Recently self-proclaimed fighter of “women’s rights” Kundan Srivastava, decided to teach women a lesson or two in how they should dress while out in public. He posted pictures of two women wearing clothes (of course without their consent) that revealed their bras underneath and sternly told his forty eight thousand followers (bigotry attracts bigotry I suppose) that women shouldn’t dress in “such fashion”. He also proceeded to tell women that they need to have some dignity.
His post should have died but didn’t and given the nature of today’s internet, it went viral. Quietly it garnered thousands of likes and shares by those who agreed and disagreed with it. Nauseatingly some even suggested that the girls pictured in the picture would be gang raped (because in our society rape is a shared responsibility between a man and a woman).
This isn’t the first time or the last, a bra has been held as a sign of virtue (or lack thereof) of a woman and I won’t be the first person or the last to say that we need to stop sexualizing articles of women’s clothing. As far as anyone should be concerned, women wears a bra to get some additional support for their breasts (which are also not sexual objects meant for ogling but rather just another part of a woman’s anatomy like her ears or her arms). And they come in various colors, shapes, fits and prices to suit the needs to different women. The point being that they are just clothes that women wear. They shouldn’t be part of national conversations debating the virtues of women. It is a strap, not an invitation.
“Your mickey is showing”
I realized a bra was something wrong when I was just a child. My mother bought me first bra when I turned 13. It was a training bra. My mother only ever called it a bra. She didn’t use any euphemism to describe it. One day at school (where our uniform was a salwar kameez), my teacher came to me and said, “Your mickey is showing”. I genuinely turned around to see if Mickey Mouse had somehow materialized in our class. When she realized that I had no clue what she was talking about, she herself harshly pushed my bra strap out of sight and tucked it into my kameez. Next time, she warned me, my mother had better properly pin it out of place, thus placing the blame on another woman.
In the next few months, my friends and I quickly learnt the different ways one could let a person know when their bra showed. We would giggle and say – “Your rabbit has left the house”, “The car has left the highway” – and so many more variations. I learnt that when someone pointed it out to me, I was supposed to be mortified and swiftly take action. My bra always had to be out of sight.
We learnt that to use the word bra itself was somehow vulgar. It was sexual. It was wrong. It didn’t matter that we were children and no one had any right to sexualize us at that age. But that’s exactly what happened. The training bra was the first weapon used to slut shame us. And we didn’t know any better, so we shamed ourselves.
Vulgarity is in the eyes of the beholder
At college we were told to not wear sleeveless kurtas or salwar kameezes. We were told that we couldn’t wear short kurtas that didn’t fully cover our thighs. Slowly every part of our body was sexualized. In places where we were supposed to get our education, our bodies were constantly shamed. And once again we let it happen. We rolled our eyes and complained but we shrugged and followed the rules. We were turned away from campus for sometimes not strictly adhering to those dress codes (sometimes we just didn’t have the clothes to wear because laundry hadn’t been done). We were denied education and made to feel less about our bodies.
Change the conversation
One of India’s top feminist writers and economists, Devaki Jain, once wrote that “changing the condition of women? the hardships they face whether through poverty or basic discrimination – requires monumental changes in the social perceptions of woman, across caste, class ethnicity and other differences.”
She notes that the only way we can affect change would “require building political and social mobilisation on one identity (not multiple identities) and that is as women.” We need to create a sense of pride in womanhood that isn’t connected to the woman being a mother, a daughter, a sister or a wife. The pride should exist in her being a woman. A woman alone by herself is enough.
The bra is not for you to judge
The only way we can encourage women to embrace and respect their own bodies is by simply refusing to shame them. And that begins with us treating the bra strap as nothing more than just another piece of clothing. A bra is no more or no less important than the sandals a woman chooses to wear and is in no way an automatic consent for sex (or rape).
She is a woman – complete and beautiful. Her body is complete and beautiful. She is not vulgar and she is not dirty. Everything that she is and everything she wears belongs to her own self. She is woman – hear her roar.
Featured Image Credit: Kundan Srivastava/Facebook