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How Women Are Subject To Unjust Double Consciousness

By Eliza Shaw

Our society expects women and girls to act a certain way around men in order to remain safe. There have been too many instances where women are beaten up or assaulted based solely on what they were wearing.

Double consciousness, coined by W.E.B. DuBois, is when minorities must constantly remain aware and alert of their behavioral scripts. One script they must follow is living their life like any other American citizen. The other, however, is that they must take in the external opinions of prejudiced citizens and notions around them into consideration. In other words, they must always look over their shoulder to make sure they’re safe and understand they may not be able to get away with the same things that more privileged members of a society can (Conley). 

I have experienced this around me too many times. I’ve seen women–– even young women my age–– wearing dresses or jeans and getting called out or bothered by random men on the street. In no way is this acceptable or fair, but it is one of the reasons that women must display a sense of double consciousness and general awareness.

Just as African-Americans should be able to go to a supermarket without feeling like others are watching them and expecting that they will do something illegal, women should feel comfortable and confident walking down the street. Women and girls should be able to go out on the street wearing whatever they want without being judged and more importantly bothered by men around them. Unfortunately, however, that is not the reality.

If W.E.B. Dubois were still alive today, I believe he would look at women similarly to the way he saw African-Americans. While there is clearly a difference in the struggles and fates of women versus African-Americans, I feel women have become at the forefront of many movements recently that have attempted to dispute this double consciousness and inequality. With phrases such as “how I dress does not mean yes” and “my ‘slutty’ dress does not mean yes”, women are starting to speak up about the ever-present issue of sex without consent based on what a woman is wearing.

Without double consciousness, a woman might not take into consideration that many men are watching them and ultimately putting them in harm’s way. With double consciousness, a woman is aware that a man may assault her and she is therefore careful and always present. A woman knows not to enter an alley by herself, walk alone at night, or get into a car alone with a man in these situations. The way many men walk the streets with confidence and little worry that a woman or other citizen will assault them is unfortunately not the reality for women of today’s age.

There is an unwritten and often unspoken expectation that men will gawk over women wearing clothes that are deemed revealing, “slutty”, or inappropriate. Often times this gawking is toward a stranger. At this point, most women feel a strong sense of fright and terror for their life and well-being. It has come to a point in this society that women are used to men catcalling them and in some cases, feel offended when they don’t get called out because they think something is wrong with themselves or their appearance. In reality, something is wrong with the men who do the assaulting but unfortunately, that is the world in which we are currently living.

Do what you can to fight back, whether that be in the “front line” or “backstage”. Until a proper solution is discovered, women will have to continue putting W.E.B. DuBois’ theory into action and be aware that they must act a certain way to stay safe from men on the street.


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Writers of the Boston University chapter of Her Campus.
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