The Real Problem With Exposed Bra Straps, And Other Insignificant Conversations

Posted on July 9, 2014 in Gender-Based Violence, Sexism And Patriarchy, Society, Taboos

By Dhruv Arora:

It has taken me some time to collect my thoughts about what I like to affectionately refer to as the Great Bra War of 2014, also known as the discussion that happened day-before yesterday. There are quite a few issues that I am going to be picking on during the course of this article, so let me start off with a fair series of disclaimers. There is a good chance you will disagree with and hate this article, with a possibility of writing me off completely as a radical meaningless armchair activist feminist (or other such gems). There is also going to be a fair amount of analysis and suggestions that I put forward which probably won’t sit well with extremist religious/culturalist (this snazzy new word I’m coining) moralist logic-ists.

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I must admit, I have been having an extremely hard time trying to zero down on where I want to begin. Should I start with the fact that everyone is entitled to their opinions, and the fact that someone decided to write about something that they feel is important to them is their business? Should I start with the fact that a majority of the defence that was presented as to why the article was pointless had to do with how it is in the name of protection? Should I start with how the Indian culture has suddenly taken the driver’s seat into so many discussions, in a flawed and incomplete capacity? Where oh where do I start?

I first need to get something out of the way, something that my colleagues probably won’t appreciate me mentioning in an article published in this vein. This article does not reflect the views of YKA, but my own. YKA often publishes conflicting opinions simply because (who would’ve guessed) different people have different opinions.  I suppose this the blogging way of saying “RTs are not endorsements”. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the meat of things, shall we?

Excuse me as I take you through this extremely limited and painfully uninspired summation of the comments the article in question (a community submission) gathered:

  • Why are we discussing such trivial issues when rapes are happening in the world?
  • Who is stopping you? I love watching hanging bra straps. In fact, why don’t you just take it off 😉
  • The Indian culture does not permit this. Learn to respect the culture of the country you were born in.
  • People are dying of poverty and hunger or other such things and you care about your bra strap.
  • WHY ARE WE DISCUSSING SUCH TRIVIAL ISSUES WHEN RAPES ARE HAPPENING IN THE WORLD?!? And other such all-caps gems (repeated to denote the scale of how much this was said).
  • We need to have stricter punishment for rapists and stop talking about irrelevant things / OR / Death penalty for rapists and stop talking about these stupid things.
  • Stop talking and start doing. / OR / Stop discussions and go out and stop rapes.
  • This is elitist nonsense that doesn’t reach the actual people doing these things, who are often uneducated and/or poor.

There were quite a few gems I am sure I am missing out on, but I’m guessing that’s best for my sanity as well.

While we have the “these things are irrelevant” chat, let me go for a stroll in my baniyaan at 1am without a worry in the world, and have a woman cover up and go for a walk in broad daylight. Let’s also see who’s feeling safer. Because freedom is not irrelevant, and you don’t get to pick and choose. We need to reduce crimes, but till the time we limit our scope of thought to how do we make life one step worse for those who are done committing acts of rape et al, instead of also targeting why they are happening in the first place, it will be but a flawed and incomplete discussion. We can go out and target “rapists” and pretend that they are of a specific caste, class, education, religious and economic background, and that such “incidents” aren’t caused by us learned folk (ha), while incidents happen right under our nose. We can talk about how these “small things” are irrelevant and completely ignore the fact that the basic discussion is one around freedom, and because of this, all of these things are connected to the root cause of the problem that is the alarming and ever-rising increase of sexual violence in this country. If you want to cure a disease, you must target the disease and not the symptoms. “Protection” is not the same as safety. Equal access to public spaces is important.

But Dhruv, what are you saying? Have you lost your mind? Do you really think having pointless discussions (sigh) about these stupid things is more important than the fight against rape?

Au contraire, my learned friends; this IS the fight against rape. Why stop there, this is a fight against much more. Rape is not where it ends and begins, there is much more around sexual assault that often goes unspoken and unnoticed. There are smaller conversations around a horrifying lack of public urinals for women, lack of female police officials and/or gender-sensitized police officials, the freedom to wear what you like, go where you like, eat what you like, or even say what you want (HOW DARE YOU HAVE AN OPINION THAT I HAVE CLEARLY DEEMED USELESS, a-la the article in question). Unless we have these smaller conversations about basic freedom and access, about the smallest of things at the largest of scales, what we are talking about is a symptomatic approach towards rectifying the problem, one that can offer us nothing more than short-term quick-fixes and not fix the leak at the source. It is pretty similar to holding a finger to a hole in a water pipe and thinking you’ve fixed something; a mere band-aid solution to a problem that requires surgery at various levels at its very base.

So what are you suggesting? Should we let lose all the rapists? We sit and talk while people are raping each other?

Why, not at all, dearest reader. I would very much like to cut the problem off at the root, something which cannot be done as long as we keep on talking about what can be done at incident as opposed to to prevent an incident; and sadly, stricter punishments etc. aren’t enough. The problem with our “saviour” approach of “protecting” women as opposed to asking the fundamental question of why is it happening at all is what got us in trouble in the first place, and they are what ultimately lead to desperate efforts to curb various kinds of freedom for women, basic things, in an attempt to stop them from getting harassed. The whole idea of locking for protection (and if you dwell deeper, then ideas around covering women up, of “following the Indian culture” to stop rapes) in order to not invite the hungry gaze of skin-hungry monsters that men are painted out to be, are ridiculously misplaced because they rely on the flawed notion that sexual assaults are about sex.

The real problem with exposed bra straps is not the exposed bra straps, it is the idea that men are hormonally charged ravages who will devour the first person who walks by with an inch of skin shown. The problem is that we have been born in and need to fight against the very system that maintains this seemingly undefeatable gender hierarchy that makes the men out to be both the “protectors of the weak women” as well as the people against whom protection is needed against in the first place (ridiculous, isn’t it), and the women to be the treasure that families must protect at all costs from the sex hungry savages that roam the streets. The problem I am talking about is a word that is bound to piss off a big chunk of people reading this, because it is connected to other words that make us uncomfortable such as feminism and gender. It rhymes with matriarchy, starts with a p and is the reason I can donne my baniyaan and boxers and go for a stroll in the middle of the night and only have to worry about possible dog-bites, while women are told to cover up all traces of their exposed bani-err-bra straps to ensure they do not goad the dragon into breathing fire, so to speak.

The problem with exposed bra straps is not the exposed bra straps, but the exposed assertion of freedom that comes with it; and discussions are never irrelevant. In fact, they are the only thing that can work in the long term, while we are busy sipping whiskeys and ranking issues in order of how offended we may be from them.

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