This post is in response to Chandni’s post on how girls are judged by the way they dress.
I have seen most people believe that if a girl is dressed decently she will not be harassed, molested or raped. So a burqua/chador/abaya should be the safest? It isn’t. Read what happens when you treat girls as objects, not as humans with their own minds, feelings and lives.
Pressure to wear appropriate clothing is a different issue, what’s appropriate for office may look too stiff on a dance floor. But pressure to wear clothing that shows they respect tradition and culture of the place in all kinds of weather is only for women. Tradition and Culture are the easiest ways to control women, or even a whole population. We need to use common sense instead walking on the trodden path.
Indian men gave up traditional clothing and switched to western clothing, warm blazers, trousers and shoes and socks, women continue to wear the saree even in shivering winters and dripping monsoons. Tabu struggling with her saree in the snow, in Namesake sums up the inconvenience/impracticality of following outdated traditional/inappropriate clothing. Churidaar and kurta which came to India with the Mughals was fine for their weather (Central Asia), Indian saree made more sense for Indian summers. Today, the saree is totally accepted, in fact respected in India, but in Pakistan the same saree is considered revealing! It’s less about how much is showing, more about does it indicate that the woman is breaking the norm. It’s like if she smokes a cigarette (does something most women don’t) she is loose, but if she smokes a bidi? Well many village women do that. No problem.
The belief is so deep seated that girls are told to dress and behave in certain ways to avoid male attention, protection becomes imprisonment very fast. And quite unnecessarily. What about child abuse? Custodial rape? Rapes of dalits by upper castes? I repeat, if clothing protected women from male attention, then Burqua clad women will face no male attention. Right? Read this.
Quite on the contrary, if women dress the way they like and men are made to understand that they will face legal action etc for harassing them, the harassment will stop. There is no other way. It’s not clothing, it’s not how a woman dresses, it’s the way the men think. A decent guy will look away if a woman is dressed in a way that embarrasses him, he will not pass lewd remarks. A creep will pass comment on a woman of any age, dressed in any way. My mother only wears sarees, and when you see her from her back you cannot make out how old she is. Once she heard two young boys , laughing and arguing “Mine, heh heh heh !”, “No Mine!” “She was in her fifties then, and she turned to see the faces of these boys, they took out their tongue to show embarrassment when they realised how old she was. Before she could react, they cycled away giggling shamelessly. And she was neither young, nor wearing revealing/nontraditional clothing.
Quoting Irfan Engineer ‘Power wielding elite exploit helpless victims to satisfy their lust without any respect for dress code of any woman. The argument that ghunghat protected women from sexual lust of power wielding men will logically lead us to the conclusion that victims of rape are themselves responsible for the crime and invited the sexual assault as they were not properly clad. How do you explain rapes in police custody and sexual harassment at workplace in that case? Can one imagine a dalit landless labourer sexually assaulting an upper caste woman from a land owning family in a village however she may be dressed? Not because dalit males respect the individuality of the fairer sex but they know that the consequence of such a misadventure. What matters is, who is vested with power and social sanctions and not how one is dressed.’
Remember some of the reactions to the New Year Eve Mumbai molestation case? Our elite media, repeated many, many times, ‘Girls were skimpily dressed’.
Brothers hear parents tell the girls to dress appropriately to avoid male attention, and they assume it’s the girls who are responsible for any crimes committed against them. Boys are innocent, girls dress provokingly, boys get provoked! They cannot help it. How logical is that?
A city that is safe for everyone else is safe for women also. Compare Mumbai and Delhi. Crime and Law and Order situation overall, and crimes against women go together. So if we don’t want crimes against women we need to ensure our cities are safe. Covering them in full sleeved kurtas and heavy dupattas will not make any difference.
We women, (specially mothers) can make so much difference.
If we just stop telling our daughters not to invite trouble by dressing daringly, do tell her to be careful, the way you’d tell your son to be careful.
Teach her how to handle emergencies. Just like you would teach a son, without frightening or blaming her. And NEVER say, she invited it. No girl invites crimes against herself.
If she tells you someone misbehaved with her, do NOT blame her! She will never have the courage to tell you again, even if she really needs your help.
Edited to add: Do we realise harassment and eve teasing has serious repercussions for girls? They are not allowed to go to school and colleges because parents are afraid they will be harassed. Read about it here.
Added on Oct 14, 2008 – When CM of Delhi thought girls should stay at home after dark, read what Quirky Indian wrote here.