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Clothing has meaning

Matt Kaufmann | Friday, April 8, 2011

Dear Anne (“‘Bold, risqué, leggings as pants,'” (Apr. 6),

You’re right. That girl probably didn’t think how best to disrespect herself when she made her clothing selection on the day she had that fateful encounter with Kevin Brainard. However, I’m sure she thought something.

Consider the following scenarios. First, you’re in the dining hall and see someone dressed in a t-shirt and sweatpants. You might guess from that attire and their slightly tousled hair that this person just woke up. Second, you’re heading to the stadium on a home football day and see another student wearing one of those infamous “Muck Fichigan” shirts. You’d probably assume that this particular student doesn’t care too much for our opponent at that day’s game. Third, you’re on your way to class and see someone dressed in a suit and tie. Since it’s Thursday morning, they must be on their way to an interview. In all of these scenarios, you made a judgment about someone based on their clothing. How dare you?

Actually, in many cases you’d be perfectly justified in making assumptions about someone based on their clothing. After all, many different groups of people have signature outfits or uniforms designed to easily identify their members. Ours is a visual culture, and we get most of our information from visual shorthand. From bathroom signs to the crucifix, visual cues give us all kinds of information. The perhaps unfortunate truth is that in our culture, revealing clothing is a sign of “sexiness” or promiscuity.

Before you accuse me of facilitating sexual assault, let me clarify my point further. Everyone has the right to wear whatever clothing they see fit. You also have the responsibility to be cognizant of the messages that clothing may send, and others have the right to interpret those messages in whatever way makes sense to them. That said, this right does not extend to physical action. Unwanted advances in any form, be it verbal, physical or otherwise, are always unacceptable. Being at fault is not the same thing as understanding how dressing a certain way may attract unwanted attention from unscrupulous individuals.

Matt Kaufmann


Keenan Hall

Apr. 7