Noelle McCarthy: Rape is not about clothes

By Noelle McCarthy

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The "Slut Walk" demonstrations around the world aim to raise awareness of women's issues - including the fact that no woman asks to be raped because of her style of dress. Photo / AP Images
The "Slut Walk" demonstrations around the world aim to raise awareness of women's issues - including the fact that no woman asks to be raped because of her style of dress. Photo / AP Images

My Dad threw a fish slice at me the first time I dyed my hair. He found the packet in the bin, and lost it then and there. This was perhaps the weirdest incident that happened in all of my teenage years.

I was about 15 at the time I think, 14 possibly, and I've still got questions around it twenty years on. My Dad didn't cook much. Why did he have a fish slice in his hand? Why, having been expressly told several times I was not allowed to dye my hair, would I have done so, and then left the packet in the kitchen bin, where my Dad would be likely to find it? And if he needed to find the packet in order to realise I'd dyed it, why did I even bother dying it at all?

As an act of rebellion, it wasn't the most outrageous - I chose a colour pretty much identical to my own - but it tripped a switch alright. My father I think, was always slightly irrational when it came to my hair. He cried when I came home with it short the first time. Considering the state of the hair-cut-a layered job that made me look like a 70s football coach-this was an appropriate response.

But hair was always sacred to him.

By the time I hit my teens, requests to colour it were met with an purple face and a bellowed 'no'. That's why I did it, obviously. Teenage girls exist for the simple expedient of pissing their fathers off. For me it was hair dye. It could just as easily have been a piercing, a knee-high boot, a short skirt, or a tattoo.

The fish slice missed, and the colour washed out eventually, but I remembered that incident last week, in the midst of the latest moral panic, which has, miserably, predictably, given rise to the same old, tired lame-brain arguments over what a woman should and shouldn't wear.

This discussion depresses me, but more than that, it fills me with an intense impatience for the day when we look back at the idea that a woman's outfit can trigger, explain or excuse an act of sexual violence against her, and we think it's quaint. Like how they thought the world was flat in the dark ages, or that the sun revolved around the earth.

Indulgent bemusement is the attitude we take towards our forebears in these matters. That's exactly how our descendents are going to feel when they find out that some of us thought that rape is about clothes.

Rape is not about clothes. Rape is about power, and violence, and taking what is not yours. The first time I remember getting angry about this was about the same time I was getting a fish slice thrown at me for dying my hair on the sly. I can't believe we're still having the same argument 15 years on.

- VIVA


* Follow Noelle on Twitter here.

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