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!