Monday, August 29, 2016

Now India says women shouldn't wear skirts, if they don't want to be raped.

There is a complex polemic at work when discussing women's attire.

Clothing in general is complex enough. Television shows routinely shame women for what they wear, from shows such as Fashion Police, to those which occupy the Style Channel, or fashion networks. A woman must neither be too revealing, nor hide too much from the imagination, if she wants the praise of her fellows in society, but those standards are liable to change with time, geography and ideology.

Open You or People magazine, and the shaming continues, as celebrities are mocked for poor outfit choices. Fashion bloggers might roast transgressors in print, while in some parts of the world, victims of societal standards might face actual roasting, a real knife in the heart, or a spray of acid in the face.

What we wear oddly defines us in society, whether male or female. And however much certain voices say that no one should tell a woman what to wear, at least when activists are looking to certain less savoury characters, an essential tenant of society, is that we are all told, daily, by our interactions with others: what to wear in our particular cultural or other bubble.

Like the voice of television and radio shows which judge singing and dancing, society has an obsession with voices which speak on fashion, partly because it defines a person's place in the social order. Few voices are more revered in parts of society, than those of harsh, unforgiving fashion designers and style gurus.

In France, a woman wearing essentially a repurposed scuba suit is considered a threat to the public order, for her wish to be more modest than society desires, and town mayors still insist on arresting those deemed anti-secular fashion offenders. This, despite the ruling of the highest administrative court: that burkinis are not against secularism.

Clothing is deemed by many to be an extension of the self, a declaration of intent, even of war.

The most controversial discussion however, resonates around rape.

A Canadian police official once told women to dress modestly, as rapists, he said, were more likely to target women who dressed in revealing attire. The term slut walk thus entered the vernacular of much of the English speaking world. Women objected to what they saw as the implication that 'slutty' women warranted or deserved rape. That implication hadn't been the intention of the witless police official, but by putting the spotlight on victims, the said official had stirred just the right hornet's nest, partly because such an unfortunate number of men believe that 'slutty' women are always up for sex.

With a mass epidemic of rape, mutilation and murder of women on its hands, India is handing out advice to tourists as they touch down. Controversially, they have told women not to wear skirts in small towns. They fear such women may be raped. Given the culture of some small towns, they might well be subjected to 'rape as punishment'. An example of this from South Africa, saw women trying to hire taxis being raped quite openly by taxi drivers, who claimed that women dressed in that manner deserved it, to teach them to dress in less revealing outfits in future. In truth, while women in miniskirts were turned into sitting ducks and easy targets, if it weren't those women who were raped, the taxi drivers likely would have found the next most societally acceptable victims for their criminal intents.

It all comes down to an old polemic.

Criminals are more likely to rob individuals who lift their feet higher off the ground as they walk, so authorities say to walk differently. Fidget much? You might be showing a high level of nervousness, a victim sign, perhaps? Research from a top university shows that people with ethnic names are less likely to get replies from a therapist, so should they change their names? A serial killer targets women with red hair: women should thus dye their hair blonde? A cult sacrifices virgins, so women, a certain logic says, should then stop being virgins, or pretend not to be? Friends claim that Catholics are evil, so a student pretends to be Anglican.

Human beings are adaptable creatures, we learn to adapt to circumstances, though sometimes that adaption is considered unwarranted, or a compromise of integrity and of self.

Rapists, according to statistics, rape for the fun of it, and are the sort of men who also have a lot of consensual sex, and frequent prostitutes. For them, rape is fun, a past time like watching the game or reading a novel. Rapists tend to target women that the rapists think they will enjoy raping, so women are told to dress in a way that makes them less likely to be a target? But rapists target more than miniskirts and tight shirts. Like all criminals, they look for victims they feel they can get away with wronging. The very things which also attract rapists, though, also tend to be things which attract ordinary men, potential husbands even. Who doesn't like a damsel in distress? Yet a woman who is vulnerable is a target both for saving by white knights on horses, and for forces of darkness.

Warning women not to dress in a certain way, and perhaps teaching them a posture and manner about themselves which says: don't victimise me, might well prevent those specific women from being the target of rapists, but those same rapists will simply target other women they think are target worthy, and standards of clothing change over the years. There was a time in our culture when a woman who showed her ankles was considered 'slutty'. Cause women in general to dress less revealingly, and those who are most revealing, will still be the most likely to stir many a man's fancy, and some of those men, might not understand the word no, or might relish in ignoring it.

The debate over what women ought to wear, and whether it is too revealing, is a cultural debate. No one would say that tribal women in the amazon are sluts because they go topless, but even in that sort of culture there is likely some sign of a woman who is more revealing than others. This debate, however, has very little to do with rape. Even if individual women are taken off the radar, others will still be raped. As a public policy matter, changing individuals away from the alleged victim profile for a certain crime, doesn't help reduce the crime, it merely changes who the victims are. India's government should not focus on keeping women from dressing in a manner that displeases some small town men: its focus should be on protecting victims, regardless of their attire. The duty of a government is to preserve order, law, and the safety of those within its borders.

What are your thoughts?

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