Have you seen this video?
Just this morning when I opened my machine, I saw that this video had gone viral – helped, no doubt, by people on blogs all over the place posting links to it. The issue it attacks is also an important one, given the current ‘sexual awakening’ of India’s people. I understand what the makers of the video are saying. I like the satire. In a time when everything needs to be packaged into 140-character bundles or 3-minute monologues, I can see how this video has made an impact.
But I do have a couple of issues with it. First, it makes it sound like it’s an ‘Indian’ problem. Notice how Kalki Koechlin begins all of her sentences with “In India…”? The video, and the people who are sold on it, makes Indian patriarchy the effigy to burn. But long before India’s godmen and politicians indulged in victim-shaming, US and Canada did it. That was why Slutwalk happened. How do we explain that, then, since US and Canada are neither Indian nor patriarchal?
Second, and probably more important: the video perhaps misses a point. Saying “a woman wearing revealing clothing is more likely to be sexually abused” is not the same as saying “she asked for it by what she was wearing”. The former is a statement. The latter is holding the victim responsible. Of course, there isn’t any excuse for people who say the latter, but that shouldn’t stop us from wondering about the former.
Do we have any data to either prove or disprove the hypothesis that a woman who dresses provocatively is more likely to be subjected to sexual abuse? Alas, we don’t – at least not to my knowledge. It’s easy to guess why. Rape and sexual abuse are by themselves taboo topics, and asking the question if a victim’s clothing may have acted as contributing factors is bound to get you lynched by all comers. Then, too, there is the issue with definitions. How would one define ‘provocative clothing’, for instance?
In absence of data, I suppose we fall back on common sense. What does your gut say about it? Whether you’re male or female, whether you’re young or old, ask yourself the question. If you were planning to walk down the street and you had the option of wearing either a mini-skirt or full pants, and if you want to get down to the other end of the street without getting cat-called, what would you pick?
We minimize risk in all aspects of our lives. I lock my house when I go out . When I drive I wear a helmet. When I go to a bar I drink responsibly. I don’t get into fights. I watch my wallet and my phone. Etc etc. None of that means that it’s my fault if something happens in spite of my care. But not taking care while knowing the risk is not very smart.
So it’s really a choice. Do you or do you not think that your clothing affects your likelihood of being abused? If you think it does, dress conservatively. If you think it doesn’t, dress as you wish. But not everyone who wishes you to ‘dress safely’ is blaming you. When your father tells you that wearing skirts at night is risky, when your brother forbids you from going to nightclubs, when your mother warns you against low neck-line tops, they’re not being patriarchal. They’re not saying it’s your fault. They’re just asking you to be risk-averse. They’re asking you to be sensible.
Whether you take that advice or not is entirely up to you. But painting everyone that disagrees with you with one giant brush doesn’t help the more important quest for answers about rape. The more we blame, the less we understand. The longer we yell at each other the more we add to the noise.