I’ve always wondered why my mother or sister or that unknown aunty on the bus comes about whispering in hushed serious tones to tuck my bra strap in under my top, each time it unknowingly slides out. What’s so offensive about a bra strap, and why must I hide it under my clothes at all times?
Here is an attempt to decipher those unsaid rules of Indian culture and examine why the weight of it is borne by my bra and panty.
The only correct way to have breasts, it seems, is to pretend that they do not exist.
To begin with, society has very profoundly stressed upon the difference between male and female identity for ages. The woman is construed as the Other, whose identity is set apart by its difference from the man. The belief is that we are innately different, starting right from the physical appearance of our bodies till the way and manner of our thinking.
This “abnormality” of woman is best proven through the presence of breasts that are seen as the most visible, outright marker of distinction. Breasts are therefore sexualised to an obscene degree, and become the cause for much moral policing and shaming. The only correct way to have breasts, it seems, is to pretend that they do not exist.
Our patriarchal society limits the identity of woman into two strict categories: one of the sanskari, cultured Indian woman who is submissive, docile and chaste, adhering to the social norms and ever ready at the beck and call of her family. The other is the defiant, rash, independent and sexual woman who “corrupts the values” of our pure and pristine society, and is a threat to it. Beware, for this line of decency is very narrow and constantly shifting. We might never know what silly actions of ours may transgress us into the latter category.
In this course of proclaimed categorisation, next comes the rulebook of how exactly one must stay within the confines of this sanskari nari image. What issues can be discussed openly? Positive and non-judgmental expressions of female sexuality of course, do not find a mention. Only men are allowed to sexualise women, didn’t you hear?
Mothers and daughters of the respected families ought not discuss their bodies openly because they are deemed shameful and demeaning. For example, breasts, bras, vaginas and panties are not to be talked about; forget about their exhibition in the public. Society’s honour lies in the discrete existence of these.
can we simply not treat a bra as a normal piece of clothing instead of sexualising it?
And hence each time the bra strap tries to sneak out, we are moving towards being a temptress losing our moral values and are looking out for unwanted attention and seeking out the inevitable, male staring (that starts from the edge of my shoulders and finally rests on to the breasts); subsequent rape and so forth. The horrific presence of the strap causes thoughts of lust and provokes the men of honour into doing inevitable actions. So at the end, it’s all our fault. These sorts of attitudes to victim blaming are perpetuated by the tiny and persistent behaviours of moral policing like shaming a woman who has her bra strap exposed, and reaching out and tucking it in.
On the contrary, the men have the first and last right to determine to how much, when and when cannot the woman be restricted to a particular restriction of clothes. The hypocrisy is outright when the woman on the one hand is constantly objectified and shown in the media wearing sexualised clothing, and on the other hand has her attire constantly policed in society. She, under no circumstances, is allowed to be the owner of her own body and make her own choices.
The question is – why is such a ruckus created due to a piece of garment? Instead of sensationalising the thing, why can we simply not treat a bra as a normal piece of clothing instead of sexualising it? A woman’s personality is not located at her breasts or how the bra holds them. For crying out loud, the bra is not something to be ashamed of; nor is it something for us to feel guilty about. The bra is as normal a garment as the men’s banyan that’s worn. One does not find women drooling over the banyan strap, nor is it policed and tucked away the minute one catches sight of it. Men’s underwear is normalized while women’s underwear is fetishized. Why this ridiculous fuss with the bra?
Our media is continuously out there to comment, limit and talk about our matters for us. We are continuously being preached about maintaining the sanctity and simultaneously continue the objectification of women in forms of sexist ads (showing woman and her body as a device for attraction of customers, as something for sale).
The solution is simple and straight forward. We must put an end to this moral policing of a woman’s attire is by voicing out loud our opinions among our peers about this so called taboo. The next time somebody gives you advice about hiding the bra strap just let them know to mind their own business!
Featured Image Credit – Harini Rajagopalan from “10 Pieces Of Unsolicited Advice That Help Make You A Better Woman”