Underwear choice is not sexual consent

by | Nov 28, 2018

Underwear choice is not an excuse for male behaviour

Why would a woman's underwear choice be anything other than a personal choice? Men need to start taking responsibility for their actions and stop victim-shaming.

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have shifted attitudes about rape and sexual assault and created conversation around it. However, survivors continue to be shamed, doubted, humiliated, and excoriated for coming forward.

Recently in Ireland, a 27-year-old man was acquitted of raping a 17-year-old girl. The judgement has brought a sharp reaction. As part of the closing statement, the defence attorney Elizabeth O’Connell cited that the young woman had worn a pair of lacy underwear:

"Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone? You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front."

The protest also resonated with a historical case from 2001 when a girl from Ayrshire committed suicide when faced with the same situation. Her mother is now adding her voice to the cause.

The outrage has been international. Irish MP Ruth Coppinger held up a thong in the Irish parliament to highlight ‘routine victim blaming’.

underwear choice

What do you say?

A quick vox-pops produces these reactions:

Sissy (28), a social anthropologist, explained-

"Thongs have become a thing because of this cultural obsession with what women wear, even when it's not visible. Layer on another obsession that when women wear something that is shorter, briefer, smaller than some notional, male-defined standard of what is non-sexual, they are considered to be "up for it." Once again, it's about women being held responsible for male behavior and reactions. Why is not about them taking responsibility for themselves?"

"Women wear thongs generally because there are no visible panty lines (VPL) under certain types of clothing. Any woman will tell you that for most, except those with the slenderest of butts, they can be profoundly uncomfortable. They are certainly not a sign of sexual consent."

Emma, a 19-year-old student, told 3Plus-

"After reading what happened to that poor girl in Ireland it shocks me to disbelief. I can't believe that even in 2018 young women are victimized by our choice of underwear. In 2001 a girl was accused of consent because of her underwear selection and committed suicide. You would think 17 years later the justice system would have changed.

"If I was to go through my underwear drawer - I have thongs and lace underwear. So I wouldn’t have any underwear that by that criteria didn’t show consent. I buy these because they are comfortable for me and nice for MYSELF to feel confident in them.

"When I am out at night clubs, I do find I am in situations where I could be harassed. I have to pretend I have a boyfriend or ask my friends to surround me to help get older men away. It’s a scary world out there when you don’t know who you are dealing with."

Avarie, a post-graduate student from Florida, expanded-

"There seems to be something in male mythology. It maybe perpetuated by Hollywood and porn. It seems to suggest that every time young women go out for the night, they have nothing else on their mind than finding a sexual partner and this is why they wear thongs. A woman's underwear selection has everything to do with her personal choices and preferences, and nothing to do with anyone else." 


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When we asked Danielle, (40) stable owner, her response was this-

"I haven't heard about this. But seriously? In the 21st century? All women have thongs for some particular outfits. My Mum even has one, and she's over 60. She wears them under jodhpurs and I wear them under yoga pants. I even wore them to a wedding. I'm sure you can imagine we aren't hoping to get lucky."

And a male view from Maurice, a London-based Estate Agent, who told us-

"Today most men that I know would be super cautious. Women can wear whatever they want. Sexy underwear is of course always a bonus, but that doesn't mean she necessarily wants to have sex with you. Certainly you might like it, but I think today we almost feel we have to have a signed consent form before proceeding with any sexual contact. I read about the case and was surprised that the defence attorney was a woman. It's the sort of thing you would expect from an old man." 


Dual standards

The UK retail chain Marks and Spencer have come under attack for a window display encouraging women to invest in "must have fancy knickers".  This display sits next to fully dressed men. They are displaying in public the very same type of underwear the Irish rape victim was accused of wearing to pursue and encourage a sexual encounter.

It's about time that men took responsibility for their own actions and the courts stopped victim shaming. Underwear choice is personal and not an excuse for men.

It's also time to stop the double standards that women face every day of their lives.



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