Not a crime
“But what was she wearing?” said the young journalist who was preparing to write a report on an incident involving a man and a woman that occurred in a dark alley of a cramped city.
At one point in our existence, we have asked and mused on the same question: What was she wearing? Consequently, we have wrongfully branded and labeled innocent girls. That seemingly insignificant question ushers in a number of issues waiting to take flight and be discussed. The thing is, for far too long have women been attacked for becoming victims. The criminal mind has been rationalized and a backstory inserted that disproves a victim’s word.
A rape culture fosters just that. And as much as we would like to disclaim responsibility, we have contributed to the growth of that same vile culture that has dangerously seeped into our minds and our families.
A rape culture is broad in its sense and is thus difficult to define. But it has been with us all our lives. It’s been with mine. I’ve been told one too many times that my shorts are too short, my neckline too low, and my shoulders too bare. In a rape culture, the initial reaction is to cover up and change my clothes to achieve a “decent” look. But the real change ought to come from those who objectify a woman’s body and think of it as a commodity for a perverted society’s gaze. The real segregation ought not to be male and female, but victims and criminals. And though I know many are enlightened, I can also see the blindness in the prejudiced notion that we are the weak gender and that we are to be blamed for our misfortunes. But the truth is, really, what 15-year-old girl woke up today, chose that pair of jeans and that plain white shirt, and told herself that she wanted to be violated and scarred for the rest of her life?
We have heard of influential people talking about this same problem. Emma Watson has expressed her disdain for the inequality among men and women, both in the workplace and in the streets. Michelle Obama has gone around the world speaking of the importance of providing equal opportunities for education and work and societal significance regardless of gender. Many others have called out the ignorance of powerful leaders and the carelessness of the media.
I am not entirely sure how far the echoes of my words will reach, but what matters is that I believe in the strength of a woman and I will exhaust all my means to share this with you. This is a call for action against men and other women who are getting away with crimes against womanhood just because we have grown acclimated to blaming victims for things they never wanted for themselves. This is an average woman trying to speak out for other people who have grown tired of living in fear of harm because of what they look like and what they wear. It may come as a surprise to some of you, but women are equally as powerful as men.
A 10-year-old girl lived on a stereotypical overcrowded street in Manila. The household had live-in helpers, and one was a 20-something man who did the physically challenging chores. She was young, but she knew that when he asked her to enter that dark, empty room with him, something was wrong. He slammed her tiny arm on the wooden table and, just as he was touching her, she thrust her trembling hand in front of her and slapped him across his face. He was caught off-guard and she took the opportunity to run.
She ran and no one knew. She ran and not one on her overpopulated street heard the violent cries she stifled and the quivering voice she hid inside her young soul. She ran and then returned home, but she never truly came back. She kept quiet throughout the years and she lived with the harrowing thoughts of what could have been and what would be. It was her fault for going into that room with him, everyone will say. And so she was silent and he was still employed in the household, and they lived under the same roof for 10 more years until she could finally move out. Ten years until she could feel safe in her own home. He is gone but she was left running. She is running yet she walks among us. And we will never really know that she was the mother who sat beside us on the train, or the old lady who sold cigarettes on the sidewalk, or the quiet little girl at the back of the line.
But what was she wearing? Do you still feel the need to ask?
We have chased her into a lonely corner where her own fears of being accused and blamed will slowly kill the life in her eyes.
Now, it may not be the most devastating story you have read today, for ours is a dark world with streets teeming with the terrible acts of man—corruption, murder, war. But should she have waited for something worse? Would you? Would you have preferred a more terrifying and crushing experience before you say something? Before what happened to her becomes “significant”? More importantly, was it her fault? Because society tells her it is. Directly or not, we have told her so. And so she kept her mouth shut. She was silenced by the kind of “harmless” remarks we have made.
We have to stop telling girls that wearing a skirt puts them in a precarious position in our society, or that putting on a swimsuit suggests that they are asking to be whistled at. It is time men stopped hiding behind a girl’s discounted place in our world. It is time criminals were compelled to own up to their actions. It is time victims were protected from the unjust and cruel community we have all contributed to building and nurturing. The chasm between genders was created by those who did not know any better. Why are we such slaves to our own unforgiving past?
Do not teach your daughter to cover up. Instead, teach your son that everyone is to be respected regardless of gender and sexuality. And every woman has the right to hide or show parts of herself without being castigated. It is absolutely acceptable to be shy and keep parts of yourself private, but it is also equally fine to share your beauty with everyone.
To you, dear woman, if you can see soul in the imperfections on your cheeks, smell magnolias in the contour of your waist, hear sweet melody in your thighs, or feel art in your breasts, then by all means, be proud. Do not be ashamed of the beauty in you. You and your body bring color to the bleak misery of humankind. Your womanhood is not a crime.
Diane Marie Arandia, 26, a graduate of the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, is a “fighter, advocate, your future physician.”
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