Monifa Bandele

    Hoodies and Miniskirts

    Posted March 27th, 2012 by

    Last month, an armed Sanford, FL neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman followed, confronted and shot Trayon Martin AFTER being told by a 911 dispatcher to stay in his car until police arrive.  Trayvon Martin was on his way home from buying candy at a store during halftime of the NBA All-Star game. Zimmerman, who admits to shooting the unarmed boy in the chest, called the police claiming Trayvon Martin looked “suspicious.” Since that tragic night, the media, investigators, and the public have dissected many details surrounding the killing, while Martin’s mother and family wait for answers and justice.

    One narrative emerging from the national discourse surrounding this tragedy is that Trayvon Martin’s hooded sweatshirt made him suspicious — that somehow his attire made him a criminal. And worse, that criminals deserve what they get, including being murdered.

    This dangerous narrative, which deflects attention away from perpetrators, puts us all at risk of becoming victims. It is a toxic mix of stereotypes, assumptions, xenophobia, and summary judgments that fuel ignorance by blaming victims for the atrocities committed upon them. I call it the “miniskirt syndrome.”

    Victim blaming is not only an attempt to protect and defend individual suspects, it is also used by society in general to deflect blame away from the wholesale systems of racism and sexism, which we all are responsible for dismantling. Victim blaming allows systems that oppress members of marginalized communities to continue because it focuses on the innocuous actions of individuals in a particular incident, primarily the victim. This formula for inaction says – “that person would not have been killed if only they had…” Never mind racism. Never mind sexism. “That victim was reckless. They made poor decisions.”

    Sound familiar?

    Women victims of sexual assault are frequently  scrutinized about what their behavior and attire were prior to being assaulted. “Had she been drinking?” ”Was she flirting?” And worse, “Was she wearing one of those provocative, deadly miniskirts?!”

    Last Friday, FOX TV news anchor, Geraldo Rivera stated, “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” [1] That same day gender justice activist, Byron Hurt convened hundreds of teen-aged boys to watch the anti-sexist documentary Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, discuss media literacy, and raise awareness about Trayvon Martin. An NBC news reporter covering the film screening and workshop mischaracterized the event when he reported that organizers were attempting to “train the young men on how NOT to become another Trayvon Martin.” [2]  Again, the idea being that Martin caused his own profiling and murder. What the reporter failed to realize is that the group in need of training are 28 year-old neighborhood watchmen on how not to become George Zimmerman. Ironically, in his talk with the boys, Hurt teaches that male abusers and bystanders deflect blame onto female victims of violence in order to protect themselves and to sleep at night.

    Truth may very well equal insomnia, but it is a more noble disorder than the miniskirt syndrome. Perhaps if we are all sleepless at night like the mother of Trayvon Martin, it will move us away from victim blaming and into action.


    [1] – Huffington Post

    [2] – NBC News


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    May 9, 2012 at 8:57 pm by Beaverton Criminal Defense Attorney

    Good attorney information. Kudos to you for writing this. I will come here again for more


    April 1, 2012 at 10:19 pm by Judy

    My 18 year old grandson recently walked home late in the evening wearing a hoodie. We were all helping his mom move into a new place and he went up to get treats for all of us. He is tall and bi-racial… and an adorable teddy bear… but he may APPEAR threatening to a frightened man who is just itching to use extreme force. When this happened, that’s all I could think about was the evening two weeks earlier when my grandson had walked up to the store to get treats for his family. He was equally threatening in appearance and equally innocent in intention. Whoever has any excuses for this perpetrator should really look deeper into their own fears and try to overcome their ignorance. Remember, ignorance is not stupidity; I am not calling anyone stupid. I am just suggesting that people need to become more enlightened. This was an innocent boy vs a much larger, much more mature, armed man pumped full of adrenalin and ready to strike. The young man did not have a chance to grow up and show anyone what kind of man he might have become, and that is tragic for us all.


    March 28, 2012 at 10:43 am by wendy webber

    Ps: Actually I wish I had written the end to my previous note like this:Any person who thinks that viewing the top of a thong at the waistband of a persons jeans, or that someone who wears a miniskirt etc…provokes a person to rape…needs serious therapy. It is not simply men who have skewed thinking.


    Anonymous Reply:

    @wendy webber, I happen to agree with Chris’ point. We all have our rights to express ourselves the way we want. But I also have a right to choose not to express myself or to demand my daughter not express herself in the clothes she may choose to wear in order to protect her reputation, or worse, her safety. To not be discerning in situations where unsavory characters might linger and target myself or my family is stupid. To argue against that on the basis that I have a right to express myself is naive.


    Laura O'Malley Reply:

    @wendy webber, wow! Wendy just diagnosed a person who posted as needing serious therapy. I guess to throw that statement out must make Wendy feel better about herself but is one of the most sinister ways of moderating a discussion of one of the most serious topics we are facing today. The fact that she had to attack another woman who posted on this site in a similar manner that men attribute to us as being hysterical or irrational concerns me for it’s assault on another woman’s mental health. We all need to lighten up.


    March 28, 2012 at 7:10 am by wendy webber

    Oh come on folks….the neighborhood watch person was suppose to stay in his car until police arrived!!!!! What is so difficult to understand about that directive? Stop trying to justify his ill informed stereotypical behavior. Pot residue, trouble in school,break-in tools, etc is info. that was found out AFTER Trayvon was killed.Does any of that info justify killing someone? NO,it simply muddies the waters.He was a young man who is now without a future.His family is now without him because an adult did not follow orders? Would any of you out there feel so smug if it had been your child?Your daughter rolled her skirt up to be mini length on her way to school (I use to do that and we are talking late 60′s here)and she is raped…you would tell her that she deserved it? OMG….I have a “hoodie”, several actually, and I wear them. Should I expect to be shot for wearing it? Do we each have to justify what we wear so others do not hurt us? How absurd….blaming the victim is so old and outdated.I have worked tirelessly for many yrs, in various capacities, to help change such backward notions.Maybe if we allow this type of blaming to continue each and everyone one of us will have someone to scapegoat for our behavior?
    That is simply not a good way to roll model.To Chris….are you equating the cognitive skills of a lion with that of a human? Meat is food and that is about instinct/hunger…rape etc…is not provoked by what we wear except in the mind of a predator but then they do not take responsibility for self. This might surprise you but rape is about power and control. Any man who “thinks” that seeing the top of a thong is a come on…needs to do some serious work with a therapist.


    March 27, 2012 at 9:26 pm by Chris

    It is tragic that situations like in Florida occur. However the Trayvon Martin case shakes out, Monifa is foolish to think that hoodies and mini-skirts don’t increase the likelihood of the wearer of the clothing becoming a victim. There are certain colors and styles of clothes you don’t wear in LA without being shot at because a gang thinks you are a rival; this is no different. Parents should communicate to their kids that the clothes and styles they wear send a message to the community they interact with. Society has its nut cases running throughout the streets; the less attention you draw to yourself, the less chance you will get hurt. Sad, but true. What do you think would happen if Lady Gaga wore her meat dress to clean a lion’s cage? Walk through a strange neighborhood that has been recently vandalized late in the evening with a hoodie on and tell me you don’t draw attention. Wear a mini skirt that shows your thong off at a frat party and tell me you are not sending the wrong message. It is wrong that someone might violate your safety, but is it too much to ask for a little wisdom and discretion?


    Tammy Reply:

    Thank you for so clearly articulating why it’s dangerous to make assumptions about people. I might send a message that I like wearing mini skirts, or thongs, or hoodies, or the color red. It’s called personal expression. That doesn’t mean I’ve communciated I’m about to attack you, or that I want to have sex with you. In fact, your analogy about the lion implies that men have no control over their impulses. (“Sorry for raping you, lady. I couldn’t help myself, I just got too excited.”) That reflects more poorly on men (and the society that promotes/supports that kind of thinking)than it does on any individual and what they choose to wear.


    March 27, 2012 at 9:20 pm by I. Martinez

    I’m so torn by the miniskirt syndrome. Yes, we are responsible for unpacking victim blaming, for dismantling a system that focuses on attacking the victim rather than the perpetrator. But….. I’m still not going to let my daughter leave the house dressed “like that” or my son looking like someone white people are afraid of. Parents cannot help asking “what if…” when something terrible happens to their child. I know I would be tormented by the question “what if he had not been wearing what he was wearing?” It’s difficult to find the balance between activism and prudence, especially when it comes to our loved ones.


    March 27, 2012 at 9:10 pm by Truth

    The truth will set us free. More info is coming out that is painting a different picture of Tayvon then the 5 year old picture of a still innocent looking 12 year old boy. The 17 yo Tayvon was a drug user who has been thrown out of school. Was also found with tools to break in and a bag of female jewelry he possibly stole (at school).

    I don’t think people that are wearing hoodies in support actually had all the data of who this young man was and all the troubles that he may have gone through. Seems we should wait and get all the facts before we make a judgement.


    Suzanne Reply:


    Did George Zimmerman know all that when he shot Trayvon? Is being caught with a baggie with pot residue in it a capital offense now? Did you know the “burglary equipment” that Trayvon had was a screw driver? I have several screw drivers, am I liable to be shot?

    He stalked and shot an unarmed person. The police should have made an arrest then and there and let the prosecutors decide whether or not to press charges.


    March 27, 2012 at 4:53 pm by Martha

    I can’t help but wonder… What if this had happened instead? …

    Tayvon, sees the older, larger Zimmerman walk toward him after being followed previously by him in his car. What if he understably felt that this man was approaching him with intent to harm, so Tayvon pushed George Zimmerman really hard and he fell backwards on pavement, was knocked unconscious, and later died. Then Tayvon would be the one who had used the “stand your ground law” to defend himself.

    Who was more likely to feel threatened here, the 17-year-old kid feeling pursued, or the 200 lb. 28-year-old man pursuing him?


    wendy webber Reply:

    Good Morning Folks, Contrary to your belief, I was not attacking or picking on anyone.I have found that as folks grow up the majority of people alter their thinking, attitudes, and behavior, in various ways. Today,I do not think the way I did when I was 20.I have worked with women for over 30 yrs in the helping professions and I have worked with the damage that stereotypical thinking and blaming the victim created within them and in their day-to-day living. So then, I am to assume that you are agreeing with the comparison between the cognitive capabilities of a lion and that of a human being? SO, as women we are the gatekeepers and we control what others may or may not do to us by what we wear? Those conclusions are simply fallacies in thinking.Therapy was not mentioned as a negative or a put down to Chris or anyone else. Unless going to a have a cast put on a broken leg is a negative activity? Everyone of us has had “blind spots” in our attitudes/thoughts.It is simply a part of the human condition.I have worked with women from the ages of 13-70 and I would never in a million yrs even think that they “deserved” being raped. Many of the victims I worked with blamed themselves for what happened and often times did not seek much help for themselves as a result.They blamed themselves because that is what society has taught them to do.If someone cannot control themselves “due to what another is wearing” then they are truly fit to be out running around??? The problem is in the mind of the predator NOT the victim.Of course, you can tell your daughter what to wear and tell her that she will be safe if she dresses like such and such BUT the truth is..that is an illusion.Many neighborhoods across the country have had crime within them….why would someone simply assume because an African-American youth is in a particular neighborhood that he is getting ready to commit a crime? That thinking is skewed,stereotypical, and extremely dangerous. Actually Laura, you seem to be the one doing the attacking here.Please tell me how do we “lighten up” when it comes to issues such as murder,stereotyping, and rape? PS: Therapy is a possible alternative when it comes to modifying some of our faulty “thinking”,it is not akin to a diagnosis of leprosy.



    1. Update: Justice for Trayvon Martin | Mothertalkers

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