NYPD warn women to “put some pants on”
Summary of story from the Huffington Post, September 30, 2011
Attention ladies of South Park Slope, Brooklyn: The New York Police Department (NYPD) would like you to put some pants on.
Okay, so that’s not exactly what they’re saying, but some officers’ recent message to women in the neighborhood is pretty close.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that, following ten unsolved sexual assaults in the area since March, officers in the area have started stopping women on the street to chat about their wardrobe choices.
A woman, only identified as Lauren, told the Journal that an officer “pointed at my outfit and said, ‘Don’t you think your shorts are a little short?’”
Two other women, wearing dresses, were stopped with Lauren and reportedly told that they were showing a lot of skin, according to the WSJ. The officer explained to the trio that such clothing could make the suspect think he had “‘easy access.’”
He supposedly closed this gem of a conversation by saying, “You’re exactly the kind of girl this guy is targeting.” Ouch.
Not surprisingly, more than a few people have a problem with wardrobe-based conversations with policemen. Feministing pointed to the incident as another illustration of why SlutWalks should exist (NYC’s is today, 1 October).
And Safeslope.tumblr.com, a website about public safety in the area, published an open letter to their local precincts condemning these types of conversations.
“We have received reports that multiple women have been told by officers on patrol that they are making themselves targets of violence by wearing clothing items like shorts, dresses, or skirts.
“These messages place the blame on women, including the survivors of assaults, in our neighborhood. Women should be able to wear whatever they want without fear of violence. It is the job of the police to protect people from harm – not blame them for it.”
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne has explained in an email that officers have the best intentions: “They are simply pointing out that as part of the pattern involving one or more men that the assailant(s) have targeted women wearing skirts.”
WVoN comment: I have no truck with this sort of conservative logic. It puts me in mind of Sarah Cheverton’s excellent response to the “common sense” thought that in areas where women are considered to be in danger, we should stay indoors, cover up, make ourselves invisible.
Inga Muscio wrote in her superb book “Cunt”, that if she has to go out at night to run an errand she has a six-step survival tactic she completes before leaving the house. This includes putting on baggy clothes, tying her shoelaces really tight in case she has to run away and stuffing a few rocks into her jacket pockets, in case she needs emergency missiles.
Muscio writes: “I have incorporated (this) into my lifestyle because: I can’t stand the fact that the danger of having a cunt is threatening enough to keep me from doing as I please.”
This is the central argument of the slutwalk movement at the moment.
It’s nothing new. Feminists have been arguing like this since the 60s. So why is the onus still on women to control the behaviour of others through our own actions? Surely we should take the NYPD’s “protective” logic as yet another opportunity to argue for a different way of looking at patriarchal attitudes to gender?
As ever, with anything I say, somebody else has said it before and said it better. In this instance that’s Sonic Youth in the form of a question asked in their song Kool Thing:
“Hey, Kool Thing, come here, sit down beside me. There’s something I got to ask you. I just wanna know, what are you gonna do for me? I mean, are you gonna liberate us girls from male white corporate oppression?”
I’m still waiting for an answer.
In the meantime, I refuse to back away into obscurity for my own protection. For me, that is an entirely invalid response and I have no idea why it’s still such a popular and powerful demand on women.