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The “Seductive Short Skirt” and its invitation to sexual harassment

“Did you know you’re a queen? You are beautiful. I can take care of you,” an old black man said to me at the bus stop between San Pablo and University in Berkeley.

A young woman in a skirt. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

“I’m not a gold digger,” I said.

“So, do you like women?” said man.

At this point, I refused to answer any of his utterly ridiculous questions. His comments were not only sexist but inherently filled with the assumption that I don’t know who I am or know myself.

Yes, I know my ancestry. Yes, I know that I am beautiful. Lastly, you can’t buy me sir. I was disgusted that this man in his 50’s would have the nerve to think that because I wore a short skirt I could be bought with his insinuations or that money could make his sexist comments and lecherous stares (like I was piece of meat) make up for his inappropriateness.

Said man continued to offer sexual propositions and asked, “Did you come from a motel?”

This put it all in perspective for me. He thought I was either a teenage sex worker or a young girl who could be lured by a few bucks. This “conversation” was just another sad reality found while using public transportation near Oakland–which has a booming sex traffic industry for children. According NPR’s Arresting Youth in Sex traffic article in 2010,

      Oakland, Calif., is known as a center for sex trafficking, with a specialty in children. In 2003, the FBI dubbed the city, part of the San Francisco Bay Area, a “high-intensity child-prostitution area.”

      Police say Oakland youth are often trafficked from their hometown out to other sex hubs like Portland, Ore.; Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

But, this is not the first time that I have been sexually harassed at the bus stop. Everyday I am harassed at the bus stop, BART stop or walking down the streets of Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco. The harassment just increases when I wear skirts, dresses or shorts. That is the battle with taking transportation as a young black woman. I have to think of every scenario I might have to encounter that day because of what I wear.

Yet, there is no reason men should assume a woman’s sexual availability or question it because she decided to wear a short skirt. As a young woman, I should be able to wear whatever I’d like and not be sexually harassed.

When I woke up that morning, I thought about wearing my cute short Hollister jean skirt. I thought about how much harassment I could endure — lustful ogling, yells, hollers and attempts to possibly even touch me. I have these thoughts every time I put on shorts, skirts or dresses that show my legs. Often I opt to just put leggings or tights undernea– but it’s hot outside. And dammit, I should be able to wear what I want!

Unfortunately, this is not a singular narrative. I know that there are many women throughout the world that think about how a pair of shorts or skirt can attract unwanted attention or nasty remarks from men and women. A skirt, a simple fashion expression, should be worn whenever a women feels like it. It should not be a reason or excuse to use as an invitation to rape, harassment or any other sexual innuendos.

Typically,  short skirts have been used as a excuse as to how rape may have occurred. I men and women say in the community,  “ She had a short skirt, so she was fast” or ” she wore a hort skirt to the club and was dancing so it was okay to feel on her legs and thighs while inviting her to engage in sex.” Recently, in a controversial rape case with an 11-year old girl in East Texas, a community member was quoted in the New York Times saying that the girl, ” dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s.”

None of these reasons are valid. I, a Black woman should be able to wear a short skirt and not get harassed. But, in a patriarchal society, I am an over-sexualized Black woman who has to fight societal sexism and racism every day. Yes, no exaggeration– everyday which includes how I express myself in my clothing options. I would like to not have to deal with all of the sexual harasment because of how short my skirt, shorts or dress is but that is not my current reality.