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Women in revealing dresses: liberation, or titillation? || Acharya Prashant (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
9 min
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Questioner: There is something that has been bothering me quite a lot. There is this view according to which wearing revealing clothes—short dresses, etc.—in public is unacceptable; that it is alright to wear such clothes at home, but it is not alright to wear them in public. There are some who even allege that one of the reasons that a woman would get raped is because she was wearing revealing clothes. What is your understanding on this?

Acharya Prashant: There are two sides involved here: one, the woman who is walking about wearing whatever clothes she is wearing, and she has her own story to tell; and then there are those who are leering and jeering, ogling, mocking, sometimes attacking. I would want to have a sincere discussion with both of them.

Firstly, the side that is so articulate in saying that women should mind their clothes, their dressings, I want to ask them: what kind of person are you, man or a woman, if anything is able to disturb or provoke you so easily? Your allegation is that when you watch a woman dressed skimpily, then that becomes a disturbance, a distraction, even a provocation. How will you insulate yourself, and how much you will insulate yourself from the world? And what are the limits to what you want to see and not see? Today you say that a woman’s legs or thighs provoke you. What prevents you from saying tomorrow that her ankles and fingernails provoke you? Would you then demand that she should cover up from head to toe? I want to question this.

After all, body is body, skin is skin, flesh is flesh, and blood and bones are blood and bones. What prevents somebody from coming up tomorrow and saying that the sight of a naked nose is a great sexual invitation to him? “You see, nose—I find nose quite erotic.” And was it not so that in Victorian England, even the legs of tables and chairs were covered, because legs are not supposed to be displayed?

It’s a matter of conditioning. You can condition yourself to think that legs are highly sensual, even erotic, even on tables, even on furniture.

So, this whole thing will not rest even if you totally drape the woman in all kinds of protective clothing. Then they will say that “The very sight of the feminine figure, even if totally covered, provokes us, so women should not be allowed to even walk in public.” And the matter might not end even at this point: they might say, “The very thought of woman provokes us, so women should probably not be allowed to even exist, because if they exist, and if we know that they exist, they become a disturbance to us. We are being disturbed, our mental peace is being lost, and the women are the culprit. Why do they exist at all? Go ahead and attack them!”

So, I want to ask this to them: is it really so that you cannot stand the sight of a bare arm or thigh or back or cleavage? Is it really so very explosive to you that you can’t stand it? What kind of a person are you? When the woman is not in front of you, do you keep fantasizing about her all the time? This is mental illness. Only if you are indulging in all kinds of sexual fantasies and inner perversions will you then jump upon her at the first sight. Otherwise, there is hardly anything so very alluring in the bare body of a human being, a person, a female.

Had you had any kind of a little spiritual education, you would have known the fact of the body. Had you paid even a few visits to a crematorium, you would have known what bones, skin, blood, and all the visual beauty is really about. You just need to see the intestines popping out of the stomach of a burning body, and you would lose all fascination for bellies and belly buttons.

So, I seriously need to sit with those people who say that “Women, by dressing in a so-called loose way, make us vulnerable, corruptible. They are the ones who are responsible because they provoke us.” These people need some rigorous counseling; they are sick.

Then there are the women who say that “It is a mark of our freedom that we wear whatever we like to wear.” I understand, freedom must be respected. But for freedom to be respected, freedom must be freedom, not conditioning. Freedom deserves all respect, not conditioning. When you say that you want to come out in public wearing this and that, would you please sit down for a moment and ask yourself, “Why exactly do I want to wear what I am wearing?”

Obviously, if you are on the shore, if you are at a beach, or if you are in a swimming pool, then you have to wear the swimming costume; it could be a two-piece bikini. Then it is obvious why you need to wear only that much; you are not going to swim in a sari. Similarly, there are other obvious, functional, utilitarian reasons why one dresses a particular way, and then there could be the ultimate reason of physical comfort; that too is an obviously valid reason: one feels physically comfortable wearing something. And the moment you say that you feel physically very comfortable wearing hot pants, or micro-minis or whatever, nobody holds any right to object, because it is your body. And if your body feels better wearing a particular kind of stuff, who is anybody else to object?

But then you sincerely need to ask yourself, and only you can ask this to yourself, “Is it only for the reasons of functional utility or physical comfort that I am wearing what I am wearing?” If you are wearing whatever you are wearing because of your functional needs—let’s say you are an athlete and you have to dress up in a particular way, or you are very comfortable wearing this or that because it’s hot, and you can’t stand to wear something that is heavier or more oppressive in that kind of weather—then it’s fine.

But I have seen women in sub-zero temperatures, the temperature is minus four, and the woman is wearing almost nothing. That does not provoke a reaction from me but basic simple curiosity. Are you coldproof? Are you weather- and climate-proof? Do you have some kind of divine heating mechanism inside you that men do not have? How is it so that you choose to reveal the body even in sub-zero temperatures, and all the men are walking around in heavy woolens? You don’t need to go abroad to test what I am saying. Just go to any discotheque in Delhi on a Saturday night, rather a Sunday morning at two a.m.—that is the time when all the discotheques shut down—and watch the women coming out, and notice the difference between the dressing of the male folk and the women.

If you are using your body to gather attention, if gathering male attention has become very important to you, then it is not a good psychological state to be in. Please remember, I am not saying this as an advocate of the male population; I am saying this as a friend of the woman. I am asking her, why is the male sight or the male gaze so important to you? If you want attention from people, if you want respect from people, why can’t it be for higher reasons? Why do you want them to look at you because you have a sexy figure? Why can’t you have them look at you because you have certain qualities or accomplishments?

Remember, if you want men to look at just your body, then they would actually be always looking down at you. But if people, men or women, look at you because of your qualities, they would always be looking up to you.

So, two hoots to all what the men say; let them go to hell. But as a woman, don’t you want to question yourself, “How has testosterone become so important to me? How? For the sake of his eye, why am I exposing my body? Is he so very important and central to my existence that I can’t live without getting appreciation and adoration from him?” That’s the question the women need to ask themselves. There is also the question that those boys and men need to ask themselves, who develop a gym-toned sculpted body and then want to take off their tees in all kinds of pretexts. That’s obviously to get the attention of the other.

I understand, we live in a society; we are related to each other. We will have something to do with the other. You will always have some relationship with the other. But why can’t that relationship be on some healthier grounds? Why must the two be related because they only appreciate each other’s body? And when I say that, I do not mean that sculpted bodies are not advisable; obviously both men and women should have perfectly fit bodies. But then, relating to the other merely by advertising your body is no good.

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