One small piece of the storm surrounding Harvey Weinstein has been a resurgence of the question of whether modest clothing prevents rape. Mayim Bialik brought the issue back to the limelight when she wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times. In it, she implied that she had never been assaulted because “I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.” (She later retracted that implication on Twitter.)
It shouldn’t need saying, but modest clothing doesn’t reduce sexual assault. If it did, there wouldn’t be any assaults against burka-wearing Muslim women or long-skirted and cloaked Jewish women.
Brands like ours certainly disprove Mayim’s implication that dressing modestly is less attractive. There are so many great fashion lines out there that put effort into making modest dressing women feel beautiful. Just cast an eye over the huge stable of fashion bloggers who pull together amazing outfits from the modest pieces that are in regular fashion stores.
But it’s possible that modest dressing can make a difference to sexual assault, just not the way you might think.
It’s not about the clothes.
It’s about the mindset.
Women who’ve chosen to dress modestly generally feel more self-confident. They project an aura of assertiveness, of feeling comfortable in their skin. Contrary to popular myth, modest-dressers are not just victims of patriarchal brainwashing, nor are they ashamed of their bodies or scared of being assaulted.
One example of the power of covering up comes from looking at how powerful women dress. Check out how much skin is shown by female CEOs, politicians and other important women. The more power you have, the less skin you show.
Psychologists hold that sexual assault isn’t about sex. It’s about power. Choosing to dress modestly takes back the power into women’s own hands.
Note that the key word here is choice. This fascinating video shows a Muslim woman liberated from ISIS in Raqqa ripping off the abaya she was forced to wear to reveal equally modest clothing beneath. She wasn’t objecting to wearing modest clothing; she objected to the modest clothing she was forced to wear. It’s the modest clothing we choose that empowers us.
Modest clothing sends a clear message that this woman is not a man’s plaything, eye candy or entertainment. The aura of confidence that surrounds modest dressing women might just deter a number of men who, like all bullies, feel free to cat-call, comment or grab at an easy target.