Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Breasts bodies and the bilge about provocation

My colony has a fancy western-sounding name and, while constructing the illusion that we were buying into something exotic, the builder has installed statues vaguely modeled on Venus de Milo — nearly nude white female forms, arms missing.

Then one day, our statue was found dressed in a nightgown. But perhaps some poor person badly needed a nightgown, so the statue was bare again. Soon enough, somebody had dressed it up again, in a man’s shirt. I often wonder at the people who did that. I doubt they were worried about the dignity of our fake plaster-of-paris Venus. It hasn’t been molested (as far as I know). And I doubt they care about women looking at it. Maybe they were worried about the effect it would have on men who must also look at real, breathing women.

But surely, they don’t believe that every male that happens to be exposed to the female body is psychologically damaged, that he will turn into a rapist and killer?

Perhaps, they do. 

Some people believe that even when it is clothed, the female body can turn the male into a damaged, dangerous creature. The Andhra Pradesh police believe it causes sexual assault and blames ‘fashionable’ clothes. I suppose they refer to clothes that draw attention to women’s shapes, or exposed skin. A teacher who heads a committee to combat sexual harassment also believes that women are only safe in sarees with long-sleeved blouses.

I’ve often wondered why we don’t put these theories to the test. Does a human female body make the male want to attack it? Do clothes — any sort — prevent sexual attacks?

A good place to start would be a society where women don’t wear any clothes. From what I hear, such tribes still exist. From what I hear, sexual assault is virtually unknown there and when it occurs, the culprit is usually an outsider — men who don’t belong to clothing-less societies themselves. Such societies are not very different from us. They marry, bring up kids, worship. The only thing that’s missing is clothes. And, perhaps, the constant fear of assault or humiliation.

Another good place to test this theory is a society where men and women are totally covered up. Is sexual assault unknown? From what I hear, no. Women’s relationships and economic choices are severely curtailed. And yet, they confront accusations of soliciting male attention.

As for our society… but that brings us to the difficult question — which part of our society? Every year, schoolkids dress up in clothes from all over India as a sort of patriotic stage shows: Look, ma! So much diversity! 

Well, diversity means that we show our bodies in different ways. Our women wear sarees without blouses too. Or woolen shawls, backless cholis, dhotis, ghoonghats. Or jeans.

For the last few years, I’ve been part of a campaign against ‘eve-teasing’ or street sexual harassment. One of the projects we run is an exhibit of clothes donated by women who were harassed or molested. The diversity of the collection speaks for itself — sarees, salwars, men’s shirts, sleeveless tops, long skirts, school uniforms, jeans. I personally donated a saree with a sleeved blouse.

Perhaps, the police force (and all University teachers) should see the exhibition and maybe they will acknowledge the daftness of their attitude. Or perhaps, we should all just stop wearing clothes. I don’t know if it will help us become a rape-free society. But we might at least become a society in which we stop blaming the victim.

Read published piece here


W!((!@M said...

good concept... nice post

Anonymous said...

Although I know telling you about this is ramming my head against the wall, but lets see if it helps.

There's an Arabic saying--"Have faith in Allah, but keep your camel tied too". Women are free to wear whatever they want to, go wherever they want to--but at the same time they have to accept the consequences. If a woman is dressed in a mini-skirt, knowing that it might trigger the primal sexual urges of a man, she better be careful.

And please make no references to the slut walk here. Just accept that women dress up, in order to get (the right kind of) male attention--trouble happens when they get the wrong kind. So...dear scribe, consider, if you will, the ramifications of women not being allowed to dress jazzily--first off, you'd have to remove that navel flashing saree pic of yours (pretty though it is).

Of course you haven't got the point. Its ok. Continue with the feminism--far from sympathy/acknowledgement you'll just get brickbats. (I am using "you" as an umbrella term for all you feminists). And this won't be because its a man's world--it will be because you have put forth a lousy argument.

Anyway, if you'll excuse me, a 16 year old girl is going out with her "boyfriend" in a mini skirt--allow me to tell on her. Her parents need to know. (Yeah, yeah...I will tell the guy's parents too)

H said...

I have a feeling that the "reinstatement the statue's modesty" was just a prank, a good one nonetheless.

Also, Anon is mostly and idiot. And a surprisingly well written idiot at that. Never seen one before.

nmaha said...

It's great that you have addressed this issue without anger. Very, very well-written. I find it very difficult to even think of people like the Andhra police chief without my blood boiling over.

Anon is an educated idiot, the worst kind. Which doesn't take away from the fact that he is a coward like all bullies and should probably be draping the the untraceable nightgown over himself :-)

Anonymous said...

H: For someone who claims that "GQ is my bible", it is no surprise that your sentence formation is something like this: "Anon is mostly and idiot". Good luck with the shopping--hope you find nice pink coloured shirts.

NMaha: Its okay. Relax. You're good at writing mommy blogs-please do that. Don't try to pull a funny line here-a Freudian might infer that your parents had some nighgown issues. As far as educated and idiots go, judging by the poor quality of your blog, I can surmise that you've met neither.

Annie: Hope you've read the comment.

Annie Zaidi said...

Anonymous: I did not bother to respond because I don't usually bother to respond to anonymous comments now. 7 years of online writing have taught me that it is often a ign of cowardice.
But to respond to your comment, you are indeed an idiot. And mommy bloggers are women too, and they get harassed/molested too, even if they wear night-gowns or carry babies around like a suraksha-kavach.
Please visit Blank Noise's website and look at the kind of clothes we collect from women who have been harassed. Sarees and salwars figure prominently.
And if you still think that inviting male attention = inviting abuse/violence, then you probably need help.
I certainly will continue being a feminist. You are welcome to ram your head against the wall.

Annie Zaidi said...

1] I can take criticism. I don't need stubborn idiocy, though. Nor do I enjoy repeating myself and I have had these discussions with men like yourself several times in the past.
2] Don't try telling me what I've missed as a feminist. I've lived in small towns most of my life, and escaped that housewifely fate through stubbornness and with the help of a few feminists.
3] Any man who thinks that women who are not allowed careers outside their homes are not economically active is not honest. MOST women are major contributors to family income in both rural areas and small towns. It is you who is adopting a small-town middle-class and perhaps even an elitist attitude to the question of women's independence.
4] Are you going to decide whether women are more affected by the fear or rape and harassment? I am a woman and I can tell you that whether or not women work outside the home, this fear does indeed rule their lives in many ways. Why don't you read women, let them speak for themselves instead of trying to speak for them?
5] You know absolutely ZILCH about the women's movement if you think that we focus more on rape/harassment than on economic issues. It is you who assume this probably because you only get your info from silly sensation-mongering media which only speaks to feminists when violent crime has whetted our collective social appetite.
Why don't you make a list of women's organisations and go look at who is focussing on what? It might be a transformative experience for you.
6] You did indeed suggest that inviting male attention = inviting abuse. Because I had written that violence and harassment have nothing to do with the clothes women wear, and you said that women dress up for the sake of male attention. What is the connect? You tell me! Even if I believe that women dress for male attention, that still doesn't mean anything, does it? My argument still holds. Your argument suggests that by inviting (negative) attention by dressing a certain way, women are responsible for the violence they face. This is the rape culture argument and I reject it, and the clothes collection drive proves it.
7] You cannot possibly be part of the cause until you rid yourself of these idiot victim-blaming attitudes.
8] Goodbye.

Anonymous said...

Note to self: Never ram your head against the wall. Some maladjusted, asinine feminists who're out their only to gather attention by getting photographed helping victims, thereby getting greater audience for their books (that hardly sell), will be defiantly stupid about how they've missed out on a few things.

Further, they will pass sweeping judgments on you, without knowing your credentials (and the fact that you've helped more women than the pretty faced scribe). FML.

Annie: Go fly a kite with "feminism" written on it. Won't fly too high.

Good luck with your "efforts"--you need it, for more reasons than one.


Annie Zaidi said...

Note to self: Allow anonymous comments every once in a while for the amusement they offer. The internet never fails to lay bare the petty and defensive human soul.

A. said...

The greatest of the gifts, divine, that did not angels' coffers fill
was given to the human race: that gift of gifts, of free will.

So say the myths of by-gone years as they lay down ruling fears.

There is a certain comfort found within the hard and rigid wall.
To break them down and further out, the burden on the self doth fall.

The path of light shall oblige him who doth a window open.
Darkness is another colour: so whisper shadows very often.

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