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What was she wearing?

Why should it matter?

“According to a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations last 2015, in a row of five women, three of you have been sexually harassed; and all five of you have experienced being catcalled or wolf whistled. Little of it matters if the sun is out or not. Least of all what these people are wearing. But you already know this. Almost every woman knows this. And that is why you are here today.”

— Risa Hontiveros, woman, senator, activist, at the opening ceremonies of the Don’t Tell Me How To Dress exhibit

Let’s see, what do I have today? Meeting in the office. Lunch with the boss in the other office. Meeting with the client. Hmm, well, it’s just a short walk to their office. I guess I can still go with the skirt and the heels. There’s dinner with the girls too.

Oh good, I caught the bus to work. Dammit, why is that guy looking at me that way? Where’s my shawl? I might as well cover up. It’s cold anyway.

Oh yay, my favorite part of the commute: the walk from the bus stop to the office. Past the construction site. As if the dust and the noise weren’t bad enough, there are those workers too. And I’m in a skirt today. Just great. Not that it matters. They’ll jeer and whistle no matter what I wear.

Taken by Regina Layug Rosero

Well, I’m here now. Gotta get to that meeting.

Dammit, the creepy guy from IT is here. I forgot he’d be here. He always looks at me like I’m meat. Dammit, he’s going to look at my legs. I just know it. He’ll look at my legs and say something gross, like “Hey, you’re so sexy today!” Dammit, dammit, dammit. I wonder if Marie can cover for me in the meeting. But Annie won’t like that, this is my project. Crap. Okay, fine, I just hope the donuts distract Creepy IT Guy.

God, I’m so glad that meeting is over. Okay, he didn’t say anything, but I could feel him looking at me.

Taken by Regina Layug Rosero

Okay, gotta run to the other office. Oh crap, Sleazy HR Manager is at his desk. I really wish there were another route to the boss’s office. Maybe I can pretend to text someone on my phone. Let’s hope he ignores me.

Of course he doesn’t ignore me. No, Mr. Sleazy, I do not need a bodyguard to cross the hallway to the boss’s office, thank you. No, I do not need you to carry my stuff, I’m perfectly capable of carrying this laptop. Keep your grubby hands off me.

Why, oh why, did I wear this skirt today?

I have just enough time to send out a few emails before I dash off to the client. Okay, here we go. Uhm, wait, who is that? Is that a new guard? Where did the old guy go? The old guard was nice! Dammit, please don’t be a creep, new guard. Please, please. “Good afternoon ma’am, please sign the logbook. I’ll call the office.”

Okay, he hasn’t ogled my chest. He hasn’t looked me from head to toe. He hasn’t stared at my legs. Maybe he’s a nice guard after all.

I go to my meeting. Client is happy. I’m happy. He has more projects for us. My boss will be happy. The meeting runs long, because there are so many new projects to discuss. It’s dark by the time I get to the lobby, and I open the app on my phone so I can get a ride.

© United Nations/Martin Nanawa

“Waiting for a car, ma’am?” The guard asks. I’m starting to feel a little creeped out, all alone in the lobby, nothing but deserted street beyond the doors. I pretend I didn’t hear him, and I’m staring at my phone. My car arrives. Guard rushes out after me, and opens the car door. “Come back soon, ma’am.” He sounds a little too friendly. I mutter thanks and get into the car, holding my skirt so I don’t accidentally give him a show. It’s hard to tell if he’s being friendly-friendly or creepy-friendly.

Dinner with the girls, thank God. Jenny had a creepy driver during her ride to dinner. Amy has an officemate who keeps asking her out, no matter how many times she tells him she has a boyfriend.

And you know what? It’s got nothing to do with what we wear.

It’s not what we wear. Don’t tell us how to dress. Don’t ask what she was wearing. Don’t ask what we were doing in that part of town. Don’t ask why we were still out at that time. It doesn’t matter.

There are women who are all covered up, and they still get catcalled. There are girls wearing pants and long-sleeved shirts, and they still get felt up and groped. There are women and girls in the most unflattering, loose-fitting uniforms, and they get raped, murdered.

© United Nations/Martin Nanawa

Don’t tell us how to dress. Tell men not to rape. Don’t tell us what to do. Tell men not to catcall or wolf whistle. Don’t tell us where we shouldn’t go. Tell men not to grope or harass. Don’t tell me to pick a different route to school or work. Tell men to respect women.

Don’t tell me how to dress.

“#DontTellMeHowToDress is an explicit echo of what has long been true: that women are so much more than what society has said we are. Women empowerment in this day and age still, sadly, offends people. Many still do not understand the point. In a time where the woman is finally truly emerging and retaking her space, #DontTellMeHowToDress lets people know that silence will never again be an option, sisters and brothers always looking out after each other. We stand firm and unwavering,” said Hontiveros at the exhibit.

#DontTellMeHowToDress is a traveling exhibit featuring the clothes that people were wearing when they were sexually harassed or assaulted.

The 25th of every month is Orange Day, a day to take action to raise awareness and prevent violence against women and girls. UNiTE to End Violence against Women is a campaign managed by UN Women and UNFPA. Initiated and led by the UNiTE campaign Global Youth Network, Orange Day calls upon activists, governments and UN partners to mobilize people and highlight issues relevant to preventing and ending violence against women and girls.