Blaming the Skirt

May 16, 2008

I am more surprised by the comments following “Catcalling: creepy or a compliment?,” the CNN article highlighting research by our own Holly Kearl in which 98 percent of those surveyed responded that they have experienced some form of street harassment, than by the research itself. The idea that most women she surveyed have been a victim – more than a few times – of this kind of harassment is disgusting. The idea that people are still blaming women who chose to dress in anything short of a burkha for their own harassment is reprehensible.

Commenter “Dave” writes,

“Whenever a woman dresses in a skanky way… she will receive more attention whether she want[s] it or not. Not saying they are a ‘ho’… but they are wearing a ‘ho’s’ uniform, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.”

“Jay” comes right out and says,

“Come on!! What do you expect dressed like that?”

And even one female blogger identifies these catcalls as “compliments – not threats,” more or less, a reason to be flattered, not offended. These comments imply that a short skirt is an excuse for shouting out rude comments.

This is just blaming the victim — something we somehow still accept when it comes to women’s issues. Despite evidence to the contrary, women are often blamed for being paid less than men because of their choices. We choose careers that pay less. While we should all be appalled that fields like teaching, social work, and health care are not paid better, it is important to note that women in information technology fields and the sciences also make less than their equally qualified male counterparts.

In domestic assault cases women are blamed for staying in the relationship. In rape cases women are blamed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And on the street, they are subjected to this kind of harassment because they style their hair and wear a skirt?

If we are looking to place blame, let me offer a few suggestions: Why not blame a culture that sexualizes and determines a woman’s worth based on her appearance? Why not blame the offenders for their behavior? Why not blame a culture that has some women thinking that their value is only held in what men think of them? Most importantly, why not blame all the voices who are telling women that they are at fault for their own victimization?

Kathryn Montiegel By:   |   May 16, 2008


  1. What a great blog Kathryn. I couldn’t agree more. I read some of the comments from the article on CNN where Holly Kearl is quoted and couldn’t believe the negative responses. And then I said to myself, oh yes, these are probably males who give cat calls, defending themselves. But at least the news article got people talking and the more people are aware of how many of us do not appreciate cat calls, maybe some of the cat callers, will be less likely to do it, knowing they could be photographed, blogged about or disliked because of their behavior.

  2. A says:

    Men are also judged by society largely based on their looks and size of their wallet. Women aren’t the only ones physically objectified. Just making sure the balance is there.

  3. Priscilla says:

    I am so glad that the low riders are coming back up- so tacky.
    I don’t know why girls have to dress half naked to think they are cute- Is mom teaching them?

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