Not Yours for Keeping
Dear Stranger on the Street,
You managed to single handedly debunk a notion I've been raised to believe my entire life. For as long as I can remember, I've been taught that if I dress and behave modestly, I will deter men from having sexual thoughts about me.
"Be careful," I'm repeatedly told. Be careful not to wear anything that could be considered too revealing. Be careful not to meet the gaze of men. Be careful not to mistakenly wander to any isolated place where people won't be able to hear your screams. Be careful not to invite unwarranted attention to yourself. Be careful because if you are not, you will provoke sexual thoughts - thoughts men have no control over.
I obeyed every rule. I followed every precautionary tale. I wore a loosely fitting, full sleeve top with baggy trousers and a scarf over my chest to hide my womanhood, my face bare with only a slick of mascara and chapstick. I dressed modestly. Yet despite all my preventative measures, you still found me...
You let your fixation on my body cloud your ability to see me as a human being. You let society’s rhetoric of modesty override my persistent no's & stop's. You let your sexual thoughts convince you that following me for a mile & grabbing my hand would dissuade me from leaving.
How easily we shift the focus and responsibility from the perpetrator's actions to the victim's character. As though the presence of a looser top or a subtler shade of lipstick might have made all the difference between an otherwise uneventful occasion and sexual harassment. Rape and sexual assault go beyond arbitrary factors such as clothing or makeup.
To be honest, I'm not sure if I feel more comfortable in tees & trousers because these garments are truly more comfortable or because I just feel safer in them. The guidelines on how a respectable woman dresses are so deeply ingrained in my subconscious that sometimes I cannot differentiate my decisions as independent thoughts or cultural demands.
Thank you for helping me realize that you alone are responsible for your thoughts, actions and behavior.