|Action Hero Aishwarya|
I didn’t ask for it.
What did I ask for is for the auto driver to take me from Point A to Point B. In return, I would pay him for his services. You see that’s how businesses work. But I guess our patriarchal society has different ideas. When I handed over the money to the auto driver for having dropped me home, he decided instead to give me an unsolicited lecture on how I was inappropriate and how respectable women didn’t dress like the way I had. I told him it was none of his business. He didn’t agree. A crowd gathered. Another man agreed with him and told me that I didn’t belong in the place I had called home for nearly half a decade. Silenced and completely stunned, I went home crying and angry.
Now this anecdote isn’t that interesting or even unique for the average Indian woman who has had to deal with everything from men on the streets stalking, harassing and sometimes even physically assaulting her. But in that moment, something snapped. I snapped. I was tired of having to put up with yet another strange man on the street who thought he had ownership towards my body and me. I wanted to reclaim a sense of self and posted the details of the incident on Facebook.
The internet is a strange place and my post went viral within hours. And suddenly thousands of men and women online took it upon themselves to tell me that I was a whore, a slut and not representative of the Indian culture. And I read nearly every single one of them (yes, anonymous internet guy, I did read your comment about how you wanted to mindfuck me while also fucking me both ways).
Soon I was getting rape and death threats. All anonymous. All incredibly scary. I spent the week holed up in my bathroom crying and worrying that some man would recognize me and would rape me.
But just as suddenly as it came, the storm left my backyard and my Facebook page.
A week later another girl had gone viral and the internet decided to spend its attention on calling her a slut and a whore. I was left alone, bruised but free. And I kept wondering.
Did I ask it?
A white dress with a lace overlay. It was one of my favorites. I wore when I felt good about myself. I wore it for brunches, to meet friends and occasionally because I wanted to look nice. My beautiful white dress now stained a big fat scarlet letter…a memory of how for a brief period of time I was the lightning rod for slut shamers across the country.
Did I ask for it?
Until four years ago, I hadn’t worn a dress in my life. Having spent a lifetime hating own body, I did everything in my power to deflect attention from it and hence only wore sweatpants, sweatshirts and would top it off with a baggy jacket. When I turned 24, my sister made me wear a fitted frock because she really had had enough of my “fashion” choices. I was uncomfortable and terrified at first. I remember tugging at the hem about 15 times and being very conscious of the fact one could see my knees which I thought were ugly too.
But that dress changed me. It jumpstarted a long and sometimes painful journey towards self-acceptance and body acceptance. And even today, every time I wear something fitted; every time I wear a pair of shorts; every time I wear a dress; I win a victory against the voice in my head (and every message bombarded against women in the patriarchal world) that tells me that I am not good enough.
It’s an act of courage.
When I wear a dress, I decide that the world no longer gets to say what I can and cannot do with my own body.
When I wear a dress I get to take control of my own agency and my narrative.
When I wear a dress, I stand up for myself. It’s deeply personal and deeply political.
My body. My dress.
And dear stranger who seems to have an opinion on the dress I choose to wear from the money that I earned?
You can keep it to yourself.
I Never Ask For It
Do you recall the clothes you wore when you experienced sexual threat, violence, intimidation?
The garment is memory, witness, testimony. Reach out firstname.lastname@example.org