Equating Safety with Clothing: The wrong and right of things
If you want to know what drives popular opinion, or how societal actions and words translates into adapted behavioral patterns speak to the younger generation. The will inevitably reflect the kind of temperament we as a society have towards issues that plague us. [Feature image: SBS.com.au]
Since the last month, my SheSays team (NGO that addresses sexual abuse in India) has been conducting Sexual Violence Prevention and Education seminars in schools and colleges across Bombay. Our seminar is an effort to deconstruct conversations centered on sexual abuse and educate and equip these young minds on how to seek and give consent, nuances of each sexual offence recognized under Indian Law, how to navigate through redressal bodies when seeking remedies and honing by-stander intervention skills.
Post the seminar, we welcome students to come forward and address any concerns they may have in a different classroom that ensures them the privacy to share personal struggles. One student was referring to the heckling she faces when using public transport and said, It’s not even like I was wearing a skirt or anything. I was in jeans and yet the rickshaw driver made me feel so uncomfortable and wouldn’t stop staring. Apart from the reality that this is the climate we expose our kids to, where they are perennially being gawked at, leered at, objectified; what was more alarming to me was that she equated her dressing to her safety. The notion that if I am covering up my body, I should be safeguarded from the creeps transversely implies that dressing in clothes that reveal my assets is a gateway pass for people to misbehave with me. I wish that this were an isolated incident, sadly the amount of girls we have who come up to us who share this belief that by covering up, they would perhaps be safer is disheartening and truly reflects how we are dealing with the rampant levels of sexual abuse.
Youth Ki Awaaz had shared an article a while back with the caption “I was wearing decent clothes. I was traveling in the bright of the day.” It was a girl sharing her experience of slapping her molester with the added outrage on him having the nerve to do so in broad day light and when she was ‘decently clad’.
So the way we are dealing with sexual abuse and factoring in safety of women in public spaces is by self-moral policing, Its not by asking men to behave but instead we are putting women on blast and asking them to cover up.
Clothes don’t invite sexual abuse, much like alcohol doesn’t invite rape. Case in point, Brock Turner!
If we continue our tryst with victim blaming and shaming, then forget solving the pandemic problem of sexual violence; we are actively feeding into the dynamics of the issue. It is sad that 15 and 16 year old’s think the onus of their personal safety is reliant on them and their clothes. Why are we feeding into this propaganda that dictates what clothes a woman should wear, that equates decency to the length of one’s skirt and most repugnant of all allows for men to violate a woman’s personal space if he is sufficiently provoked by the clothes she is donning.
My clothes are a medium of self-expression, it is not a green or red signal for anyone to approach me. Signing off with one of SheSays’s classic tag line: No Dress Code, Know The Penal Code.