The mini skirt: fashion crime or symbol of sexual freedom? | ActionAid UK

This week, reports of women stripped in the streets of Nairobi started circulating online. Their crime? Wearing a mini skirt.

Worse still, the victims were protesting their right to wear – you guessed it – a mini skirt. Or anything else they want, when and wherever they choose. Stripping women for wearing allegedly ‘indecent’ clothing doesn’t just happen in Kenya. We’ve seen it in Uganda, Malawi and Egypt, to name a few.

So it got me thinking, what’s so offensive about the mini skirt? And why are some people so threatened by it?

Twiggy dancing on Make A Gif

Ancient miniskirts

Skirts it seems have always been a way of making a public statement.

The skirt itself is the second oldest garment known to man – predated only by loin cloths. For hundreds of years, a long skirt was a statement of wealth and prestige because fabric was so expensive.

Reconstruction of one of the Taureador frescos at Knossos showing a female athlete wearing a mini skirt.

Photo: WikiCommons user Lapplaender.

But some scholars believe that miniskirts were common in the earliest civilisations. Archaeologists have unearthed ancient mini-skirted figurines in some of Europe’s oldest villages (5400-4700 B.C) and ancient Egyptian frescos show female acrobatic dancers wearing mini skirts in a show of power and daring.

The ‘feminist’s favourite’

Mary Quant, who brought the mini skirt to London in 1964, said “a mini skirt was a way of rebelling”.  She considered it practical and liberating, allowing women comfort, “with the ability to run for a bus.”

Mary Quant fashion show on Make A Gif

The bottom edge of the skirt had to sit halfway up the thigh and fall no more than four inches below the bum.

In an era of revolution and change, the mini skirt had a ‘marmite’ effect. Some saw it as symbolising empowerment and independence, others vulnerability and a desire to sexually please men.

When I asked my mum and aunties how they felt, their response was unified: “ever so fashionable and ever so popular with the boys”.

Sexual aggression

Perhaps it’s this mixture of sexual and female empowerment that so threatens certain men the world over? The concept of women owning their sexual power challenges a culture where men routinely call the shots.

fT5kLY on Make A Gif, Animated Gifs

Some governments have been so threatened by the mini skirt that they’ve banned it under the guise of ‘protecting’ women.

The ‘Slut Walk’, a global movement of protest marches, started in response to a Toronto Police officer saying “women should avoid dressing like sluts” as a precaution against unwanted sexual attention.

Their message is clear: Rape should never be explained or excused. Woman should have control over their own bodies without fear of sexual aggression or judgement.

Street harassment

Yesterday I received a video from Kenya, made undercover by women on the streets of Nairobi. In it, they documented their daily struggle against street harassment simply getting the bus to work. None were mini skirted.

So mini skirts or not, what it comes down to is control. Control over women’s bodies, women’s choices and women’s freedom of movement.

This has to end. Women being able to decide what to wear, on their own terms is a first step, whether that’s a short skirt or a black bag. It’s all about choice.

Now… where’s my mini skirt?