Musings

Friday, May 28, 2004

Woman and her Body

Woman and Her Body

Women, as we all know, have been subject to the male gaze from time immemorial and, most of the time, when she has been molested or otherwise sexually harassed, she has been blamed for having either dressed provocatively or having encouraged the man somehow. As the British politician, Nancy Astor, had once remarked, “I would like to say that the first time Adam had a chance, he laid the blame on a woman!” If provocative dressing is the reason in most cases, how then can one explain why when a Caucasian American friend of mine walked down Connaught Place in Delhi, on a September evening, dressed from neck to toe in her newly-bought full-sleeved salwar kameez with a dupatta covering her chest, two men brushed past her, touching her where they shouldn't have? She felt, quite naturally, violated and the questions she posed to me later embarrassed me. Is this how men in urban India behave on the streets? Cop a feel when they get a chance? How could I tell her that women in India grow up building up their defences against incidents like that? That, on our way to school and college, we learn to cope with wayward groping hands? I didn't have an answer to her query -- was it because India is a sexually repressed country, that no woman is secure on the streets on her own? I wondered, we belong to the land of Vatsayana, so are we a sexually repressed country? Or is it that we project such an image since we stick to the good old Indian habit of sweeping everything under the carpet! Anyway, I would desist from flogging a dead horse, enough has been written on incidents like this already.

On the other hand, I do believe that sometimes women do invite trouble through the way they dress. For those who have been away from India for a while, they would probably be quite taken aback by the way page 3 women dress here today -- imagine model Sushma Reddy in a completely backless handkerchief top gracing the cover of Bombay Times or Czech-born model Yana Gupta in a gold-sequined micro-bikini and you get the drift. It's ok for these 'celebrities' to dress the way they do because they constantly have flunkeys in attendance to look after their security and well-being. Besides, whether you wish to display your body or not is your choice, after all, we belong to the 'If you've got it, flaunt it' generation. The trouble starts when the hoi polloi decides to ape their 'style' -- they become fair game for compulsive eve-teasers (if such a genre exists). Much as we harp on women owning their own bodies and their right to display them if they wished to do so, society doesn't seem to have matured enough to be able to cope with such ideas.

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