Apparently I’m in trouble, again. Turns out, that I had somehow foolishly assumed that how a woman chooses to dress herself is entirely her prerogative but evidently it is not. I, along with innumerable other women in this country, were taken to task last week and issued a stringent warning to be careful in choosing our attire or face physical retribution. Because you know, we’re always asking for it, right?
From flashing our tantalising kneecaps in public hospitals, to seducing society with our bare arms in public service departments, to daring to win medals in the SEA Games for gymnastics whilst dressed in leotards, us women just continue to go on the offensive with our clothing. Thankfully, someone always seems to appear just in time to remind us of our subordinate position and whip us back into shape.
The latest female transgression to cause an absolute furore, involves the seemingly innocent saree blouse, which has been discovered this week to actually be a vile, dreadful threat to society. Truth be told, it has never once occurred to me that the garment in question might actually qualify as a legitimate quandary. But then again, what do I know? I’m just a woman. We are not really known for pondering upon such deep and perplexing complexities such as the propriety of saree blouses. We’re just really superficial like that.
The saree blouse comes under attack
So, you can just about imagine my sheer delight when a few days ago, someone took the time out of his very busy moral policing schedule to remind all women, attending the upcoming Thaipusam festival, to wear appropriate saree blouses. The suitability of these garments was to be benchmarked against this individual’s personal standards, with offenders running the risk of being sprayed with aerosol paint. The benevolence and selflessness of it all is, well, truly just remarkable.
I shudder to think, the number of years I have been housing these horrid debauched items in my wardrobe, not to mention the many occasions upon which I have unknowingly brought them out and allowed them to shroud me in a cunning blanket of indecency. The number of times I have been to temples and flashed my back in what I naively believed to be appropriate traditional wear: Oh, the shame! How will I ever live down the disgrace and dishonour of having dressed in such a vulgar fashion? How do I even begin to thank this guy and the countless other concerned parties who have taken on the arduous and onerous task of regulating the female dress-code over the years?
Bigger issues to focus on than what women wear
These good-hearted, civic-minded citizens, could be focusing on so many other pressing matters, such as issues made apparent by statistics which state that every 35 minutes a girl or woman in Malaysia is raped and that most of the rape victims are aged under 16. They could be ruminating on why between 2000 and 2013, 42,449 domestic violence cases, 31,685 rape cases and 24,939 molestation cases were recorded. They could be trying to figure out why women and girls are abused in the most violent and horrific of ways on a daily basis. They could be trying to find solutions to address such outrageous atrocities. So many important issues to worry over and stress about and yet, these caring individuals kindly place women’s fashion at the top of their priority list of social ills to tackle.
All jokes aside though, because really, this isn’t very funny after all is it, we have to take a moment and seriously question why we find ourselves, yet again, at this exact juncture. At which point did it become acceptable for someone to think that it was perfectly fine for him to issue a public warning to women about their attire and threaten them with violent consequences? He claims that it is to protect the sanctity of religion and culture but what bolstered his confidence and assured him that his actions could somehow be morally justified in the first place? Harassment is harassment, whatever the justifications may be behind it, violence is violence. One cannot threaten to attack someone because of how they are dressed: this is not legal. From the halls of parliament to public spaces, it has seemingly become the tolerated norm however, for women to be threatened, objectified and treated like chattel. Violent intent, language and actions continue to be wielded as a form of power over a woman and used in an attempt to keep her in check.
Fault lies in perpetrator, not women
Time after time, we are blamed for purportedly wearing the wrong thing, being in the wrong place and expressing ourselves in the wrong way. We are regularly singled out for conduct of impropriety and indecency, with our measure being determined by those who have no business doing so in the first place. A woman is expected to justify her appearance and bear the negative consequences it attracts, when really, it is those who are harassing her who should be called upon to account for their ostensible views and actions.
We may be tempted to dismiss them; disregard their opinions, write-off their absurd ideas and laugh at the outlandishness of their views. I myself have been guilty of turning a blind eye and a deaf ear when men have called out to me in an uncouth way. Their crass words and expressions have never really had the intended effect on me, so it was far easier to altogether ignore them, rather than react and potentially attract more unwanted consequences.
Yet, what happens on those occasions when wolf-whistles and cat-calls turn into things far more sinister? What happens when someone reading a Facebook post about spray painting a woman, decides to pull at her “non-regulation” saree blouse sleeve when he sees her walking past, just for a bit of fun? What happens when that same hand teasing at her sleeve, gets a little carried away and converts into one that is far more aggressive and invasive? He will blame it on the saree blouse and as for her, well, she was given ample warning, wasn’t she?
All of this vigilante fashion policing is so last season and really, just needs to stop. In any case, it is pointless singling out specific items of attire for critique, as it has been proven, time and time again, that a woman being harassed or violated has nothing to do with her clothing and everything to do with the perpetrator behind those actions. Women have been harassed and assaulted whilst wearing short skirts but also whilst wearing tudungs. Women have been leered at inside night clubs but also inside places of worship. Women have been touched, grabbed and groped on lonely dark streets but also on packed public transportation in broad daylight. So clearly, the problem lies not with a woman but with those who choose to view and interact with her in an inappropriate and illegal manner.
Women are their own bosses
To these individuals, I offer a very simple explanation. A woman’s self-worth and self-esteem is determined by her and her alone, against the standards she chooses to set for herself. Her value is not determined by the design of her saree blouse, nor by her family, friends and strangers. She is not defined by what she wears and how she looks, as tempting as it may be to draw understanding and conclusions from such superficial criteria. How she chooses to present herself and her body to the world, is entirely and exclusively her prerogative, within the boundaries of legal and moral considerations. Considerations that are hers and hers alone to make. If how a woman dresses displeases you, then by all means, feel discontented and disgruntled, for that is your right, but don’t for a single second confuse feeling offended, with feeling encumbered with the burden to act on those feelings. You are welcome to have judgemental thoughts but you are not allowed to act on them in a physical manner.
I, along with every other woman out there, has the right to decide on my hem-line, my neck-line and when and where to draw-the-line. Your role is actually, exceedingly simple; to show respect for each and every one of those lines, at all times.
Source : Gayatri Unsworth @ FMT Online