"My daughter and her female classmates were asked not to wear skirts, because it might be a provocation to the men in the streets"


I find it upsetting to observe how influential the patriarchy still is, and how difficult it is to change our institutional system. I know change takes time, but for a society in the middle of the #metoo era, it at times looks as if we do not want to change.

This month a Dutch TV-figure publicly declared a rape he committed decades ago. His male peers around the table received his story with jokes. A story that held an uncomfortable level of detail, too painful to even make up. I am not sure if I was more disgusted by the story of the rape, or the lack of appropriate response by the men at the table. And this week, after pausing the TV-show for a few weeks, this ‘role model’ is back on TV to continue his show, as if nothing happened. The TV-show is commercially important for the channel – that therefore chooses not to take appropriate response. We can only hope that advertisers will choose to respond by dropping this show from their advertisement list. If not, how do I signal to my 19-year-old son (and all his peers) that this type of behaviour is NOT tolerated by our society any longer, if society chooses not to respond?

Equally surprising was the request that my 15-year-old daughter received this week, while on a school trip to the south of France. Even though it was fantastic weather, she and her female classmates were asked not to wear skirts. Their summer dresses may be a provocation for the men in the streets and may invite these men to behave inappropriately. The boys in the class did not receive a similar request to not wear shorts. And the men on the streets obviously were not addressed at all. Instead of changing the system, and support the girls to be strong, independent and have equal rights to choose what they wear, the school chose to ask the girls to change their behaviour. But the girls did nothing wrong! 

Does profitability trump decency and equality? Is it simply easier to ask the women to change? Did we not choose to leave that behind? How refreshing was it that the municipality of Utrecht chose to call out inappropriate remarks from men on the street. Not to be rude to those men, but to create awareness among them on how the women may feel, while being yelled at. A policy action aimed to change society – specifically the part of society that misbehaves. We really cannot keep giving abusers an escape, and keep asking the women to change. #MenToo!

Mindel van de Laar, director of the dual career PhD programme in Governance and Policy Analysis (GPAC2) of UNU-MERIT/Maastricht Graduate School of Governance

Author: Redactie

Photo: archive Mindel van de Laar

Tags: mindel


Roberta Haar

Very well said, Mindel! I will share your column with my sons.

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