Feminism counterpoint 1: You will be judged by what you wear

never-asking-for-it

First, some context.

A few days ago I came across a list on Buzzfeed where forty-five people held up placards that spelled out reasons why India needs feminism. I was not an insider, so I don’t know it for sure, but it looks like Buzzfeed contributor polled a few people with the incomplete sentence ‘India needs feminism because – ‘ and asked the respondents to send in their pictures.

The list disappointed me. The responses fell into four broad categories:

1. In a more feminist India, women will not be judged by what they wear (or by their looks)

2. In a more feminist India, there will be less dowry deaths

3. In a more feminist India, women will be raped less, and sexual abuse numbers will go down

4. In a more feminist India, less female fetuses will be aborted

Where is equality?

Curiously enough, none of the respondents (not even one) addressed the book definition of feminism and advocated a removal of the 33% reservation quota for women. None of them suggested that we should do away with reserved seats in buses and trains, and separate queues in just about every public place with a counter. If equality is what ‘feminism’ was truly after, surely these are the first steps we should take? As long as we legally treat women as second-class citizens by giving them reservations in our constitution, how can we achieve equality?

But that’s a debate for another day.

Today let’s talk about point 1 above. The feminist argument on this topic goes thus: What I wear is my choice. My clothes and my make up do not send out signals or advertise my sexual availability. I should have the independence to dress as I wish without having to worry about being stared at or judged.

In response, we can begin by asking the question: why do people dress up? I am not asking why people dress; we all know the answer to that. But why do we dress up? Why do we groom ourselves? We do so because we want the world to judge us by our looks. We want people to see what we’re wearing, and we want them to be suitably impressed. We want our sense of style to turn heads. We want to be objects of admiration and envy. Is it fair to then turn around and say we don’t wish to be judged?

Why do women wear lip stick and eye-liner? Because it enhances the apparent health and beauty of their lips and eyes. Why do they wear shoes with high heels? Because it makes their hips and buttocks more prominent. Eyes, lips and hips are secondary sex organs, designed by evolution for the female of our species to attract the male. So whether you like it or not, whether you admit it or not, by dressing up, you’re advertising your sexual availability at an instinctive level. Some men are educated and cultured enough to look past it. Some are not.

Does this excuse rape?

Am I saying the rapist that acts on this instinct is not to be blamed? Of course not. Even if you walk naked down the road, an act of rape cannot be condoned. But in equal measure, let’s also not deny the fact that when a woman chooses to dress provocatively, she is taking on a higher risk of being noticed, ogled at, and judged. If she accepts it and still makes the choice, that’s fine. But to stay in denial is not going to help anyone.

It’s got nothing to do with feminism. It’s just double standards. If you dress well, you’re doing so in order to attract attention. Do you have the choice of what kind of attention you receive? No. None of us do. So either you learn to live without the attention or you live with the risk of being stared at. What you cannot have, is the best of both worlds scenario where you’re walking down the street in tight pants swaying your hips with only the right kind of guys smiling at you in reverence while keeping a respectful distance.

Pigs might fly, but that won’t happen. No matter how feminist we get. So let’s get over it.

In my next post in the series, I will write about dowry.

Image Courtesy: Buzfeed

Since this is an emotional topic, I will ask those who disagree with me to do so civilly, without resorting to personal abuse. As long as you’re debating my argument, all opinions are welcome!

Comments

  1. You might be surprised, but I actually agree with you a 100%. I am a feminist myself who believes that the only quota for men and women should be 50-50. And that the seats on buses should be divided equally between men and women. I do not need special privileges, I just need to be let be.

    Women are the weaker sex, hence they need more benefits. This can be feminism counterpoint two. If you are accepting that women are weaker, the question of feminism doesn’t arise at all!

    That post on buzz feed seems to be a gathered appeal for anti-rape. But feminism, not so much.

    Yes, women do “beautify” themselves to look more appealing to others, men and women alike. But that gives no one the right to rape. Having said that, there is no place on earth where anyone can dress up skimpily and no one gives a glance. Even if a guy were to walk down the road without a shirt, anyone would look. Atleast I will. Its only natural. But lines should not be crossed.

    Like you said, we can’t have the best of both worlds. We might as well as accept it and make our own choice.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I had lots to say!

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    • You shouldn’t apologize for long comments here, Soumya. You forget I am a novelist. I specialize in long comments 🙂

      But you largely agree with me, so I don’t have much to say. I’m glad to know that there exist ‘true’ feminists out there who believe in equal opportunity. As you say, what we wear – both on our bodies and on our faces – says a lot about us.

      Thanks for the long comment! I read every word.

      Like

    • Soumya,

      Sad when the point you were trying to make has been deflected. But don’t worry, Many of us got what you were trying to say. Here’s to you, lady!

      Like

  2. I am a strong supporter for gender equality. But I personally feel Feminism isn’t what is mostly shown or debated at; I feel if you don’t have a right to own your freedom, you aren’t liberated.
    You talked about views for clothes/dressing, here, like u have mentioned very diligently, that, provocative dressing attracts attention & nude show down for rights won’t get feminists stand clear or saving woman getting raped or ogled at? I wondered if we as a regressive society or patriarchal social setup, even have had thought that- Nudity is natural & Instincts we are talking about here can’t help us even if we clad our females from head to toe & become burqa clad society. Think beyond treating human as a object of pleasure or eye-candy? Now, woman also ogled at men & make advances, did it make them feel like venerable or feel like a hero?
    Animistic tendencies get its support from what we feed young generations kind of moral feeding & making excuses in lieu of gender equality that we all care?
    A boy raped a girl, girl bear a burnt that she is being violated, but boy virginity is also being taken at that time, we forget & concentrate on the weaker part – woman.
    I feel till we as a woman stop treating ourselves as weaker part or having need to get emancipated, we aren’t getting no where, we have to feel we all have it inside us, we have to feel – its human right, we are human first than men & women, it high time we start raising our kids as kids not as girls & boys.
    I am mom of 2 daughters, I never would just make them repudiate their life choices underneath masked up by social stigma, cultural taboo & just because they are girls? Make everyone aware of their rights, I strongly advocate Right to Economic freedom to Reproductive Rights issue, provide education to all & Humanism is what we need today.
    Excuse me if I have shared long comment as couldn’t stop my thoughts flow. I hope with this insight, I can make a bit of difference to someone thought-process too towards gender bender debates. Ty Sharath for bringing in such a good issue on this platform for all of us to think & deliberate.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Sharath, Here’s the link- with diff perspective, hope to hear your feedback & I did mention ur name & blog link too 🙂 ty good wishes
    http://ruchi2312.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/she/

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  4. Oh I get it. This means that if you dress up nattily for going to work, I am perfectly within my rights to ogle at you, make sexist comments, produce lewd noises that make you cringe in shame… and when the mood strikes me…. to rape you.

    Yes, I get it. Awesome thoughts!

    Like

    • Hi Dagny,

      Maybe you should read the post again. I expressly stated that it is NOT OKAY to use clothes as excuses for rape or abuse.

      Like

      • Yes. After saying that if you dress UP…. you should expect to be ogled at/ molested/ groped/ raped. By the same token, so should you.

        Sometime ago there was a french video that was doing the rounds in which they showed what the society would be like if there were a role reversal of men and women. The truth is, I felt sick to my stomach when I saw the man being mauled for no reason at all. No human being deserves to have his/ her dignity stripped away like this. It is just wrong.

        The intent of your posts seems to be to tell women to wear a burkha at all times. And if their brother (yes brother), father, uncle or cousin still notice their curves from under it, they deserve to be raped.

        Like, really? Do you know how it feels… to be molested by someone? Do you know how it feels when men shout comments on the road referring to parts of your anatomy? You are lucky you are a man. That’s all I can say. Live one day, the life of a woman in India, and then we will talk about feminism.

        As for your stats, every student of stats knows that they can be made to say whatever you want. The easiest thing to play with are numbers. But easier than that are women.

        God bless you. I pray that you are never given a crash course in how a violated woman feels. I pray that the horror never pays a visit to you.

        I am deeply disappointed that educated men like you permit themselves to write such footling rot.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Dagny,

        Can you show me a line where I said, ‘you should expect to be ogled at/raped/groped’? I did not say any of that. In fact, I expressly denied that it is acceptable. Even now I repeat. Whenever there is a case of eve-teasing, molestation, groping or rape, the blame lies entirely with the perpetrator. I am not victim-shaming here.

        What I AM saying is that there is an instinctive biological response in all men – yes, in all men – that triggers arousal at the sight of a woman who is suggestively dressed or is made up. I am sure the same instinctive responses happen in women too, when they see a sexually attractive man. We cannot and should not deny that they are there.

        Educated men are equipped to deal with these instinctive triggers. Uneducated men are not. So the way forward is to educate the men that what they’re feeling is pure biological arousal, and that it is socially unacceptable to do something about it without the woman’s permission.

        Having said that, if I had a choice, would I ask my daughter/sister/mother to be on the safe side and dress in such a way that minimizes the trigger itself? I would. Notice that I’m not suggesting that fully clad women and the elderly don’t get raped. But at least we will be taking precautions from our side. This is why I think every brother and every father is so protective of their sisters and daughters. They understand the ‘trigger’ response I referred to earlier.

        To deny that our clothes and our make-up do not have sexual connotations is not right. They do. Both genders. We can be educated into ignoring those connotations, but we cannot wish them away.

        The intent of my post is not to tell women to wear burkhas all the time. My intent is to argue against this idea that the world is not permitted to judge us according to the clothes that we wear. The world does. We know it. That is why we wear clothes. We dress ‘up’ in order to draw admiration and envy from others. Why deny it? After accepting that fact, of course it’s your prerogative to dress as you wish, while you accept the risks that come with your choice.

        You seem to think I am an enemy of feminism. I am not. I want equality of women as much as you do. I am as passionate about the cause as you are. We just disagree, perhaps, on the way we should go about it. The popular way is to demand that we change our biological instincts. A more sensible approach, in my opinion, is to acknowledge our instincts, accept them, and find ways to channel them better.

        We’re fighting on the same team. But with different weapons.

        Like

  5. Saw there was a related link and got here.. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read this line *So whether you like it or not, whether you admit it or not, by dressing up, you’re advertising your sexual availability at an instinctive level. Some men are educated and cultured enough to look past it. Some are not.* says who? That is how you seem to be interpreting it… Just because a woman dresses up, doesn’t give anybody the right to assume it is an indication of sexual availability, how on earth did you reach such a moronic conclusion? And though you have later said that you by no ways mean that rap is justified, this line of yours speaks a completely different story. Nothing can justify rape and nothing can justify interpretations such as the one you just made. Men dress up too, and women appreciate it but never do they think of stripping the person down and molesting them… What hurt most was that this came from an educated person… It really hurt bad

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Seeta,

      Thanks for the comment. There was a longer discussion thread on the Facebook status that went with this post.

      The statement that I made was at a genetic level. Make-up and beauty products focus purely on women’s secondary sexual attributes. For instance, when a woman wears lip-stick, she’s making her lips look healthier and more luscious than they are. At a genetic level, it is sexual advertisement to the opposite sex. The same goes for heels (they make your hips look wider), for cosmetics, eye-shadow etc.

      At an instinctive level, then, that’s what make-up and revealing clothes do. Most of the time the wearer does not realize this, and most of the time the men who are looking at her do not realize this. It’s almost like being aroused: looking at a busty woman may arouse me sexually, but I consciously do not know why I am being aroused.

      It’s a consequence of being biological beings ruled by sex.

      Now what education does, is give people on both sides the means to look past the instinct. Educated men also feel the same arousal when passing by a thinly clad or made-up woman (which is why porn is such a huge industry). But they’re able to rein in their instinct with cognitive thought. Uneducated men are not.

      Is this the fault of the women? No. I still repeat that when rape happens, it is solely the rapist’s fault. No doubt about that. But to deceive ourselves into thinking that our clothes and make-up do not carry sexual connotations is to deny our most basic instincts.

      All men – yes, all men – feel arousal when they see a woman who wears revealing cothes or high heels or lip-stick and so on. More educated men rein in this arousal. Others cannot. So the solution is educate, educate, educate.

      Having said that, though, all other things being equal, do more revealing clothes increase your chances of being sexually abused? Speaking as a man, I’d say definitely yes. Saying no to that is rejecting our instincts. And calling it wrong is like calling our other instincts such as envy and anger wrong.

      Of course, you’re welcome to disagree.

      Like

  6. Hi Sharath, Nice blog you have here, Recently came across it and my first comment was on a contest which you have started.
    I liked most of the content which I have gone through till now. I was in agreement to this post also till I reached the mid of your post where it left me completely confused about what you are trying to convey here. So just want to understand your point of view before agreeing or disagreeing with you. Are you saying that being touched in a wrong way, molested or raped is just the extreme end of being noticed, ogled at and judged ? Or are you trying to say that people all over the internet are hijacking the serious conversation (which should have been of woman being thwarted in every way possible by our society and culture in the way of serious crimes against them) to base topics such as girls in a sexy outfit being noticed, ogled at and judged which is nowhere a crime nor is it related to a crime but just is very bad manners?

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    • Hi Deepak,

      This post has touched a few raw nerves, as you probably can see from the other comments. Let me see if I can convey my point. If I seem like I’m rambling, it’s only because I’m eager to communicate clearly. Please bear with me.

      Women and men are constantly trying to advertise their sexual availability. We do this unconsciously, often driven by instinct than anything else. Men do it by flaunting their symbols of success and worth (because wealth and status are man’s sexual signals). So getting a good job, being a good provider, earning a lot of money, driving a flash car – these are all symbols of success that men are judged by. Looks also matter, so to a certain extent, men also dress to impress and draw admiration.

      The sexual signals of women are primarily physical, which advertise their childbearing abilities. This means dressing well, using artificial means to accentuate their secondary sexual characteristics: like lips, breasts, hair, skin and nails – which we call makeup.

      So far this is all instinct and biology. It is not wrong of us to feel this way: indeed, we cannot even help it. But in a social setting that promotes monogamy, we have to constantly work at recognizing these signals and ignoring them. At the moment a person receives one of these ‘signals’ from a member of the opposite gender, he or she must first ask himself whether he is the kind of person she wants to advertise to.

      A woman who wears makeup and dresses scantily may be advertising her sexuality, but she’s doing it only to a certain cross-section of men: young, available, perhaps rich, single, and ready to commit to her. At the same time, she does NOT want attention from other kinds of men: married, poor, uneducated etc.

      This is the paradox that educated people understand. A married rich man also sees the signals that a woman sends out, but he ignores them because he understands, at a social level, that he’s not the kind of man she’s going for. But a poor, uneducated man, who is unaware of his own biology and instinct, assumes (wrongly) that she’s ‘inviting him’.

      The same thing applies to men advertising and women responding too. So this is not one-way traffic.

      The long-term solution is to educate. But it’s not just men who need this education. Women need it too. They need to know that we all dress up IN ORDER to draw attention, to draw admiration, to draw envy. But we only want attention, admiration and envy from a certain sample of our ‘target audience’. When we receive it from others, whom we don’t regard as desirable, we throw a fit.

      So that is basically the point. Whether we like it or not, we will be judged by our clothes/makeup. What we do with this knowledge is our own personal choice. But to deny this, to ask for people NOT to judge/look/ogle/notice, is to not only deny our instincts, but also to deny reality.

      Now finally, my own view. I think if I was a woman, I would first recognize that wearing skimpy clothes/makeup will advertise my sexuality and will ask for attention. Some of that attention will be good (from desirable men), whereas some of it will be unwanted and bad (from undesirable men). And some of that undesirable attention may escalate. So if I choose to wear revealing clothes, I will do so in full knowledge of the risks and rewards involved.

      Now am I suggesting that people not wearing revealing clothes are not raped? Not at all. I’m saying that all other things being equal, wearing revealing clothes and being made up will INCREASE your chances of unwanted attention, and therefore of rape.

      Long comment, almost as long as a post. Sorry 🙂

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      • Thanks Sharath for the long comment as it makes your view clearer. My reply too will be a little long, so apologies for that. I completely understand what you are saying and appreciate your thoughts which go beyond the surface to understand the human nature and our base instincts. But though I understand what you are saying, I disagree with you.

        I agree with your observations but I do not agree with your deductions and remedies suggested. If I wear skimpy clothes or want to look beautiful or want to be admired/envied and want to be always grabbing attention that’s my choice and I am sure you will completely agree with me on this. I don’t care of getting undesirable attention because I will not reciprocate or would I care for their views or judgments. I don’t care for the stares nor for the bad manners of the immature people because I accept it as part of their uncivilized attitude and no amount of education will help such people. (I will address the education part a little later as I have a minor disagreement there too).

        Now I can accept all this, but when people tend to invade my private space (that is abuse me, touch me, molest me or rape me), this is not being envious nor is it being judgmental, but they are committing a crime and this is unacceptable. I think you will agree with me on this also as these are simple observations which we both agree on.

        Your deduction is this happens because of undesirable attention being escalated. I disagree because undesirable attention if being a cause is just a minor one. The bigger cause is the attitude, the attitude that we can get away with it, the attitude that there are lots of people who do this and they can get away with this. The above two attitudes though being a problem is a universal problem for all crimes so it is ok. But the attitude that she deserves this, the attitude that she was asking for this, the attitude that people tend to justify the psyche of the criminal for these kinds of cases is unacceptable. What I am suggesting is if I buy a Ferrari, I accept to be envied/admired/judged/ogled, I understand all this and buy it, I understand I will get undesirable attention, but if someone dents it or steals it and the attitude of the public and police towards me is you should not have brought a flashy car as the flashy car has escalated the undesirable attention, if they try to educate me on what to buy and what not to buy to be safe in the society, I would not want to live in that kind of a society. Crime, I can understand, as there is no society which is crime free, but the reaction towards the crime by the society is what defines the society.

        Now for the remedy part: You, understanding the risks and dressing appropriately I have no qualms about it as it is your personal choice. But I have qualms educating women in the society on the risks. This should never be done. This means we are not attacking the root of the problem as we are accepting the problem. We should spend our time solving the problem with stricter laws and open ridicule when a person in power makes a statement trying to shame the victim or making statements like “Boys will be boys”. We as a society should work as a unit to fight against it. Educating women about the risk is like taking a step backwards. It might or might not save a miniscule number of women of abuse, but it puts the society back n number of decades on how we tend to solve our problems and shape our society. Our focus should be to eradicate regressive thoughts which are stuck onto our minds wrongly as our culture. We should be focused on that and should not accept the situation and skirt around it.

        Lastly the minor disagreement around education. Two generations ago we were largely an uneducated population, so much so that the majority was uneducated, that doesn’t mean the majority were rapists. What I am trying to say is we should not mistakenly equate unrelated things. An uneducated human being can be civilized and an educated person can be uncivilized and behave as a Neanderthal. I am sure you didn’t mean to equate education with the civility of a person, but you have used educating as a solution so many times in your comment that I just wanted to point this out.

        Like

      • Hi Deepak,

        I agree with most of what you say. I agree that rape is not the same as ‘bad attention’. I happen to think that ‘bad attention’ often escalates to rape, but not all rape begins as bad attention.

        I disagree when you imply that this post is victim-shaming. It is not. If there is an area around your house that is notorious for after-dusk road side robberies, it is sensible on your part to avoid it. That doesn’t mean that if you do get robbed, it’s your fault. Do you have the freedom to choose? Yes. But as always, there is a sensible choice, and there is not-so-sensible choice.

        Men also live under restrictions of society. But they’re of a different kind. For instance, in a war-scenario, men are expected to fight for the sake of the women and children. Most of the high-risk professions are populated by men. In an Indian context, being a man, you’re expected to provide for your wife and family. Otherwise, you’re ostracized by society.

        You say ‘educating women is taking a step back’. I disagree. Education can never be a step back.

        And yes, I did mean civility, and I do believe that education in general improves levels of civility. Yes, the odd educated person could be uncivilized, and the odd civilized person could be uneducated. But in general, more education equals more civility.

        Either way, I guess we’ve both had our say. In the minor points where we disagreed, I suppose we can agree to let it rest for now.

        Thanks Deepak 🙂

        Like

  7. Priya Shah says:

    I am late to comment, but I do think you should read this.

    Okay, so here’s the thing that you don’t understand. Women wear make-up and heels because they LIKE wearing make-up and heels. Make-up is a form of self expression for most of us. It boosts our self confidence because it makes us feel pretty. Heels make us short girls feel and look taller. Maybe during cavemen times, secondary-sex characteristics were a huge deal. However, now, it’s the 21st century. It should not matter is a women is wearing short shorts or a shirt with a low neckline. These should NOT be a cause for rape! Why can’t a women look like what she wants without having the fear that she could be raped? Secondary-sex characteristics for men are facial hair and muscles. However, most men proudly display these attributes. MEN do not have to walk around with paper bags on their faces to prevent rape. Because it is very rare for men to GET raped. Why? Because women are taught at a young age that rape is WRONG. So why can’t men be taught the same thing? Women should not have to worry about being raped. Men should be told not to rape. It’s as easy as telling your son, “Hey, Tommy. I know you’re growing up, and you’re going to begin to notice the opposite gender. It’s okay to think that a woman is attractive, but remember that you must treat her with respect.” If you educate your sons, teach them to be respectful to women no matter what the look like, then rape would not be an issue.
    And don’t give me any of that “It is what it is, so all we can do is teach women how to prevent it” bullcrap. It doesn’t HAVE TO BE. We need to start now. If we keep teaching women how to prevent rape instead of teaching men how to be respectful to women, then NOTHING WILL CHANGE. And what we NEED is change, not more rape prevention techniques.
    So in conclusion, the only real way to end rape is to teach men to not rape. Women should not be blamed for their appearance in a rape case. So add a new section to your blog thing. How to teach men to not rape.

    Like

Trackbacks

  1. […] After reading one thought-provoking discussion from one of my fellow blogger friend-Sharath Komarraju on issue of feminism, made me pen down my thoughts.Here’s link to his blog-post- https://sharathkomarraju.com/2014/07/09/feminism-counterpoint-1-you-will-be-judged-by-what-you-wear/ […]

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  2. […] those of you who are here for the first time, maybe reading Feminism Counterpoint 1 will give some context. In that post I raised the point of judging one another by our clothes and […]

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