Dear Men, My Clothes Have Nothing To Do With My Consent

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Clothes are not consent. Period. For women, their wardrobes often become a certificate of their characters. A woman in a short skirt is a slut, one in a long skirt is a prude. If she wears a blouse showing cleavage, she is a tease. If the collars are high, she is uptight. Society’s sexist judgments fluctuate between our hemlines and necklines. How much longer must we live under this myopic, misogynistic gaze?

The first question people still ask when a woman is raped is- what was she wearing? As if only women showing skin are raped. As if infant girls in baby frocks or middle-aged women in salwar suits are guaranteed sexual safety in our society. As if rape is ever about lust or sex. Clothes are not aggressors of violence, what women wear is simply used as an excuse by predators to somewhat justify their heinous actions.

So then why have we normalised men measuring consent on the basis of the lengths of the clothes women wear? Does this dangerous narrative not imply that women, owing to what they choose to wear, are responsible if they are subjected to sexual assault? How dare the accountability of the violence we are subjected to be shifted on us?

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But this is precisely what a patriarchal culture does, encourages and thrives on. After all, isn’t this escape from liability of their own actions is what has kept the male-dominant status quo intact for generations in our society? A society where cishet men across ages are infantilised and allowed, by virtue of their unconditional male privilege, to marginalise every other gender?

This free pass was on flamboyant display last year when Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan made a deeply disturbing remark linking the rise of rapes in his country to growing “vulgarity” that could only be curbed if more women began subscribing to purdah. More here.

Cover us up all you want. But are you really so naive as to think that that is a viable solution to limit gender violence? Why not begin with men who classify women on the range of ‘loose’ to ‘dignified’ arbitrarily on account of how much skin they are showing? The men who take a bare midriff or tattooed arms or a made-up face as an invitation for sex? Why don’t we begin where the problem actually starts, by striking the rape mentality at its very roots?

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As women, we can never win with the clothes to character ratio logic. Something short is always too short and something longer is always too long. And anyway, this is a fight that has forcefully been imposed on us. If women had their way, wouldn’t we want to just let society be ourselves in peace? Why not just give us space to dress how we like, without policing our every move? Why should your sense of morality get to decide what goes into our wardrobes?

The right to dress shouldn’t have to be a right women have to actively seize. The freedom to express ourselves through attires of our choice is fundamentally afforded to each of us.

Despite what Bollywood may have taught us, a woman’s consent is never implicit through her actions or words or clothes or conduct, unless she – actively, clearly, definitively – says YES. Everything else is a no.

Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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