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Where did this whole concept of slut-shaming come from for me? Well, I decided to stand up to a young woman on an event forum who decided she had the right to shame women who did not portray her idea of “modesty” in their Facebook profile pictures (I.e. Wearing “proper” hijaab). She claimed they were not being “strong Muslims”, when it had nothing to do with the topic that was being debated on the event forum. It was clear targeting – and a form of slut shaming, even though on “just a social network”. Why was it that the first attack of Muslim moral character was towards women who were not doing proper hijaab and “displaying their beauty” in their pictures, when the issue at hand was about an offensive name for an event on Eid?

Anyway, I will not go into the details of that conversation, but my friend jokingly asked my why I’m always up in arms with hijaabis because he noticed my comments. My answer was: I have no problems WHATSOEVER with women who wear scarves or veils – only with those who like to shame. He then proceeded to send me a link defining the concept of “slut-shaming”.

Its actually interesting how relative the term slut shaming can be. What is considered modest in one country is “slutty” in another. It’s a strange phenomenon and something that leads me to wonder (thanks to the thought of one of our commentators on the blog) – is this system of shaming a way to absolve perpetrators of any responsibility? Are women who feel the need to “dress modestly”, as according to some standard defined by primarily men (and upheld by other women), simply defending themselves against slut shamers? Why are women asked to accept that every man’s nature is quite aggressive and with bad intentions, and that she bears the burden of modesty?

In most societies, as we know from the biology, a girl becomes more and more aware of her body as it changes with puberty. Yet, I am disturbed when I realize a different type of awareness that girls feel of their body based on harassing encounters with men. In my case, I first became aware that men look at a woman’s body with bad intentions on my trip to Hajj. Sad, huh? I was 13, and went with my entire family, only to be told left and right that I was still not comporting my body correctly (which consisted of a loose, long-sleeved shalwar kameez and a headscarf). Many women yelled “haraam” at me, and even though I laugh at the situation now, at 13 it was scary. It was scary to be stared at, and to constantly feel embarrassed by other women shaming me in public. I was only 13, after all, and my mother only let me wear certain clothes anyway.  Disclaimer, before everyone goes off on me for trying to speak for all women and going into a comment rage: It’s important to note that these are my experiences.  I in no way am criticizing the way women want to “protect themselves” or how they choose to be comfortable, but it is bothersome when that “way” is justified as the best and only way.  And when a woman does not want to follow that way, she is the one blamed.

From that point, I heard my elders say “Jism Dhaak ke Rakhna Chaihiye” (Your body should be fully covered) and, when I think of the translation now, I realize the sense of shame it comes with. In my childhood, Dhaakna in Urdu literally meant to cover, mostly in the context of covering a plate or a bowl, but never did I understand what that meant for my body. Was I just some sort of food in a bowl that if left without a lid was going to be spoiled by the outside world? Is that what I had to be reduced to?

How could I have gotten rid of this shame? Was the answer following the “logic” of mainstream Islamic culture about hijaab? Well, the thing is, I tried that, and much to my dismay it did not work. It rather only made me realize furthermore that just the presence of my body in a public sphere, at least in Saudi Arabia, was enough to instigate harassment and shame. Being here in Uttar Pradesh, where the lifestyle is drastically different from cosmopolitan Mumbai, just walking alone on a street while watching a creep turn his head 180 degrees on a bike to look at me instigated some feelings of shame that have taken some time to repress.

I would see if my clothes were okay. Were they too tight? Was it my hair? Was it my shoes? No. Not at all. My clothes are loose, my hair is tied back, and my shoes are comfortable. I am a woman, and unless I cover the shame of my body, and more importantly, my face, I have nothing to worry about, right? I cannot change this system or this culture, so I need to accept it and cover, and then everything will be just alright.

What concerns me is not that people believe in this, but that they ask me or someone who challenges all of this to just accept it and adopt it. Take the safe route. Do not put yourself in a bad situation. While there is a level of truth to the security end of it, what’s disturbing is that many women who may not necessarily have religious motivations to dress a certain way are asked to feel embarrassed about their bodies. They are asked to keep their bodies “in control” so that men do not get a sudden urge to harass or rape them. They are told that they should guard their own bodies, but do they have a real choice in how they guard their bodies?

Do check out this movement gotstared.at – based out of Delhi! A very interesting movement fighting against slut shaming in India.

And then, I remember an incident I heard about about a month ago in Gurgaon (nearby Delhi) where a woman was brutally raped after coming home from work.  What policy reaction was made?  Tell women not to go out after 8, and everything will be all better.  Basically give a straight middle finger that says, it’s not really our problem.  Right.  How logical is that considering many people work past that time?  Thanks Hukoomat (government).

Believe it or not, even in the West, women really did not gain their rights into the public sphere too long ago. Although 1920 is the milestone year that everyone quotes in which women were allowed to vote, all of the other issues that confined them to their homes took difficult work and, “slut-shaming”, so to speak.  The women that caused a scene were not naive.  They did not do it alone.  In Hindi, there is a great “muhaavra” (saying) – mein ek tum paach ke saath nahin jeetoongi (or -a if you make the term masculine).  The thing I have come to learn in my experiences here in India is that while there are many women who “accept” the way things are, there are also many women who don’t.  Many times they have the support of other men and women, when trying to stop something.

I have began to understand that as much slut shaming that occurs, shaming the perpetrator is in itself just as powerful.  If perpetrator shaming is not taken up by the government or police, it is at the very least taken up by citizens.  For instance,  a young man decided to call a group of friends and I at a restaurant “Videshi Maal” (Foreigner Booty, literally).  When I heard this, I realized I could just ignore it.  I could just let it go, but then I thought, why not call his manager over?  When I did, he was scolded in front of the entire restaurant and became (excuse my language) shit scared.

I am not saying every woman should react to situations the way I do or that it is expected.  I guess what I think is most disturbing is when women feel they need to just accept situations as they are.  One thing that I’ve come to admire in India is that there are very strong-minded women who don’t accept this.  Unfortunately some face dire consequences, but it is these type of women who have created a the new, and fast growing counter culture of perpetrator shaming.  They have created this culture on a much larger level.  Rather than simply rely on “their men”, they have taken it upon themselves – with support of men.

From Egypt to India to the U.S. – women are fighting slut shaming in their own ways.  How that is done cannot be dictated by one way or one method, but there is a beauty in the way that every woman approaches it.  We do not fight slut shaming unless the mindset changes – no woman “deserves it” – for any reason whatsoever.  There is no rational or moral way to justify it.

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