“There is no smoke without a fire.”
That’s what people always tell me whenever I argue about how people (especially women) should have the ultimate rights to decide and wear anything they want to wear.
I have met people, from younger to older generation, who still think that clothes define the person’s personality, thus justifying sexual harassment based on this argument and giving the full responsibility to the victims. I recently had a conversation with several family members and acquaintances regarding this issue and I was beyond shocked when I heard a younger female had wholeheartedly agreed with this misogynic concept. Actually, no one was against it, except me. I have never felt so lonely among my own family and acquaintances.
It breaks my heart to hear people saying that we are able to judge a woman based on what she wears. It breaks my heart even more to hear a woman saying that if a girl gets sexually harassed by a guy because she wears revealing clothes, then the harassment can be justified since it was the girl who provoked the guy.
This reminds me of when we once got a case of sexual harassment at a hospital. We were presented with the pictures of the victim which were taken from behind. I remembered the presenter argued that it was because the victim was so ashamed, he did not want his face appear in the pictures. My professor blurted, “Why is it the victim who has to feel ashamed? He is the victim. The one who should be ashamed is the perpetrator.”
We make the victims the bad persons. We turn them into the ones who have to be responsible for the harassment. We even make the victims believe that they are the ones to blame. We make them believe that if they get harassed, it is because of their fault. We have built a culture in which we defend the perpetrators of sexual harassment and blame the victims because apparently “There is no smoke without a fire.” No wonder so many sexual harassments go unreported, because reporting it would make it only worse for the victims.
For me, the “fire” is a person’s bad intention, not anyone’s clothes or behavior. People’s clothes should not make us do certain things if we truly don’t want to harass people. We should not be dictated/provoked by a piece of clothes. Blaming clothes is only an excuse to justify the evil deeds. We should be fair: if we want to teach our daughters not to wear revealing clothes, then we should also teach our sons not to harass women. If we want to teach our daughters to dress properly, we should also teach our sons to respect women, regardless of their clothes. It should work both ways. Do not put the responsibility solely on the women’s shoulders, because by doing that, we are promoting the so-called rape culture.
Being raised in a mixed traditional Chinese-Indonesian culture, I was taught not to wear revealing clothes or to act “improper” in front of men. I was taught a woman should be calm and composed because everyone agrees that men are impulsive creatures and women should not provoke them. I have been in a controlling relationship in which people told me that if a guy dictates your clothes, it is because he cares a lot about you. I believed it. I blamed myself every time something bad happened, simply because I am a woman—I am responsible for whatever men do to me, because I am a woman.
That was a dark period, and to be honest, I felt more degraded instead of cared for. I could not understand how someone appreciates a woman by telling her that she belongs in the kitchen and she should always obey the male figures in her family. I could not understand how a man rapes a woman and everyone blames the woman because apparently “she was asking for it”. I could not understand how a guy says he loves a woman but he controls her every actions and behavior.
In my opinion, these things are not forms of love, care, appreciation, or anything similar to them—these are the forms of possession and objectification of women. This is the main reason why I cannot see anyone from my culture as a potential life partner, because I don’t want to spend my life with a person who sees our relationship as an ownership instead of partnership.
We should stop judging a woman by her clothes. Every woman should stop thinking that her clothes define her.
I may wear modest clothes, but it doesn’t mean that I am better than those who wear revealing clothes. Maybe I just lack of confidence. Maybe I just have negative body image. Maybe I just don’t own any revealing clothes. Maybe I just like modesty. There are a lot of possibilities, but it definitely doesn’t guarantee that I have better morality than others.
It is still a long journey for Indonesians to truly apply the concept of gender equality and women rights, but there is no better time to start than now, and there is no better place to begin than ourselves.
I stand for the freedom for everyone to wear anything they like, because it means I believe both in men’s self control and women’s status as human beings.
Note: sexual harassment can happen to both men and women, and sexual harassment can be done by both men and women. In my article, I only discussed cases in which women are the victims and men are the perpetrators, due to the culture in which I was raised, but I am not generalizing and I understand that we all know that sexual harassment is not gender-exclusive.