Sunday, March 31, 2013

Refusing the High Pedestal

“Women can go nude for all they want; it does not give men the right to rub them”.
That was a live tweet posted by someone attending a forum that happened to be discussing the subject of the safety of women in Bangalore, organized by the Times of India.

It does not matter who, it suffices to know that the view is becoming increasingly representative of the thinking of more and more women across the nation.

What is shocking, however, is the fact that it was posted as a counter argument to a point that should have been above and beyond debate, a point that should have been conceded universally, without exception, as a valid one.

The fool making the point, of course, was yours truly...

After all the people gathered in the forum had lashed out angrily at all their offenders – society, men, other women - I stood up in the end and this is what I said.

“I was in a footwear shop a few months ago. I saw this woman before me browsing the store. She was wearing low waist jeans. She was wearing it so carelessly that every time she bent to try some footwear, I could see her underwear and also the cleave of her bottom. I went up to her and said very awkwardly, ‘your pants... everything is to be seen’. To this, she turned and looked rather annoyed at my unsolicited feedback. She nodded and continued browsing the store as before.”

“It’s not just one case, but wherever you go – shopping malls, coffee shops, you see women wearing low waist jeans in a way you can see their underwear and when they bend or sit on a backless stool, you can see the cleave of their bottom.”

“For all our sympathy towards women and their causes, we must concede the most obvious of their faults; we must concede the fact that they are becoming increasingly irresponsible in their dressing. Their freedom and liberation are not accompanied by an equal measure of responsibility”

I was not suggesting that dressing was at the root of it all, but that it was an important factor deserving of mention in the discussion of the problems faced by women, a pint not to be disregarded as irrelevant.

More importantly, I wanted to say this: while we have a right to complain about our woes, campaign, protest, demand things etc., we must admit that we have our faults too. This ‘we are doing all things right, we are perfect and innocent and the whole bad world is out to get us’ claim is ‘too much’ to be acceptable.

Coming back to the forum...
Had I been given a chance, I would have added that it was not just low waist jeans, but any other apparel, even a sari could be worn in a way that was not modest.

But even before I could finish, my voice was drowned in a general murmur of dissent.
The Times of India editorial member dismissed me saying, ‘Today you say low waist jeans is wrong, tomorrow you will say, what I am wearing is wrong...”
Well, knowing that the event was put together by Times of India, a media entity that fills its newspaper with sleaze, titillation, page 3 trash, gossip and loads of provocative pictures, to increase its circulation, I should have known better than to expect half a chance.

And within no time, came up the live tweet projected on the whiteboard ahead - “Women can go nude for all they want; it does not give men the right to rub them”

Whether or not men rub you, I mean, regardless of how men will react to what you do, don’t you have to conduct yourself responsibly for the sake of your own dignity and honour?

I was disappointed to the extent that I have not been in a long while.
Not because I could not complete my point, having come all the way from a long distance... but because the women there were not willing to concede as their failing, even the most glaring of the breaches of decency – they were not willing to concede that perhaps it was not right to walk about in public showing your underwear, perhaps there was something wrong about showing the cleave of your bottom in public. They were not willing to concede ‘even a needle point of ground’.

I was told later that ‘Calvin and Klein’ design their underwear so they can be shown off! Their underwear are meant to be shown.

And of course, we must allow ourselves to be dictated by Calvin and Klein!

The much simpler option of going for some other brand or even something without a brand does not occur to our people.
It takes too much effort to analyse that an American company’s ideas of fashion may not be suited to our culture and values.
It’s a lot more convenient to simply show what they are asking you to. Isn’t it?

Since people seem to strongly resent all arguments for modest dressing that arise from notions of culture, tradition, orthodoxy, society, propriety and such things, let me try to put the matter in a new perspective.

We all agree (thank God for sparing us this last), that we disapprove of the objectification of women in cinema, television, advertisements, etc. Don’t we?

Now, think about this.
When you dress in such a way that you end up drawing attention to your body, your form, your flesh, instead of your mind, your spirit, your heart, you are objectifying yourself.
When you dress in such a way that you evoke people’s interest, not in who you are, but what your body is like, you are objectifying yourself.

I must add that it’s not just low waist jeans, plunging necklines, and skin tight clothes from the west, but the sari or the salwar too, will render you an object, if you call upon them to do so.

Most of the clothes today are designed, not just to make a woman look beautiful, not just with a view to aesthetics, but to highlight a woman’s endowments, isn’t it?

When men ‘check you out’, they are objectifying you.
When you make it easy for them to ‘check you out’, you are objectifying yourself.

And today, it is the only way men and women know to look at each other when they first meet. They ‘check each other out’, the very first thing.
Tits, ass, legs and a hot navel. The necessary and sufficient of a woman.
The essence of a woman simplified.

The question of modest dressing, therefore, is not a question of right and wrong, proper and improper, defined by someone else, to be imposed on you.
It’s a question of whether you, the woman, want to objectify yourself or not. That’s all.

The high culture of this land elevated woman to a high pedestal...
They cultivated the EYE to see only her feet adorned by anklets and above those feet, all light and spirit that the woman was...
One fine day she stepped down from that pedestal, cast off light and spirit, became simply tits and ass, what a pity...
The ONE SEEING EYE split into a pair of ogling eyes, now that she wanted to be seen, not in her wholesomeness but in fragments – tits, ass, legs and navel...
She revels in the ogling and then complains about them, but reveals more nevertheless to keep those eyes from leaving her...

One day,
The ogling reached the feverish pitch of a jabbing metal rod,
But that’s no reason why the revelling will fall...


Ranjini Jayaram said...

Let me start by sharing your horror about the so-called live tweet ! Words do not suffice to describe the absurdity and stupidity of these so called
'Liberals' and ' Feminists' . You are very correct in pointing out the levels to which the concepts of 'freedom' , 'equal rights' etc have been misinterpreted and misused by these half-baked torch-bearers of womanhood. I mean seriously you strut around displaying your underpants and then demand that lecherous eyes should not target you ? As beautifully pointed out in the article, even a saree or a salwar can be worn in a titillating manner. Women in our country are not safe even if they are fully clad and when such is the reality , making fancy statements such as " Do not tell me what to wear.. Tell them not to rape" hold no water and infact sound ridiculous!

I feel really bad Sowmya that you did not get a chance to complete your point in the forum but really I doubt your words would have made any impact on those 'highly evolved' minds . They are truely a lost cause.

Liberalism is a state of mind and not that of the body!

Loved the article ! On a lighter note , not that you may actually care , Calvin Klein is an individual designer ;)

Rishi said...

Hi Sowmya,
Long time. I am not sure if you thought, why was that reaction. Forget TOI you are absolutely spot on there. But for many Ladies expressing a view like that simply means they are tired of people blaming the woman. So I don't think you should read it beyond that. There should be a separate debate on what is a proper etiquette. As per my knowledge, being nude in public can be booked under a criminal case.

But when the debate is the current situation of woman, this point is best not brought forward as it dilutes the debate. The issue of Rape and Violence is much beyond this point. I recently read the history of Comfort Women in context of Japanese Army men comfort in the World War II context and many other such stuff through the history of Human kind and have come to believe that there is something genuinely wrong in the evolution of Human male. So in the progressive world of today, of the civilization we boast and dream, the wrong by the man need to be correct keep only the man in perspective.

The debate of a proper clothing for woman is a different one. I believe that any clothing which can be tastefully presented and make a person look beautiful in a given context is decent. That will mean a good bikini on lady in the beaches of Goa is fine but not necessarily in the middle of Brigade-MG Junction.


shaardul said...

Hi Soumya,
I stumbled upon your blog randomly seeing Nepal photos and landed on this post.. I dont want to comment about rape or feminist ideologies. I just wanted to tell a simple thing I noticed living the US for some years now.. The clothes Indian girls wear nowadays are not western at all, it's Indian Modern! I barely see and indecent dressing,titillating women here in daily life (spare some high school kids ).The women here dress very decently than most of our women do either be it in jeans or sari or salwar or whatever!!