Taylor Hermundson: Rape and the Paradox of Female Sexuality

Violence against women is a subject that encompasses a wide variety of human rights issues, ranging from abusive relationships to unequal pay to the pouring of acid on promiscuous daughters. One of the most obvious issues that falls under the category of violence against women is rape, an issue which was brought to my attention in a very unusual way.

At Thanksgiving dinner, one of our elderly guests brought up her issues with current fashions and their revealing nature. She then went on to say that girls who dressed in overly revealing clothing were just asking to be raped.

Understandably, I was shocked at this suggestion, and at the dinner table, no less. My first instinct was a fiery retort. But, the elderly nature of our guest and the holiday setting made me hold my tongue and really think about what had prompted such a vile comment.

Why do some girls and women wear clothing that leaves little to the imagination? Why do we buy push-up bras? Why, when we look at girls in their thigh-high boots and fishnet stockings, does that dreaded word “slut” cross our minds, no matter how nonjudgmental we claim to be?

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It all comes down to the fact that a woman’s body is a symbol for sex. Not beauty, not power, not a miracle of nature, but sex. This is not only exemplified by media, but is deeply rooted in virtually every human culture. A woman’s sex life is the obsession of western and eastern cultures alike; in order to be a “good woman”, you must abstain from sex and be pure. Have sex, or enjoy it even, and you’re a “slut”. Neither of these stigmas exists for men.

In Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Southeast Asia, many young girls are forced (often by their own mothers) to participate in female genital mutilation, where parts of the genitals are cut off in order to preserve the girl’s purity as well as prevent her from feeling pleasure during sex. Ironically, many women in these cultures also find prostitution the only option for employment.

 Miss Universe contestants pose for photo

This represents the paradox of female sexuality. And it results in the shame of our bodies.

So, why does the girl my elderly guest was referring to dress the way she does? It is because, even though she may lack the experience of cultural practices such as genital cutting, she too is affected by society’s view of the female body. She likely seeks recognition as a female in the only way she knows how—in the form of male attention for her bodies as a symbol of sex. Recognition is what she asks for, not for rape.

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So how do we fight rape? I am not suggesting that women necessarily need to cover up in order to receive the respect they deserve. I think that solving this problem has more to do with the way in which women view the bodies of women. The way in which you view your own body. We can’t fight the statistics by drinking less or staying out of alleyways at night. We need to fight it at its core, and that core is culture. We can’t rely on men to make the change that we want to see in the realm of rape and violence against women. So, by all means, show your body, but reveal it with the attitude that your body is a gift, a miracle, and a symbol of the strength and possibility that comes only with being a woman. Own your body as no one else can, and in this way every individual woman can take a stand against rape.

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