updated 3 Jan 2012, 16:00
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Short skirt, big deal?
by Natalie Soh

It took a policeman to put into words an opinion that I suspect many people already hold.

Early this year, Toronto constable Michael Sanguinetti, speaking on crime prevention, reportedly said: "Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised."

In other words, if you play the tease, you deal with the consequences. It galvanised outraged women around the world to protest.

And it's reached our shores, albeit a little watered down version of it.

Straight up view: No one should be victimised. Rape, abuse, assault, harassment are big no-gos. Never mind what he or she was wearing. No means no.

Unfortunately - even if no one admits it openly - I think Mr Sanguinetti is not alone in his opinion. And he hasn't been alone for a loooong time.

Remember the movie The Accused, starring Jodie Foster in 1988? It was based on a true story of a woman who was gang-raped, with drunk onlookers cheering the rapists on.

The men's defence? She was asking for it because she had dressed provocatively and had been labelled "promiscuous".

It's a scenario that has been replayed in many settings all over the world.

Once, an annoying barfly at a local nightspot decided to hit on a mate. What was initially fun, flirty bantering became dodgy when the pest started becoming a little too touchy.

Fingers were run down her back and breast. His excuse? She was wearing a bare-backed dress. He had the gall to say it was "natural" for him as her back "invited" his attention. By this logic, the chap would not have tried anything funny if the woman was wearing cargo pants?

I respect a woman's and man's right to dress however they want. Even if it's a lime green shirt that should never have taken up the cotton to make it. Or the tiniest pair of shorts ever. But we should not be naive.

Despite our lofty protestations otherwise, we do immediately assign values to someone who chooses to dress a certain way.

People will judge people by what they wear.

In a letter to TNP published on Friday, reader Shirley Yuen-Rodrigues urged people to care more about their image.

She also wanted power women who run successful companies, female politicians and wives of our Members of Parliament to spend some time and money with an image consultant to spruce up their image.

She wrote: "There are power women who appear on TV and in the newspapers looking like they just got out of bed. Others have had the same hairdo for the last 25 years."

I know at some companies, appearances for women are still strictly controlled. For instance, at one company I used to work for, the dress code called for covered shoes, skirts of a certain length and suits.

It also mandated the jewellery and make-up aesthetics. Until a few years ago, women were also advised against suits in colours.

During a conversation with three male mates last week, several mutual women friends were discussed and described as "stacked". Now my mates know these women well and have had many pleasant outings with the said womenfolk.

But it didn't stop them from holding forth about the women's bodily attributes (I guess, I was considered one of the guys - lucky me) and what their fantasies were. Hmmm.

Was it because these female friends have chosen to dress in a fashion which uses their natural assets to their best advantage?

Did that immediately put the males on prowl watch?

I am conducting a social experiment of sorts right now. I am wondering if a woman will be considered "less" worthy or less intellectual because she dresses a certain way?

I will wear short skirts to work for a week. If I get a different reaction from my workmates, friends and uncles at my local kopi tiam, I'll let you know.

I'll also report if this "erotic capital" goes in my favour and I get more of my way this week. Who knows, I might get an extra helping or two from my favourite bee hoon store uncle while at it.

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