Friday, 6 January 2012

Being Indian: Clothing and Rape

With discussions about women's clothing inviting trouble making the rounds, I remember an incident from a few years ago. I went out for a drink with a large group of friends. I wore a comfortable pair of old knee length shorts and a t shirt. My shorts were a bit weathered and torn and one of my friends thought it would be no big deal to slide his hands up one of the tatters. He was wrong. The same night, I neatly folded my shorts, put them away and never wore them again. They gather dust in my cupboard but I miss them. They were the most comfortable pair of shorts I owned – old, filled with memories and a gift from a friend. That night this guy thought that since my shorts were torn, I was easy. And It wasn't just him that made that connection. My then boyfriend also said “Of course, with those shorts, what did you expect?”

I'll tell you what I expect. I expect that when I wear something, or smoke a cigarette in public, or go on a night-out with just my girlfriends, I am in no way asking to be touched. I wear the kind of clothes that I do because when I look in the mirror I feel good – I feel confident, comfortable and most of all, I feel me. It is my own right to choose what I wear and how I express myself. Be it a pair of shorts, jeans, three-fourths, a bright red kurta or a silk saree. What I wear in no way translates to permission to grope me.

Yes, of course it would have made a bigger impact for me to begin this piece with an anecdote about how I got felt up in a kurta or a burkha. But the focus isn't what I'm wearing but what happened. My thigh was grazed by fingers without my consent. And the fact that I was wearing a pair of shorts shouldn't be considered as evidence in this case.

In this whole discussion about the relation between clothes and rape, where do men stand? We are assuming here that regardless of what women wear, men are like hungry dogs. Salivating over every mini-skirt and spaghetti top that passes by. We assume that men have no self control whatsoever. And with that we assume that the only way to fix the problem is by telling women what to wear.

I understand that by what I've just said, you assume that I only blame this on the mindset of men. While actually the problem lies in the way all of us think, refer and talk about the things we see. A large part of this very thinking is enforced by women - Mothers who tell their sons and daughters that women dressing a certain way Is wrong. When you publicize your judgements about a woman's clothing on to your children, you endorse molestation. It's that simple. The only way that this relation between clothing and rape is going to stop is if we stop labelling people based on what they wear. If you tell your son that a certain woman is dressed inappropriately, he will think the woman is easy and that touching her without her consent won't be wrong.

This is not a feminist issue. It is a human rights issue. Men are also groped, molested and raped. Every man I know has been groped by men and women. Nobody likes to be touched when not asked for. Touching somebody without their consent is simply an inhuman thing to do. Period.

I am forced to return to talk about sexuality. The lack of sex education in this country causes us to repress our sexuality so much that the so called “eve-teasing” is so common that it is expected. As a woman, I can safely say that I get cat calls, felt up or flashed at least once a week. That's over 50 times a year. And this is one woman's experience. And at the end of it, it doesn't matter what I'm wearing.

Today, I'm ashamed to say that I am from Bangalore City. The first city in the world to cancel SlutWalk. A global movement that was cancelled simply because the Bangalore Police succumbed to the protests from right wing groups. Instead of protecting the thousand citizens that wanted to walk for safety of their men and women, they cancelled it because right wing groups protested. What does that say about our police? That when I'm out on the streets in the night, wearing a pair of jeans and a t shirt, I will always be the victim and I will always be the cause. My safety along with so many others is compromised.

Regardless of all these people who make up the terrible world we live in, I see hope and therefore applaud the vice chancellor of Bangalore University to say that what this city needs is a change of mindset. That is what will stop victim blaming. Educate your children, let them know that nobody asks to be touched without consent – their clothes don't, their habits don't, their lifestyle doesn't. A sexual act without consent is wrong. There are no two ways about it. What we need is for people to start treating each other like human beings. Nobody asks to be raped – and most importantly their clothes don't.  


  1. Well said! Very well said indeed!!

  2. "If you tell your son that a certain woman is dressed inappropriately, he will think the woman is easy and that touching her without her consent won't be wrong.

    The problem is not in what you tell your son. The problem is what he thinks when you tell him that. The problem is that he thinks that. If you wouldn't violate yourself, why would you take all the liberty to violate someone else, simply at will. It's unexplicable why people do it and this not an effort to justify it, but to understand it if possible. People who are brought up with self respect taught don't - they know better if they do. The cheaper ones do with no psychological excuse and they sell themselves as short. In every situation apart from these, the rest is just savage god knows what. Soldiers do it during war, old senile rich men do it, fathers do it to children, husband to wives... all supposedly respected folk. It's just not right and probably can't be stopped. It can happen anywhere because of any of these reasons.

    Bottomline: We are as likely to quell the savage attitude by telling then that everybody, including themselves, can wear just what they like as much as we quell it by teaching self respect. The rest that can't be quelled is a plain disease that needs to be jailed for life.

  3. Male Perspective

    We live in this borrowed pseudo-western culture where its no longer conservative or progressive but just a mish-mash of differing world views. The perpetrators do not exist in a world of 'free love'. They're bombarded with titillating images from dawn till dusk. The posters along public roads, TVs and movies are filled with women who drop their clothing at the drop of a hat, while the women in real life are conservative, most of them anyways. Self-control among the male population is not a homogeneous trait, on the contrary, very heterogeneous. There is as much a solution to fix this unwelcome eroticism as there is to finding a solution to incessant traffic jams in our metros!

    Slutwalk - meh. YOu're just making yourself fodder to more ridicule. Best of luck anyways.

  4. I don't think I have read a better framed copy on this issue. Love it.

  5. I think the issue you really need to address is concerning this;
    "I wear the kind of clothes that I do because when I look in the mirror I feel good – I feel confident, comfortable and most of all, I feel me. It is my own right to choose what I wear and how I express myself. "
    are you sure you really feel like YOU in a pair of hotpants? or a kurta? are you sure its not years of fashion & female stereotyping.. zillions of fashion magazines telling you that "this" is what a modern, independent, "beautiful" confident woman should look like and this is what she shouldn't look like.. are you sure it's not the Rihannas, Beyonces, Tyras and Laohans you are sitting there back in your subconscious.?? What we as women first need to peel off is this kind of stereotyping wehre you have to LOOK "modern, independent, confident & cool" more than actually being these things. and who btw sets these standards to live upto?? men!! Men who are sitting behind editing tables & copy desks!! men who want you to walk around shivajinagar in a tube top & walk out of a club in a mini skirt at 12 a.m!Women have always been objectified throughout the ages.. the only difference today is we are objectifying ourselves voluntarily!

    1. I normally don't reply to comments because I write to instigate conversations on the topics I write about. But, in this case, I would like to say that I think we have the choice to define ourselves. Like Ariadne said the market doesn't create us, we create it. And I know there are many women out there who are trying to live up to the advertising image of a woman. An image that isn't even real. I have come a long way to find who I am especially because elements around me have played a large role in confusing me. But when I say that I like wearing those shorts that I have worn in so well, I do. They are comfortable and that's all that matters for me. Not if I look like Beyonce or Rihanna. When I look in the mirror I don't want to look like anyone else but me. And I'm absolutely sure of who I am. I decide that. Not the market.

  6. In reply to the comment just above mine, if "fashion trends" were to describe what people wore, then everyone would be wearing those ridiculous costumes that are displayed during fashion shows.
    Secondly, a basic knowledge of economics would tell you that demand dictates supply, not the other way round. The market does not tell me what to wear, I tell the market what I want to wear, and the suppliers provide me accordingly.

  7. the whole problem lies in the thought which when a girl gets married the bride and her family faces the pressures from her in- laws in demanding anything falling in the bracket of so called dowry...and that very girl forgets this at the time of her son's marriage when she and her family places a demand for dowry and makes the family of the bride in a state of agony..i mean why is the pressure there and this creates a relative thinking which considers a girl to be a burden.,..the check should begin here first bringing the total application of the dowry prohibition act to the fullest use and try taking a step by stating a stand to stop dowry...
    now the next part of the discussion brings out the issue that some so called people of the society comment on the women but the girls should abstain from letting them off for the selfish guys who just use them for seeking the pleasures ultimately they are getting victimised...

  8. @Ariadne
    I'm very much aware of market economics & demand & supply but the point is that You like the majority have been seriously mind invaded & conditioned to think that YOU are creating our own opinions ,likes & dislikes .. Have you heard of social conditioning?? You maybe creating this demand.. but who is telling you WHAT you should demand??If each of us humans are as unique & individualistic as we have been created then why is it that we just see scores of clones walking around carrying the same kinda bags, wearing the same kinda clothes, with the same kinda hair.. why are we a generation of clones. My point being we as women have been psychologically manipulated to believe that our degree of liberation is directly proportional to the amount of skin we display.That's why a woman in a Burkha is always assumed to be "oppressed" & the midriff baring 20 something is a PrettyYoungThing. that's why a 40 plus mom of three actually takes pride in being called something as disgusting as a "MILF"!Don't you think tons of guys & girls commenting on a girl's smoldering bikini shot on face book, calling her "haawwt"& "sexy" is not sexual objectification??!?!? or oh is that just the appreciation of her anatomy? We should do ourselves a favour by turning off the television,disposing of all the idiotic women's magazines (which set down the rules of fashion and offer 'life' counseling). A rapist is a mentally disturbed individual who is far from normal so you cant cure his disease by what you wear or don't wear... but would you cover yourself in blood when a predator's on the loose?? The media & conditioning all around is only fueling this perverted mindset & unfortunately its done by "modern" women who are voluntarily participating in the pornographic industry & in the soft porn industry ( I think this entails everything from billboards, music videos , fashion magazines & even newspapers)the media is telling us who we are and who we should be. & then girls like us decide to be those "modern" women by emulating their looks, attire & attitude not realizing the enormous difference between reel life v/s real life! media tells us just as it did 10 and 20 and 30 years ago that what’s most important about women is how we look. we must consider the relationship between media and broader issues of culture, identity, sexism, and gender violence. look into it you would be surprised with what you find . None of us want to think of ourselves as brain-washed but you would be shocked to realize how much of your personality is molded by the media & how much of it is actually you!