There would — and should — undoubtedly be a mass uproar if a college administration advised against wearing short skirts, dresses, or other “provocative clothing” in order to prevent sexual assault. Though authorities on the matter draw a correlation between wearing short skirts and being raped, sensible citizens agree that a woman ought to be granted the autonomy to choose to wear whatever she chooses without being shamed for her sartorial choices, even given potential evidence that those choices might increase the chance that she will be targeted for rape.
Any semi-aware individual would find it absolutely ludicrous to allege someone shouldn’t wear certain clothing because of the potential increased risk of rape, or that a college administration should dictate that someone not wear what he or she choose for this or any other reason.
However, the arguments for banning tobacco use on college campuses — like the student senate at Arizona is thinking about doing — are not so distant from the idea that a person ought to be limited in her clothing choices because those choices could be a danger to her (or his) health. Colleges and private organizations are working diligently to reduce incidents of rape and sexual assault on college campuses. If they are sincere in their goals, it would be nothing short of irresponsible to continue allow women to wear short skirts and high heels, as these are activities that can increase a woman’s chances of being the victim of rape.
This idea should sound somewhere between silly and insane — but the argument in favor of banning tobacco use is that those products can increase risk of lung, throat, mouth cancer, and various other negative health effects. Rape on campus is a much flashier issue than college students being diagnosed with lung cancer, yet administrations and student leaders seek to ban only the supposed cause of the latter with a over-reaching, overly punitive wholesale restriction. Banning smoking on campuses is a shift in policy that assumes to decrease the health affects of smoking. Why should concerned leaders not implement a similar restriction against provocative clothing to combat the public health problem of rape and sexual assault?
Rape often happens to young women, and the “treatment” for rape and its ensuing potential pregnancy and disease is quite different in nature than the treatment for the potential health harms of smoking. Indeed, rapes are much more violent in nature than most diseases that can be “blamed” on smoking, and the implications for a victim’s later life are arguably much greater than those potentially incurred by lighting up. Rape, including date and acquaintance rape, sometimes lead to pregnancy, which can lead to the victim choosing to get an abortion. By allowing students to wear provocative outfits, leaders are arguably promoting abortion by failing to prevent the rapes that cause them. Are those tiny human lives not important enough to warrant a ban of sexually alluring attire?
Given these considerations, administrations have a potentially even greater obligation to prevent rape than they do to prevent lung cancer. Of course administrators and student governments want to decrease incidences of rape and sexual assaults on their campuses — why not ban the clothing that increases the risk a woman will be the victim of rape? Extending further, parties, flirting, jungle juice, and Greek houses are also fairly common components in alleged rape cases. Does a university have an obligation to protect its students from themselves by banning those?
The metaphor grows somewhat skimpy when one acknowledges the scientific evidence seems to allow that a life-long chain smoker can be “blamed” more definitively for her lung cancer than a girl who wears a skirt can be blamed for her rape. A victim of sexual assault is not “asking for it” unless she has, explicitly and without coercion, asked for it. But just as a woman is responsible for her behavior regarding the risks of dressing in just a leopard-print bra, making out with the neck of a tequila bottle, and laying down on a guy’s bed, so too is the smoker responsible for the potential health risks involved in her choices. This writer wishes as much as anyone that American Spirits didn’t cause wheezing, and that potential criminals took their aggression out on a LiveJournal rather than women who just want to look hot. But just as there is a correlation between smoking and cancer, there is a correlation between wearing certain clothing and incidents of sexual assault. There is also a correlation between having sex and contracting STIs, between drinking and regretted decisions, between lost sports games and fistfights, between studying too much and depression, and between education and dissent against one’s government. Which of those deserves to be banned?
Each individual should be granted the freedom to make his own choices regarding what correlations in which he places importance. It is wrong to try to tell a woman she can’t wear a skirt, and it is wrong to tell anyone they can’t, as a consenting adult, conduct a legal activity on their college campus. A free society should not dictate what its members think, say, write, read, eat, grow, carry, care about, or pursue — or smoke, or wear.
Anna Swenson is the editor of the Arizona Desert Lamp. She is a contributor to The College Fix.