Is the Hoodie the New Miniskirt?

Trayvon Martin's hooded sweatshirt is just the latest piece of clothing used to justify senseless violence.

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A cut-out picture of Trayvon Martin is held aloft by marchers on Times Square Sunday, July 14, 2013, in New York, as they gathered for a protest against the acquittal of volunteer neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman in the 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.

Is the hoodie the new miniskirt? Of all the politically – and emotionally – loaded details of the George Zimmerman case, the matter of Trayvon Martin's hoodie may be the most telling.

Martin, after all, was not just a black teenager walking in a gated community where he did not live. He was wearing a hoodie – which, Zimmerman's defenders note, is somehow akin to carrying a machete in terms of sheer provocation.

Fox's Geraldo Rivera apparently thinks so, noting that "if you dress like a thug, people are going to treat you like a thug." And singer Ted Nugent, who is prone to provocative behavior and comments himself, called Martin a "Skittles hoodie boy," referring also to Martin's recent candy purchase.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should the Justice Department pursue a case against George Zimmerman?]

It sounds bizarre to those of us who have worn hoodies (when you grow up in Buffalo, a hooded sweatshirt is just another necessary element to the three layer rule of keeping warm and dry during the winter, and also the fall and spring). When I was a kid, the style was to wear a blue hooded sweatshirt underneath an open denim jacket (how cool were we?!!).

And before the whole Martin–Zimmerman case, the most prominent hoodie–wearer, at least to football fans, was New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. He's irritating, to be sure, and has even acquired the nickname "hoodie," but no one has suggested he's a symbol of violence or crime because of his clothing.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the Trayvon Martin tragedy.]

But women get it, because we have been told from an early age that what we wear could get us assaulted – and that if we are assaulted, people will think it's our fault because of what we were wearing. If a female is walking down the street in a miniskirt (or whatever someone else might find provocative) and is sexually assaulted, part of the equation is – what was she wearing? And why was she wearing that? What other possible reason could she have for wearing a miniskirt other than that she was inviting rape or sexual assault? The old analogy still holds: would a defense attorney rip apart a male victim of a mugging who had been walking down a dark street wearing a natty suit and expensive watch, practically asking to be robbed?

The underlying premise – that wearing revealing clothing or a hoodie automatically makes one suspect, and therefore complicit in one's own attack – is troubling. What's even more offensive is the idea that some Taliban–type control group gets to decide how certain groups of people should dress in order to stay safe. Sometimes a hoodie is just a hoodie.

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