Like many people in college, my friends and I were young, broke, and sometimes stupid. We made dumb decisions about how much to spend on sushi, how long that political econ homework actually take, and what kind of shoes are appropriate for walking around campus in a snowstorm. For what it’s worth, Midwest sushi shouldn’t be a priority when you’re cash-strapped, political econ will take you days to complete and YEARS to understand, and boots would have been a better choice.
We also made dumb decisions about who was safe to drink with. We made dumb decisions about what we should drink. We made dumb decisions about how much we should drink. In fact, we were so good at making these dumb decisions that my friends and I shared a cocktail dress we called “the mistakes dress”. If one of us was wearing it that weekend, it was guaranteed she’d throw up in it, make out with a gross frat boy in it, or fall down the stairs in it. It was guaranteed. You could win millions betting on this dress. And yes…despite it’s nickname, we still kept wearing it. Was it really that cute? I’m afraid to look back at pictures.
The thing is, despite our dumb decisions, despite the nights where I drank cups of god-knows-what at god-knows-whose houses, despite choosing to wear a dress we literally called THE MISTAKES DRESS, we still deserved to be safe. We deserved every bit of the hangovers and embarrassment the next morning, but we never deserved sexual assault or harassment. Being in a cute clubbing dress did not mean that we were looking to hook-up. It did not mean that you had any right to touch us without asking. Being in that dress did not mean that we were “asking for it.” All it meant was that we had a dress with a silly name that we all liked to wear.
So often when women and femmes are sexually assaulted, the first question asked is “what were they wearing?” If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m here to tell you that this question doesn’t matter. Whether you’re in your pajamas, workout clothes, a snowsuit, or the mistakes dress, you haven’t consented to anything. My dress is not consent. That is as true today as it was all those years ago in college. Unless I’m verbally consenting, I’m not “asking for it.”
We need to be a culture that values and expects consent. We need to respect everyone, even the young women in college who are just figuring things out. Be the person who speaks out against this harmful rhetoric. Be the person that speaks up for a friend in a vulnerable position. Respect consent and expect others to do the same.