It’s not what we wear: It’s because we are women

Posted: May 10, 2011 in Thinking aloud
Tags: , , , ,

“All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my uncles. I had to fight my brothers. A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men, but I ain’t never thought I’d have to fight in my own house!!”–Sofia from the film The Colour Purple…

So in the past week Toronto has noted the reports of at least 3 sexual assaults, one of which is close to home. Some of us are sick of it, some among us are just learning about them and feeling like its a lot and then some will make the comments “so why were they walking late in that area”, “some of these girls are not being wise about their attire”. These incidents and the attending commentary that occur leads me in a quandary, how do I address this and not do so in anger. This piece therefore seeks to address without yelling and to provide some insight without acting like a know-it-all, there are no solutions here but hopefully we can all get clarity on the problem.

This commentary could easily have been titled “to burqa & abaya or not to burqa & abaya”–why you may ask? Well the language around assaults too often comes back to the attire of the victim and by default the attire of all of us who may on that specific day and during that specific assault have escaped. On a notable campus an officer of the law/cop/ po-po remarked that if women did not dress less like sluts it would be a deterrent to these violent crimes, (this comment has rightly spurred numerous “slut walk” protests across the globe) this being an obvious numskull statement.
So let us address attire first…getting the stupid out of the room so we can have the real discussion. So according to the quick guide for knowledge aka Wikipedia (please sense the sarcasm): “In the Muslim world, preventing women from being seen by men is closely linked to the concept of Namus.[3][4]

Namus is an ethical category, a virtue, in Middle Eastern Muslim patriarchal character. It is a strongly gender-specific category of relations within a family described in terms of honor, attention, respect/respectability, and modesty. The term is often translated as “honor”. So we get modest dressing, and protecting male eyes from female bodies (nothing about rape deterrent here). But here is an interesting question: In countries where this modest, honorific dress is mandatory do women experience less violence and sexual assaults? You guessed it–Nope!. In fact various countries for which the burqa/abya are mainstays have been notably locales for violent crimes against women. I will not give statistics here, needless to say you can check any report on the status of women globally and your head will spin. It appears and I could be reaching–that women’s attire no matter how modest do not serve as deterrents from violence.

Here is the real conversation we need to have however…
Does it matter what we wear when patriarchy and the structures which have relegated the feminine to be that which we possess pervade our daily lives. Quick example:We claim to love “Mother Nature” yet how do we treat nature? We possess it, we fight over it, we erode it mining for resources, we stake claim to it and pollute it. Just ask the average tourist going on a nature walk or eco-tour what they are doing and invariable they will tell you that they are “enjoying nature”. Never mind the GH gas emissions it took their flight to get there or the cost of cutting a path through nature for their walk, nor the below minimum wage that their female maid receives for creating their beyond normal home away from home. Yeah, we sure know how to treat the feminine!
As we feminine bodies traverse through this world whether scantily clad or abya in tow we are at risk of violence. Across 65 countries surveyed there are approximately 250,000 male-female rapes reported annually. This does not account for those cases not reported or the cases that involve same sex offenses or even those involving children. The common thread with these cases does not involve attire, time of day, location or any other often reported variable. The commonality is simply that the victim was female.

What is it about females that we should attract such disdain enough to incur violence against us and our bodies? Could there be a structure/s that nurtures this hate of female bodies? Could there have been various schools of thought which when combined arrive at the conclusion that the feminine is to be possessed?  I would suggest that the answer to these questions is a resounding YES.  From Patriarchy to religion (one could argue they are the same thing) to politics and sexuality .  Numerous forces have combined to allow for the environment within which a girl child– a woman ain’t safe…


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