window, catcalled and wagged his tongue at me as he drove by. What in the HELL possessed that man to do something like that…seeing a young, heat exhausted, tired mother with two little children in her arms???? HOW could that have been seen as appropriate???? There is no way someone could have mistaken my intentions. I was in no way, shape, or form, inviting sexual advances to myself. I looked awful and had children with me! But the fact that I had a VAGINA was enough for him. That alone gave him permission to degrade and disrespect me.

      And again, I recall as a teenager, even as young as 14…same thing. Men leaning out their car windows to whistle and make disgusting hand gestures to my friend and I. Grown men to little girls. We were doing nothing but walking down the street, and we were dressed “modestly”.

      Again, around the age of 14, at a youth conference at our stake center…my friend and I had gone to the bathroom during the talk, and a group of older teen boys were in the hallway. They surrounded us, pushed us up against the wall, and they said sexual things to us as the other boys looked on and laughed. I finally had to push him and duck and run to get away. I will NEVER forget that one of the boys was even in my ward and he did NOTHING but laugh. AT A CHURCH FUNCTION. We were both wearing “modest” dresses.

      These are the worst instances, but there have been plenty more. I could go on and on.

      OBVIOUSLY there is something more going on than “modesty” and yet THAT is what the church, and society, focuses on. Perhaps they ought to stop drilling about pornography and masturbation to these boys, and teach them to respect women’s rights instead!!!

      • Hear, hear. The first time I was ogled and knew it, I was wearing jeans and a modest shirt.
        I completely agree with your last paragraph, especially.

      • Olive, that’s just crazy talk. If we drill the concept of respecting women’s rights, it might upset the delicate balance of How Things Are Supposed to Be and women might want more say. Better to leave women living in a haze of perpetual fear that they might be victimized and, after they are, held responsible for it.

        /satiric snottiness off

        Yes I know–our cultural attitudes are not this overt, but it is a lot easier for the powers that be to try to maintain a problematic status quo while fixating on easily visible sinful behavior (consuming porn, masturbating, pre-marital sex, etc.) than it is to help people develop proper attitudes through more theoretical teaching. Plus, the status quo teachings about women, sex, modesty, etc. are workhorses in perpetuating patriarchal power structures. And the church is built on a patriarchal power structure.

      • “Perhaps they ought to stop drilling about pornography and masturbation to these boys, and teach them to respect women’s rights instead!!!”


  8. Thanks, jks. That’s sort of what I thought, and it’s certainly an admirable sentiment. I was just concerned that the quote, in pressing that ideal, seems to be pooh-poohing the need for safety tactics in the pragmatic here and now, and I worry that we would be doing our daughters a disservice not to provide them with some practical training that would lessen the risks of sexual assault. There still seems to be a gap between a desired and laudable ideal and the practical here and now.

    • Kevin, I think you’re not applying this final phrase to the rest of the quote: “and if you are and didn’t follow all the rules it’s your fault.”

      The quote’s point is not that you don’t instruct girls (and boys! boys and men are victims of sexual assault, too) in how to take basic safety precautions. It’s that you don’t pair that instruction with “and if you are and didn’t follow all the rules it’s your fault.” While most people don’t make the “it’s your fault” statement explicitly, they do so implicitly when they make the connection between “right” behaviors and not being raped and “wrong” behaviors and being raped.

      The reality is that a girl could do every single thing on that list and still be raped. Another girl could violate every single guideline on that list and not be raped. So rather than trying to make a causal relationship between a girl’s behavior and whether or not she is assaulted, it would be better to teach the underlying logic to the guidelines. Don’t drink too much because it impairs your judgment and abilities, for instance, rather than don’t drink too much because if you do, you might be raped.

  9. I agree with much of what you say, but disagree with this:

    “If we tell the Young Women not to show their shoulders, their legs, their skin, or even the outline of their body, it sends a clear message: You are responsible for how the boys think and react to your sexual body.”

    Although American culture has unfortunately linked modesty with sexuality, that doesn’t mean that it is necessary. I think it’s absolutely possible and good to teach modesty without sending a message that it’s about boys. Church culture has probably emphasized, rather than changing this message. But we could benefit from decoupling modesty and sexuality and I try to emphasize with the YW I teach that we are modest because we respect ourselves, not because we respect boys.

    • Margaret, you’re right. I should have been more specific, but I was writing quickly and didn’t clarify that point. I should say that “If we tell the Young Women not to show their shoulders, their legs, their skin, or even the outline of their body, because it will make the boys aroused, it sends a clear message: You are responsible for how the boys think and react to your sexual body.” It’s that critical element of the commentary given with the modesty specifics that really does the damage.

  10. I agree with the sentiment of this post but “…even if we tell our daughters to think a little bit of what they are wearing and how it makes men react, then it is still victim-blaming.” I think victim-blaming is misused here are your daughters victims or were they victimized by this request? I think not. Actually the request seeks to reverse responsibility. Or did you mean *potential* victim blaming because they are female? If so at some point hyperbole undermines the message especially with those who oppose and need it most. Don’t give them an excuse to discount the message.

    • I worded my OP that way because it is true. It may seem like hyperbole to you, but that is because the reality is hard to swallow. Please do not automatically jump to my message being undermined and discounted just because you can’t see what I mean.

      That being said, I can see what you are getting at. When I say “a little bit” I do mean potential victim-blaming of the obvious sort, but I also mean victim-blaming in the more sneaky sense. If you tell your daughter that she doesn’t need to feel responsible for men’s response to her body in terms of rape, but that she should be responsible for how they are aroused, then that’s what I mean by a “little bit”. It might not seem like a big deal to make women responsible for men’s arousal when it’s compared to making them responsible for their own rape. But it’s the same thing. One can lead to another. That’s what I mean when I say “it’s still victim-blaming, even if you say it ‘a little bit'”.

      • Kmillecam I am confused by your answer the phrase I quoted and commented on …what they are wearing and how it makes men react… is significantly different that the one used for your explanation …but that she should be responsible for how they are aroused… the first simply imparts information but the second holds them responsible.

      • If we say “why are you wearing that, it will make men that look at you react” vs. “why are you wearing that, it will arouse men that look at you”, then the responsibility on the woman and her outfit is pretty clear.

        I can see what you are saying about the semantics between my quoted line and my explanation above. But I don’t see you making the same effort to see what I am saying. We have a saying at Phoenix Youth at Risk: “I’m no longer willing to work harder than you for this”.

      • Kmillecam I’m familiar with the concept of not being willing to work harder than you for this but that is not what’s going on, I’m not lazy you have not clearly made your point I was hoping you would. You are apparently saying responsibility is implied with the phrase why are you wearing that, it will arouse men that look at you thereby justifying in a subtle way your use of the term victim-blaming but the question why often invokes a defensive response why was not used in the OP and that is NOT the sentence used in your OP. So you are apparently saying that responsibility is also implied in your OP phrase …even if we tell our daughters to think a little bit of what they are wearing and how it makes men react… and by doing so you apparently argue it victimizes the daughters. This is what I mean by hyperbole you appear to be saying that by teaching YW some dress is arousing to YM victimizes them. Does knowledge victimize or empower? I would argue empower. Would you rather keep them in ignorance? Perhaps a narrow feminist view would agree with you here but that would be preaching to the choir I don’t think it works to raise the consciousness of others.

      • Howard, if you are the only one here crying hyperbole, then you might want to consider that you are wrong. I don’t see how it’s a narrow feminist view to say that victim-blaming happens when you tell women that their clothes causing reactions in other men is their responsibility. Most feminists will agree.

      • I don’t see how it’s a narrow feminist view to say that victim-blaming happens when you tell women that their clothes causing reactions in other men is their responsibility. You are not saying this you very subtly implied it.

      • What I am hearing here is the same as what I hear when people say, “You make me mad!” In fact only YOU make you mad. Your thought processes make you mad. your perspective makes you mad.

        As for women wearing or not wearing particular clothing ‘making’ a boy be aroused is just not so. Boys get aroused. Girls get aroused. Each by very different things. And it is not the things that ‘make’ them get aroused. And arousal is NOT bad or harmful, it is very very human. Arousal is very enjoyable as well. Arousal does not thus lead to sexual assault or rape or even sexual advances. Arousal simply exists in the human species for our pleasure and enjoyment.

      • Kmillecam I didn’t read your moderation warning until after I posted the comment you put me into moderation for. Please check the time stamps your warning and my comment were both at posted at 10:31 am.

  11. I have a few thoughts…
    First, what a woman wears does NOT change a rapist. Rapists choose people who fit what their “target” is. That can be anything: a child, an old woman, a strong woman, a weak woman, a man… It doesn’t matter.

    Second, my thought is on the young men who are not rapists, but don’t know what is normal sexuality… If you teach a young man that if a woman dresses a certain way, “she is asking for it,” he will learn to not listen to her when she says no. You have taught him to ignore what she says, because what she wears is so important. Suddenly, he is a rapist. If we teach young men to respect people; To listen to them; That clothing is nothing but clothing, its a start of an opportunity to change the world.

    Teach all children to love and respect their body… Respect doesn’t mean hiding it… Teach the facts. There are men (and women) who will hurt and abuse others. Teach what to look for. Teach children that they are worth protecting and standing up for. Teach them that rape (or having sex for that matter) does not change their value or their worth… There’s my thoughts.

    • Jen your comment made me think of this excellent public awareness ad about rape culture in Scotland:

      Also, I would add that the only way we can teach children successfully that “they are worth protecting and standing up for” is if we don’t attach that worth to certain behaviors. The message can never be that they’re worth protecting and standing up for except if they do X, where X is pretty much anything from dressing immodestly to flirting to drinking or any of the other behaviors that rape apologists so often use to excuse rape.

  12. I almost always share this link when this topic comes up but it’s my very favorite. The premise of the post is about covering up while breastfeeding, but the applications are far more reaching. I love this quote:

    Any time a woman is told to cover up or told to undress, I see that as an attack on her person. Telling women to cover up and telling women to strip down are frequently used tactics for oppressing women.

  13. “For example, it has been shown that what women wear does not affect rates of sexual assault. So then why do we fret over modesty as if it will prevent rape?”

    What a young woman wears will not protect her from being raped. It will however affect what kind of young man will pursue her romantically/sexually. It will affect how much pressure she gets to engage in premarital sexual acts. It will affect what kinds of parties she gets invited to. It will affect how often she is offered alcohol and illegal drugs. It will affect what other young women will think of her.

    The list goes on and on. Dressing modestly has nothing to do with the young men. It has everything to do with the young woman and how she wants her life to turn out.

    • “It will however affect what kind of young man will pursue her romantically/sexually. . . .Dressing modestly has nothing to do with the young men. ”

      Please explain how those two sentences don’t contradict each other.

      “It will affect how much pressure she gets to engage in premarital sexual acts.”

      Guess what! That pressuring has 100% to do with rape and sexual assault. Rape is rarely someone hiding in the bushes pouncing on women in miniskirts. Rape is more often a boyfriend, date, or husband, pressuring a woman into sex.

      “It has everything to do with the young woman and how she wants her life to turn out.”

      I haven’t gotten around to doing my Master’s yet, probably because I didn’t wear “future graduate degree clothing” as a young woman. If only my clothing could guarantee my future!

      • So what you are saying is this:

        A young couple is in love, and the guy wants to have sex, and he tells his girlfriend that if she doesn’t have sex with he will dump her. If she finally gives in in order to not get dumped, that means he raped her?
        I have heard this argument before. She has a choice. She can choose to get dumped.

      • Davis, what you’re describing sounds more like a process than a discrete event. While such a process is certainly wrong and a form of sexual coercion, while it is a manipulative violation of that girl’s agency, I don’t think most people would refer to such a process as rape.

        If we’re talking about a boy and a girl who are dating out on a date and they start kissing and then petting and the girl hits her boundary and tries to draw the line and then the boy says he’ll break up with her if she doesn’t have sex with him and uses her reaction of emotional confusion, because, you know, she thought he cared about her and now he seems to be saying what he cares about is having sex with her body, as an opening for getting back down to business and pushes right past the boundary she has just drawn–then yes, that would constitute acquaintance rape.

        The violation of the boundaries drawn by your partner is an act of violence. The use of emotional coercion and manipulation to throw your partner off guard so that you can violate those boundaries while reassuring yourself that you gave her a choice is an act of violence. They are not tolerable. And saying “but she had a choice” is no excuse.

        If we’re talking about a longer process in which she honestly has an opportunity to assess her priorities and chooses to have sex so she can stay with her boyfriend, then no. That’s not rape. Though there are a million other things that are wrong in that situation and the fact that she had the opportunity to exercise agency does not excuse them.

      • Enlighten me a sexual quid pro quo may violate agency in say a workplace situation where there is a power imbalance but how does it violate agency in a dating situation? Also the use of of the word violence here dilutes the original physical force meaning of it while it shocks one into thinking it does so that potential expense of undermining your point.

      • Howard, if your comments continue to only consist of taking without any give, such as nitpicking word usage like “violence”, then I will put your comments into moderation. We’re here to have a conversation, not to swoop in with judgements about every argument you disagree with.

      • Howard, what Davis is discussing is not sexual quid pro quo; it’s coercion. Quid pro quo would look like “I’ll only do X sex act if you do Y sex act.” Such negotiating is not necessarily harmful, though I see a lot of potential for harm in it depending on the dynamic in which the discussion happens. I’m not a big fan of that kind of “only if” negotiation where sex is concerned.

        What Davis is discussing is coercion, specifically coercion premised on threat. In his scenario, the boy is threatening to do emotional harm to the girl in order to get what he wants from her sexually. Coercion is always a violation of agency. It is especially so if we’re talking about two people engage in a passionate encounter and, when one draws a boundary saying that they need to stop, the other says if you don’t do X I’ll break up with you. That is absolutely a violation of agency. And it is “an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power” (one of the common definitions of violence), in this instance emotional and psychological force/power. It is not at all inappropriate to use the word “violence” to mean something other than physical force; the definition of “violence” is not limited to physical force, and when it correctly describes an emotional or psychological act, it should be used in that situation. In my opinion this use of the word violence does not water down its power, but flesh it out. We need to know that violence is not limited to physical harm; too often people are willing to dismiss emotional and psychological harm as less damaging than physical harm because they do not understand that these things can be as violent as physical harm.

      • I will say that I have absolutely no problem with open and honest discussion of needs inside of a relationship. For instance, I would have no problem with a man honestly explaining to the woman he is dating that he cannot conceive of marrying anyone, including her, without first developing a sexual relationship and that if that is something she does not feel willing or able to do, their relationship will likely have to end. That’s neither coercive nor a violation of agency; it’s just open communication. But if he’s saying “if you don’t have sex with me, I’ll break up with you” in the heat of the moment–well then it’s not open and honest communication, it’s just manipulative and abusive coercion and is Wrong. Period. I’d say the same if the genders of the participants was reversed.

      • Amelia I agree that this could be a case of coercion and I am opposed to the use of coercion but is it a violation of agency? Agency is the ability to choose and act for ourselves. She is not restrained from choosing to either have sex or not or from acting on that choice.

      • Howard, if the situation arises in the heat of the moment, in the middle of a sexual encounter, and one party says “no more” and the other party says “more or else” there’s no maybe about it–it is absolutely coercion. In other words, it is one party attempting to compel his partner to engage in a sexual act she has designated off limits by exploiting fear.

        I get really tired of people saying, “oh there’s always a choice! Always.” That’s just not true. There is such a thing as situations in which there may be a theoretical opportunity to choose, but there is no practical opportunity. When someone ratchets the cost of making one choice up and up until the only option seems to be the other choice, then we’re not dealing with agency anymore–we’re dealing with coercion. Obviously there are lots of different contextual details we don’t know in the scenario Davis proposes. Is it a first or second date? Well, then there’s less cost attached to the girl saying “you’re an ass” and walking away without looking back. If it’s an engaged couple and he’s saying he won’t marry her unless she has sex with him right now, then he’s made the cost so high that I would argue that he has virtually eliminated agency from the equation. Certainly she could choose to say no and walk away from the man she wanted to marry, losing any money already invested in the wedding, accruing all of the social and familial costs of a canceled wedding, etc., etc., etc. But when someone purposely manipulates the situation so as to make it so difficult to not choose what they’re asking for, then that person is violating the other person’s agency even if technically she could make a different choice than the one demanded.

        And none of that is to even touch the issue of being forced to make a decision in a split second while confronted by one’s own heightened passion and one’s partner’s.

        For agency to exist without violation, the person choosing must have the opportunity to think about and consider the decision, assess the costs and benefits and then choose. While it’s true that most choices do not happen without pressures, it is possible to alleviate pressure rather than send it soaring. Which is why I pointed out that having an open and honest discussion in which one party says “no sex, relationship ends” does not constitute coercion or a violation of agency. In the right circumstances, that conversation is just about being honest about one’s own needs and expectations, rather than about wielding power and compelling one course of action over another.

        Of course, it doesn’t really surprise me that members of the church so often insist that there is always agency, always the opportunity to choose differently, without seeing sky-high costs as being a real infringement upon that agency. After all the church uses that approach to coerce certain answers out of its members all the time. It’s one of the reasons I have distanced myself from the church in some regards. I’m not okay with an institution preaching one thing (the sanctity of agency) while practicing another (coercing people into making the “right” choice).

        And then, of course, there is the issue of feeling physically threatened. Just imagine the scenario: boyfriend and girlfriend, or fiancees, lying on a couch making out. It moves to petting. He’s on top of her and when she says that they need to stop he says, “if you don’t have sex with me, I’ll break up with you.” In that situation are you telling me that she actually has a choice? Maybe. Maybe he’s a good enough guy that when she again says no, he’ll get off of her and let her go. But then again, he’s already proved himself enough of a bastard to issue an ultimatum of that nature. Who’s to say he’s not also enough of a bastard to force her physically to have sex? We women walk around with enough fear of sexual assault already that the possibility would certainly occur to us.

        Sorry, Howard. That’s not any kind of choice. It is a manipulative, vile, disgusting power play in which one party is doing everything he can to force the “choice” he wants the other party to make, all the while leaving the back door open so that after she gives in and has sex with him he can assuage his conscience by reassuring himself that he gave her a choice. I call bullshit.

      • You know, I have to say that this conversation is making me realize how incredibly lucky I have been that the men I have dated have, for the most part, recognized that decisions about what sexual behavior is and is not okay understood that those decisions must be made consciously and not in a moment of heightened passion. I find it incredibly troubling that there are men who do not understand that demanding that someone make such “decisions” in moments of heightened passion is simply unacceptable, so much so that these cannot even rightfully be called “decisions” (and thus the scare quotes).


      • I’m going to follow Kmillecam’s excellent example here and draw my boundary: Howard your inability to recognize how much a violation of trust and agency it is for someone who allegedly loves you to coerce you into doing something you have stated is off limits has taken me right back to having someone do that precise thing to me. It’s not okay. I’m asking you not to pursue this line of conversation.

      • OK Amelia as I think you already know I love your comments for your clarity of thought and articulate expression and I admire your intellect. I have no desire to trigger you nor do I behave or condone the behavior you describe but the issue isn’t finished I think you are using coercion, informed consent duress and agency somewhat interchangeably so I would love to continue it with you when you recover.

      • Thank you, Howard. I do know that you are a respectful participant in our conversations and I appreciate that. I also appreciate your willingness to take a step back for now. I’m usually able to talk these ideas without it triggering such a strong reaction. This one just hit a little too close to home.

        These are ideas I care very much about, and not just as they pertain to questions of assault and rape. I may feel up to talking about them more in this context. Or perhaps someday I’ll write up my thoughts about them in a different context.

    • Um, ya, EXACTLY. Because no one is teaching these BOYS and MEN that it doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing…that they should NEVER, EVER, EVER pressure a woman to have sex, or encourage her to drink too much, or give her drugs, or invite her to a party with the intent to do any of these things to her. Make the men responsible for hurting women. Wow, that’s novel!

      “affect what other women think of her” because that’s not being judgmental. :/

      “It has everything to do with the young woman and how she wants her life to turn out.”

      So you are again perpetuating the rape victim mentality. If she doesn’t do x, y, z…then she’ll be shunned by other women, used and abused by men, and her life will not be worth living. And its her own dang fault for not covering her shoulders, and wearing shorts that exposed her thighs.

      • I only mentioned that men would potentially hit on her more often.

        I did not say that it would be only men that invited her to parties, or that it would be men that offered her drugs and booze. Most likely it will be other women. Get off your high horse. Girls corrupt other girls just as much as boy corrupt other boys. Dress depicts attitude, and in our culture, dressing sleazy typically portrays that you are open to other questionable activities.

      • Davis, take it easy. Saying “get off your high horse” is heading for breaking #3 on our comment policy: “No mudslinging: Stating disagreement is fine — even strong disagreement, but no personal attacks or name calling.”

      • “no one is teaching these BOYS and MEN that it doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing”
        -well I hope we are teaching our boys and men that it doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t matter.
        However, I think it is possible to lead boys’ or men’s minds into sexual thoughts when we dress “seductively” (for lack of a better term). I think that some of that is societal. But, if we know what society perceives from that type of dress and we choose to dress that way, aren’t we choosing to send a message about ourselves? Possibly “inviting” men/boys to think a certain way about us?
        I DEFINITELY agree with comments made earlier that even if we are inviting men to think a certain way about us, it is ALWAYS their choice on how they are going to think and react to it. I also agree that the way we dress rarely, if ever, is the cause of rape. Like was said above, it is more about power than sex.
        And I think there has been a lot of talk that the main reason we teach YW to dress modestly is to avoid rape. I, personally, have always felt that avoiding rape was very little of the reason to dress modestly. I think it’s about portraying that we are more than a body.

  14. Kmillecam: the rape culture we live in

    One point of my post is that “culture” has very little to do with the problem. Rape happens in 100% of human cultures. Misdiagnosing the problem as a “culture” issue is largely a waste of time and energy in my opinion. Unfortunately, the rape problem is probably better described a species problem rather than a culture issue.

    Also, I don’t think we teach Mormon young women to dress modestly primarily so they can avoid being raped. Rather I think it has to do with assisting our young people stay as far away from the proverbial ledge as possible when it comes to choices regarding the law of chastity. So the modesty and rape pairing seems like a bit of a red herring here.

    • Rape culture is a term which originated in women’s studies and feminist theory, describing a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or tolerate sexual violence against women. Examples of behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming and sexual objectification.


      Geoff, Kmillecam is using the term appropriately here.

    • Geoff, the fact that we tell YW to dress modestly because it assists in keeping the law of chastity by leveraging or refusing to leverage boys’ sexual interest in girls (which is what you argue in your post) leads directly to rape apologist attitudes. That whole line of thinking, that what a girl puts on her body has the power to arouse boys and she therefore has a responsibility to dress in a certain fashion in order to prevent undesirable sexual attention, removes responsibility from boys while situating it squarely on the girls’ shoulders.

      While I have absolutely no problem with helping young people understand that how they choose to dress will send messages to those around them, including sexual messages, it is simply wrong to make the leap from that to girls having the responsibility to aid boys in proper sexual behavior by always considering how what they wear may or may not affect boys’ states of sexual arousal. Rather than teaching our girls that they must make certain choices re: dress and grooming in order to help the boys, we should be teaching them to make certain choices re: dress and grooming that are appropriate to their age and circumstances and which will allow them to comfortably function in their world as themselves, while teaching boys that it is their responsibility to appropriately control their own sexual behavior.

      And, as has been pointed out elsewhere in this thread, most rape is not the kind of violent assault so regularly associated with the term. Most rape is acquaintance rape. sometimes it is preceded by other sexual activity (often as simple as kissing or cuddling or petting, all of which are very common). The thing that will make a difference in this kind of rape is not reinforcing the idea that girls/women have the responsibility to dress so as not to arouse boys/men, but rather to instruct all parties (both male and female, because–gasp–girls and women actually do have pretty powerful sex drives, too) to own their own sexual behavior and act responsibly upon their sexual impulses regardless of others’ behavior and dress.

      • All of which is to say that the pairing of how we teach about modesty and rape is not only appropriate, but a necessary avenue of exploration if we want to debunk and render powerless rape culture and rape apologetics.

      • Amelia,

        I have absolutely no problem with helping young people understand that how they choose to dress will send messages to those around them, including sexual messages

        Good because that was the point of my post.

        it is simply wrong to make the leap from that to girls having the responsibility to aid boys in proper sexual behavior by always considering how what they wear may or may not affect boys’ states of sexual arousal

        Wrong as in factually incorrect? What do you mean by “simply wrong” here?

      • I mean morally and ethically wrong. Because making the leap from “what you wear sends messages about yourself to your world” to “because what you wear sends messages about yourself to your world, you therefore have the responsibility to dress in a certain way in order to help boys control their sexual behavior” does a few things that violate agency and autonomy:

        1. it removes sole responsibility for boys’ sexual behavior from the boys and at the very least splits it between boys and girls, if not situating it primarily on girls. This will inevitably lead to situations in which boys feel excused in their behavior because “she was asking for it” (see several of my comments above about how deeply problematic this mentality is). it will also inevitably lead to situations in which girls may have said no and resisted but, because some boy interpreted her clothing as an invitation (which may easily have been a misinterpretation, given the insanely mixed messages girls get about appropriate dress not only from our broader culture but also from within the church), were assaulted anyway–and then blame themselves because they must have failed in their responsibility to help boys control their wild, raging, barely contained sex drives.
        2. It situates girls as sexual objects which either do or do not have the power to arouse boys uncontrollably, based on their appearance. At best, it defines girls as reactive agents, rather than autonomous subjects, by instructing them to make their decisions about how to engage with their world by considering how those decisions will allow others to live correctly, rather than considering how those decisions allow themselves to be powerful and proactive participants in their own right.

        In essence I find this teaching morally and ethically wrong because it handicaps both boys and girls. Boys because it implicitly instructs them that they can lean on the crutch of others decisions in order to behave appropriately and, if they misbehave it’s at least in part because of someone else’s misbehavior. We do no one any favors when we attempt to achieve a good end (less sexual misbehavior; fewer sexual assaults and rapes) by means that conceal core principles (agency and responsibility). The teaching handicaps girls by instructing them to think of themselves and their choices first in a relational fashion (how will her choices affect the boys around her). While human beings are absolutely social creatures, and while there is nothing wrong with helping everyone understand that their own decisions will affect those around them, it’s paralyzing to believe that every decision must be made so as to maximize the correct behavior in others. It just can’t be done. There will always be conflicts. It is also wrong to instruct people (regardless of sex, but such instruction is more often aimed at women than men) that their decisions should put others first always. I personally believe that when an individual learns to behave so as to maintain their own integrity, so as to act with courage and responsibility for herself in her world, then her actions will naturally not be harmful to those around her. On the other hand, when we attempt to achieve a good end by inverting that order–consider others first, then consider self–I think what we end up with is a lot of conflict and paralysis. At least that has been my experience.

      • Also, it may be true that you really only intended to say “how you dress sends messages to the world, even sexual messages” in your post, Geoff, but your post definitely makes the next step to “therefore girls should dress in a certain way in order to help boys behave themselves sexually.” Your post reduces the messages dress sends to sexual messages and, by extension, asserts that because dress is exclusively about sex, girls are obliged to dress with the needs of boys in mind. I find that rather reductive. Not to mention the moral and ethical problems I see in it.

        Also, I tried to comment on your post yesterday (or maybe Saturday?) but my comment never showed up. Not sure if it’s sitting in a moderation queue or something.

      • Couldn’t agree more here with Amelia’s assessment that there is nothing wrong with understanding that what you wear send a message, but there’s a whole lot wrong with then making the jump to saddling women with responsibility of other people’s arousal.

    • I disagree with you on your assertion that rape happens in 100% of human cultures. Please read Daniel Everett’s Don’t Sleep there are Snakes, about the Piraha culture on the Amazon. He lived among them for 30 yrs. NO rape.

  15. Sorry about your comment not showing up Amelia. I just checked and it looks like your comment got caught in the spam filter.

    I’m reticent to add to that thread now because nobody will see it and it will change all the numbering. But I might write a follow up post in response to this one. Hopefully any comments you add there will not get caught in the filter.

    • I figured it got caught in a filter. I think it was the first time I’d commented there and I’ve found first comments on new sites often get caught.

  16. Rape happens in 100% of human cultures.

    No. It does not. “Captivity and Restoration of Mary Rowlandson” tells the story of a Puritan woman in New England who was captured by Narragansett Indians in the late seventeenth century and forced to wander around New England in the snow for a couple of months until she was ransomed. It was a very big deal that she was not raped–that in fact no white women were raped in that area. They might be stripped naked and burned to death if they slowed the tribe down (that was the fate of one of Rowlandon’s fellow captives), but they were not subjected to sexual violence, no matter what they wore or what they did.

    There were parts of North America where rape was endemic among the indigenous people–Cabeza de Vaca tells of a culture in the Texas area whose men found wives by kidnapping and raping them. Women had no status and infanticide was common because the men didn’t want the women to waste time raising babies because it prevented them from waiting on the men hand and foot.

    But in some tribes in the New England area, women had very high status. They were chiefs and decision makers. They had control over their fertility. And they were not raped.

    Misdiagnosing the problem as a “culture” issue is largely a waste of time and energy in my opinion.

    it is not a misdiagnosis. it is an absolutely correct assessment of the situation.

    Because the men in that culture did not rape their own women, they did not rape women from other cultures.

    Rape was to those cultures what cannibalism is to ours: an utterly incomprehensible atrocity that is absolutely not tolerated, and in those very rare instances where it does occur, is punished as fully as possible.

    Cultures who truly respect women and their contributions to society manage quite well in preventing the occurrence of rape. The problem is that our culture does not respect women, so it doesn’t work very hard at all to prevent rape.

    • Thank you for sharing this. I had hoped it was true that there was a culture somewhere where this didn’t happen, but I didn’t know the truth of it until you enlightened me. Glad to hear it.

      • I read it Risa. There is zero plausible evidence that those cultures were devoid of rape. The existence of such a mythical culture is nothing more than wishful thinking.

      • Geoff writes:

        Rape happens in 100% of human cultures.

        basic lesson in evidence and logic, Geoff: you NEVER say “something occurs in 100% of all situations” unless you have specific knowledge of all those situations. I doubt very seriously that you have specific knowledge about 100% of human cultures. You cannot know that what you have written is true. You cannot. You can believe it your statement is true, and you quite obviously hope your statement is true, because that way it validates your ideas about how women should behave.

        It is you who is relying on wishful thinking and who has no evidence for his position. You need to rethink your attitude toward women and sexual violence, and you need to learn to have a more responsible relationship to logic and facts.

      • Holly,

        You would have to be seriously gullible to believe the Ashanti people of Ghana (all 10 million of them) are a completely rape free society. Likewise with the 30-40k Mbuti people.

        It is certainly plausible that rape instances are more rare than the global average in those societies but it is ludicrous to assert that there are never ever any rapes in those populations. (More likely is they very rarely report the rapes that happen among them to western folks who ask.)

        Silly myths like the notion of rape-free cultures lead to equally silly ideas like this whole “rape culture” idea. Do we also have a “murder culture”? Is that the reason why murders happen among us? We must also have a “robbery culture” too or there would be no robberies right?

        Not that achieving a utopia that is free of rape, murder, and theft is a completely unreasonable goal. Obviously our church is all about building Zion which is just such a utopia. But if we misdiagnose the issue by blaming everything on culture and virtually nothing on the nature of our species we are off to the wrong start.

      • Silly myths like the notion of rape-free cultures lead to equally silly ideas like this whole “rape culture” idea. Do we also have a “murder culture”? Is that the reason why murders happen among us? We must also have a “robbery culture” too or there would be no robberies right?

        Yes, we do have a murder culture. We do have a culture that celebrates violence.

        Every so often there’s someone Jeffrey Dahmer who eats someone. But by and large we have a culture that abhors cannibalism and makes it clear that such behaviors absolutely will not be tolerated. We do not have a cannibalism culture.

        And if someone does get eaten by an utterly loony psychopath, we don’t say that it was their fault for looking so delicious.

        We could do exactly the same thing with rape. As a culture, we could make it clear that we will show as little tolerance for rape as we do for cannibalism. We could agree that rape is the fault of the rapist. We could agree that it doesn’t matter what women wear; no matter how little they dress, men, not women, are responsible for male sexual behavior.

        As a culture, we could do that. But for us to do that, you’d have to change sides in this argument. You’d have to agree that there is something cultural going on in our–and your–attitudes toward sexual violence, women, and men.

        And then you’d have to work to change it.

        And you don’t want to. That’s clear. You’d rather hang on to your ideas about all those things than adopt an attitude that would help end violence against women.

      • I’m going to suggest that we drop the 100% arguments, whether your stance is that rape happens in 100% of societies or that there are societies in which zero rape happens. (I understand I’m not thoroughly fleshing out the two sides of that debate; I’m just trying to be concise). It’s not really a productive argument and in and of itself it doesn’t really get at the points being made in the OP.

        The point that does matter is the point about whether culture has something to do with rape. And I have to say, Geoff, that I’m a little stunned that anyone could argue that culture has nothing (or even very little) to do with rape. That position is naive at best and willfully and destructively ignorant at best. Any pattern of behavior is shaped and influenced by the culture in which it happens. That is not to say there may not be biological underpinnings to that pattern. But human beings are social creatures. We are undeniably shaped by our societies and our cultures, not just our biology. And it is demonstrable that some cultures have significantly lower rates of rape and sexual assault. Now, reporting is always an issue in discussions about the frequency with which rape occurs. But since that is true of all cultures, regardless of the rate that is reported, I don’t think it’s fair to simply say, “well if it looks like rape isn’t happening or is hardly happening, it’s because of it not being reported.” It’s highly unlikely that the cultures in which rape happens at a higher rate are places where people are just more forthcoming about having been raped. For instance, rape happens at a rate 6x higher in the U.S. than in Switzerland. I think it would be naive to believe that this difference in rate could be entirely explained by reportage rates. And, since Switzerland is not suffering from extreme problems re: open violence or extreme poverty or other factors that might contribute to the frequency of violent behaviors like rape, I think it’s fairly safe to say that there must be something about the culture of Switzerland that makes it different than the culture of the U.S. when it comes to rates of rape occurring.

        And rape culture is not some silly figment of overactive feminist imaginations. There are cultural trends in how we, as a society, deal with rape. The OP and some of the comments have pointed to the cultural attitudes that contribute to rape culture, and some people have presented concrete evidence of rape culture’s existence. In our society the trends amount to a cultural attitude about rape that is apoligist for rapists (even if usually implicitly, though there are attitudes that are openly apologist) and victim-blaming. To walk around screaming about how rape has nothing (or very little) to do with culture and everything to do with biology is just another form of rape apology. It’s insulting. And it is naive. And it is destructive. Because it inherently excuses male sexual misbehavior (cause that unit between a man’s legs is so damn powerful that he con’t control it) and demonizes women who don’t conform and by doing so ultimately all women (because the reality is that no matter how well a woman conforms it’s entirely possible she’ll be raped). That is inexcusable.

        Rather than denying an undeniable reality (that culture shapes human behavior in every facet, including sexual violence; that biology is never an adequate sole explanation for any behavior pattern), your time would be better spent attempting to understand those realities and doing what you can to make them better. Pointing to biological factors may be one aspect of doing so, and I recognize that you’re trying to say that we need to deal with realities. But pointing to biological factors contributing to rape is utterly inadequate. All behavior is shaped and influenced by culture. Certainly rape is no exception. And the reality is that we can’t change the biological factors. We can only change the culture in which we live that shapes how we act on the biological factors. Your suggestions in how to do so (girls dress more modestly in order to avoid sending men the wrong sexual signals) is inadequate because it does not get at underlying causes. It’s like putting a band-aid on cancer and hoping that it will get better. What the OP and many of the comments are attempting to do is get at underlying causes that we can address so as to change the way our culture authorizes and allows the expression of the biological factors you’re pointing to.

        I, for one, am not sure how biology factors into rape in your mind. Are you talking about the biology of sex? or of violence? Rape is primarily about violence and power, not sex (though there is an obvious intersection). I think far too often the biology arguments that are advanced miss that distinction. Certainly arguments about how women’s behavior can help prevent rape generally make this mistake, as has been amply illustrated in this discussion.

      • Geoff J, my post is not an invitation for you to question the rape culture itself. And I am certainly not interested in proving it to you. You can do that work yourself, and then we can talk. If you cannot figure it out for yourself, with all the resources available, both online and right in front of you in our society every day, then I can’t help you either.

        (Also, this comment to you is also not an invitation to discuss further how you believe the notion of a rape culture “silly”. That comment is triggering for most of our readers, and you need to respect that in your comments.)

      • All right, Geoff, since I’m quite certain you won’t be able to argue anything but “OF COURSE EVEN IN CULTURES WITH ALMOST NO RAPE, THERE’S STILL RAPE!” let me change the focus and wording a bit.

        There are cultures with virtually no rape. There are cultures where rape is as rare and as intolerable as cannibalism is in our culture.

        these cultures value women’s contributions to society very highly. These cultures let women control their own bodies and fertility.

        The vast, vast majority of women (and men) in these cultures are as unlikely to be raped as we are likely to be eaten by a psychopath.

        Their freedom from rape has nothing to with what they wear or where they go. It has to do with the culture’s attitudes toward women, sex and violence.

        What can YOU do, right now, tomorrow, and every day after that, to make our culture more like those virtually rape-free cultures? How can YOU help make life safer for every single woman you know, as well as on the other women on the planet?

      • Holly and Amelia,

        It sounds like we are not all that far off. I was objecting to pinning the existence of rape on any one society/culture because rapes happen in all human societies and culture from time to time. However your point that in some societies rapes happen far less often than the average is a good one too. I agree that we should do everything we can to create a society where rape as rare as possible. (Maybe if we can build Zion as our Mormon scriptures instruct us to do rape will disappear entirely)

        Also, I don’t know who argued girls dressing immodestly invites rape. I certainly never argued for such nonsense because I don’t believe it. So you are preaching to the choir when you keep saying that to me.

      • I was objecting to pinning the existence of rape on any one society/culture because rapes happen in all human societies and culture from time to time.

        If that’s what you were saying, you weren’t saying it very well.

        However your point that in some societies rapes happen far less often than the average is a good one too.

        The point is not merely that in some societies “rapes happen far less often than the average.” The point is that in some societies, rape is as rare as cannibalism, essentially statistically insignificant.

        Now that you understand better how rape culture is being defined, and the ways in which culture contributes to rape, I trust you will retract this statement, Geoff:

        Misdiagnosing the problem as a “culture” issue is largely a waste of time and energy in my opinion.

        Surely it will be easy for you to admit that culture has a great deal to do with how often rape happens and how people react both to the victim and the perpetrator.

        I agree that we should do everything we can to create a society where rape as rare as possible.

        What are you personally going to do to make rape as rare as possible in our culture?

      • Geoff J, I have already explicitly warned you not to use triggering language like “calling America a rape culture is laughably stupid”. This is The Exponent, where we have drawn our boundaries and you have not abided by them. You have violated the comment policy (#3), so you are having your commenting privileges yanked.

        Also, it cracks me up that you think we’re going to buy the “feminists are so mean” argument. Please. Now that is genuinely funny.

      • Mary Rowlandson, “Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.”

        I read this repeatedly in grad school and somewhere along the way I read a discussion of the “No one wants to believes me when I say I wasn’t raped” part of her short memoir, including sexual attitudes and practices among certain Native American tribes of the northeast. I don’t have a reference for it, but as you might imagine, it made a pretty lasting impression.

  17. Amelia, if you read my first comment you’ll see that I agree with the quote *if* the whole thing is modified by that final clause. The problem I have with it is that it is such a long litany of many things that are otherwise useful preventive measures (e.g. self defense training), that the overall effect of the quote is to suggest that such measures are not good and useful things, the final clause notwithstanding. So I’m fine with the quote if read literally, but I just worry that the overall effect of it is to denigrate otherwise useful measures in the practical here and now in favor of an as yet unrealized ideal.

    • Kevin, I know what you’re reacting to (that it doesn’t make sense that those things are not helpful), but that is, again, not what the quote says. The quote describes the rape culture. It paints a picture of what it looks like. All those things on the list are not actual deterrents. For example, how you dress doesn’t have an impact on rates of rape. But it’s listed as something people say in support of the rape culture.

      So the quote is not the problem. The problem is that it illuminates a difficult concept. It is not some unattainable ideal to realistically navigate the rape culture. But we can’t do that until we clearly see the rape culture we are all immersed in (as described, only in small part, by the quote).

      Here’s more:
      “Rape culture is encouraging male sexual aggression. Rape culture is regarding violence as sexy and sexuality as violent. Rape culture is treating rape as a compliment, as the unbridled passion stirred in a healthy man by a beautiful woman, making irresistible the urge to rip open her bodice or slam her against a wall, or a wrought-iron fence, or a car hood, or pull her by her hair, or shove her onto a bed, or any one of a million other images of fight-f**king in movies and television shows and on the covers of romance novels that convey violent urges are inextricably linked with (straight) sexuality.”

      The whole post describing rape culture is amazing!

    • And so you did. By the time I called attention to that specific phrase, it had been a while since I read your first comment. 🙂

      That said, I do still think that we have to be careful about which safety precautions we teach and how we modify them (with the real reasons for avoiding certain problematic behaviors? or with frightening possibilities with which those behaviors may have a correlative but not causal relationship? The former would be desirable; the latter deeply problematic because it leads to victim blaming). I also think that when you look at the list of precautionary behaviors in that quote, there are some that exist only because there are misconceptions about how a victim’s behavior contributed to her being assaulted. Some examples:

      1. What you wear and how you wear it are both specific to the notion that a woman’s behavior contributes to the probability that she’ll be assaulted; how often do we tell boys and men that they need to be careful about what they wear or how they wear it in order to protect their physical safety against assault from others [as opposed to protecting against the elements]?
      2. How common is it to advise boys that the number of people they sleep with will affect their physical safety when it comes to not being assaulted?

      3. Do we explain to men that whether and how they make eye contact could result in being assaulted so they should avoid it, or not, in order to prevent being attacked?

      No to all of the above. These “precautionary” measures are sex-specific and all imply that the victim has something to do with her being attacked in the first place (her clothing was too provocative; the fact that she’s a slut makes her more vulnerable to attack; her willingness to look a man in the eye, or to maybe do so flirtatiously, invites him to assault her). And I put scare quotes around “precautionary” because none of those behaviors actually has anything to do with rape. I could walk around wearing sackcloth, sleep with no one ever, and keep my eyes meekly cast down and still be raped. The best are the pieces of advice that have no real right application, like the eye contact one. Do you avoid looking a man in the eye because, like a wild animal, he might perceive it as a threatening challenge and be prodded into attacking you? or because he might perceive it as a sexual invitation and attack you? Or do you always look a man in the eye because it asserts your identity and strength and reminds him that you have seen him and will remember, which deflects any harmful intent he may have? It’s a no-win piece of advice. And all of these pieces of advice will always contribute to rape culture because the only way to understand them is to recognize that the victim has somehow triggered her being attacked.

      All of this is to say that the allegedly good advice we give girls as part of rape culture (which advice will allegedly help prevent rape) often inherently contributes to rape culture, even if we don’t attach the rider “and if you are raped then it’s somehow your own fault.” The blame is implicit in some of the advice. Which takes me back to my suggestion: you teach good behavior and explain the real, demonstrable reasons to avoid some questionable behaviors. I can give good reasons not to drink to excess, to avoid walking in certain neighborhoods at certain times of day, to take ordinary precautions about who I give my contact info to, etc. But a lot of the advice given as part of rape culture isn’t actually backed up by good reasons and does implicitly blame victims of sexual assault simply by virtue of its existence.

  18. At the High School where I taught the Black Student Union helped start a program entitled “Prepare for Success.” It had a lot of parts: how to behave as a success oriented person; cash English, Dress for Success, Positive Writing Skills and How to interview among them.

    It was amazing to watch. It was like you were dealing with adult young ladies. The key was in the name, Prepare for success. The dress for success part was based on the idea that people make up their mind about you in 30 seconds. If you blow that, then it takes a lot of time trying to reverse that impression. The young ladies were “modest” because that communicated the image that you wanted others to have.

    I have often felt that the YW and YM program would benefit from more of that type of approach than just modesty or stay pure paradigms.

    In a non sequiter, I found Mormon boys very uninformed about sexual harassment. I used to take three or four days in my “real world,” not Junior Harvard, Economics classes to cover it. I believe both boys and girls should have training in both YM and YW classes. Girls need to recognize it and not tolerate it. Boys need to realize the personal cost in can bring.

    • This is great stuff Stan Beale, thanks for sharing!

      I’m very interested in the underlying factors with Mormon boys being possibly very uninformed. That could be fun to look into, especially since we’re all in this together.

  19. Thanks, Amelia. I’m all for avoiding bad or counterproductive advice. I just think that there remains a need to train our young people in effective ways to avoid or resist or prevent sexual assault, whatever those methods or techniques might be. Yes, it sucks that such a thing is necessary, but it is, at least for now in this imperfect world. That is the only point I’ve tried to make in this thread.

    • Absolutely, Kevin. We live in a world in which bad things happen. And knowing that bad things happen and what your options are for responding to them is a very powerful thing. And there are things that can be done to protect assaults, whether sexual or non-. Like not putting yourself into dangerous situations (walking in what is known as a dangerous part of town at night, for instance). I suppose I would just argue that a lot of the advice that is actually useful is neither sex-specific nor specific to sexual assault. Not all, but most. In fact, I’m sort of drawing a blank about what advice might be specific to avoiding sexual assault. There are things like not being alone with a man you don’t know early in a dating relationship, but that kind of advice falls into basic common sense in my mind and doesn’t have to be attached to sexual assault.

      There’s also the problem of how pervasive the feeling is that women must always be on alert, even when their surroundings aren’t questionable. I know women who walk around with a little (and sometimes not so little) kernel of constant fear of being sexually assaulted. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t get the impression that men walk around with an ever-present fear of being assaulted. I can’t help but think that the rhetoric we employ to teach about how to prevent sexual assaults and to teach things like modesty (girls dressing so as not to sexually provoke boys) contributes to that constant fear. I think teaching about basic precautionary practices in a more sex-neutral fashion and as those practices apply to all varieties of assault rather than specifically to sexual assault could help alleviate that constant fear.

      Of course, I also think that we should take seriously that poster that Moriah linked to above. Not only in its particulars (most of which focus on overt and, in some cases, pre-meditated sexual assault), but also in spirit by shifting the burden of responsibility from potential victims to potential perpetrators. Especially given the prevalence of acquaintance rape, which could be prevented by driving home with much more force that boys and men should always–ALWAYS–err on the side of disengaging sexually if there is even the slightest shred of doubt about whether the other person is saying yes.

    • The only way your wallet analogy makes sense is if your body is something that you can take off and leave behind in the street.

      You need to act responsibly yourself when commenting on a potentially triggering topic among this group, and then I will take your argument seriously.

    • This comment nicely illustrates what I’ve understood much of the ‘don’t get yourself raped’ rhetoric to have at it’s root- the idea that women are, fundamentally, property.
      A woman out and about without an obvious ‘owner’ is like some bit of property (say a wallet, or a bike, or what have you), and unless that property is locked up somehow someone is going to take it, and there’s nothing to be done about that but lock up the goods.
      These days most people consider it gauche to suggest that a woman shouldn’t go out unsupervised, nor will they admit that they think women are commodities. Yet we still treat women like commodities, things that will be tampered with if not properly guarded.
      A man could walk down the street naked and fully expect to not be sexually assaulted (thought he could expect to be arrested, screened for drugs and so on). That we can’t conceive of a woman doing the same thing without seeing her as practically ‘inviting rape’ means that we still see her as a thing/commodity (sex that can walk around and talk) rather than a person.

      • At first this made me chuckle, but I’m uncomfortable doling out virtual violence, even in jest. I believe Pat’s comment to be quite inane, but I don’t wish violence on him.

      • I don’t think SilverRain is doling out virtual violence. I think she’s pointing out, rather cleverly, that one’s body is not a piece of property that can be left lying around. Just like Pat’s nose being available to be punched is not an invitation for me to punch it, my body looking sexually available is not an invitation for a man to violate it sexually. Just as Pat could not be blamed for having been punched just because her nose was available for punching, I can not be blamed for having been raped just because my body seemed available to be sexually violated. And to attempt to blame me when I am violated because I did look available is wrong and not at all comparable to pointing out that when someone leaves a valuable bit of property just lying around, they have done something stupid and must accept some responsibility for it having been taken.

      • Or course I understand that it’s not actually violence, and that it was intended to prove a point. And of course I understand that the analogy works WRT to the rape culture conversation. But the picture in my head if that example is used is still a nose being punched, which is violent and unnecessary.

        Especially as I am in a sensitive position by baring my thoughts on a subject that hits close to home. Can you see how it’s triggering for me to have “funny” violent examples used as we talk about the stuff of my life? Of all our lives as women?

      • I wasn’t suggesting I punch anyone’s nose, truly.

        I brought up that particular example as a substitute for a much more graphically violent analogy involving violation of men’s sexual parts.

        I brought up an example AT ALL because I was trying to find the closest legal equivalent to sexual assault, and straight-up physical assault was the closest.

        If it is violent, the violence originates from the concept of sexual assault, not from my desire to perpetuate violence. Maybe using “I” was too personal for you, Kmillecam, but I was choosing to make it personal to illustrate that these crimes are anything but impersonal.

      • Also, it wasn’t meant to be funny. But I suppose I can see how it might be to certain mind sets?

        I think the humor there stems from the seeming ridiculousness of it, when in reality it is not ridiculous when compared to what people say about sexual assault.

      • Thanks for clarifying SilverRain. I appreciate the way you explained it. I can see how the violence was triggering to me because of my past experience with abuse, and how sexual assault in general is tied to violence. I’m recovering from the trigger now, due to your thoughtful comment. Thank you for being there for me in this moment.

      • I can see how it’s triggering, Kmillecam. I’m sorry I was insensitive to that. I did not understand, based on what you said in response to SilverRain’s comment, that it was triggering for you in the way you made clear in your subsequent comment. I can certainly see that when someone has experienced physical violence of any kind, the use of theoretical violence to make a point could be triggering.

        I do think, however, that it is important that conversations like this do make it clear that what we are talking about here really is an assault on one’s person for all the reasons StarFoxy points out in her excellent comment. Somehow our culture is able to dissociate sexual violence from other forms of violence, forms that we understand no one asks for no matter what their behavior. I find that deeply problematic and found SilverRain’s comment a good one not because it was funny but because it inverts our common attitudes about kinds of violence and by doing so illustrates that attitude’s problematic nature (just as jks earlier inversion of rape culture’s advice to women illustrates that advice’s idiocy).

        Had I realized that what you were attempting to say in your initial response to SilverRain was “this is a triggering comment” I would not have replied as I did; I apologize for my comment adding to that response for you.

      • As do I, Kmillecam. I am sorry for triggering you. Such things are triggering for me, too, though I’m sure I’ve not suffered the extent of abuse you have, as mine was mostly emotional.

        I think I was so focused on trying to get the message across to the other side, I made the comment without any explanation to emphasize the point. It made it harsher, but also squashed your toes. Not appropriate, and I apologize.

      • I’m really a lot better now, and I am loving the conversation this has sparked. Thank you so much for being open to hearing me, and for offering help instead of judgement (as I have usually experienced people’s impatience and frustration with my reactions when I get triggered).

        I also see that I was trying to soften my response, and in doing so didn’t speak clearly about being triggered. I’m sorry for muddying the waters that way.

        Also, no worries about who experienced the worse abuse. I find that that rarely correlates to the damage done anyways. It’s such a personal thing. Some people get really messed up by one instance of abuse, and others can process years of abuse with relative ease compared to others. Comparatively, the abuse I have experienced is bad, but still within the context of white, upper-class privilege and I had the benefit of therapy and good support in college and beyond.

        Thanks for sharing a bit of your story with me SilverRain. I don’t know the specifics of what abuse you have experienced, but I do know that I want to give you support too.

    • Pat’s comment is unquestionably phrased in an odious way, but I think the underlying idea is similar to what Kevin said in an earlier comment. Taking appropriate steps to prevent a crime is never a bad idea, right? See, for example, this list from AAA on avoiding car theft. Now, I would in no way equate the devastating consequences of sexual assault with the comparatively minor matter of a stolen car. Human beings are not property, full stop. But both sexual assault and car theft are crimes, and while we are working to create the kind of culture that will obviate the need for lists like these, they can be useful guides in the meantime.

      Simply stating that a preventative strategy can’t guarantee avoiding the crime doesn’t necessarily make it a bad preventative strategy. You could follow all the AAA guidelines and still get your car stolen, or violate all of them and be just fine. But, on average, not leaving an idling car unattended will reduce the likelihood of falling victim to car theft.

      Please don’t misconstrue this–I concede that our modesty discourse is highly problematic, and possibly irrelevant to preventing sexual assault. But other things (not leaving one’s drink unattended at a party, for example) are useful, and should be conveyed in way that doesn’t arouse paranoia, and doesn’t excuse the perpetrator. Is that even possible?

      • Let’s look at it this way: yes those ideas are good and helpful when you say “be careful at night” or “know who you are with” or “ask a friend to stay with you” or “don’t leave your drink unattended”, but at this point in our society, where feminists decry the responsibility of rape by being beholden to these rules, we need to navigate it differently.

        That’s not to say that it isn’t a good idea anymore to be careful at night, or know you are with or ask a friend to stay with you or keep an eye on your drink. It just means that we have to frame it differently if we want to avoid victim-blaming. Girls and women in our current culture can hear those three or four suggestions and automatically make the jump to “it’s my responsibility to escape the possibility of being raped”, because rapists statistically and realistically will not be held as accountable as the girls will. And the rape culture is so ubiquitous that it WILL give the message of victim blaming, even subconsciously.

        So it’s not your fault or my fault or anyone’s fault that that’s where female minds go, it’s just the reality of our current culture. And once you see that, it’s time to make an adjustment. And I think you already have it going the right direction: make sure any safety suggestion automatically comes with the caveat that “it’s for your safety, not because if anything happens to you it’s your fault”.

        And then, here’s the best part!, you get the opportunity to talk about gender roles, rape culture, and how even if your daughter/friend/wife IS raped and no one believes her, even the police, even her friends, even her family, that you name the rape culture and that you see it and understand it. I can guarantee that this will make a difference. I’m not sure what difference, but it will make one. That conversation might plant a seed that your daughter/friend/wife remembers when she raises her own daughters, or when she dates people who respect her (or don’t), or when she is assaulted, or when she gets catcalls on the street, or she notices that she holds her keys as a weapon while she walks to her car at night.

        So the short answer is yes. Yes it totally changes the whole situation if you make sure that any person you give safety advice to understands where you put the blame. It’s always good to talk, get more information, read more, and be honest with her/him.

  20. I wonder, does victim blaming work both ways? Social scientists are now estimating 1 in 7 boys are molested/raped/sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Did anyone watch the two episodes Oprah did with adult men who were victims of molestation when they were boys? Probably the two most compelling episodes she ever presented. Anyway, there was Tyler Perry with over 200 men in the audience who were all child victims of sexual abuse.

    Do you think anyone was thinking that their 7, 12, 15 year old self deserved what happened to them because they were dressed provocatively? No, because rape/molestation/sexual assault is never about sex and always about power and opportunity, like SilverRain said upthread.

    Blaming women for sexual assault due to how they’re dressed is as inane and ignorant as blaming those little boys for their own sexual abuse. Frankly, it’s disgusting.

  21. First, I think the doctrine that a rape victim, even acquaintance rape victim has lost their virtue (which they should have fought to the death for ) has got to go. Thirty years ago. How many mormon female victims of acquaintance rape are blamed by leaders, friends or family members? How many have to go through the repentence process?

    While many LDS leaders do not agree with or believe this, it’s still out there. And it is intensely damaging to everyone involved.

    Also, I appreciated that Lara Logan went public with her story. More people need to know that while rape is a horrible crime, it is not the end of the world or one’s life. I may be wrong here, but by placing so much weight on rape as “you’ll never recover” I think it disrespects all the brilliant and successful people who live despite an assault. I can’t explain this better, it’s not that I don’t want people prosecuted for their crimes. There just seems to be a cultural theme (promoted by tv and films) that someone who is assualted is forever damaged…I don’t think that’s true. A person shouldn’t be defined by something they have/had no control over.

    • Wow! I wasn’t aware that anyone thought that being raped took away your virtue anymore. THAT idea definitely needs to go! If you didn’t do it willingly, there is no way your virtue can be taken away!!!

  22. When it comes to sexual molestation/assault on children, people blame the parents. There is no way to protect your children from every threat, but because you can somewhat protect them from some threats, people blame the parents because the parents somehow should have known that the teacher/friend’s parent/neighbor/uncle/older child was a child molester and therefore should never have let their child out of sight.
    The recent case of the 11 year old girl being raped by several young men is a good example. People wondered “Where was the girl’s mother? Why did the girl’s mother let an 11 year old out of the house?” NO ONE was saying “Where were the rapist’s parents? Why did the rapist’s parents not follow their 16/17/18/19 year old sons around to make sure they weren’t raping anyone?” But for some reason it is our responsibility to make sure people aren’t victims rather than taking responsibility to make sure people aren’t perpetrators.

    • What a great point jks. Victim-blaming and rape culture extend beyond just the victim, yes. Including parents in your example illustrates the disparity even better. Where were the parents of the rapists? And why aren’t these teenage boys being held accountable?

      Most of what I read of the coverage of that story referred to how “nice” those boys were, and how everyone in the town knew them and they would never do such a thing. And if they did do it, then it was “boys will be boys”, she was slutty, and where is her mother?! It’s absolutely incredible to read that. Rape culture 101.

  23. When it comes to sexual molestation/assault on children, people blame the parents. There is no way to protect your children from every threat, but because you can somewhat protect them from some threats, people blame the parents because the parents somehow should have known that the teacher/friend’s parent/neighbor/uncle/older child was a child molester and therefore should never have let their child out of sight.
    The recent case of the 11 year old girl being raped by several young men is a good example. People wondered “Where was the girl’s mother? Why did the girl’s mother let an 11 year old out of the house?” NO ONE was saying “Where were the rapist’s parents? Why did the rapist’s parents not follow their 16/17/18/19 year old sons around to make sure they weren’t raping anyone?” But for some reason it is our responsibility to make sure people aren’t victims rather than taking responsibility to make sure people aren’t perpetrators.

    The way I try to apply this in my life is that I assume that MY child might be the bully. That MY child might cross the line. That MY home might be where a child is hurt. That MY son might not know when to stop. That a sleepover in MY house isn’t perfectly safe.
    The way I will try to apply this in my life is that I won’t expect more accountability from my daughter as to who she is with and what she is doing as I will from my son. That I will make sure that wherever and whatever my son is doing, I will be thinking about whether it is someplace where he might be involved in rape, not just as a victim but as a perpetrator. That we have plenty of conversations so I can teach him that no means no. That a passed out girl is not fair game. That it is possible to rape a prostitute because she is a person too.
    I refuse to spend all my energy keeping my girls safe and forget to make my boys safe to be around.

    • jks,
      The situation I thought of was a woman I know whose father sexually assaulted her for years. Her mother claimed to have not known. When she did find out, the mother put a lock on her daughter’s door then sent her to one therapy session. This is also after the older daughter endured a similar situation.

      I have a hard time not blaming the mother. I wonder if she was really that clueless, or if she was in denial, or didn’t know what to do. The family dynamics surrounding abuse and incest must be really difficult to navigate.

      None of this is to say that the blame lies anywhere but squarely on the shoulders of the father, the man who perpetrated this violence on his daughters. But what really amazes me is that this father continues to be the patriarch of the family, loved and admired by children and grandchildren alike.

      • Anon—You have obviously not been the victim of a psychopath before (that you know of.) You’d be surprised what can pass when the minds of rational, normal people fill in the holes a psychopath leaves.

      • I think the important distinction here is that the mother in this family did have some stewardship over this situation–she was living in the situation, witnessing its dynamics. That is not to say she of course knew everything that was going on; it’s pretty amazing what we humans can fool ourselves into believing in order to avoid hurting and perceiving hurt. And, like you, I place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the abuser. I think the point that JKS is trying to get at is that so often we blame the parents when those parents clearly could not have known or prevented what was happening. The mother of that 11 year old girl had no way of knowing that 18 boys and young men would gang rape her child. And her parenting had nothing to do with her child being victimized. Those boys could have chosen any child to victimize.

        The problem is that we see terrible things and we try to explain them. And often when we do so, we like to assign blame–it’s because the mother did X or didn’t do Y; it’s because the little girl dressed too old and wore make-up; etc.

        No. It’s not because of those things. It’s because those boys/young men did something monstrously terrible. Period. The end. We cannot explain monstrosity; monstrosity just happens. And it is problematic to attempt to explain it through relatively easy assignation of blame to the victim or those who could have influenced her.

  24. I just finished reading all of the comments…

    This has been a good debate and I’ve definitely learned a few points. Thanks to everyone who has contributed. I really admire how respectful and understanding you have been to the triggers of others. I’m glad that there is a safe place for this kind of discourse.

    • Thank you for the warm and genuine kind words Julia. It takes a lot out of me to create this kind of space on such an intense topic. But as we can see, it is so worth it. I’m so glad you feel safe here, and that you have seen the work we have done with triggers, etc. And thanks for reading all the comments!

  25. Fantastic discussion. I’ve been sitting here nodding my head over and over and thinking AMEN!

    Since many of the issues have been addressed so clearly, I want to add a few thoughts about about the idea that modesty discussions at church are not just about preventing rape, but also about preventing sexual misconduct and maintaining standards. Simply put, I think we have our priorities all wrong.

    I think that changing the focus of the conversation — away from modesty and towards empowerment for girls and self-control for boys can be a powerful way to reshape our thinking (men are not breathing machines for their peanuses, biological responses are nothing to be ashamed of, but we can control how we act on them). If we put our energy into teaching girls that they should figure out who they are and what they want and that they have every right to expect good and respectful behavior than I think we would not have to worry so much about them using their bodies as a tool to attract boys (and, make no mistake, whether a woman is trying to attract a man by dressing or covering up, she is still using her body as a tool). A man who respects a woman and sees her as a whole person will see all the aspects of her personality — her passion, her intelligence, her interests and her sexuality — and not be unduly threatened by the sight of her shoulder or — heaven forbid! — her cleavage. If we were to shift our focus, I honestly think that modesty would develop organically and be less of an issue, something that could be determined by individuals and their own comfort levels.

    • Hmm … I should have worded my comment better. I should have said that women are using their bodies as tools in response to cultural expectations.

  26. This post (and others scattered around) got me thinking about these things, and I made my own post on my blog.

    Interestingly, there was a comment that made me realize that the myth of a wife having responsibility to meet her husband’s sexual needs is a HUGE fallacy that stems from this dynamic. It basically makes rape okay in marriage and robs a wife of her individuality, as well as taking any responsibility to respect his wife and HER needs off the shoulders of the man.

  27. And might I add that I’m steaming about it. The commenter actually used the phrase “negotiate a reasonable service agreement” like we’re some kind of penis mechanics!


      • Howard, this is called rape apology, what you just did there. It is NOT as simple as “then she shouldn’t do it”. In that kind of half-assed argument, I can come right back to you and say “then he shouldn’t coerce her”. Come on.

        Yes, people have agency. We’re not arguing about that. We’re stating (over and over, especially with you) that rape culture is real and it puts undue, disproportionate blame and responsibility on women for sex, sexuality, and such. If you engage in rape apology again, you will be banned from commenting.

    • Howard, how can you not see that saying that a woman has an obligation to provide sex for her husband is the same thing as agreeing with intramarital sexual coercion . . . ie. marital rape?

      You are not being consistent, which leads me to believe that you honestly don’t understand what you are saying.

      When a person (in this case, a man, but I believe women do it too in a different way) views marriage as containing obligations, especially sexual obligations which come with immense emotional impact, he is saying that a wife owes sex. A wife who buys into that (as I did) will submit to at best uncomfortable sexual encounters and at worst encounters which are degrading, humiliating, and excruciating, because she believes it is her wifely duty.

      I am going to explain something even though it is embarrassing TMI and personal for me, because I want you (and others who read) to understand if you can.

      Until I had my first daughter (two years into the marriage) I had only two sexual encounters that were not excruciating. At first I tried to be up front and honest with him, but he would act so hurt and rejected, I didn’t know what else to do but to fake it. I remember biting the inside of my mouth so hard it bled, all the while making the sounds and doing the things he wanted me to. He liked the illusion that he was taking care of my needs, when in reality it was for him because any time I tried to express what I actually liked, he ignored me and went for what he thought I should like.

      Because I felt that I owed sex to my husband in order to be a good wife, we had it on average once per week (though he made it perfectly clear he wanted more, and I was cruel to deny him. He would research on the internet how often we should be doing it and how long it should take.) Even after I healed from birthing, when there was pain only rarely, I felt obligated to submit to some of his desires which were highly uncomfortable and embarrassing, despite having told him I didn’t want to do them anymore. I went from being an unmarried woman who had a VERY hard time controlling her sexual urges to being afraid every time he made a comment. I was even nervous to do daily tasks like picking things up off the floor, reaching up to dust, or exercising in front of him because it would spark his interest.

      I even have one later email when, after he told me he was leaving me, he complained when I began to wear t-shirts and pajama pants to bed because it didn’t fulfill his need for “emotional” connection.

      That is why I take what you say personally, and completely reject the premise that a wife OWES sex to her husband. If her husband is not willing to be considerate of his wife, to be the kind of person to whom his wife can be naturally attracted, then tough for him.

      • Thank you for sharing so openly with this example. It is very clear in how it describes the dynamic that happened in your marriage, and very well might for others reading and commenting here.

  28. Then in order to not be banned, and in order not to trigger abuse survivors here on The Exponent, you need to say so. Saying “then she shouldn’t do it” is not even half the story with coercive sexual assaults. When you say that you are violating the boundaries I have laid out for you. Boundaries I have laid out more than once.

    In fact, I have laid them out so clearly before, that I believe you are, yet again, not doing your share of the work here in comments. You are no longer permitted to comment on this post. You’ve had your chances. I truly hope that we are getting through to you. But you’ll need to do that work without commenting on this post again. Just read for a while.

  29. I’m a little late coming, but thanks for the conversations. They were (for the most part) enlightening and well worth reading.

    I can attest to the rape culture’s effects on girls – or at least me. I remember being a young teenager and often walking on a busy street to or from one of my friend’s house. I would walk down that street with other friends a lot and whenever I was with those friends, cat calls would always come our way from passing cars. However, whenever I walked alone, I never heard anything. I was actually disappointed because of this. I felt that there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t be objectified. After years of this, finally one day I heard a cat call and to my surprise, I hated it. I’m glad that I had the sense to drop my stupid mentality but society had taught me that it was good to receive cat calls and sexual attention when I was as young as 11. This is the message we are sending our young women both in and out of the church from society, culture, media, pretty much everywhere and it’s disgraceful.

  30. I believe immodesty is more detrimental to women than it is to the guys that might be stumbled.

    The Bible promotes modesty, it’s also a matter of identity and respect. Identity as to who we are in Jesus Christ, not who we are in the world. And it’s respectful of yourself, your spouse, and others. It’s also a matter of the heart. Not self glorifying, vanity, power, childish manipulation, etc.

  31. The problem with telling girls they have to be “modest” because if they don’t cover up its their fault if a boy sees some part of the female body and becomes sexually aroused possibly even to the point of rape is it takes all of the responsibility off of the boy, its like telling the boy its OK because the girl caused him to miss behave because she didn’t cover her female parts.
    What are girls supposed to do, wear burkas? Isn’t a girls face made up of female parts, how about her hands, even feet and toes, (girls like to wear sandals)
    I am a man, I used to be a boy, all my life I have been taught that girls equate sex, from other boys in school and their remarks about girls, to commercials on TV (thousands of them) to warnings from parents, even church authorities, all telling me to “watch out” girls are trouble.
    Have I ever looked at a girl and thought she was attractive, of course, I did get married. Have I ever looked at other girls and thought they were attractive, even sexually attractive, again, of course, with all those years of training? HOWEVER, I have never “acted” inappropriate toward any girl or woman because I believe that my thoughts are my responsibility and if I occasionally have wrong thoughts it is my responsibility to deal with them and not act them out. Just because I see a women with a low neck line, or short skirt, or sleeveless top doesn’t give me a right to lose control.
    By the way, I am a naturist, I have been in the company of many totally naked men and women, even children, and its a great feeling to be able to have a conversation with a beautiful woman who is also totally naked and never have the slightest moment of arousal.
    People don’t have sex by accident, its a choice and a decision.

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