The “Seductive Short Skirt” and its invitation to sexual harassment

May 6, 2011

“Did you know you’re a queen? You are beautiful. I can take care of you,” an old black man said to me at the bus stop between San Pablo and University in Berkeley.

A young woman in a skirt. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

“I’m not a gold digger,” I said.

“So, do you like women?” said man.

At this point, I refused to answer any of his utterly ridiculous questions. His comments were not only sexist but inherently filled with the assumption that I don’t know who I am or know myself.

Yes, I know my ancestry. Yes, I know that I am beautiful. Lastly, you can’t buy me sir. I was disgusted that this man in his 50’s would have the nerve to think that because I wore a short skirt I could be bought with his insinuations or that money could make his sexist comments and lecherous stares (like I was piece of meat) make up for his inappropriateness.

Said man continued to offer sexual propositions and asked, “Did you come from a motel?”

This put it all in perspective for me. He thought I was either a teenage sex worker or a young girl who could be lured by a few bucks. This “conversation” was just another sad reality found while using public transportation near Oakland–which has a booming sex traffic industry for children. According NPR’s Arresting Youth in Sex traffic article in 2010,

      Oakland, Calif., is known as a center for sex trafficking, with a specialty in children. In 2003, the FBI dubbed the city, part of the San Francisco Bay Area, a “high-intensity child-prostitution area.”

      Police say Oakland youth are often trafficked from their hometown out to other sex hubs like Portland, Ore.; Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

But, this is not the first time that I have been sexually harassed at the bus stop. Everyday I am harassed at the bus stop, BART stop or walking down the streets of Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco. The harassment just increases when I wear skirts, dresses or shorts. That is the battle with taking transportation as a young black woman. I have to think of every scenario I might have to encounter that day because of what I wear.

Yet, there is no reason men should assume a woman’s sexual availability or question it because she decided to wear a short skirt. As a young woman, I should be able to wear whatever I’d like and not be sexually harassed.

When I woke up that morning, I thought about wearing my cute short Hollister jean skirt. I thought about how much harassment I could endure — lustful ogling, yells, hollers and attempts to possibly even touch me. I have these thoughts every time I put on shorts, skirts or dresses that show my legs. Often I opt to just put leggings or tights undernea– but it’s hot outside. And dammit, I should be able to wear what I want!

Unfortunately, this is not a singular narrative. I know that there are many women throughout the world that think about how a pair of shorts or skirt can attract unwanted attention or nasty remarks from men and women. A skirt, a simple fashion expression, should be worn whenever a women feels like it. It should not be a reason or excuse to use as an invitation to rape, harassment or any other sexual innuendos.

Typically,  short skirts have been used as a excuse as to how rape may have occurred. I men and women say in the community,  “ She had a short skirt, so she was fast” or ” she wore a hort skirt to the club and was dancing so it was okay to feel on her legs and thighs while inviting her to engage in sex.” Recently, in a controversial rape case with an 11-year old girl in East Texas, a community member was quoted in the New York Times saying that the girl, ” dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s.”

None of these reasons are valid. I, a Black woman should be able to wear a short skirt and not get harassed. But, in a patriarchal society, I am an over-sexualized Black woman who has to fight societal sexism and racism every day. Yes, no exaggeration– everyday which includes how I express myself in my clothing options. I would like to not have to deal with all of the sexual harasment because of how short my skirt, shorts or dress is but that is not my current reality.

The “Seductive Short Skirt” and its invitation to sexual harassment was published on May 6, 2011 in Column, Opinions

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