Don't get me wrong, my dad is totally against sexual harassment and a big part of the discussion was "What constitutes sexual harassment?" because it can be difficult for guys to understand why it's a problem when they are rarely on the receiving end. It's hard to understand the undercurrent of fear when they haven't been conditioned to expect sexual harassment/assault whenever they're out in public. Women, as a rule, are taught to always expect it and hope it doesn't happen, though we know it probably will.
This post is about a question that came up during that discussion that I've heard bounced all over the place: "But if she dresses provocatively, why wouldn't one assume it's because she wants sex? Don't some women wear revealing clothes to promote their availability?" It felt like a hard question at the time and feels like one every time I hear it. That's why I'm writing this post: because I never can get the answer out how I want when I'm having the discussion, though it seems so obvious when I think about it.
The simple answer would be that, yes, some women do wear clothing to let men know they're available or willing. But the operating word here is some. And even if that is why the woman has chosen to dress the way she has, that doesn't mean she wants sex with every male that walks by, either.
I could go on and on about that particular aspect of the question, but I want to address the assumption that this is the only reason a woman would dress provocatively in itself. Because when we assume we know what another person is ultimately trying to say with their clothing and/or appearance without bothering to listen to what the person is actually saying, we end up with a culture that not only ends up making wrong assumptions, but also one that defends rape and harassment with "Well, she was asking for it."
John Green makes it simple, "Imagine others complexly." Though he wasn't speaking to this particular issue, the sentiment applies. When we imagine others based on what we want them to be or suppose them to be, we miss out on who they really are and end up making decisions that could, at best, make us miss out on something that might have been great and, at worst, cause us to make decisions that can alter our lives and the lives of others in terrible ways.
There are a hundred reasons why any given woman may dress as conservatively or provocatively as they do on any given day. The only safe assumption to make there is that she dresses that way because she wants to dress that way. Making any further assumption without knowing or asking that person is wrong and a deeply ignorant way to go about things.
For example, when a woman wears a shirt that shows off her cleavage. That doesn't mean she wants to have sex with you or that she wants you to touch them. It doesn't mean that she's a tease or that she's just trying to get attention. She could be any of those things, but not because her shirt is low-cut. And when you assume you know why she chose that particular shirt without bothering to know her or give her the benefit of the doubt, you're the one who is in the wrong. For all you know, this was the only one of her shirts that is clean or maybe she just thinks it's cute. Maybe she just likes her cleavage and, let's be honest, she ought to because cleavage is awesome. But showing cleavage does not make her less than human and it doesn't give you the right to judge that woman or assume anything about her.
On a related note, dealing with sexual harassment and cleavage, when a woman gets upset at you for looking at her boobs, it's usually not because she doesn't want you to see that she has them. I, for one, like my boobs and don't mind that others do too. What I don't like is when you see them instead of a person. When you talk to my boobs instead of me, it's degrading and disgusting and it often brings up that undercurrent of fear that women are instilled with because we can't be sure you'll take no for an answer. We're upset because you're not talking to me, the person, you're talking to the part of me that you want to do something for you.
My point in this post is basically to point out that people act, dress, and make decisions the way they do for a plethora of reasons and when we assume that, as complete strangers, we innately know what those reasons are, we risk making some major mistakes that hurt ourselves and everyone around us. "Imagine others complexly" and let their words do the talking, not just their clothes. It's rare that we decide a man wants sex because he wore a fancy shirt, a tank top, or shorts above the knee, so let's stop assuming that the only reason a woman wears something that she likes is because she wants it. People wear what they wear because they have chosen to wear it. That is it. It's that simple.