Why Do People Assume that Revealing Clothing Indicates Promiscuity?

Photo by MuiZur on Unsplash

It’s not uncommon for society– men and women both, but especially men– to assume that the more revealing clothing a woman wears, the more promiscuous she is. I’ve been wondering why that is, and I have a theory:

Men think that a woman showing her body in a way that they, men, personally would not be okay with women in their personal lives (such as their moms, sisters, own woman partners) entails that the women they analyze are only able to “get away” with showing more of their physical parts only because there is no man to stop them from doing so. In other words, a woman who shows more than the man analyzing her approves of automatically means to the man that there is no man to keep the woman in check, because if there was, then the woman would not be showing as much. And because there is no man to consider in the picture of the woman’s life, in these men’s assumptions based on their judgments of her dress, the analyzing man feels entitled to lust after the woman and degrade her in his thoughts and through his actions. To the man, the woman is free and on the market for him and other men to judge and exploit as they please, as long as there is no man in the picture that they have to respect and be considerate of. (And first of all– can we just acknowledge how creepy is is for the man to be analyzing the woman in the first place?)

It all boils down to male entitlement, with men thinking that a woman is only off-limits when there is a man around to control and own her– because the woman to them is not respectable as long as there is no men to inject morality associated with non-promiscuity into her and keep her in check. There is the idea that a woman submitting to a man is reflective of her morality.

But even aside men, there’s women who assume the same about other women– that the more skin a fellow sister shows, the more open she is to being promiscuous. Why is that? Does it also boil down to women thinking the same– that if a woman is showing more skin, it’s because there is no man in her life that she’s adhering to to keep herself in check?

As an example, I remember the uproar that occurred when Muslim influencer Dina Torkia decided to show her hair after years of wearing a headscarf as part of hijab. Fellow Muslims made disgusting and judgmental comments and assumptions about her commitment to faith and accused her of being promiscuous. Why was there such a huge fixation on her dressing choice, and why did people perceive it to indicate her other life choices and her relationship with God? Especially with Dina still being a practicing and devout Muslim by still observing modesty and other Islamic practices, why did her choice to show her hair cancel out everything else?

The men in question– and perhaps even the women– think that ultimately, men make the decisions for women. This comes from the assumption that women, by nature, are “immoral” and out of control and promiscuous– and that they need to be tamed by men. On the other hand, these men don’t frown as much (or at all) on promiscuous behavior they themselves conduct themselves with. It’s only when women are promiscuous that they “tsk” and shake their heads.

Similar to what I mentioned earlier, this goes hand in hand with the notion that a woman is only worthy of respect with regards to the relationship she has with a man. “Bro-code,” and all.

This is just one theory of the umbrella that is male entitlement.

There is also the assumption that promiscuous women wear revealing clothes to attract men– specifically for the purpose of seduction. And conversely, there is the assumption that women wearing provocative clothes or clothes that are more revealing are doing so to seduce men.

Because to these assumers, people of all genders but mostly heterosexual men, woman’s decisions focus around pleasing men and getting attention and validation from them. In addition, there’s the assumption that a woman who shows less skin is less promiscuous.

Such stupid conceptions are used to justify rape or deny it. Such assumptions and societal notions contribute to rape culture. A woman showing more skin is used to justify a man forcing herself on her. A woman showing more skin is equated to a woman selling herself to any man who desires her.

Again, there is the idea the more skin a woman shows, the more consent she is giving men around her to take her and use– as if the way a woman dresses indicates any consent at all.

But it doesn’t matter at the end of the day how much a woman shows or does not show– men (and even women) blame a woman or even a girl for disgusting things, violence and assault that men inflict on them with the excuse of fulfilling their sexual desires. They blame the woman for her existence, not giving a damn about her right to exist and her right to autonomy. Instead, they’ll coddle the violating man and egg on his entitlement to fulfill his sexual desires through the exploitation of another human being– simply because human beings with vaginas, without penises, are deemed as lesser than, as disposable, and as there to be used by men as men please. It doesn’t matter if a woman is walking the streets in a bikini or in a burqa– men sexually assault women regardless of what they are wearing.

Because to disgusting, sexist people, being a man means entails a right to domination and exploitation of those who are not men. To them, women are such lesser beings that a man using her for pleasure against her will are accepted and excused.

The clothing a woman wears, the comparison of a woman wearing a burqa versus a woman wearing a bikini and both getting rape, shouldn’t even be brought up in the first place. A woman is a person. Regardless of how much a man feels turned on by her, regardless of how much a man wants to have a sexual interaction with her, he does not have the right to violate her physical integrity– period.

Rape doesn’t simply happen to a woman as some phenomena inflicted on her by the universe– the rapist actually does the rape. It’s ridiculous how such a simple concept has to be articulated in such a detailed way.

All in all, the perception that a woman’s clothing choices are linked to her sexual activity comes down to male entitlement, the notion that women cannot think for themselves until a man is there to think for her, and that the respect a woman deserves is correlated with her submission to a man. This linking is extremely dangerous as it contributes to rape culture and as it promotes the justification of rape culture.

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