Friday, March 8, 2013

Of Rape Apologists, Good Advice & Good Intentions

Why is Azam Mahmood Butt a rape apologist?

Recently, the article “Of Rape Apologists, Whatever That Is…” published in Pakistan Today, by the Assistant News Editor, Azam Mahmood Butt (the article is being reviewed, since March 02, 2013 but you can read it here) unleashed a storm online that sent a few 'well-intentioned' tweeple into a tizzy. What’s the big deal about an article that judges women’s opinions based on the length of their heels, their ability to pronounce certain Western brands, describing rape as a ramification of ‘privacy’ & ‘my own choice(?!)’, blaming the raped women for getting into ‘dangerous situations’ like getting drunk, blaming ‘mental sicknesses’ for rape – all this while speaking of ‘depriving a rapist of his manhood and feeding it to him in order to set an example’, thus proving that he’s really on the women’s side here and hates rapists just as much. Then he managed to squeeze in some anti-homosexual comments too, because this was a relevant situation and made one ‘individuals should be on the lookout’ suggestion that’s painfully obvious even to a 5yr old and miles away from absolving him of anything on the checklist below.

Check List:
                Liberal Hater -> Check
                Rape Apologist -> Check
                Homosexual Basher -> Check
                Western Influence Blamer -> Check
                Victim Blamer -> Double Check

Good Advice & Good Intentions:
Whenever we give advice to someone we care about, we do it with good intentions. Good intentions, however, don’t necessarily lay the foundation for good advice. One such form of advice is the ‘cover up’ advice well meaning men and women give women when they step out in ‘dangerous areas’ dressed in ‘provocative clothing’. That seems like harmless, effective advice until we think it through.

“Cover Up” & “Provocative Clothing”- When I just got out of school, I went through a tom-boy-ish phase. I loved my neck-high t-shirts worn under long-sleeved, loose shirts, heavy metallic watch, cap on backwards and dirty worn sneakers. Make-up was for people who had time to iron their jeans, and so were earrings. I had time for neither. That didn’t stop men from getting sexually harassing me on the street. Forget dressing provocatively, I was dressed like a boy. All the times I’ve been subjected to street sexual harassment in the form of cat-calls, brushing past me, trying to lean on me in buses – I’ve been ‘covered up’, even after I started dressing like a ‘normal girl’, sometimes even wearing a dupatta over my head. None of these incidents happened after dark or in lonely areas. Every area was and is dangerous. Gang rapes in moving vehicles and in homes have made that obvious. Some areas may be lonelier than others, but a woman is rarely safe anywhere. If covering up hasn’t spared me from street sexual harassment, I doubt it would save me from getting raped if the rapist were presented with the opportunity. The idea of a properly covered up body differs from person to person, and thus from rapist to rapist unless they follow a code which we have no way of knowing, and the idea of such a code existing sounds ridiculous. When we ask a woman to ‘dress modestly’, we are imposing our idea of modesty on her. We’re doing it with good intentions, but it’s extremely unlikely that a rapist will share our idea of modest clothing. Suggesting that a woman wear appropriate clothing is a superficial way of ‘doing our bit to keep her safe’. Will a burqa be enough to protect a woman from a rapist?

Drilling the idea that ‘modest clothing’ will reduce a woman’s chances of getting raped may give women a false sense of security.

60yrs-70yrs ago, an Indian woman would think twice before stepping out in India in a pair of trousers and a shirt. She must have not even thought about it. Saris were inconvenient, so were salwars. Modesty has trumped comfort and common sense over the ages for women, while ‘showing skin’ is normal in the case of men, without questioning its necessity. Today we have women stepping out in jeans, skirts or whatever makes their life a little easier. This has been possible because at some point, a few women decided to throw the then 'unspoken laws of modesty' under the bus and put themselves and their happiness first. Had they been stopped by concerned relatives then, would any of us dare to go down the jeans' road? A pair of jeans once was the equivalent of today's mini-skirt. In some circles, a woman wearing a pair of jeans is still considered ‘indecent’, ‘bold’, ‘too modern’ and ‘immoral’. After decades, we haven’t been able to give women the basic freedom to choose comfort over modesty and we’re pushing women’s clothing trends backward in the name of safety, rather than pushing it forward in an attempt to make it the new ‘normal’.

Three cans of pepper spray, sharp nails/rings and a solid course in self-defense may save a woman from rape. Draping her in extra layers of clothing won’t. 

Criticism of a woman’s choice of clothing may not do anything to prevent rape, but it sure does mountains to hurt rape survivors. Surely, we won’t tell a rape survivor that the choice of clothing led to her being raped, but if we had, in the past mentioned it as a cause of rape, she will remember it for years to come. When we openly support theories that claim that ‘immodest’ attire is one of the causes of rape, we are not only blaming women who have already been raped, but are declaring that women who may be raped in the future are partly responsible. As well-wishers, victim blaming is not our intention for any of the women we care about. Being supportive is excellent. We need to try to be supportive without curbing a woman’s freedom of choosing her own clothing. We need to kill the idea that a woman asserting her freedom through her clothing (or her career, or her behavior) invites dire consequences. It won’t yield instant results, but if we see a small positive change in the right direction because of our efforts before we leave this planet, it’s worth it, isn’t it?

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