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In Defense of the Daughter of Eve

The disgusting victim blaming statements made by one of the Delhi rapists have been circulating on the internet for the past few days. But that’s in India, right? Let’s just not fool ourselves by thinking we are any different; more than 7000 cases of violence against women were reported in Punjab in 2014. What’s worse is that about 80% of crimes against women went unreported. I write this for the women in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan as they all face similar problems due to similar reasons. Now, coming back to the topic, victim blaming is almost an immediate aftermath every time a woman is sexually assaulted in this part of the world. But have we ever wondered where this is coming from? Is it actually the woman’s fault? Always? Sometimes? Are there particular hours of the night when women shouldn’t be out? Is there a specific degree of skin revealing that makes a woman ‘provoke’ a sexual assault?

I have spent 2 years in Canada, during which I never saw a woman in a mini-skirt get ogled at. I have spent 20 years in Pakistan, during which I did not see one jeans-sporting girl who did not get checked out by every single man in the visible radius. There is nothing inherent in a woman’s appearance or behavior that leads to her harassment. It’s her non-adherence to an oppressive blueprint that is imposed upon her. A blueprint that is too primitive and too restrictive to be followed by any free person who dares to seek his or her own happiness and recognition.

If a man is mugged in the streets, nobody tells him to stop going out of the house carrying money in his wallet. But if a woman is raped, she is told to stay home next time. All of my life, I have heard that women should be respected because they are mothers/sisters/wives/daughters. Whatever they are, they are something in relation to a man. Without such relationships, they are not considered persons with individual identities. You do not discourage a man from committing violence against another man because he is someone’s brother/father/son. This so called courtesy is only extended to women. Why? Because we, as members of a patriarchal society, believe that women are under the protection of men. That is why they are dragged into feuds between men and their bodies are turned into battlegrounds where honor of the woman’s male relatives comes to die. If a woman is raped, it is her family that has been shamed and disgraced. Therefore a wounded creature would be cast out by her own herd.  But how does all of this come about?

I would now take us through the blueprint of an ‘ideal’ woman. Women are obliged to follow a blueprint that imposes upon them very specific life choices. Their dress code must reflect some primitive definition of ‘modesty,’ their demeanor must reflect humility, shyness, and all the characteristics that a physically weaker creature must embody in order to not attract any trouble. Moreover, an ideal woman must stay within the protection of a house! What do we glorify women for? We glorify them ONLY in household roles – as mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters. This coin has another side to it, an antinomy created not deliberately but naturally. If the perfect woman follows a certain blueprint, then any woman who chooses not to follow it becomes imperfect. The farther a woman is from the house and from her traditional household roles, the farther she is considered to be from perfection. Yes, women are harassed in the public sphere because they are worshipped in the household! If they refuse to follow this traditional blueprint, they are inviting trouble. If you disagree, then you have probably never known someone who was sexually assaulted because she aspired to be a part of the fashion industry, a nurse, or a woman who works a night shift.

Girls are denied education, and parents who do get their daughters educated only do so in order to attract an educated suitor for marriage, because in the end, she eternally belongs inside the house. She is but a mere piece of property, to be transferred from one owner to another. The importance of chastity is paramount because each bride must be a virgin at the time of her wedding. Her body is not her own or she might spoil the goods. We are such hypocrites that most of us do not want to marry girls we date or have had carnal knowledge of. Thus she is confined in her parents’ home so that her virginity could be preserved till the time she is handed to her husband, where she must live a life submitting to another man who will tell her how to live her life. Widows and rape victims have no value in the marriage market and women who leave the confines of their household are looked down upon as they are risking their chastity simply by being around other men. If a woman is risking her chastity by revealing the skin on her arms and the length of her hair, then that does not make her vile and lewd – the problem lies with men who use this as an excuse to unleash their vile and lewd selves.

Pay attention to the kind of compliments, children get. Little boys are complimented for being strong and smart and little girls are always complimented for looking pretty. Women are praised for their beauty and virtue, both qualities that would help them please their husbands – which is made out to be their ultimate vocation. Take away her pen and paintbrush, give her a cookbook and a bottle of Fair & Lovely, and let’s groom a servant!

An experiment was conducted to compare the views of Americans and Indians regarding rape [Kathleen L’Armand, Albert Pepitone and T.E. Shanmugam(1981)]. Results showed that people’s views regarding a raped woman were the same for the women with only one previous sexual encounter as for women deemed “promiscuous.” Regarding the aftermath of rape, the American respondents uniformly stressed the “pain and suffering” of the victim, while the Indian respondents uniformly worried about the fact that nobody would now marry the girl. In terms of causality, Indian respondents blamed lust as an “irresistible temptation.”

The myth of a ‘virtuous woman’ imposes the notion of modesty upon women thereby creating an antinomy of domestic loyalty and public shame, adulation, and abuse. Since it is an already established belief in our society that ‘good women stay at home,’ it is extended that women who choose to go out are provoking male lust and therefore could be molested. The refusal to recognize marital rape and to identify the home as a solution to sexual violence is because rape statutes were written by men to defend their property (I think talking about marital rape is too big of a jump for a society that still demands 4 male witnesses from a rape victim, but still). Hence, rape victims are often forcibly married to their offenders. Domesticity is perceived as both a precaution and remedy to sexual violence. Rape was considered an offence to men, rather than women in the sense that it is a disruption of family honor.

Now these sick, primitive, patriarchal traditions that we use to tame and dictate our women are destroying their lives and restricting their exposure to the world. They are too restrictive to be followed by anyone who wishes to be a fully participating member of a modern society; but since we are a long way from a modern society, we have kept the public sphere unsafe for women, as if to discourage them from ever leaving home. Basically, all birds who dare to fly will be flying in a dangerous territory. We don’t worry about fixing the public sphere because we keep telling women not to join it. The blueprint births a vicious circle.

This blueprint of an ‘ideal’ and ‘modest’ woman needs to go! We need to stop holding women to these primitive standards and these restrictive roles. We must rid ourselves of this false morality we have attached to women’s sexuality. Let’s stop hiding our honor between the legs of our women, so that they stop getting dragged into feuds between men. The standards set for them should be the same as we set for men. Their persons and dignity should be protected the same way a man is protected. No one should be grievously wronged and be forced to be silent about it out of fear of shame.

We have given our women two choices: either stick to the blueprint and protect your chastity, the cost of which is missing out on a complete human experience; or to go out against the status quo and risk harassment at work, in school, in the street, in the marketplace, and when your fundamental rights are breached you will only get a told-you-so.

Let’s raise them and treat them to be better candidates for jobs than to be picked for marriage by a suitor party who would examine her looks and demeanor as if they were checking the serviceability of a mule they are about to buy! What future do we have if half of our labor force is chained to the household and the workplace is unsafe for them? We have failed half of our species if we have failed to make the public sphere safe for women. The worst part of it all is that these norms which we believe exist to protect women are the actual oppressors of women. If a woman is endangering herself every time she leaves the house, then this only means that our society is a barbaric, savage, wilderness, unsafe for half of our population. If men consider themselves to be the masons and maintainers of our society, then we have failed miserably by oppressing our better halves. We have failed our daughters, our mothers, and our sisters – the devis we claim to honor so much, and in doing so we have diminished our potential, not only as a nation, but as human beings.

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