It’s 2014. I’m in a Religious Education lesson. The teacher has asked me to do up a button on my nun-like uniform. It is distracting the male students in the class. Except it isn’t. I was astounded, even at that age, that my education was being interrupted because I may be daring to disrupt a male’s education because he could not possibly concentrate on the board if he can see the bra strap on my collar bone. A small look around the room; Will has just glued Louis’ trousers to the seat without him or the teacher noticing, George is talking over another very large ego about a try he scored at the weekend, Freddie is actually asleep. I am not distracting them from anything. I want to know about St. Augustine’s theory on earthly suffering. The teacher wants to know why I dare to wear underwear. For all my feminist rage, I was still blushing.
Now it’s 2018 and I want to know why I was embarrassed about my underwear when I was fifteen. I want to know why, in 2018, I’ve heard of two cases in the U.K in which rape victims are forced to endure the injustice of having their underwear held up in front of a court, in front of their accused rapist, in front of their families, in order for a barrister to claim that in wearing such underwear they were at the least, open to sex. At the worst, asking to be raped. This is not the Middle-East. This is happening right here in the U.K. The supposed exporter of justice and women’s rights. Land of the suffragettes. The country where the future queen of England strutted down the St. Andrew charity fashion show in a see-through dress. A country with a female Prime Minister. Yet it is so entrenched in the patriarchy that a women’s underwear can be deemed a serious defence in law against rape. I am disgusted. I would call it madness, but it isn’t. It is part of a narrative that has been going on for hundreds nay thousands of years. A narrative that tells women that what they wear says more than what they can produce vocally. More so than ‘no’. A lacy thong in this narrative screams ‘yes’.
No amount of stuffy, tweed-blazer wearing rhetoric is going to make forcing a seventeen-year-old girl to hold up the underwear she was wearing on the night of her rape in front of her rapist and her family, a defence in the ‘course of justice’. Defence barristers must base their arguments on empirical fact and not prejudicial showmanship of how institutionalised sexism has become. This young girl killed herself. Her family claimed that she had been raped all over again on that witness stand. Her life is on her rapists, his defence barristers and on the patriarchy’s hands. If we do not change the way we educate about the relationship between clothing and sexual consent (that there is none) then we are going to see more rapes and more inexcusable defences.