The Problem Of Social Progress In A “You Asked For It” Culture
On April 2, 2012, 1:00 PM by Savannah Cox
The English language is full of wonderful phrases appropriate for a multitude of occasions. One of the most widely used? “You asked for it.” For example, you could correctly use the phrase in response to your friend’s complaints regarding the budding patch of blisters she developed after sporting a pair of new wedges to a standing-room only concert. You could better use it when speaking to your perpetually single roommate who seems unable to comprehend the fact that women tend to respond to the “Did it hurt?” pickup line the same way they would to drinking a bottle of ipecac.
While the four-word phrase lends itself as a quick way to dismiss self-inflicted blunders worthy of casual scorn, lately its use has incorrectly expanded to include much weightier issues that don’t involve “asking” at all and never would. Like being verbally or physically harassed for having the nerve to wear a hijab in public. Or getting raped for being so bold as to show the tops of your thighs in a mini skirt. Or more recently—at least in the eyes of Geraldo Rivera—being killed because you’re black and had the gall to wear a hoodie.
Harassment, rape and murder: none of them are things for which you’d ask no matter how masochistic you may be, yet still people both on and off the screen use the phrase indiscriminately and almost immediately. You could sit around for hours and ponder the possible reasons why this is the case and never come to a substantive conclusion: is it the symptom of a jaded and disconnected culture whose most vocal members have been lucky enough not to experience anything similar and are therefore incapable of empathizing? Or perhaps, in want of eschewing a painful examination of the values and double standards we as a culture promote every day, we use the belittling phrase naively thinking that it will also diminish the size and scale of the problems ubiquitous in our own societies. And it’s that much easier to do when we reduce potentially fatal problems of racism, religious intolerance and sexism to articles of clothing.
Clothing As Choice, Crime As Consequence
Take Moscow, for example. In the wake of a truly tragic suicide bombing involving two female jidhadists in 2010, Muscovite media reports warned that women donning hijabs in public would most likely be subject to verbal and physical attacks from others. And unfortunately, the notice proved sound: simply due to the fact that they sported the traditional Muslim head covering outside of their homes, individuals reported “angry passengers throwing women off a metro train.” And given the cheap and often misguided associations with the garment, some even described a Muslim woman’s choice of wearing a hijab in Moscow’s public squares as “death out for a walk.” And so, by minimizing the historically tense and complex relationship between Muslim and traditionally Western thought within Russia’s borders to a mere issue of personal fabric choice, many felt freer to discriminate against and assault minorities.
The same applies for rape apologists at home and abroad. In September of last year, feminist blogs blew up after women walking home from the gym in New York City were subject to police officers’ fantastical theories that these women—in light of how much skin they personally chose to expose—wanted other male aggressors to know that there was “easy access.” Essentially, by wearing a skirt (or even shorts!) these women subtly conveyed to men that they wanted to be raped. Pay no mind to the fact that patrimony and the consistent objectification of women—both of which foment contemporary rape culture—have embedded themselves within American culture since our inception, it is the woman’s (and most likely a promiscuous one at that) mini skirt that serves as the ever-tempting apple.
Abroad–and in cultures that we would like to say are much less civilized than ours–the superficial “solutions” to undesirable events resulting from traditionally patriarchal societies are similar in that they are equally absurd. For instance, taking the country’s grave HIV problem into account, Swaziland’s King Mswati III decided that it was not a sexual education program the African nation needed to prevent the spread of AIDS, it was the banning of miniskirts. His reasoning? It reduced the rate of promiscuity.
The intellectually lazy “clothing as culprit” excuse reared its ugly head again this past March with the death of Floridian Trayvon Martin. Many individuals naïve enough to think that Barack Obama’s 2008 election marked the beginning of a post-racist United States drew up their hackles when political pundits claimed that George Zimmerman killed 15-year-old Martin simply because of his skin color. And while all one has to do is look at the disparities in health, wealth, and educational opportunities to realize that racism is still alive and well—albeit institutionalized—within the United States, it still proves to be an uncomfortable and often ugly subject to discuss with any amount of honesty.
Realizing this, Geraldo Rivera chose to dilute the real issue at hand for aesthetics: Martin’s choice of wearing a hoodie. Despite its utility (especially given the fact that Martin wore it in the rain), Rivera attributed the item of clothing to that of an urban “gangsta,” and that in light of that Martin’s death makes some sense. So again, it’s not about a deep, underlying issue that needs national acknowledgment and examination, it’s a topical one and a matter of personal choice. By effect, it’s about personal responsibility and risk and ultimately blaming the victim.
Obviously, the diminution of deep societal sores to mere at-the-surface abrasions that stem from one’s personal choice does nothing to solve the very real problems of racism, sexism and religious intolerance that manifest themselves throughout the world—especially when we cast off an egregious act committed by an individual as the natural consequence of a fashion faux pas. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, to see that these conditions will only worsen with time if left unaddressed. After all, we asked for it.
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