Mumbai city council member Ritu Tawde recently proposed a ban on public mannequins that are not sufficiently covered, as such displays “degrade women” and could provoke men to attack and rape them. “Mannequins don’t suit Indian culture,” she said. This is intended to be a legislative measure toward ending India’s rape epidemic. The logic here is that men are provoked by the mannequins because they are replicas of women’s bodies, and such provokation could result in them acting out their desires on real, non-consenting women.
If we’re being analytical here, mannequins don’t really “suit” any culture because they are by nature (usually) white, fabricated, pin-thin, ideally-beautified plastic women that have their XS-sized clothes pinned because they’re too big. They perpetuate unrealistic body image regardless of what culture they’re in. But I digress, because the issue here is much larger than that: it’s the idea that rape is caused by exposure to women’s bodies. By this logic, statistics would show that rape is more common during the warmer months, when less clothing is worn in Western cultures. India does not have a rape epidemic because of exposure to undressed women, whether fabricated or not, as that is what the legislation implies.
Enforcing the idea that women’s bodies, or replicas of them, shouldn’t be seen by men is not only a form of victim blaming, but also raises questions of how much will be theoretically censored in the future for art, literature, media, entertainment, etc. as all of these mediums portray the same kind of imagery in one way or another. It impresses a sense of inferiority and vulnerability, not empowerment and reinforcement of the idea that women are not responsible for involuntary actions and crimes that are done unto them.
Rather than propose legislation to remove the image of women’s bodies, this time and energy could be used to educate youth on healthy sexual relations, respecting others sexually, and how one is never to blame for something that is done to them without their consent. We could be enforcing the idea that men who feel compelled to rape need to seek help before they harm someone. The principle of how to express emotions in a manner that doesn’t harm others needs to be universally perpetuated much more than it is. The legislation at hand, however, will do more harm than good.
Why? Because it plays into a number of theories on why men rape. Some theorize that men do so if they have no other means of securing copulation. This is sometimes called the Mate Deprivation Hypothesis. Contrary to the logic of the legislation, men may be committing these acts because they are not exposed to enough sexuality. Another theory is that men seek out women who aren’t receptive (there is some pleasurable fantasy associated with struggle) and for this reason, many rapists are notably attuned to a potential victim’s vulnerability, of which we are emphasizing by the proposing that women need to be unseen.
This all comes in light of a 30-year-old American tourist being gang-raped and a 21-year-old being drugged and raped while volunteering in Kolkata. Being raised in a culture where it is only appropriate for women to be covered up, it may seem logical that unclothed women provoke sexual behavior. In fact, in an interview with Mid-Day, Tawde said that she believes there is a correlation between shop owners using more scantily clad mannequins and the rise of rape crimes. I’m sure she does believe this is true, and she also believes that she is doing what will best combat the issue.
However, hiding women and images of them will not stop rape. If men want to see pornography they can look it up themselves if they care to. Whether or not they pass by a mannequin will not, and should not, influence them to rape or not. But do you know what it will do? It will make women feel as though they are to be hidden, ashamed and victimized because of who they innately are.