I remember the kerfuffle caused when Gwen Jacobs walked down the street topless in Ontario. I was 11 at the time of the court case in 1996 and I remember thinking, good for her. I also remember thinking how terribly unfair it was that men were allowed to walk around topless but women couldn’t. I can’t imagine actually walking around topless but I am glad that I have the right to do so since the Federal law criminalizing it was struck down. This case could be said to be a precursor to the now famous Slut Walks taking place around the world after a Toronto cop ‘confided’ to a group of York University students that the way to prevent sexual assault was to just not dress like sluts. The story became international news and feminists around the world responded with one simple message: women never ask to be raped.
Turns out women in New Delhi, India participated in their own Slut Walk. Unfortunately the author of that article, titled “Do Indian Women Need the Right to Dress like a Tart,” [YES!] asked,
In a country where 10 million babies have been killed in the womb because they were girls, where women are burned for dowry, murdered in honour killings, face domestic violence so frequent it’s as common as a power cut, where Dalit women fear sexual humiliation by upper caste men and where young girls are forced into prostitution, who needs the right to dress like a slut?
Really, I shouldn’t be shocked; it’s just another person who completely misses the point. Somehow, this author thinks all those problems are entirely separate from a woman’s ability to dress however she wants.
When a woman cannot dress however she wants without be subjected to constant sexual harassment, I will show you a woman who may be forced to have a sex-selective abortion or be murdered for the want of honour. I will show you a woman who is not respected, and is in fact disrespected because she is a woman. Women in the U.S. and Canada are certainly subjected to sexual harassment but the situation in India is extreme. Women in India are raped wearing traditional saris just like women here are raped wearing track pants, but the extreme violence against women in India is captured well by the Indian expression for sexual harassment: eve-teasing. As if sexual harassment is just school-yard teasing.
The point that this author misses entirely is that if these women could feel safe walking around dressed like ‘sluts’ then they would have infinitely more power than they do now. When men are punished for harassing women then women are empowered. When women are empowered they are able to free themselves from the shackles of oppression and violence and they are able to demand equality, which would reduce or eliminate sex selective abortions, which would see honour killings go the way of the dodo, which would see a reduction or extinguishment of domestic violence.
On the whole, women in North America have greater reproductive freedom due to a range of factors from financial resources to the law, but to trivialize Indian women’s attempts to empower themselves by declaring their right to dress however they please is to continue to oppress them. The author is correct: Indian women do have bigger fish to fry, but it’s a good idea to gut the fish before you fry it.
The author closes off with this gem,
Yet, the so-called younger generation of Indian feminists now want to dress in clothes that reveal their breasts and buttocks and demand this “self-objectification” as a right? And again focusing attention on their body parts as though it’s liberating? This is either false consciousness gone mad or I’ve got something wrong.
Slut walks have nothing to do with “self-objectification.” Women are objectified by society. There are native cultures where women walk around naked and that’s just the way it is. Objectification comes from outside, not from the individual woman. To suggest that women dressing so as to “reveal their breasts” is focusing attention on their body parts is the same as suggesting men who walk around shirtless are showing off their “breasts.”
As a man said in the article about Gwen Jacobs, we got over ankles so why can’t we get over breasts?