I'm deep in discussion with a group of Berber men in Marrakesh, Morocco. We are discussing sexual harassment, and why so many men in Morocco do it.
A discussion over sexual harassment, of course, led to a discussion on clothing. These men were alluding to the very offensive suggestion that men are unable to stop themselves from sexually harassing women, because of the clothes that women wear.
They were alluding to the fact that it is somehow acceptable, to humiliate and degrade women, based on how they're dressed.
I was of course, offended.
I attempted to point out to this small group of men that under no circumstances, is it acceptable to harass and humiliate another group of people based on how they are dressed. I argued that throughout the world, there are radically different perspectives as to what constitutes 'respectable dress'. What may be considered appropriate or normal in one place, could be considered entirely unacceptable, or even offensive, in another.
'Respectable dress,' could also of course vary from family to family, and from individual to individual.
I have certainly encountered through my travels radically different understandings of how one should be dressed. I have visited very conservative countries like Iraq, Yemen and Iran where men and women are expected to entirely cover their bodies and I have also been to small jungle villages such as in the island nation of Vanuatu where the people wear practically nothing at all.
What it means to cover the body in one place, does not necessarily have the same meaning in another.
We cannot therefore assume that everyone has the same idea about 'respectability' when it comes to clothing, as we do.
I also attempted to point out to this small group of Moroccan men, that it is not acceptable to use clothing as an excuse for sexual harassment because it is highly offensive to suggest that anybody, could for any reason, 'deserve' to be caused harm.
I then pointed out that there are clothing restrictions for men as well and that surely, they would not want to be disrespected or threatened with violence or rape, just because of how they are dressed.
This time, they were offended.
They vehemently denied that in Morocco men were subject to codes of conduct regarding dress, however they were eventually forced to admit that going outside in very short shorts or a very tight sleeveless top, would not be acceptable.
As we look around the world, there are indeed many clothing restrictions for men, some that are often far more conservative than those are for women. In most parts of the world men are expected to at least cover their shoulders and their knees and in other cases, such as when going to business meeting, they should have their entire legs and arms covered.
What the difference is between these standards of dress for men and women, is that men are not threatened with rape and sexual harassment, should they not adhere to these codes.
This conversation with this small group of Moroccan men was significant because it demonstrates what is really at the heart of these codes of conduct regarding dress for women and these very violent threats that come with 'not adhering' to them.
It's about men being able to extend their control over women. Wear what I tell you to wear or else I'm entitled to sexually harass or assault you.
These Moroccan men were offended by the suggestion that they should be subject to dress controls for a good reason, because it's offensive.
It's insulting as an adult to have other adults tell you what to wear. And it's insulting to suggest that you 'deserve' a highly violent act of torture, like rape, to be perpetrated against you because of how you are dressed.
Men need to stop feeling that it is their right to tell women what to wear. Not only because it is derogatory but also because it leads to these very dangerous attitudes where men feel justified to leer at, harass or assault women.
Regardless of whether we think another's clothing is appropriate or not, we all need to keep our thoughts to ourselves. We do not have the right to decide whether somebody else is not worthy of respect and decency or not because of how they are dressed. We do not have the right to project lewd and disrespectful thoughts and opinions on others and most importantly, it is never under any circumstances, ever, acceptable to harass, degrade or physically attack another, because of what they are wearing.