The following is cross-posted from the Damsel in de Tech blog. Click here to see the original.
You might not have noticed, but I spend a lot of time on Slutwalk Facebook pages, as well as other forums addressing sexual violence and rape culture. And once every couple of weeks, someone will watch Dave Chappelle and decide that this comedian has cornered the market on sensible advice regarding clothing. Usually they just post a Youtube video, but on occasion they will make a comment without citation in an effort to seem original. Like this, for example:
If i dress in a police uniform people come up to me officer, officer help me please.Ah, yes. The ol' "whores uniform" bit. Slut-shaming comedy at its finest (read: most boring, unimaginative, lazy and subjective).
I say EXCUSE ME but just because i dress this way does not make me a police officer. So ladies you're right.
Just because you dress a certain way does not make you a whore...but you are wearing a whores uniform.
There are obviously a few problematic things about this whole concept of the "whore's uniform", and the idea behind it that women who dress a certain way have no right to be anything but accepting of responses they get because of their attire.
Upfront, I want to address what I think is the most obvious: when people post this on the Slutwalk page, a movement dedicated to addressing sexual violence, they are saying that it's ok to rape sex workers.
You might be thinking, "Whoooooa. Back up! Just because they should be treated like whores doesn't mean they should be raped! You're reading too much into this innocent and sensible advice!"
(insert much pearl-clutching, huffing and self-righteous indignation)
Yes, I will say it again, using this analogy on a page dedicated to survivors of sexual violence means you think it's ok that rape and violence justsohappentobe "workplace hazards" for sex workers. It means that you hold onto the victim-blaming rape myth and Just World Falacy that bad things are ok to happen to people who you feel fall outside your narrowly-defined box of "good" and that bad things only happen to them because they "made" it happen by not adhering to your vague advice.
Now, perhaps you've never thought about it in this context before. It's entirely plausible, and even likely, that these associations never occured to you and that you were "just making a joke". A joke doesn't absolve you from responsibility for what you say or give you a free pass to say what you like without thinking. Part of growing up is developing our critical thinking skills, and here's an opportunity for you to exercise yours.
Back to the 'uniform' analogy, police officers don't just have navy slacks and a shirt. They have visible patches and identifying badges which let citizens know that they're legit and to also make them identifiable should they have complaints filed against them or break a law. They are supposed to all look immediately identifiable so that if someone needs help, they know who to go to, or if they respond to a call that the people there know police are on the scene.
Let's also not ignore the fact that it's illegal to impersonate an officer, and with very good reason. Police officers have authority over regular citizens, and have weapons and restraints. Someone impersonating a police officer can (and do) abuse the appearance of authority in order to manipulate, rob, and assault people.
Speaking of dress codes, how do "whores" dress? Is it climate-specific? Is it culturally specific? Is it class-specific? Are they susceptible to the same whims of fashion as "the rest" of us? Do all sex workers dress like Julia Roberts from "Pretty Woman"? If a sex worker decides to wear jeans on a given day, does that throw the whole order into chaos and mean that any women wearing jeans are now "dressed like a whore" by virtue of of their denim choices? What about highly-paid escorts who wear Gucci and Versace? What if a woman has extremely large breasts? Does she need to wear a potato sack to avoid "displaying" them?
I'd like to take this opportunity to speak on the idea that appearance dictates how people are treated and is therefore a valid reason for treating someone poorly. Along with the Dave Chappelle "whore's uniform" quip, close behind is usually a comment on how people wouldn't show up for a job interview wearing something skimpy.
This notion is steeped in classicism, racism, and sexism. It allows for people to feel ok about treating someone poorly or thinking poorly of them if they don't have the resources to buy "respectable" clothes. It allows for them to feel ok about othering people who don't fit into the very white and cissexist paradigm of men wearing suits and women wearing a slightly more varied but still very narrow selection of clothing. It allows for people to feel ok about patronizing women who dress too femininely, or to assume a woman who dresses too masculinely is a dyke or ballbuster.
Frankly, the skit by Dave Chappelle may seem super clever to some at first, but if you spend any amount of time breaking it down, it doesn't make for a valid or even relevant argument. And it's certainly not an argument to present to survivors of sexual violence because we know that clothes do not protect us, when many are assaulted in their PJs, in prom dresses, in jeans & sweatshirts, in parkas, in wedding attire, in any manner of dress and most often by someone they know. We know that persons of colour, trans*folk, disabled persons, and immigrants are at an even greater risk of sexual violence, because of their perceived level of disposability in our culture. Wearing turtleneck won't make them or anyone else safer. Changing our culture will.