More DW Blogs DW.COM

Women Talk Online

A forum for women to talk to women

Editorial: “To dress or to undress?”

"Slutwalk" programmes are an attempt to sensitize men towards their female contemporaries

Sherlyn Chopra is the first Indian woman to feature in Playboy. The Indian media is choc-a-bloc with news about the model, her life and challenges, the hardships she faced and the accolades she won after she was chosen to “decorate” the pages of Playboy. The media in India obviously knows that this will generate a lot of interest, and it has. Until now, Indian newspapers and magazines have been trying to create the impression that they are simply presenting the “facts” as they are. Strangely enough, in a country which has seen a couple of shocking incidents of crime against women in the past few weeks, nobody has commented on the social impact of Sherlyn’s “contribution” to Playboy or that of other scantily clad stars.

Sherlyn herself will probably not become a topic for debate because after all she is posing for Playboy, the world-famous men’s magazine and she is in some safe faraway place where local goons from Delhi or Chandigarh will not be able to lay their hands on her or molest her.

The problem is not so much  Sherlyn herself. But when stars undress or deliver “sexy” performances for Bollywood, it impacts upon the way Indian men view women by confirming their age-old stereotypes. We saw this recently in the case of a contemporary of Sherlyn’s from Guwahati, Assam, India’s northeastern state known for its religious sites of goddess worship. This woman was molested in a shocking way in front of a TV camera.  Perhaps, the men of Assam have forgotten that goddesses are essentially women, but that is a moot point. Clearly an Assamese girl going to a pub wearing a skirt is easy prey. Just wearing a skirt is understood by most men to mean that the woman is willing to expose her legs and probably the rest of her body to any passing male. They believe they have the right to molest her, it seems.

It is possible that the policeman in Pakistan who shot his sister in the leg was fearful for her because of this South Asian way of  thinking. She wanted to wear a pair of jeans, he disagreed and pulled the trigger. To give him the benefit of doubt, he probably thought he was  protecting her; after all, a bullet wound heals more easily than mental and physical wounds that follow rape and molestation.

But to get back to the debate: to dress or to undress. Does the way women dress alone, cause men to molest them? Probably not. Research actually shows that most women who get raped are young girls, sometimes not even 13 years of age. It is hard to assume that their clothing would be the point of attraction or detraction, as the case may be. They are molested or abused because of what their male family members or neighbors are thinking, not because of what they wear. Women in burqas in Afghanistan get attacked on a daily basis. A French minister was hooted at by her male colleagues in parliament when she appeared in a flowery summer dress for work.

So is this simply a discussion about dress codes or ‘undress codes’- as in the case of Sherlyn Chopra and several Bollywood movies whose box office collections nosedived because they didn’t have sexy women dancing in minimal clothing?

Perhaps the topic of debate in itself is wrong. Clothed or unclothed, women pay the price for being what they are, namely, women. And men blindly accept old stereotypes and conduct themselves accordingly. Men like those caught on camera in Assam need to understand that women are entitled to respect and the right to dress as they like. There is only one way to do this: to create a new consensus in Indian society.

Manasi Gopalakrishnan


25.07.2012 | 14:24