Clothing, for women in India, is a very integral part of their lives as compared to men. Indian women, today, is highly exposed to the outside world as they get educated, learn technology, go abroad, interact with different cultures and imbibe things from them. The Internet has made it possible for girls to access different fashions across the world – what’s trending, what’s HOT and what’s NOT, what will make you the most envied among women and the most desirable among men at the party. But does it really define a woman? Does that 6 meter saree or 14 inch skirt really tell everything about the person inside that cloth?
The other day, I had a debate with one of my female friends on the connection between revealing clothes and crime against women. One set of argument was – women should be dressed modestly all the times since revealing clothes can excite men and invite sexual abuse to them. Prevention is better than cure. The counter-argument was – women should have the freedom of clothing and if men get aroused by sexy clothing, it is for men to change their mindset and stop treating women as sex objects. Of course, it will take few decades, but that’s the right way.
Obviously, it ended without consensus as both the parties stood their ground.
But the debate prompted me to research more on the topic and find out what others think about the issue – especially women. Is it really true that there is a link between revealing clothes and the assaults to women? Do they really prompt men to make sexual advances to women? I received many responses – mainly from my close friends and a LinkedIn group “India Leadership Network” where I posted the question. There were only some of the responses that were objective in nature as well as brought up a fresh perspective on the topic. So, let me start with this.
Why Sexy Looks?
But before we latch upon the link per se, let us ask ourselves – what exactly is revealing? Who decides what to reveal and what not to? A lot of times this is a very subjective term.
Women in India have always been judged on the basis of their appearance, statistics and body language instead of intelligence, etiquettes and inner self. Indian society has traditionally looked down upon dark, less curvy, culturally dressed girls to the extent to title them “bahenji” (similar to old women). You will hear every 50 something lady telling her son or nephew to bring a “sundar si bahu” (beautiful daughter-in-law) or “chand si bahu” but nobody will ask him to bring “samajdar bahu” (intelligent daughter-in-law). And media adds up to it by portraying less beautiful (cosmetically) women as less confident, less desirable, frowned upon (see any Fair & Lovely commercials) while they portray fair, dressed in short skirts, curvy women as attractive, confident, assertive, powerful (professionally) and desirable.
So, when all such things are happening around, women have no choice but to adapt themselves to the situation. Club this with women’s own aspirations to look beautiful and desirable. All this amounts the situation we are in today.
Where is the Change Required?
I would like to mention here a conversation from the first episode of second season of the TV series “House-MD”. For those who don’t know “House MD” – it is a medical drama centered around a diagnostician Dr. House (the central character) and his team that solves cases through medical diagnostics (one case per episode). This episode was centered around a guy on a death sentence, who suddenly finds himself rushed into the hospital by House as he is diagnosed hypoxic after his heart starts beating abnormally high enough to pump air instead of blood. Going through a series of brainstorming on the symptoms and the causes, House finds out that the prisoner (convicted for four murders – his girlfriend, a rival gang member inmate, a guard and a second inmate) is suffering from pheochromocytoma – a rare form of tumor that sits on top of the adrenal gland and randomly dumps adrenaline into the body. After the prisoner is sent back to jail post-treatment, Foreman (Diagnostician in House’s Team) walks into House’s cabin to have a word with him. It goes something like this:
Foreman: Looks like they got the pheo out successfully. So, what now?
House: Clarence goes back to death row.
Foreman: Just like that?
House: He’s cured.
Foreman: That tumor caused random shots of adrenalin, which obviously led to the rage attacks that made him become a murderer in the first place
House: My God, you’re right!!! Let’s call the surgeons, we gotta save that tumor. Put it on the witness stand.
Foreman: We could testify at Clarence’s appeal.
House: You smell that? I think that is the stink of hypocrisy. You wouldn’t even consider the notion that Clarence’s social upbringing was responsible for what he became, but now you’re sprinting to the witness stand to blame everything on a little tumor.
Foreman: A person’s upbringing and their biology are completely different.
House: Yeah. Because you only overcame one of them. Well, let’s just give Clarence a free pass. Which is probably gonna piss off all those other pheo sufferers who managed to control their rage attacks and become lawyers, race car drivers, or even doctors. Removing that tumor puts a stop to those random shots of adrenaline. IT DOESN’T ABSOLVE HIM.
STOP BLAMING THE VICTIM
Taking the analogy, the moment you try to justify (even by 1%) the sexual abuse by one man by blaming the woman for her clothing, it is gonna piss off millions of those men who see the same but control their arousals. And it is gonna piss off those men, even more, who respect these women. While the attitude of blaming the victim for the assault is not just deplorable, it will also encourage more assaults from the people who have, till now, controlled themselves.
In India, police’s growing apathy towards the victims of rape and molestations was evident in recent instances of Noida police disclosing the identity of the 15 year old rape victim (which is a punishable offence) and Gurgaon police proposing a blanket curfew for working women in the city after 8PM. In a recent sting operation of Tahelka, 17 senior cops of over a dozen police stations across Gurgaon, Noida, Ghaziabad and Faridabad were caught on spy camera blaming everything from fashionable or revealing clothes to having boyfriends to visiting pubs to consuming alcohol to working alongside men as the main reasons for instances of rape. Sunil Kumar, SHO – Ghazipur – NCR was quoted, “Go to a pub in GK, South Delhi, where there is free entry for girls. You’ll find those who want to do ‘it’ for thousand rupees. They’ll drink and also have sex with you. But the day someone uses force, it’s rape”. And it is not just the police. In the Park Street rape case, it was the Chief Minister herself (in spite of being a woman) who shrugged off the incident as a plot to defame her government – though she had to swallow her own words after the police cracked the case. However, molestation of the key witness of Park Street rape case, right in front of the public, raises many questions on the state of women in this country.
Public endorsement to such victim-blaming will only encourage molesters/rapists and also police to throw such cases on a random corner of their file room. Worst, it might end up encouraging those who have held back themselves out of fear of law.
Quoting one of the respondents, “Man, by his innate psychology, can be judgmental of a woman depending on dressing.” Research by Avigail Moore of Journal of International Women’s Studies revealed the gender-based attribution gap wherein men perceived sexy clothing as an invitation for sex while women just want to look attractive and desirable, completely rejecting the seduction purpose. This is a very important discovery that answers many questions. The same study also revealed that there is no correlation between revealing dressing style and the possibility of sexual abuse.
It is evident if we look into some of the recent cases. In a shocking incident, a 22 year old was sent to life imprisonment after being convicted of raping a “77 year old” woman in Delhi. The court, in its verdict, specified that the case was a glaring example of how “no woman is safe, whatever her age”. In March 2012, a 23-year old mother was gang raped by seven men when she was coming back with her brother from work. These are the extreme cases of crime against women. This Sunday, one of the key witnesses of Park Street rape case of Kolkata, was molested in public. Last month, acid was thrown on a promising volley ball player in Rohtak by unidentified men who had been teasing girls “regularly” and the victim being one of them. In April 2012, two men barged into the house of two minor girls in UP and threw acid on them because they protested eve teasing.
These cases clearly indicate that the style of clothing has nothing to do with crimes against women. Society needs to start judging women by her behavior, intelligence and values instead of outer appearance and clothes. For this, women themselves have to stand up first.
TRAIN TO DEFEND, NOT TO SUBMIT
The fact is that majority of these women precisely know when to dress revealingly and when NOT to. In occasions when they dress up like that, they are more often than not, in a group of close and trustworthy friends. And they do carry stuff like swiss knife, ginger sprays or any protective gear which will help them defend themselves. And this is what is precisely required. Making a girl wear so-called modest clothes will only make her submissive and encourage abusers to take advantage any time they want.
The biggest irony of the issue is that it the society itself that created the need for women to look SEXY and now the same society is condemning women because they look SEXY.