In a push to “restore urban decorum and facilitate better civil co-existence,” Luigi Bobbio, the mayor of the Italian seaside town Castellammare di Stabia, wants to ban “anti-social behavior.” Okay, so probably sexual harassment, racial harassment, bullying, and so forth, right?
The mayor claims he wants to target people who are “rowdy, unruly or simply badly behaved,” and to him, this entails people who are sunbathing, playing football in public places, engaging in “blasphemy,” and…. wearing miniskirts and low cut jeans.
There’s a lot one could say about this, but I’m going to focus on what is street harassment-related.
First, I want to say that I’m pretty tired of people (including other women) blaming women’s clothes for causing the harassment and violence men perpetrated against them. I heard that a lot in the past two weeks when I was traveling through California, Alaska, and Iowa, talking about street harassment. (“…Well, the way girls dress these days…”) This is flawed logic because women experience harassment and assault no matter what they wear (men have harassed me the most and the most explicitly when I’m wearing bagging running clothes, sweaty and red faced) and the idea that some clothes are provocative and others are not are cultural constructs that vary by culture! The problem is not women or their clothes.
I am certain that banning types of clothing alone will not cut down on “unruly” behavior. Most women in Yemen and Egypt, most of whom are veiled and otherwise modestly dressed, experience harassment in public spaces. That makes it crystal clear the problem isn’t women’s clothes but societies which encourage and allow men to harass women without consequence. Until that changes in Italy, they can ban miniskirts all they want and the harassment will continue.
The people who harass the sunbathers or women wearing miniskirts and low cut jeans are the ones whose behavior needs to change. Perhaps the mayor and the town should spend their time launching awareness campaigns about treating people with respect, no matter what they are wearing, and making sure that is taught in schools.
I’m glad that the NYC Council is holding a hearing on Thursday to discuss street harassment and what we can do about it in a logical, thoughtful way, instead of trying to ban certain clothes. Or segregate women from men like some countries have resorted to doing on public transportation because the harassment is so bad there. If you’re in the NYC area, come out at 1 p.m. on Thursday to share your street harassment experiences and ideas for making the city safer for women and girls!