In the wake of the recent police brutalities in the USA (police brutalities in that country have always existed. The only new thing were the cameras recording it), black parents became very vocal about teaching their kids how to relate with the police. This was a conversation going on in homes with colored children and not white children. White people had little to no need for these kinds of talk. Not that their children were brought up better than black children, but because whites have little to fear about police brutality compared to black. Or so the narrative goes.
Parents telling their kids how to act in public is a natural course of parenting. Our mothers and fathers are super protective of us. They are very aware of the dangers out there so when they send us out into the world, they try to draw our minds to the kinds of friendships we should avoid and the places we should not be seen at. Every parented child has a prototype of friends his or her mother described as bad people. When parents do this, they are not being oppressive, they are being protective. When they tell us how to befriend, what to eat, where to go and what to wear when going out, it is their way of telling us “we care for you and we love you”. Of course there are some actions of parents which are flat out oppressive like beating a kid to a pulp or starving a kid as punishment. That is just wrong.
One of the age old advise parents have been giving their kids which has become contentious these days is the sartorial guidance given to females. Boys are not told to wear clothes of a particular length (unless you come from a conservative Muslim home). Neither are we told to wear less revealing clothes even though we have a tendency for that with our sagged pants and all of a sudden fashionable short shorts. It is ladies who received the brunt of such lectures. They are told not to show too much skin or wear too tightening clothes largely because they ran the risk of attracting unwanted attention from curious onlookers and lurking rapists.
The contention behind the clamor against this type of advice is that “it promotes rape culture”. It tells the woman that she is the reason why a rapist does what he does. That if she covers up well, the rapist would have no reason to rape. This strand of thinking is very thoughtful and is key in laying on the blame squarely on the rapist. Truth is, a rapist would rape you regardless of what you wear. Whether you wear the Taliban sanctioned Burqas or walk around in a potato sac, a rapist would have his way with you if he so wants. Rape is also about a false sense of entitlement as much as it is about perverted desires. The rapist believes he (masculine pronoun used due to preponderance of rapists being male) has an unquestionable right to his victim’s body and thus regardless of the layers of clothing covering the victim, he would rip through it all to satisfy his maniacal needs. So no, covering up is not enough to ward the rapist off.
Yet still, parents tell their kids to cover up. And rightly so!!! Just like the black family and the police scenario, when parents tell their kids to cover up, it is because they do not trust the evil in the streets. They raised their kids well but they do not know about the kids of others. They can only do what they think would keep their children safe. It would not necessarily prevent the kids from the harms that come their way. The police man would probably still choke the black person with his hands up in the air or even when he is not wearing a hoodies. So would the rapist still find a way with the girl who covers up. But parents still do the above out of hope that their kids would be safe when they go out.
We can understand it when parents tell their kids to cover up. But when a Minister of Gender does same? You could argue that context is key here. That she was being a mother to the girls (she spoke at an all-girls school) who were in attendance. That she was not proffering that advise as a solution to the rape menace. But you cannot take your focus away from the fact that such statements from the minister have serious implications in perpetuating the rape culture narrative. When a minster talks about rape and focus entirely (we are yet to get the full transcript of the minister’s speech by the way) on the victim and not the perpetrator, it somehow sends a message that you the victim need to get your act right so you do not get raped. That is problematic!
Of course our nation does have very strict laws on rape but given our tendency to ask “what was she wearing, why was she there” when we hear of a rape case and not “why did he rape her”, a minister of Gender should probably be turning all her beam lights on the perpetrators and not the victim. As was famously stated in Vagina Monologues, a play with international acclaim, “my shorts skirts is not an invitation”!