Do You Really Need ‘The Dress’ To Tell You Domestic Violence Exists

Posted on March 9, 2015 in Domestic Violence, Society, Taboos

By Aadya Sinha:

After causing a record spike in break-ups, termination of friendships, and the falling apart of other society-approved relationships, (my deepest condolences to the previous record holder, monopoly) the dress is back. And how!

the dress

Cecilia Bleasdale’s dress, which was declared to be black and blue early last week, had cyber citizens wound up in a frenzy over its colour for the past fortnight . Having gained widespread notoriety, the dress has now become the centre piece in The Salvation Army’s latest advertisement campaign against domestic violence in Britain. Depicting a visibly beaten up woman wearing the dress, the advertisement poses the question, “Why is it so hard to see black and blue”, referring to the bruises. The caption underneath reads, “The only illusion is if you think it was her choice. One in six women is a victim of abuse. Stop  abuse against women.” It also carries the logo for Carehaven, a home for women who face abuse, and their children.

The Salvation Army’s campaign comes at a time when domestic violence seems to be making headlines. The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, also known as Clare’s law, is being rolled-out across Britain, giving people the ‘right to ask’ the police whether their partner has a record of abuse. The initiative is named after Clare Wood, who was murdered in 2009 by her ex-boyfriend, George Appleton, who had a history of violence against women.

Minimalist in its format, the advertisement is hard hitting and pertinent. As far as campaigns go, it cleverly garners attention without downplaying the issue of domestic violence. It can perhaps be argued that the dress provides the perfect hook. It’s popular enough to draw the viewer in, however, it is innocuous enough so it doesn’t take the attention away from the issue it is representing, as another ‘celebrity’ might have. Still, the question in the poster is haunting: “Why is it so hard to see black and blue?”

Why is there a need for the dress to be the centre piece of the campaign? Why do we need a star or a celebrity to carry it? Is the issue of domestic violence not pressing enough for one to be concerned? Have we, as a society, become so insulated by inaction, so immune to violence, that we need a hook to draw us into everything? To force us into looking at what is right in front of us?

For too long, the tag of ‘relationships’ has provided a cover for abuse. For too long, people have ignored the issue because, “it’s none of our business”. We, as a society, have internalised and partially condoned the violence that takes place in the domestic setting, solely because it’s an uncomfortable topic for us to discuss. Because, we don’t want to litter our dinner conversations or coffee intellectualism with what could be happening in the same drawing room, in a home that may not be ours. We don’t want to question the sanctity of familial, romantic, or kin linked bonds.

We don’t wash our dirty laundry in public, you see, our dirty laundry and skeletons are meant to remain in the closet.

According to a WHO estimate, one in every three women in the world has been subjected to domestic violence.

I’m sorry, but the skeletons are dancing in the streets, and there are no more clean clothes to wear.

And still, here in India, we dismiss Preity Zinta’s case against Ness Wadia as a ‘lover’s tiff’. We simply watch the proceedings as our judicial system excludes marital rape from the ambit of the rape bill. We look around uncomfortably during that confrontation between the uncle and the niece, while watching ‘Highway’. Our maintained silence on such issues is further reflected in our polity, executive system, and judiciary.

I’ll admit, recent campaigns such as the one organised by Vogue Empower (starring Madhuri Dixit) and the “Abused Goddesses” campaign, have helped bring the issue to the purview of the mainstream. However, once again, it is important to note how these campaigns rely on a celebrity or ‘shock value’ to become talking points.

Even as the Australian federal government and the state governments announced their intention to spend $30 million on a national awareness campaign to address the rising rate of domestic violence, the number of women who will become victims of domestic violence is estimated to rise by 10%, worldwide.

And that statistic says nothing about the ones who don’t report the crime. The question, now altered, however, still persists, unanswered “How hard can it be to see blue and black?”