FEBRUARY 20 ― The Selangor Islamic Religious Department’s (JAIS) recent Friday sermon telling Muslim women to cover up their aurat to prevent rape had outraged women’s groups and politicians.
EMPOWER said the Islamic authority was perpetuating rape myths, while DAP’s Damansara Utara assemblyman Yeo Bee Yin pointed out that Kelantan, governed by the conservative Islamist party PAS, has the second-highest number of rape cases per 100,000 population in the country.
Unfortunately, JAIS is not alone in its mistaken belief that women’s “sexy” dressing, however that is defined, leads to sexual assault.
A 2005 study by G. Sivagnanam, K L Bairy and Urban D’ Souza, which surveyed attitudes towards rape among medical undergraduates at the Asian Institute of Medicine, Science and Technology (AIMST) in Kedah and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Kelantan, revealed that only less than 20 per cent of participants did not believe in rape myths.
The survey of 422 medical students showed more men holding rape myths than women, at almost half of men (44 per cent) compared to nearly one-third of women (30 per cent).
According to the study, half of the men agree with the statement “When a woman says ‘no’, she really means ‘yes’”, while an astonishing 86.3 per cent of women agree with it too.
About 59 per cent of men and a surprising 91 per cent of women agree with the statement “Most women secretly desire to be raped.” It’s unclear if they’re referring to women’s rape fantasies, which are more like rough sex à la Fifty Shades of Grey, or actual sexual assault.
The majority of both women and men surveyed also believe in rape myths like “A woman cannot be raped by someone she previously knew or had sex with”, “Rapists are emotionally disturbed and not responsible for their actions” and “A woman should feel guilty following a rape”.
Unfortunately, the questionnaire did not address women’s dressing.
However, going by the many rape myths the participants hold, it’s likely that they too believe that women’s dressing has some role in causing sexual assault.
Victim-blaming in rape cases serves two purposes: women do it so they (mistakenly) think that they can protect themselves by dressing a certain way, or by not getting drunk around men. Men do it in line with the sexist belief that women are temptresses. In the virgin-whore dichotomy, female submission and modesty are valued, while women who have sex lives are deemed sluts.
So any woman who dares to express her individuality, to step outside societal constraints of “feminine” behaviour, is punished. People look at how a rape victim is dressed and say she was “asking for it.”
Which skirt length is deemed to be “asking for it” anyway?
An inch above the knee? Two inches? Three?
Who makes such standards? Why should such standards even exist?
Why do we look at a woman's clothing in relation to male desire? If she's dressed like a “prude”, she won't give sex. If she's dressed like a “slut”, then she's for the taking. The “slut” label punishes women who have sexual agency by implying that they can never truly be raped as they must have wanted it at some level.
In this manner, only girls in tudung are seen as true rape victims.
Making sexual judgments on women's dressing renders women's bodies as public property. Men's bodies, on the other hand, are free from such claims.
Columnist and lecturer Ridhuan Tee Abdullah brought such sexism to an extreme by saying that women's bodies attract rapists. In essence, he's saying that the very existence of women causes rape.
He's saying that women have no personality, no will of their own ― they are merely inert objects to be used to satiate men's lust, or to be covered up like a piece of furniture to prevent holy men from sinning. If a woman dares to “flaunt” her body, well then, she's just asking for it, isn't she? And if she's in a tudung, it's not her fault that she got raped; just “fate” or plain bad luck.
Ridhuan Tee is not the only one who classifies rape victims as “good” or “bad” women. The media does it too by highlighting women's behaviour in rape. One disgusting headline in a local paper reads “Schoolgirl raped after skipping school, drinking with boys.”
A woman should not be faulted for being raped because of her dressing or sexuality, or because she chose to get drunk with friends.
Rape happens not because women have their own sexual desires. Having an active sex life and choosing to wear whatever a woman damn well pleases has nothing to do with a man sexually assaulting her.
Rape is borne out of male entitlement to sex and the failure to respect a woman’s decision over her own body.
No amount of sack-cloth will protect a woman from rape.
But teaching boys and men to respect women and to not treat women’s bodies as public property might.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.