As a result of #MeToo hashtags, big names resigning, allegations flying, and brave individuals coming forward, we have had to scrutinize who we glorify, what they’re allowed to get away with, and what our standard for behavior really is in America.
In the midst of change, discussion, and reflection, I’ve seen a particular argument pop up a few times that has really bothered me. “If didn’t want your car stolen, you wouldn’t leave it unlocked,” the argument goes, “so why would you dress immodestly and expect to be safe?”
When I read statements like this about an unlocked car or an unlocked home, I felt a sense of rage. These are garbage arguments, I thought. But why? Genuinely, I had to sit for a moment and think about why. Because although I had a gut feeling that this reasoning was deeply flawed, I had to give my brain a moment to catch up and tell me what exactly was wrong with it.
Finally, the simple, obvious flaw hit me. I am not a car. Allow me to explain.
In order for this argument of a foolishly unlocked house or car to work, I think you have to dehumanize women to a point of similar worth to a mid-century rancher or a 2003 Honda. You have to reduce the worth of a human to that of an object.
Why is that?
If your car is stolen, you can get it back or buy a new one, and insurance will help with that. If your house is broken into, you can clean up the damage, install a new security system, replace missing items, and move on with your life, albeit with a few jumps at sounds in the night.
But if you’re sexually assaulted, you face the potential of being robbed of your dignity, self-worth, day to day happiness, psychological health, capacity for healthy relationships, physical wellbeing, and in some cases the future you had planned. If I was assaulted, I could not go to the store and buy more self-worth. I couldn’t log onto Amazon and order a fresh supply of dignity with two day shipping. I couldn’t go into a shop for a tune-up to get rid of any pain, grief, or trauma. That’s not how people work.
Comparing the rape of a promiscuously dressed woman to the theft of a car requires that the speaker assume damage can be healed as easily as a new car can be purchased. It demands that the speaker ignore the true repercussions of assault and the inherent worth of the person assaulted. People are worth more than cars or houses and this line of reasoning ignores that entirely.
But Cassandra, you roll your eyes, simple Cassandra, analogies exaggerate sometimes!
They do, you’re right, I know what an analogy is. So, let’s apply this analogy to another situation to see how it holds up.
It’s a hot summer day. You and your child are playing soccer in the front yard. As the sun beats down on you, you’re both starting to get thirsty. Much to your child’s delight, you announce that you will go inside to get some lemonade for both of you. Just a couple minutes later, you walk out with two cups in hand, ice cubes clinking merrily against the glass. And your yard is empty. Your child is gone. Numb, you let the glasses hit the ground and in a haze you call the police, answering any questions they have once they arrive.
“So the child was alone?” one officer asks. You nod, holding back tears.
“Well what did you expect?” the man in uniform replies. “You wouldn’t leave your car unlocked if you didn’t want someone to take it. You shouldn’t leave your child alone if you don’t want someone to kidnap them.”
See how stupid that sounds?
Hopefully, you felt some anger and incredulity in response to our fictional officer. That’s the same thing I feel when I see pastors or politicians or good church-going individuals tweet the same reasoning about modesty.
My body is not a car ripe to be stolen any more than it is a village waiting to be plundered. Rape and assault are not results of a woman’s outfit, they are the result of an attacker deciding that their own momentary desires are worth more than the safety, health, wellbeing, and peace of another human being. No outfit will change that.
When women are assaulted in the workplace, it’s not because their pantsuits were too provocative. When people are raped in relationships, it’s not because they wore a shirt that was too low. When children are molested, it isn’t because their outfits should have been different. It’s because attackers decided to do something evil and no clothing could change that.
So if you are a proponent of modesty, continue to be one. But do not flaunt a modesty that is driven by fear or shame. Instead, teach a modesty that’s centered on intrinsic motivations and view of self and God. Your clothing is not armor, and many who have been assaulted can tell you that modesty will not keep you safe.