I was once in a class where the lecturer—he turned out to be a sick, sleazy operator with a keen eye for potential prey—raised a question about dressing. He wanted to know which would appeal to us more, of a girl dressed to provoke the passions and another girl more moderately attired. We numbered some 11 in the class, 7 females and four males. Everyone chose the latter. Everyone except me.
The sky still seemed annoyed it had rained that morning, and upon its face was spread a uniform, unfeeling blanket of gloom and grey. In the car, the radio was down, although if you listened carefully, you could hear Raypower’s Sule Elams doing what he had been doing since I was a child: affecting a clownish American accent. Taiwo and Bright, classmates and friends, had offered their divergent opinions as to what role, if any, dressing could play in rape. I had teased them the topic, and I had started to offer in return what I thought of their opinions, and my position on the matter.
That was when it happened.
Traffic out of UNILAG had slowed to a crawl as we approached the gates. We were a few cars away from exchanging our vehicle tag for permission to exit when a girl appeared from beyond the gates and began to walk into the school. She was pimply alright, but this pimpliness could not dim the bright lights of her wide-eyed beauty. Further down, blue, high waist jeans over which a billowy, white cropped top had been worn accentuated the perfect, prodigious flare of her hips, and intimated of something behind that would only be outrageous because of the symmetry of her moderate figure. She did not quite ooze sex, but oozed something that must be a precursor—or two—to sex.
My speech tapered into an incoherent mumble. Then I fell silent. I do not know how Taiwo felt, but having seen the girl’s effect on me, she turned to gauge Bright’s reaction, Bright who was seated behind us. Using the cover of his sunglasses and the tint of the backseat windows, his reaction was even more dramatic; a rapturous, slack-jawed, ocular stalking. Or so Taiwo reported.
The moment passed. Us boys began to extol the greatness of God, who is the Author and Finisher of All Things, all things bright, (pimply, perfectly apportioned) and beautiful. Taiwo laughed at us, her shoulders heaving, as always, with the foundational gravity of her mirth. But beyond intense visceral reactions, Stunner-Passing-By had sufficiently problematized the notion of “indecent dressing.” She had provoked our passions so intensely; what could “indecent dressing” be when from neck to toe the only bit of skin on display were her forearms?
I hesitate to employ certain expressions. Prominent on this prohibited list are “indecent dressing” and “bitch” (and allied synonyms) in its popular incarnation as an epithet for a woman with precious little inhibitions to her sexuality. I have a hard time defining these expressions. I have no moral justification to call anyone a bitch, or as might be more culturally appropriate, a ho. I understand what people mean when they say “indecent dressing.” I understand the contextual determinacy of the idea of indecency, but it strikes me as ironic given our cultural heritage – I must of course hasten to differentiate culture (the now) from heritage (the past). But beyond irony, which I’ve essentially just punctured, I can’t discern a standard for “indecent dressing.” There are still people among us who are offended by women wearing pants or anything trouser-like. Not wearing a hijab or the burqa is deemed indecent in certain parts.
That said, I love “indecent dressing.” I have a very graphic mind, and I welcome any construct that enhances this graphicness. There’s a product known as ACL Analytics in the financial technology space, and its claim to fame is that it enables its users focus of taking necessary action instead of sweating the small, time-consuming stuff. The analogy suggests itself.
Why is my imagination skewed this way? For starters, I’m deliberately deploying shock value to put my point across. To drill down, a few weeks from now, a number of us intend to launch dydx, a web space where both sexes will ask the other sex troubling questions and hopefully get honest answers. The focus is on authenticity and the panel—for there is a panel of males and females with diverse viewpoints—are individual enough to resist me if I ever insist they toe a specific line. We hope through this panel to bomb these redoubts of supposition and lay bare misconceptions the sexes have about the other sex. You can tell it’ll be fun, mad fun. And enlightening.
I bring this up because I am—like many males I know—a being of sight. My eyes are portals for transport. As Freud declared, the libido is the driving force of life, and a lot of my imaginings around women are framed around sex, not the act, but the entire edifice of attraction and consummation. A lot, not all, because my most productive friendships have been with women. In most contexts, when a man admires you superficially (as it so often happens), trust me, he’s not thinking about your IQ, or your talents. There’s an obvious sexual tint to this superficial admiration.
Now the difference between a rapist and I—and a lot of men out there—is the ability to curtail my fantasies. I delight in my fantasies. They make me me. But I never permit them to overwhelm my ability to discern fantasy from reality. Some guys are hardwired to be incapable of control. Others have significant gaps in their socialization. Some allow their desires unravel their capacity for control. Others, insanely, think of rape as punitive, of the penis as the rod which if spared will spoil the child. This final category of people are the ones who go on Twitter to announce rape as the consequence of what they deem inappropriate behaviour from women. To reiterate, rape is the crime, not the punishment to a non-crime.
Rape is a crime. Rape is a crime. Rape is a crime. Rape is a crime. Rape is a crime. Rape is a crime. Rape is a crime.
I must however mention that when peeling back specific instances of rape, it is possible to discern contributory factors to the decision—and yes, it is a decision—to rape. I’ve heard of a girl who was raped by 4 guys because one of the 4 guys had heard she’d slept with 10 guys. Clearly, rapists will be rapists, and only rapists will respond to sexual stimuli by forcing their way through a female (or a male, if that’s your kind of thing). But there are stimuli, and it is only fair to the institution of knowledge to acknowledge the possibly aggravating influence of these stimuli. It is counterintuitive to imagine that factors that contribute to sexual appeal and gratification somehow magically do not contribute to a crime whose operative vehicle is intercourse.
Should any woman stop dressing the way she wants because of this? Absolutely not. The onus for control and respect lies on men, and we must begin to impress—brand—this on the consciousness of men from when they are boys. However, practice sometimes does not respect theory. Rape is a sad reality but it is a reality. That our collective conscious and unconscious have been over-sexualized is a reality of our time. There’s always an argument for moderation, and if there’s reason to doubt your security and safety anywhere in any guise, please proceed with the caution this doubt requires. It is a coward’s way out, but under certain circumstances, one is better safe than sorry. The coward’s house is the smart screen on which Gary Neville deconstructs the ruins of the warrior’s house.
Here’s one more thing you should note. The aversion many men have for “indecent dressing” is located in a sense of proprietorship. They imagine ownership of the woman dressed this way and therefore simultaneously imagine that the manner in which she dresses beckons upon competition. When a man expresses offence at your dressing, it’s not necessarily out of any sense of moral superiority or concern for your wellbeing. He has assumed ownership of you and can’t bear to have you so blatantly invite competition. As my father says, elegina kan o nsere leti omi. The riverbank is not the best place for embers to linger.