How often have you seen women drying undergarments out in the open? How frequently do we come across bras and underpants basking in the sunlight- disinfecting in the most natural way possible, sans any cover to obstruct them from being viewed by the public? Rarely.
Women's undergarments still make people, men and women alike, uncomfortable, because like our bodies, our clothes too have been sexualised. Meet a hostler and they will share with you a story about that one pervert who would masturbate in the open simply because he was standing outside a girls' hostel with his gaze fixed on a bra hanging out on the window sill to be dried. Such incidences often left students disgusted, not just with men, but with their own bodies and with clothes that covered the most intimate of our body parts.
But even when you leave the perverts out, it is not as if our society approves of women drying our undergarments out in the open. Most aunts and moms would through a fit even if a strap of your washed bra peeks out from under the towel that you covered it with on the clotheslines. "Jao theek kar ke ao," girls are angrily told, "Aise accha nahi lagta." Pay attention to the words that are used to make us cover our bras and underpants. It is as if hanging out our bra to dry in the open is akin to putting it on a display at the city's busiest crossroad, not that there is anything wrong with that. Nevertheless, women are made to feel guilty for hanging their undergarments out in the open.
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One can understand that such instructions come from a sense of protectiveness. Women in our households, each one of them, is well versed with the lecherous gaze of predators. They know how even our undergarments have the potential of sexualising us and even inciting sexual violence, that too with a sense of entitlement. She hung her bra out in the open, she asked to be leered at. But this policing only puts the accountability of sexual safety on women and gives predators a free pass.
A lot of men are liberal enough today to not sexualise women's undergarments. We know of husbands, dads and brothers who do the laundry, and they do not apply any special strategy to hang out wet bras on the clothesline. They just leave them out there, like any other clothes. Because these men know better, they have been raised better, and that is what our focus should be.
Instead of policing women, criticising the way they dry their undergarments, why not teach boys and men to respect women and not think of their bodies as objects designed purely for their sexual satisfaction? It is not women who need to be made feel guilty if their clothes provoke sexual thoughts in the minds of some. It is our society at fault for letting some people get away with such a mindset and punishing half the population for their gender rather than teaching the other gender to treat women with dignity.
Views expressed are the author's own.