MEASURE FOR MEASURE: MUMBAI BANS LINGERIE MANNEQUINS

For centuries, humans are seen as the ‘most intelligent’ of the earth-dwellers, as organisms that possess the faculties to think, exhibit and control. Our mental faculties are meant set us apart from animals— giving us better control over our animalistic instincts and thereby lending sophistication to our social behavior.

However, humankind seems to be experiencing ‘turn-ons’ and ‘turnoffs’—tiny button-like movements within us—that we can’t seem to control. Our inability to control our animalistic behavior, or situations that lead to ‘turn-ons’, make us aggressive and animalistic. When we can’t control ourselves any longer, we begin to make irrational and impulsive decisions.

The Municipal Council of Mumbai, India, has decided to take action against what seems to be a breach in the law of human behavior.  Post the number of severe rape cases India has witnessed, they will be taking serious measures to prevent such occurrence, by getting rid of the stimulus that leads to such impulsive behavior.

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The Municipal Council passed a resolution last month banning the display of lingerie mannequins in the city of Mumbai. These scantily clad mannequins act as ‘turn-ons’ for men who see them, making them inclined to sexually abuse women, said the Council.

City Council member Ritu Tawde said she proposed the ban of mannequins because such displays instigate men to sexually abuse women and are degrading to the image of women.

She expressed a need to revert to the traditional Indian lifestyle, one that restrained self-expression for women, confining them to the acceptable.

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“Mannequins do not suit Indian culture,” said Tawde, adding that a mannequin is a replica of a woman’s body and therefore, should be dressed conservatively.

Positively speaking, I’m happy for Tawde that she thinks this way. What’s better than being restricted to wear certain kinds of clothing yourself and enforcing your fortune, or the lack of it, on the generations of women in India who might have to suffer because of your inability to adapt to change?

Tawde, and the rest of the Council believes, that the ban will effectively reduce the number of rape cases in the city of Mumbai, since men will not be ‘turned-on’ by looking at these “skimpily” clad plastic beings.

Really, I had no idea that a plastic body had the ability to sexually provoke people, but it seems like the Council has discovered a new scientific development.

Mannequins on display don’t give people the power of ‘choice’, Tawde said. “If someone wants to watch pornography on the net, it is a conscious choice they are making. In this case mannequins are everywhere and they do not have a choice.”Image

Tawde claims those lingerie mannequins, or any mannequin that sports a two-piece revealing outfit, displays women in an “indecent” manner.

“As per the provisions of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, women cannot be depicted in an indecent or derogatory manner that is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals” she explained herself to a news channel.

Mannequins serve as more than just instigators—they harm ‘public morality’—or beliefs that question the morality of women being emulated by the mannequins on display, and subsequently, making the men lose their morals. In other words, mannequins provoke sex-drives in men making them rape women. They outdo the porn industry. They’re the sex symbols of India. Wow.

Certainly, Tawde has no faith in the mental faculties possessed by men. I would like to bring to her attention that sexual drives originate in the mind, and essentially are subject to control. What takes a man to be turned on is irrelevant and not the question to be discussed here.

My major problem is with the fact that the Council feels the need to curb the sexual drives of men by banning the objects that drive them. Their measures seek to set a measure to the amount of clothing that is morally right to be sported by a woman. Today, they ban the display of mannequins. Tomorrow, they might start preventing women to dress in a certain way, or to walk on the roads, if we serve as a sexual stimulus.

Honestly, we can’t control who and what instigates a man. We can’t control what choices they make within their head and what makes them rape. But we certainly can control what they do.

It is up to us to put an end to the reactor, not the stimulus. We need to educate our men on rape culture. We need to kill the very existence of rapes. That won’t happen by banning the display of a mannequin, or by curbing the expression of a woman.

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What are your views on the issue?

Anti-Rape Underwear in India, condoms with teeth in South Africa – protecting women and girls, but at what cost?

In the past couple of weeks, my social media feeds have been flooded with news about new “anti-rape underwear” that was developed by a group of engineering students in India to protect women from rape. Apparently, this underwear is capable of sending out 82 electric shocks when pressure sensors are activated by a rape attempt, and is also equipped with GPS and can send out an SMS to the local emergency number, as well as the victim’s family.

Female Condom with teeth - image courtesy Rape Axe, http://www.antirape.co.za/
Female Condom with teeth – image courtesy Rape Axe, http://www.antirape.co.za/

This approach to prevent rape reminds me of the “female condom with teeth”, developed a couple of years ago by a doctor in South Africa. This device is essentially a condom that a woman inserts inside herself. Within the condom are jagged, sharp “teeth”, which will attach on a man’s penis during penetration in a very painful manner. Once the teeth have been lodged into the flesh, only a doctor can remove it – so not only does the man now have a condom with teeth stuck to his penis, but he can now also clearly be identified as an attempted rapist, given that women who were willing participants in a sexual act would probably have removed the device before engaging in consensual sex.

There is heated debate over these types of approaches towards curbing sexual violence, and for a good reason: Essentially, expecting women to wear electric shock underwear or insert devices with teeth inside their bodies puts the responsibility of not being raped on women and girls. In the end, there is only one way to stop rape: for men to stop raping women and girls, and for societies to stop coming up with excuses and justifications for sexual violence. Condoms with teeth or electric shock underwear are not a permanent solution – so by coming up with such approaches to “protect women”, are we just perpetuating the victim-blaming culture and the idea that rape is always somehow a woman’s fault, and that she could have and should have taken measures to stop it or prevent it?

I think the answer is everything but simple and straight forward.

Yes, these approaches do place the responsibility of preventing rape on women and girls. They do send out a message that preventing rape is up to women, and that there are measures women can and should take to minimize the risk of becoming a victim of sexual assault. Personally, I think that instead of constantly coming up with new ways to tell women and girls how to not get raped, we should switch our focus on telling men to just not rape, and holding them accountable if they do – period. In the end, that is the only way to prevent rape in a sustainable way, and that is the only way that truly respects women and girls.

On the other hand – in South Africa, where the condom with teeth was created, rape and sexual assault are rampant. According to recent statistics, over 60,000 rapes are reported to the police in SA every year, which is more than in India despite the huge difference in population. Given that only a fraction of rapes actually get reported, the real figure of rape and sexual assault cases in SA could be even ten-fold. In India, stories of rape and sexual assault are in the news every day – young girls, children, women, grandmothers. Being born a female in India is almost like having a target on your back. Victim-blaming is common place, and while the recent terrible case of the Delhi bus rape brought the prevalence of sexual crimes in India to the consciousness of the entire world, whether the recent changes to laws and policies to protect women will actually result in women and girls being safer remains to be seen. Without a major societal shift in attitudes, values, and thinking around rape and women’s and girls’ role in sexual assault, it is unlikely that neither SA or India will be able to curb the rampant violence against women and girls that both countries are currently struggling with.

So, given these realities of females in India, South Africa, and in countless other countries around the world – are devices like the condom with teeth and electric shock underwear still better than nothing? Despite the fact that they do promote an entirely backwards way of looking at rape prevention, is it still worth it if some women and girls are protected from rape and sexual attack by these devices?

These are not black-and-white issues. On a personal level, I strongly believe that it is not women’s and girls’ responsibility to not get raped. It should not be on our shoulders to take precautions to minimize our chances of being raped or assaulted, it is not women’s and girls’ fault if that does happen, and no amount of covering clothing, curfews, pepper spray, electric shock lingerie or condoms with teeth will prevent rape from happening as long as there are people who continue to choose to rape. Women and girls get raped despite their age, their race, what they are wearing, sober and drunk, in day light and at night time, by friends, relatives and strangers. We could be wearing a bra that has a machine gun built into it, and that wouldn’t stop rape and sexual assault as long as violence against women continues to be as broadly accepted and prevalent as it is in South Africa, India, and many other countries around the world.

However, I don’t know that it is like to live in constant fear of violence and assault. If I did, maybe I would choose to arm my body with every device that there is to make sure that I never become a victim, or that I never become a victim again if something has already happened to me. I wish no woman and girl ever had to do that, and I hope some day we will see a world where the responsibility of not being raped is not placed on women and girls any more. I wish to see a world where rape prevention becomes obsolete, because rape becomes obsolete. Unfortunately, we are still a long way from such world – so until then, are these kinds of measures justified? I really don’t know.

What do you think?