Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Rapes and Woman Dressing

While our society struggles with the evil of rape, its relation with what women wear is a subject of recurring debate. On the one hand, voices quoting womens' dresses as invitation to rape appears squarely unjust and directly targeting their freedom to lead their lives in their chosen ways. On the other hand, the way these vioces are being silenced in public fora doesn't appear driven with wisdom and open thinking, but with ostracism and a new sets of taboos replacing the old ones. What we need is a bunch of straight questions: Why do rapists rape? Why do women (or anyone) wear certain clothes? What, if any, is the relation between the two?
A bunch of honest answers would would be ideal. But, if not, at least a load of honest thinking will surely help.
I propose the following:
1) In investigating what exactly characterises acts of sexual violence, violence and not sex is the determining factor. It turns out that most sexual violence must be caused due to reasons unrelated with immodesty of clothes. 2) In trying to understand the reasons of choices of clothing, we identify several more reasons of dressing than mere sexual provocation. It is impossible by looking at the dress of a person why exactly she has worn that. That gives us a strong argument as to why violence doesn't figure as one of the logical responses to any kind of clothing. Another reason why violence is unacceptable is because of its indiscriminate and uncontrolled nature: there seems to be no relation between the set who the perpetrators of violence targets, and the one who get victimised. 3) We talk about vanity, which appears as one of the possible reasons of choice of clothes. We appreciate that vanity has a way of creating, in a statistical manner, a sense of envy, injustice and deprivation which then breeds violence in the dark recesses of the population. But this happens at a much broader context than clothing and sexual violence and it should treated in a like manner. Meanwhile, violence of any kind is unacceptable, a realisation that can be sustainably imbibed by the society only through education and openness of thoughts.

Many articles and news programmes on sexual crimes these days. On top of that, we have things like slutwalk. These discussions often are about whether women encourage sexual crimes by wearing provocative dresses. You either find an elderly gentleman or lady saying yes it does. Or you find a progressive looking lady (or a bunch of gullible looking youngsters, boys as well as girls) calling such attitude regressive and against womens' rights. It is particularly painful to see how the original theme of sexual crimes drops into the background, while the participants get busy in throwing reprimands on each other. I feel all the fieriness should be directed to actually stopping perpetrators of such crimes from doing their deeds. The point they often end up spending enormous energy in -- that of whether womens' dresses have anything to do with rapes -- is a matter of introspection, not fiery debates filled with name-calling.

I am prompted to try and understand a bit more about what may be going on in all this talk about eve-teasing, molestation and rape on the one hand and about women dressing on the other. I want to speak my 2 words too. But, I will try to be honest about the fact that I know hardly anything about this subject, and will try to build my thoughts ground up. If you see a fault in my line of thinking, I will be most obliged if you point that out. My stand, I honestly think, I will try to keep gender neutral. This article is just a small step from my side against lack of clarity in thinking and understanding and premature sentimentalism by people purported to be intellectuals.

What is rape?

Characterisation of Rape

Below, I list the main characteristics of rape (and its little sisters/brothers).

Sexual Act. The above understanding leaves out sex from the description. To me, rape isn't fundamentally a sexual offence in a sense more than that the act is a sexual. It's not any more a sexual offence than murder is a murderous offence. Or stealing is a stealing offense. For me, it's being a sexual offense is not a useful addition to the knowledge about it.
There's another reason why I think it's not a sexual offense. Rape is a very messy, dangerous and, I would say, ineffective method of dousing sexual urge. I feel, men and women are blessed with enough methods of quenching their sexual urge without having to deal with complications of being called a rapist or molester. The only reason why a person would prefer performing a sexual act with someone else rather than as an individual act is that it involves the beauty of pleasuring someone else. In addition, that pleasuring, opening up and surrender could be optionally used as a very effective method of expressing positive emotions like love and trust.
 If this aspect of mutual pleasure is not there, or is replaced by the entirely contrary aspect of paining someone else, the whole thing loses its point as a sexual act. Rape does exactly that. I don't know how it remains sexual in any way.
Violence. Much more, rape is an act of violence. The raped person is scared. Mortified. Unwilling. Humiliated. Not enjoying. Not involved. Sex, which is such a beautiful thing, gets smared in ugly colours for the victim, making her partly incapable for the life to enjoy it ever without a trace of ugliness. The rapist is forcing himself without regard to the willingness or welfare of the other. Is there any other fundamental aspect of rape that I am missing? Please tell me now! Because, I wish to understand why raping is so bad. I want to understand it without recourse to gender-ed ideas like modesty and honour. Is there anything that a woman loses in the act of rape apart from the fundamental right to refuse? If no, I think I fully understand rape, and why it's such a bad thing to do. Because, I know it's bad to do anything affecting someone else without regard to their willingness and welfare. It's criminal. For example, stealing or robbing or murder. Or supplying wrong information. With this thinking, rape is a criminal offense in the same cadre as all the above. Leave aside detectability. Leave aside the quantum of punishment. All I say is it's a crime. It should be prevented.

Common Theme

So, what's the common theme of rape? There seem to be so many various motivations. And there seem to be so many circumstances around the act, it's mind-boggling. There are incidents which are sudden and violent. There are those which are repetitive and incesttuous. And there are those interlaced with social aspects of hierarchy and domination. They all seem really very different things. No common treatment seems natural to them all. Though sex seems to attach a huge shock element to it, the primary characteristic of rape is violence, not sex.

 And therefore, I feel, this whole discussion can be ported to realm of violence, its causes, and ways to minimise it in the society. For most part in this article, I will do that, with minor references to rape as a special case of violence. In the end, I will try and map the general ideas discussed thus, to the special case of sexual violence.

Causes of Violence

Causes of violence

What are the various causes of violence, particularly of a sexual nature? Here's a small list:

Fetish. Oh OK! I remember. There are those stories of sadism and masochism. Some people do indeed derive sexual pleasure being inflicting and receiving pain. I can't comprehend it. I really can't. If one of you does identify with the idea, could you please analyse it for me?

Domination. Very normal men and women like role-playing of domination and submission in sex. Rapist probably lose the distinction between fantasy and reality. I can imagine that if it's possible for someone to enjoy the idea of domination in fantasy, it just requires an additional nudge of mental disbalance to extend the fantasy into reality.

Chauvinism. Subjecting someone to an act of sex without her consent is probably an ultimate source of feeling manly for some men. Some incidents of rape and molestation seem to support this where an attempt to prevent the perpetrators from committing an act of molestation or rape was followed by very violent reaction, as if the perpetrator was trying to re-inforce a suppressed urge to dominate a woman. An act of sexually violating someone is a very loud way of expressing dominance. And when someone came in the way, he or she was dealt with an amount of violence which exceeded the original. Rapes followed by murder aren't rare.

All the above motivations of rape seem to originate from fundamentally different sources. Among them, I can partially understand only the first -- violence. The other motivations -- sex and fetish -- seem very incomprehensible to me.

Revenge and Punishment.
One of the most relevant triggers of violence is revenge and punishment. Perpetrators of revenge and punishment pre-suppose the occurrance of injustice on the part of the other party. Whether the injustice has actually been done is another question. So is whether the person/group/class/community which this act of revenge purports to punish is the same as the one who actually becomes the victim of such acts.

Woman Dressing
Now, let's turn our attention to the other major part of our topic.

As I had mentioned earlier, not being a woman disqualifies me summarily to comment on why they do dress, leave alone talking about how they should dress etc. I won't commit that blunder for sure. Instead, I will try and talk about clothes in general. Even that would be a commendable feat for me because my personal attitude towards clothes, dressing and appearance is rather primitive. I really am ignorant of all the higher sensibilities that go into the decisions about prefering one way of dressing to another. I intend to put my ignorance to the best possible use, that is of working with the elementary ideas and building over them. In the worst case, even if I don't succeed in that, I hope that I 'll succeed to amuse you with my naivete.

Reasons for choice of appearance/clothes

I can imagine the following reasons for wearing clothes:
Protection from weather and other practical reasons. The original reason for starting to wear clothes must have been protection from weather. Different clothes for different weathers. Thereafter, the simplest reason is comfort. Then comes convenience, i.e. the clothes we wear shouldn't be an impediment to, if not an aid to, what we are currently doing.
Enhancing physical beauty. There are some of us (I think I drop out of this elite group) who think that clothes can enhance their looks; and this notion dictates their choices and tastes in clothing.

Uniform. I think, most of us wear clothes to identify ourselves with our people. This is done unconsciously, but probably accounts to the vast majority of choices made in clothings. When we are off to school, we wear the school uniform. Strict uniforms exist for factories, military, hospitals etc. At other places where uniforms aren't explicitly specified, clothes still are largely a uniform -- vehicle of identifying oneself with some fragment of society. You decide your clothing depending upon whether you wish to look traditional or modern, cool or intellectual, rich or simple. This reason for wearing clothes may appear obvious on the surface, but offers an important insight to the deep-rooted need in us to integrate with some notion of social group. We are continually conforming, however non-conforming we might consider ourselves to be. We trying to integrate into some group, while we are trying hard to break from another. In fact, the notion of clothes being a uniform, may hold the only logical key to the notion of proper dressing. On the one hand, when someone says that your dress is improper, he may just mean that you are dressing differently than most other members of a social group that he considers you to be a member of. On the other hand, when someone insists on wearing certain type of clothing, citing it as his personal style statement, his thinking already a captive of some notion (which isn't probably originally his own) of what statement his style makes. To end this, let me mention that the most natural choice of clothes, that of not making any choices, is already an act of conformance. In this case, we continue wearing the clothes we have always been wearing, or are given us, or we find most people wearing around us.

It's very important to understand that being social creatures, utilising clothes as uniforms is a small part of a large gamut of social acts we do which, if termed kindly, are democratic decisions, and, in slightly depraving terms, originate from the deep rooted herd mentality of humans. It doesn't need us to go into judgemental thinking to know that this characteristic is a reality for humans and explains the impetus behind most of the things most of us do, including the choices we make in our clothes.

Profession. People wear appearances almost entirely because of their profession. I am referring to people in the entertainment industry: actors and models. Entertainment industry is largely about appearances and what thoughts and emotions they evoke in the audience. Among the myriad things they have to present on the screen in order to do that, people and their appearances are definitely one of the important elements. In some sense, this reason of wearing clothes can be considered under uniform, particularly to explain why actors and actresses dress up in a certain way when making public appearances off screen. They are bound by their profession and the image they wish people to carry in their minds about themselves makes it imperative for them to appear in a certain way in public. The interesting point of distinction is, however, that the people -- the lay audience -- who define the social group they wish to be perceived as belonging to -- namely, heroes and heroines -- themselves don't belong to that group of people. This may appear as an orthogonal observation, but appears to me, as a very important and relevant one here. Hope I'll be able to elucidate how.

Vanity. We all are subject to this vice wherein we love showing off our assets -- be it hot bodies, intelligence, happiness, wealth, power, status or sophistication -- to people who don't or can't have it -- be it by owning it or consuming it. Vanity prompts us pull into the game innocent people who logically have nothing to do with our asset. But showing off evokes anger, frustration and envy in those people who logically shouldn't have cared less about our assets; and in turn creates an illusion of appreciation of the value of our asset. The anger and frustration stems as much from the absurdity of one's getting affected by things he doesn't want to be, as from his inability of having the object of desire. To some feeble minded, this absurd and random involvement becomes a justification for violence.

Probably, vanity is a very effective -- though insidious -- means of creating a popular consensus about the valuability of an asset. In that way, vanity works not only in enhancing the illusion of value of our assets in our own eyes, but in front of other unknown suitable consumers of it. A good marketing strategy. For example, consider the value of gold or diamond. Their value is all about the perception of their value, in spite of their uselessness as utilitarian objects. Even their aesthetic value comes entirely from their vain rarity. Mere rarity, or the improbability of a large number of people possessing them is the only basis of their value, in spite of the impossibility of their getting used for anything of direct value (barring in certain chemical processes or as a cutting tool).

About Physical Beauty

Types of physical beauty

We started our discussion about clothing for the specific reason of exploring if the choice of clothes does/may have a relevance to sexual crimes. The objective of wearing clothes for enhancing physical beauty seems to hold some hope of throwing some light in this direction. Therefore, let's spend a while in exchanging a word or two about physical beauty.

There seem to be the following types of beauty:
  • Longetivity. A long and healthy life means that as a partner the probability of the person's quitting midway due to death is low. That increases desirability.
  • Happiness. This means that time spent with such a partner will be of high quality. This also has some indirect bearing on possible longevity. Hence, it increases desirability.
  • Sexual health. This means that mating with such a person will be more fun. And/or this individual carries genetic traits which positively affect the fitness of the progeny.
Of the above sexual health is what interests us here. Why would one wish to enhance sexual beauty? I can think of the following reason:
  • Seeking sexual partner. Seeking sexual partner is a fundamental activity for every organism. It's no wonder we too do it. It's also no wonder that we instinctively employ everything we have with us to attract an appropriate partner for mating. Using physical appearance for that is obviously a part of it. Neither can I comprehend how it can be avoided, nor why it should be. Also, in this, I dare include all moves of beautification which are otherwise not expressly intended to attract members of opposite sex. If every reason to wish to physically beautify oneself isn't reducible to a deep biological urge to seek sexual partners, I would like to be enlightened on those.
An important observation about the above reason for choosing an attire or appearance is that it is a very practical, personal and innocent act of the satisfaction of a very fundamental requirement. However, it involves continual selection and rejection of partners. It happens at all levels of interaction, starting right at the moment a person becomes visible to the world in his or her attire.

Vanity and Violence
With the above material, we are now in a position to attempt connecting the two worlds of woman dressing and sexual crimes. The only connection that appears to be natural is vanity.

Vanity and violence are inseparably related. The prime reason why vanity seems to exist is to incite discontent and a feeling of deprivation in someone in an indirect way. Vanity, practiced at large, results in widespread feeling of deprivation. At a significant enough scale, these feelings turn pathological for a small minority, enough to cause widespread discord. Some important observations one can make about this complex phenomenon are:
  • Vanity isn't directed to a specific person or groups.
  • Effects of vanity surface only when it turns into a social practice. These ill-effects are widespread discontent, feeling of deprivation.
  • Within tolerable limits vanity outlines the social perception of valuability of things.
  • For some, the above feelings cross the tolerance limits and incite feelings of violence.
  • The people who get victimised from the acts of violence are mostly not people guilty of culpable vanity.
  • The acts of violence thus committed are indistinguishable, in terms of their consequences, from acts of violence done due to lesser reasons like greed, fear, enmity, insanity etc.

 Bringing it All Together

Rape is a crime of violence more than a crime of sex. People dress the way they do for many other other reasons than vanity. All those other reasons are innocent. Directing any criticism, leave alone violence, to people for their dressing is illogical I would say, simply because the minorness of vanity as one of the reasons of dressing.

Vanity manifests in our behaviour in many more devious forms than mere clothing. And vanity's at the root of a lot more violence than mere sexual. But all the violence that happens as a revenge of vanity ends up, more often than not, targetting people who aren't party to the evil. People filled with wrath against vanity often interprete innocent acts as acts of vanity.

Vanity is an evil. And so is the violence that's directed to its alleged perpetrators. However, both are inseparable parts of our civilisation. Some people will be vain. Social tensions will invariably result from them. There will be a segment of the society which will cross the ethical line and will commit acts of violence against people whom they suppose to be guilty of vanity, but most of whom will actually be innocent people. 

There will be good people who will ask their brethen to play safe, to act conservatively, to behave like the rest of the crowd, and so on, so that the elements belonging to those fringes of the society who have taken to violence in the name of avenging vanity don't notice them. I think, what they say is sensible and practical; not regressive. But they should know that such people who commit violence to avenge vanity constitute a minuscule portion of the population of perpetrators of violent. There exist other less pardonable causes of violence which have little to do with the above sentiment of vengeance. Crouching in the corner gives little security against that other kind of violence.

The Final Final Word

Relation between clothing and violence
I have tried to bring together the central idea of my thesis in the above figure. There are many reasons for clothing, only one of them being vanity. There are many reasons for (sexual) violence, only one of them being revenge and punishment. With this fact in mind, we should understand that conservative dressing doesn't do much in securing women against rapists. Violence will continue to be perpetrated as an outlet for chauvinism, domination and fetish. On the other hand, the unjustifiability of sexual violence multiplies because it inflicts itself indiscriminately to an innocent multitude whose reason for dressing doesn't have anything to do with social injustice and its perception.
Additionally, regardless of whether vanity is justified or not, and to what extent, people's choice of clothes can't deserve a violent treatment. Rape is a social evil, and must be fought with what might we have.

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