Imagine this: You’re at a party with a bunch of your friends. You’re a little buzzed. Eventually the music dies down and you all end up crashing at your friend’s house. You wake up the next morning and you know something’s not quite right. Something happened but you’re not ready to talk about it. You feel ashamed, you try to forget.
You don’t want to make things awkward, so you don’t say anything. You meet your friends again- he’s there, and you pretend that nothing’s wrong. This goes on for weeks, till you can’t take it anymore. You finally confess to your friends- he molested you that night after the party.
“Why did you wait so long to bring this up?”
“Didn’t he apologise? Just let it go”
“Lets not make things awkward for the group.”
“Maybe you just misunderstood.”
“Why did you stay over at his house even though you have a boyfriend? A decent girl wouldn’t do such a thing.”
I wish this was a situation I just made up, but I am drawing from experiences of women I know- and unfortunately I am sure it is something a lot of women can relate to. Few can understand the courage required to open up about sexual assault- especially in a culture that will blame you and shame you into believing it was all your fault in the first place. Because of course, a good girl would never get attacked, A good girl wouldn’t provoke men. A good girl wouldn’t go for parties. A good girl wouldn’t drink. A good girl who “belongs” to one man would never stay over at another’s- and if she does, she is going to be assaulted- what else do you expect, really?
All our lives we are told how to be good girls, how to be good women. Keep your voice low, and your neckline high. Keep your eyes down, and your guard up. In college, I was told that good girls shouldn’t smoke. In college, my sister was told good girls don’t get tattoos and piercings. Hostel wardens tell us good girls don’t wear shorts and shouldn’t meet boys.
A friend was told by her ex boyfriend not to wear low cut tops, lest it tempted men. I was told I was using lipstick in order to lure men- I said I did it to feel good. He said I was becoming too outspoken.
A few weeks ago I visited an NGO working with women as a part of my course. I heard several accounts from women who were beaten, sexually abused, forced into marriage and into prostitution. A part of me was shocked, and a part of me wasn’t even mildly surprised. One story in particular stayed with me- one woman told us about her abusive husband- he used to beat her regularly- he once hit her on the head with a rock, she went into a coma and he then cut off her nose and upper lip (to those who think we don’t need feminism-let that sink in for a while).
When asked whether she tried going to the police, she told us she asked for her family’s support in order to file a complaint, and her parents didn’t let her- because, “court aur police jaane waali aurat buri hoti hai” ( women who go to the court and to the police are bad women).
This idea of a “good” girl/woman doesn’t just work to limit women’s choices, mobility and voices- it also puts us in great danger-so ingrained is this concept in our minds that we would rather tolerate abuse, tolerate harassment, than be seen as “bad” women.
I have finally come to realize that it is okay to have a voice. It is okay to say no. It is okay to speak up. And most importantly, it is okay to take up space- intellectual, political and physical- in fact, it is a right that we have been conditioned not to exercise. So go get pierced, tattooed, wear skirts, go for parties, or stay at home, its up to you. Lastly, speak louder and walk taller- because you never ask for it and it is never your fault.