Clothes are social things. They are used to communicate a wide range of things at a glance - everything from social status to occupation to political affiliation to any number of other things. You can tell a whole lot about a person based on the way they are dressed - clothes are social markers. More so than just simply means to remain warm in a cold climate.
This is not a controversial statement. I need not go on at length about how the Pope's clothes differ from a construction worker's - you already know all about that. You have the decoding skills needed to understand these social cues.
From this understanding, we can pose this question: how can a women dress in order to not be perceived as a woman?
One might imagine that, among the thousands upon thousands of social markers available in the language of clothing, there'd be some sort of universal marker that declares the bearer to be gender-neutral. That there's a way to dress that, in no uncertain terms, removes all aspects of sex and gender from the social equation. That states that this is a gender/sex free zone, and no two ways about it.
One might imagine such a thing. If this was about clothes.
This is not about clothes.
This is about the brutally problematic way we relate to women, and about the constant sexualization of everything that is a woman body. It doesn't matter how, when, where or why it is - it is still woman and it is still body, and as such it is a potential sex object. And it will be regarded as such.
Which, undoubtedly, makes things difficult for those who say that women only have themselves to blame if and when they dress in certain ways. That they provoked the sexual violence they are subjected to by dressing in these certain ways. Because it's not about clothes, at all - that's just the simple excuse one uses in order to avoid confronting the more difficult questions.
It makes it even more difficult for those women who are made to blame themselves. By virtue of their audacity - being women!
There is no "right" way to dress. There is, at present, no way for a women to do or be "right". Since all questions regarding autonomy and the right to not be a sexual object are constantly being sidetracked to and by questions that are impossible to answer. As if they had anything to do with clothes.
Though, to be sure, there is an ever present question, posed to all women with bodies: why are you not dressed sexier? -
Originally published October 3, 2013