In the last half of this year, I did more research about feminist related topics to prepare myself for an event at which I spoke on November 3rd. At the event, I talked about feminism and why it is needed and I mentioned an habit that I developed as a result of catcalling. On weekdays, if I wore makeup and made my hair look nice, I would dress shabbishly (E.g big jeans and big shirt with sneakers and school bag) and if I wore a well fitted dress or an exposive dress (E.g tank top or khaki shorts), I would carry school bag and not wear makeup. I did this sometimes consiously, because I thought that if in someway, I made myself look ugly or very unattractive, men will be discouraged from catcalling me or giving me unwanted sexual and verbal attention when I walk in the streets (E.g RANDOM STRANGER: Hey Sexy! Can I have your number? ME: Ermm no!). In the long run, I would feel safe when no one catcalls me.
Of course it did not work! I still get catcalled even in maxi-gowns, baggy jeans, big shirts and no make up. It eventually dawned on me that the catcalling will not stop, no matter how unattractive I make myself look because I am not the problem! This issue sort of gave me an idea of exactly why it is annoying when rape survivors are told that "they were asking for it with the way they dressed."
Soon after the event, in one of my classes (psychology of women) we were discussing this issue of rape and looking at statistics. When the females shared their experiences on how they have been followed down the street or how they don't feel safe going home at night and all sort, a male shot back saying; "why can't you take cabs to your homes instead of walking?" Our response (the females) was that "but people get raped in cabs too! People get kidnapped with cabs too! Why should we take cabs when our house is just right at the corner?" Moreso, there is date rape and rape done by people who are close to the victims right in their homes! People get sexually assaulted even in elevators! There are cases of young girls who are molested in their homes, so even if they escape rape outside, are they really safe inside?
Talking about dressing, there are female kids under the age of 10 who get raped, were their dresses asking for it too? There are people who cover their bodies from head to toe and still get raped, were their dresses still asking for it? Even when I dress so unacttractively, am I still asking to be catcalled? I mean, which female in a well mindset will look into her closet or wardrobe in the morning and say "I want to be catcalled today or I want to be raped today?"
The most disgusting part is when people pass ignorant comments and solutions to these harrasment, assault and rape issues. For example, they will say why can't you be in your house by 6:00pm or why can't you dress this or that way or you should be a little more cautious or you should have fought harder to defend yourself. How about we teach people not to rape or pass unwanted sexual comments. How about we encourage people to control their sexual urges! How about we post huge fliers that declares "NO CATCALLING" so that people will understand the gravity of their actions and offence.
It is very easy to say rubbish when you are not the one who has to twist, turn and make yourself uncomfortable just to be safe. I am angry that we continuosly teach young girls and women to live in fear rather than correct our collective thinking and norms to create safe environments for them to exist in peace. For each time we say "oh, she was asking for it" we encourage rape and harrasment. Through these words we add to the confidence of the offenders and justify their actions. I wonder how much fixing and change will happen if we blame and punish the catcallers and rapist who cannot control their sexual urges as much as we blame the victims and survivors (both male and female because men get raped too).
Still at this event, I asked the females if they have ever brought out their phones unecessarily while walking around a group of men. Most of them said yes and I can bet that many females out there have done the same as a tactic to make them feel safe. So even if you are not in the "dress ugly gang" there is that one abnormal and uncomfortable thing you do just to feel safe. Some people eat excessively to gain weight, some people have their "rape schedule" whereby they don't leave the house until the day is bright and they have to get back home as soon as the sun is going down because of fear. Some people carry rape-whistles or pepper spray in their handbags "just in case" there is a situation.
Many people are not cautious of the ridiculous things that women do just to keep themselves, so they do not see the urgent need to create safer environments. When it comes to issues of catcalling, sexual harrasment and rape, we need to understand that the victims and survivors are not the problem. We also need to learn that although fear may make young girls and women cautious, it doesn't keep them safe enough. We all need to do better in our words and actions to create safe societies.