Actor Natalie Portman shed light on how our society is encouraging sexual terrorism, by asking women to cover up and behave conservatively. While addressing Los Angeles’ Women’s March chapter on Saturday, she said that she understood very quickly, even as a 13-year-old, that if she were to express herself sexually, she would feel unsafe and that men would feel entitled to discuss and objectify her body to her great discomfort.
Portman said, “At 13 years old, the message from our culture was clear to me. I felt the need to cover my body and to inhibit my expression and my work in order to send my own message to the world that I’m someone worthy of safety and respect. The response to my expression, from small comments about my body to more threatening deliberate statements, served to control my behaviour through an environment of sexual terrorism.”
We are conditioned to “behave decently”
Like Natalie, every girl on the threshold of puberty, is “disciplined” or intimidated into becoming a prudish and conservative woman.
Perverted minds keep their eyes scouring to mark every little change in our adolescent bodies. The society, instead of policing such men, chooses to police us. We are told to cover up and behave as asexual, noble beings who have no desires or fantasies because a woman with sexual desires is branded as promiscuous. She deserves to be pried on.
What is it that makes people crack down on us, instead of the lechers who prey upon us? Why do lechers and molesters have the power of intimidating us? We might have crossed over into a new millennium nearly two decades ago, but the social attitude towards women is similar to that in medieval times.
Sexual Terrorism is all about making women fear their femininity
Sexual Terrorism is when you see men gazing at your breast and you hurriedly cover up with a dupatta.
When you are walking alone on the street after sundown, or even on a hot afternoon, and the sight of strange men on the horizon, evokes panic in you. We can’t walk past an empty bus or idling minivan, without feeling intimidated. Roving hands which leave us catatonic, snide comments which make us go red. The sigh of every young woman when she has to step outside her house and deal with the social attitude towards her young feminine body.
The idea behind terrorism is to instil fear into the general population. It is to make authorities give them whatever they demand. In case of sexual terrorism, the idea is to subjugate women one way or another. To intimidate them into covering up their bodies and pledge puritanic behaviour.
We are reminded day after day that we are objects of pleasure. We are responsible for safeguarding our honour and dignity, on their own. The purpose of our bodies is to bear legitimate children; hence sex is just a way of putting our uterus to good use. We are not supposed to derive pleasure from the act.
The best way to take on sexual terrorism is to make it feel impotent and ineffective.
Women are shedding their inhibitions, and confronting lechers who only see them as objects. This resilience is helping us make our stand clear. We refuse to be intimidated by sexual terrorism. It is about time that the society stops plastering its conservative definition of morality on our heads, and leading us to believe that we need to cover up and abstain from celebrating our femininity, if we want to be safe and respected.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own