Written by Morgan Cormack
With many of us turning to summer dresses to keep cool, one Stylist writer reflects on the never-ending stream of sexual harassment from men in public and how that won’t stop her – and shouldn’t stop other women – from wearing what they like.
Dressing for work is a minefield on the best of days, given the hybrid, work-from-home situation many of us are in. When joggers and shorts are your first choice in the comfort of your own home, how on earth do you add a heatwave to the equation? Well, that’s where flowy, button-down shirts and floaty summer dresses come into play – the key to every woman’s summer wardrobe.
As temperatures creep well into the 30s in the UK, women like myself are favouring our beloved dress and trainer combination. From trapeze to mini, broderie anglaise to smock, the dress is the pinnacle easy-to-wear piece for work, play and everything in between.
So, why on earth are men apparently still so unused to seeing women in them? Or rather, why do they act so embarrassingly grotesque the minute the sun comes out?
I know, I know – not all men. But it only takes being harassed three times in one weekday morning on the way to work to realise that, actually, some men make this time of the year truly unbearable.
Leaving my home for work in a shirred waist dress (or any dress for that matter) should not warrant being stared at and approached almost immediately once I’m out the door. Nor should it result in a man staring at me across the train platform, his eyes tracing my body up and down, and winking, as happened to me the other day on the commute into work. That’s not even taking into consideration the completely bizarre (and frankly, disturbing) moment when a man sniffed my hand on the handlebar of the central line, only for him to tell me, “Your skin smells nice” and shrug when I abruptly pulled it away.
There’s a complete disregard for personal space on the London Underground (and other forms of public transport all over the country), we all know that, but there’s something about the summer months that kicks unwanted male attention into overdrive. Suddenly the need for us all to squish onto the Tube during rush hour becomes an insidious way for a man to brush up against us. My once perfectly calm walk along the main road to the train station is now disturbed by honking cars and heads out of windows, all because, as we’re left to conclude, more of my body is on display.
When once I would have balked at the thought of putting on a skirt and choose to layer my dresses with an oversized jacket – all in the bid of hiding my figure to lessen the threat of catcalls – I’ve grown into a woman that truly loves summer, and summer dressing. The heat may leave me flustered but when the sun is on my skin, I can finally crack out the dresses, bardots and crop tops that have been left to gather dust at the back of my wardrobe. And you know what? Nothing feels better.
It’s not that the sexual harassment, catcalling and general male disregard of my personal space goes away when I embrace this attitude. It’s just that I’ve had to learn that unfortunately, regardless of what I wear, some men will always be intent on inflicting themselves on women. As news of multiple sexual assaults and crimes against women are reported each day, the reality is a bleak one and we can’t make light of this behaviour. For many women like me, the summer is tainted by the heightened awareness that our bodies continue to be sexualised by male strangers around us.
When childish conversations around female nipples and sheer clothing still persist, while men can get away with going topless on their daily jogs without comment, is there any wonder that men still continue to treat a woman’s body as an object to be stared at or critiqued right to our faces?
The easy thing in this summer fashion scenario would be to layer up, hide and cower away from the intrusive eyes that follow women around when living in a bustling city. But, as I’ve learnt, there’s more power in wearing what you want because you feel good in it and not letting an ignorant man make you feel otherwise.
And it’s just set to get hotter this week so if one thing’s for certain, I’ll be wearing my goddamn dress.
If you have experienced sexual harassment, visit Victim Support for help and advice.
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