Do women have the right to dress however they like? Is modest dressing old-fashioned?

by Chaitanya Charan dasOctober 1, 2013

Answer Summary: Yes, they definitely have that right, but the issue is not of rights, but of sending the right message about ourselves to others. When rights blind us to the right, we brand the right – modest dressing – as wrong, as old-fashioned.

Answer:

Today’s culture makes women believe that they have the right to wear any kind of dress, no matter how revealing. Those women who buy into this belief bristle at any suggestion that their provocative dresses might be a factor in sexual violence against women: “No matter how we dress, men have no right to force themselves on us.”

They are right, of course, that nothing makes sexual violence right. Offenders need to be punished. Swiftly and strongly.

But might bringing the question of rights be blinding us to the right issue?

Suppose a person walked down a dark alley with dollar bills sticking out of his pockets. If muggers rob him, they are culpable. But cops would also offer the common sense suggestion: “Better don’t keep your bills sticking out like that in future.” Suppose that person retorted: “I have the right to keep my money however I like.”

Agreed, that’s his right, but is it the right thing to do? After all, bills sticking out attract the wrong attention. Why attract trouble?

Researchers Carmine Sarracino and Kevin M. Scott in their book The Porning of America give the above example and point out the logical fallacy in the rights argument: “The issue of slutwear is often framed in terms of the wrong argument. ..The question is not, ‘Don’t I have the right to wear a micro-miniskirt and belly shirt?’ The more precise and pertinent questions are, ‘What do I want my clothes to say to the world about me? Do my clothes in fact say what I want them to say, so that others will be more likely to treat me as I want to be treated?”… What we wear, all of us, signals others in society about how we see ourselves… Slutwear (in itself, apart from any behavior) indicates, in the words of the APA [American Psychological Association] report, that girls dressed this way ‘exist for the sexual use of others’.”

The Bhagavad-gita (03.37) declares lust, the dark inner force that impels people to sexual violence, as the enemy of the whole world. Everyone needs to cooperate in combating this Public Enemy Number One. As an essential first strategy in combating lust, the Gita (03.41) urges regulation of the senses. Such regulation implies modest female dresses, for it limits exposure of their skin, which is one of their senses and which is the primary trigger for lust.

Yet today those making suggestions for modest dressing are verbally lynched as politically incorrect, as male chauvinists, as hopelessly outdated self-appointed moral police.

In our obsession with rights, have we ostracized common sense?

About The Author
Chaitanya Charan das
9 Comments
  • Kamalaksi Rupini dd BhS
    October 2, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    Please accept my humble obeisances.
    All glories to Srila Prabhupada

    Hare Krsna, prabhu.
    I must say I don’t agree with what you wrote.
    We have plenty of examples of women who were raped and were not dressing anything indecent. We also have plenty of examples of kids being raped or even very old women, who were definitely not dressed in such a way to “provoke” man.
    That is the same kind of argument that makes muslim women to cover themselves from head to toe and also the same kind of argument that makes them sometimes be forced to be at home. Although it is an ok argument from the perspective of mental exercise of thinking, it is not completely according to the truth, as I said, since even kids are raped, and also it does not address the real problem – that is men behaving like animals. Women are NOT responsible for men’s lack of control or lack of intelligence, and they should not shape their behavior or life as if they were the culprit. That would be like legitimating what men are doing, even though it can be covered under a speech that “ok, women are not to be blamed but…” but actually it is blaming women when it said it is because of the way they dress they are inviting these kind of things.
    We can also see in the old times, women didn’t use to cover themselves, as we can see in the old sculptures and we can understand also from history, but they were not raped all the time because of that. We also have indigenous communities where people walk naked and women are not raped because of that. Actually, we see the socities with more moralism are those more dangerous to women. It is better to openly blame women that it is their faul that they are being raped because of the way they dress, instead of pretending that you are not blaming women but that’s the real message behind.
    Please, don’t take it as an offense. I have a deep respect for you and I appreciate your articles a lot. But I must give my opinion on this matter.
    Your servant,
    Kamalaksi Rupini dd BhS

    • Chaitanya Charan das
      October 3, 2013 at 6:48 am

      Thank you, Mataji, for voicing this comment.
      Firstly, let me be very clear: nothing justifies sexual violence – even if the woman be entirely unclothed or be known as a prostitute. Even prostitutes are meant to be paid, not brutalised.
      Secondly, acknowledging something as a factor is not at all the same as blaming it as the cause. Please see the article here where I address this issue with the arson analogy
      http://www.thespiritualscientist.com/2013/01/doesn’t-blaming-the-culture-for-the-delhi-gang-rape-mean-that-we-shift-the-blame-away-from-the-criminals/
      Acknowledging that a house is made of inflammable material doesn’t shift the blame from the arsonist to the house-owner; the arsonist is still culpable. Arsonists may burn down houses that are made of entirely non-inflammable material. Similarly, men may violate victims who are modestly dressed. So, acknowledging that a skimpy dress is a factor doesn’t shift the blame from the criminals.
      Now, does acknowledging that say wood is inflammable mean that it should never be used as house material? No. One has to be prepared, that’s all. Similarly, is it that women should be completely restricted as extremist Islam insists? No. We have to follow guru-sadhu-shastra.
      Regarding depictions in Indian architecture, please see the answer here:
      http://www.thespiritualscientist.com/2012/05/why-do-certain-temples-have-architecture-depicting-sex/
      ys
      ccdas

      • Chaitanya Charan das
        October 19, 2013 at 12:28 pm

        Mataji, after discussing the issue with senior devotees, I would like to add three more points:
        1. In case of sexual crimes, the dress of the women should never be used to justify letting the criminal off the hook. Those who are guilty must be punished strongly and swiftly, irrespective of the dress of the victim – just as the police need to punish the thieves irrespective of whether the dollar notes were sticking out of the victim’s pockets. Unlike the thief-victim case, where the culpability is clearly understood, the target of culpability gets confused when the crimes are sexual and victims are women, with women being unduly blamed for it. I don’t at all support such victim-blaming.
        2. Overall, men are meant to protect women, not indict them. Nor should the dress of the women be used to wash off responsibility for the crimes that other men have committed. Men should never make women who have suffered abuse feel guilty or forsaken because of what has happened to them.
        In general, if men protect women by providing for their needs and giving them a safe, loving family atmosphere with children, then women won’t feel the need to attract others by dressing provocatively. As today such protection is often not provided, women feel the need for the sense of power that comes by being able to use their bodily beauty to attract men.
        We need a broad restructuring of society wherein family life is given its adequate place of importance with a spiritual focus.
        3. The hypothetical example of a person being robbed doesn’t address the emotional dimension of a woman who is abused – sexual abuse is far more personally wounding, even devastating, than a robbery. Women in such tragic situations need to be supported and solaced – never blamed and shamed.
        If anything in my article gave any other impression, I would like to categorically clarify that such was never my intention. Though I stand by the general principle of provocative dressing being a factor that needs to be considered, I regret any misperception that may have been inadvertently conveyed or any sentiments that may have been unintentionally hurt.

        ys
        ccdas

    • Jaime_Rivera
      October 11, 2013 at 9:41 pm

      Sir/Madam,
      Your argument that dress is not a provoking factor is wrong in the sense that is doesn’t justify the context of the text/question. Also your reference to ‘old sculptures’ and relating them to how people lived is also incorrect, the ‘old sculptures’ which you mention are a product of Kaliyuga, they do not, in any manner whatsoever describe the way in which people lived. How did people live?, scriptures give the answer. You cannot come to conclusion just by looking at sculptures.

    • Zeus
      January 12, 2014 at 6:04 pm

      “We have plenty of examples of women who were raped and were not dressing anything indecent. We also have plenty of examples of kids being raped or even very old women, who were definitely not dressed in such a way to “provoke” man.”
      Quite so, that is true. Although it doesn’t prove what you propose. An important observation –
      What matters most is, what is expressed by clothing of the person concerned and the person itself.
      Highly provocative or suggestive signals can be sent even though fully clothed, for eg. women in latex suits and a person might not incite lust even though naked, for eg. a dead corpse.
      Conclusively it is very important that women wear clothing in a simple manner, careful not to disturb the general population, if not, men infested with horrendous degrees of lust. And not only women but men too.
      “Actually, we see the socities with more moralism are those more dangerous to women.”
      Remarkably erroneous observation. Why so?
      The danger lies not in morality but in lust.
      “Women are NOT responsible for men’s lack of control or lack of intelligence, and they should not shape their behavior or life as if they were the culprit.”
      Isn’t it absolutely selfish to say so. By my conduct I am causing an unfortunate brethren of mine, a deluded embodied being to be further infested with lust and deluded even further. Is it an unreasonable thing to ask women, to act in ways for the benefit of the society? Society of which they themselves are a part?
      Take the example of a prostitute, or persons in pornography. They purposely, desperately try to incite lust in others, fully aware that they must delude them, through their already deluded conduct. Selfish as they are, they desperately try to rationalize their actions, despite of being aware of their grip over their victims. They know they are parasites who must infest their hosts for their own selfish reasons.
      “Women are NOT responsible for men’s lack of control or lack of intelligence.”
      That is quite true.
      What they are responsible for – is refusing to help those men, that is a minor forgivable fault, the major fault being, behaving in a fashion that further aggravates their ignorance and lack of control, having sufficient knowledge of their own conduct inciting them.
      Consider two brothers A and B both bachelors. A wants to become a poet. B knows that A secretly takes drugs. B is unconcerned and does not help him, a minor forgivable fault.
      B deludes A into believing that drugs would heighten his poetic powers. B actually wants to get rid of A to enjoy A’s share of property. A dies of drug overdose. True that B was not responsible for A’s lack of control or lack of intelligence. BUT B should have helped him, but instead B further aggravated A’s pitiable condition in lieu of his own selfish desires, and so IS responsible.
      Please I beg you to understand the facts.
      So am I blaming women for rapes, for sexual violence, sexual abuse. NO I am not.
      I blame the conduct of those men and women who knowingly further aggravate the delusion of those poor souls for selfish purposes. Rationalizing themselves to not be responsible for that aggravation. Such men and women are persons who design sexually suggestive advertisements, movies, songs, media etc. men and women of the pornographic industry and men, women who in lieu of being perceived as sexually attractive dress and behave in a sexually suggestive manner etc.
      Not only that these men and women are themselves pitiably deluded, which is the cause of their own faulty conduct.
      Forgive me if I seemed offensive, I never intended to be so. Nor did I wanted to prove my point to enhance me ego or to hurt yours, but merely to place facts as they are.

      • Himanshu
        January 19, 2014 at 5:33 pm

        “We have plenty of examples of women who were raped and were not dressing anything indecent. We also have plenty of examples of kids being raped or even very old women, who were definitely not dressed in such a way to “provoke” man.”
        Quite so, that is true. Although it doesn’t prove what you propose. On the contrary it suggests the fact that – they did so in a blind rage of lust, merely enhanced by their superior physical strength, and were infested with lust elsewhere, as children and old women lack a sexual nature. It is incomprehensible for the general population to perceive sexuality in an infant. But lust has that kind of extraordinary deluding power. It sexualizes and perverts anyone and everyone.
        And there is another fact, increased sexual activity cannot tame or subdue it, although for the infested it seems so. Much like a drug addict to whom unlimited availability of drugs seems to be the path to end the agitation of addiction.
        Observation – Senses are “provoked”, by sense objects, thus they always are “provoked” either directly in an easily comprehensible manner or indirectly in a subtle manner.
        Another important observation –
        What matters most is, what is expressed by clothing of the person concerned and the person itself.
        Highly provocative or suggestive signals can be sent even though fully clothed, for eg. women in latex suits and a person might not incite lust even though naked, for eg. a dead corpse.
        Conclusively it is very important that women wear clothing in a simple manner, careful not to disturb the general population, if not, men infested with horrendous degrees of lust. And not only women but men too.

  • Vikas
    March 5, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    “We can also see in the old times, women didn’t use to cover themselves, as we can see in the old sculptures and we can understand also from history, but they were not raped all the time because of that. We also have indigenous communities where people walk naked and women are not raped because of that.”
    Simplistic analysis. First it is an erroneous statement that “women didn’t use to cover themselves”, secondly even if for argument’s sake we accept this, then this is Kaliyuga, when lust is heavily predominant in everyone, the scenario is not the same as before, and people become sexually infatuated very easily. Is ubiquitous sexuality a factor or not is a question better answered by the people experiencing it more, i.e. men.
    Yes there are indigenous tribes where people are naked. But again it is wrong, and a self serving statement that women are not abused in them. Further people are naked in them, because they lack much of civility, ignorant of the goal of life. In these communities people don’t try to “attract” each other with their bodies. They don’t apply make-up, and other things which enhance attractiveness are absent, thus even though naked they are covered with mud, unclean and physically pretty unattractive.
    i.e. even though naked they not at all send lustful signals to each other, much like a naked corpse.

    “Actually, we see the socities with more moralism are those more dangerous to women. It is better to openly blame women that it is their faul that they are being raped because of the way they dress, instead of pretending that you are not blaming women but that’s the real message behind.”

    By dangerous I can ascertain that you mean physical violence. You have ignored the much more disastrous dangers.

    Women get raped because of men.(Although in present times there are cases of the opposite! Eg. 2 women in the US, “raped” a mentally retarded boy, also there are cases of women “raping” women!)
    But still women get raped by men.
    Men rape women because they are out of control combined with their superior physical strength.
    It has a similar element that of a child harassing an ant. Of people harassing and slaughtering animals.
    Without any principles to guide them, people just misuse their position for their selfish interests. Even a woman realising her sexual hold over a man, misuses it for her selfish desires.

    A rape’s ultimate cause is lust. Lust, the desire that everyone else is there to be dominated and enjoyed by me.
    Like atheists think that nature is meant to be dominated and enjoyed. Like others think that animals are meant for human’s enjoyment.
    This lust is the root cause of material existence.

    A rape is usually triggered by a blind rage of lust. It can also be triggered by lust for false ego, as in cases where people use it as a revenge, as a tool to purposely traumatize others, gaining illusory pleasure and a feeling of domination, a false “superiority” through such conduct.

    When an individual has this philosophy at their root, whether a man or a woman, they “rape” others.

    Such people are not only criminals but the people at all the “high” places that very cleverly, devilishly convince innocent women to act in horrendous ways, like in pornography, and delude them to think that we are “empowering” women, yet all they do is brainwash them, so that they fulfill their own selfish desires by manipulating those women

Leave a Response

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

*