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Congresswoman's victim-blaming comment is an outrage

Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio ...

Posted: Dec 15, 2017 12:16 AM
Updated: Dec 15, 2017 12:16 AM

Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio reportedly believes that her female colleagues should rethink their wardrobe choices if they want to protect themselves from unwanted sexual advances on Capitol Hill. Too many outfits she sees around Washington, she told colleagues this week, are "an invitation" to be harassed.

For men who harass it's one of the oldest arguments in the book -- the "she asked for it" defense. And in her unfortunate remarks, Kaptur is making that bogus argument for them.

That she would do this seems particularly out of touch given the current conversation surrounding sexual harassment and assault. While there's nothing wrong with a woman taking any measure to protect herself from unwanted advances, Kaptur's comments undeniably reinforce a culture already steeped in victim blaming.

Let us be clear: There is no outfit that justifies sexual harassment.

The reason we're hearing right now about so many incidents committed by so many men, over so many years, is that women have long found only reasons not to come forward. Comments such as Kaptur's -- indictments, really -- are but one example of the ire that women have faced, and continue to face, when they try to stand up against their assaulters.

And so, Kaptur's female colleagues, and women in general, should be outraged by her statements. The congresswoman insisted she wasn't saying a victim is at fault -- rather she's simply hoping to "elevate the decorum" around her workplace. But how else to interpret her comments?

Calling out a woman for how she looks -- and assuming she looks a certain way in order to attract men and not, say, because it may make her feel good -- is a way to silence that woman, to shame her and to make her feel small. It is to strip her of her self-assuredness. Which is, particularly at this #MeToo moment in time, unconscionable.

Kaptur's male colleagues should be outraged, too. Because in placing the onus of harassment on a woman, and her choice of clothing, she's also confirming that men are too weak, or too dumb, to help themselves from making unwanted advances, that they are too weak or too dumb not to break the law.

Certainly, there's a generational factor involved in this. Kaptur is 71. "Decorum," and what defined "appropriate" probably was different 40, 50 years ago when she was coming up in her career. To be sure sexual harassment was very much an issue back then. And, frankly, workplaces have changed: There are more women working, and in more powerful roles.

So, too, has fashion. What Kaptur considers revealing may not be what a female colleague 30 years her junior considers revealing; it may not even be what a male colleague of any age considers revealing. After all, who's to say what's sexy or provocative ? What's sexy to some men, and women, isn't sexy to others. Instead of trying to define, and condemn, inappropriate clothing, how about we define, and condemn, inappropriate behavior?

This isn't, of course, to say that it's advisable for a woman to wear the same dress to work that she might wear to a black-tie gala or to a New Year's party on the beach. But certainly, a woman who has made it all the way to Congress can be assumed to have the ability to choose what to wear in the morning.

In questioning that, though, Kaptur is also questioning her female colleagues' ability to think independently and make smart decisions. They're not here to work, she seems to be saying. Instead, they're just here for the purpose of attracting the male gaze.

It's also worth noting how much pressure there is on female politicians to look and dress a certain way -- think of Hillary Clinton's ruthlessly documented personal style transformation over the years. Her physical appearance was part of what people thought made her look presidential. But it was also an example of the enduring, and exhausting, idea that women need to toe the very thin line, at all times, between looking good and looking too good.

The bottom line is that, no matter what a woman is wearing, if she is harassed or assaulted by a man, it is the man who has committed the offense. It's the man's behavior that needs to change. If a man can't help but look at a beautiful woman in a low-cut blouse, he can most definitely help but comment on that blouse. He can most definitely help but touch her.

Shifting the responsibility for this from man to woman, or assaulter to assaulted, distracts from the real issue and gives would-be offenders an excuse to act based on assumption ("I thought I was invited," "I thought she was asking for it") rather than facts. Which are what really counts -- and perhaps for no one more than for those tasked with making, and upholding, our laws.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 708779

Reported Deaths: 13226
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion966191721
Lake51761946
Allen39224672
Hamilton34549405
St. Joseph34157541
Elkhart27356432
Vanderburgh22081394
Tippecanoe21853212
Porter17935299
Johnson17544374
Hendricks16822310
Clark12697190
Madison12353337
Vigo12219244
Monroe11469166
LaPorte11162204
Delaware10366184
Howard9664211
Kosciusko9134114
Hancock7990139
Bartholomew7893155
Warrick7691155
Floyd7563176
Wayne6906198
Grant6844171
Boone6556100
Morgan6405138
Dubois6085117
Marshall5786108
Dearborn570376
Cass5685102
Henry5579101
Noble542683
Jackson493569
Shelby479495
Lawrence4342118
Gibson429089
Harrison428570
Clinton419753
Montgomery418086
DeKalb411184
Whitley380239
Huntington379880
Miami372865
Knox366689
Steuben365757
Putnam353160
Jasper350946
Wabash347878
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Jefferson313180
White308454
Daviess289499
Wells286481
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Fayette277262
Greene270785
Posey268833
Scott261153
LaGrange253670
Clay253544
Randolph235680
Washington231031
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Jennings225047
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Sullivan207942
Starke204752
Owen192356
Fulton192039
Jay186429
Carroll185920
Perry180736
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Parke144616
Blackford133831
Pike130334
Pulaski113845
Newton104234
Brown100140
Crawford97614
Benton97113
Martin82915
Warren79715
Switzerland7698
Union69910
Ohio55811
Unassigned0408

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1054807

Reported Deaths: 18991
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1225191356
Cuyahoga1074592069
Hamilton783261168
Montgomery50176996
Summit45557909
Lucas40298765
Butler37768570
Stark31513895
Lorain24246473
Warren23910293
Mahoning20946583
Lake20067362
Clermont19459229
Delaware18085130
Licking16149207
Fairfield15757197
Trumbull15627460
Medina14922259
Greene14706236
Clark13660293
Wood12806185
Portage12431196
Allen11352229
Richland11067198
Miami10548214
Muskingum8717127
Wayne8594209
Columbiana8569226
Pickaway8439121
Marion8390135
Tuscarawas8387240
Erie7600154
Hancock6730123
Ross6707146
Geauga6553146
Ashtabula6530165
Scioto6295101
Belmont5634158
Union558447
Lawrence5470102
Jefferson5343147
Huron5314114
Darke5273121
Sandusky5189120
Seneca5139120
Washington5087107
Athens503856
Auglaize476284
Mercer471984
Shelby456590
Knox4397108
Madison423959
Putnam421799
Ashland413488
Fulton410567
Defiance404296
Crawford3883101
Brown386955
Logan374476
Preble371098
Clinton362160
Ottawa357978
Highland347459
Williams328674
Champaign321557
Jackson308551
Guernsey307549
Perry290549
Fayette278048
Morrow275939
Hardin264764
Henry264366
Coshocton259857
Holmes253499
Van Wert239262
Pike233831
Gallia233446
Adams229152
Wyandot227553
Hocking209759
Carroll189447
Paulding168838
Meigs141738
Noble132937
Monroe128941
Morgan106823
Harrison105636
Vinton81614
Unassigned02
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