A middle-aged woman was so offended by a young woman’s dress, that she exhorted men in the restaurant to rape her. But the reactions to this horrific incident aren’t exactly ‘woke’.

You should be raped for wearing short dress What viral video and responses tell us
news Opinion Wednesday, May 01, 2019 - 16:14

On Tuesday, social media outrage was at its peak, as a video of a confrontation went viral. A Delhi-based woman, Shivani Gupta, posted a Facebook video that showed a group of young women demanding an apology from a middle-aged woman.

In her post, Shivani wrote that the older woman – who has now been identified by other users as Soma Chakraborty – had objected to the short dress that she was wearing at a restaurant, and even asked the men there to rape her and her friends for it. Though they first wished to ignore her, Shivani said, they later decided to take her on at a shopping centre nearby.

The now viral video shows the young women asking Soma to apologise. However, not only does she refuse to do so, she also repeats her abominable views linking clothes and sexual violence – a correlation that has no factual backing whatsoever and is a victim blaming argument which has been repeatedly debunked.

While the confrontation is on, another woman in the store, wearing a black dress, comes forward to support the youngsters. Identifying herself as a mother of two girls, the woman tells Soma she should apologise as women have the right to wear what they want to, and their clothes don’t invite rape. But as the situation gets more charged, the woman in black tells Soma that the young women were dressed in such a way because they have "a body to flaunt it" while she does not.

There's no doubt that the woman in the black dress must be commended for standing up for the young women. However, the unfortunate body shaming argument she fell back on to make her point is being used by several social media users to indulge in cyber bullying. The woman said it in the heat of the moment, but social media users latching on to it have no excuses.

It is understandable that people are angry about the blatantly misogynistic way in which Soma allegedly accosted the women who are complete strangers to her. However, what should have ideally led to a productive debate on patriarchy and rape culture has now been hijacked by cyber bullies who have not only showered Soma with abusive messages, but have also made baseless assertions about her family, particularly her son(s) who has/have been branded as "rapists". Why must other individuals be held accountable for someone's views only because they're related to her? By drawing the conclusion that it's how a mother brings up a boy which determines whether or not he commits rape, are we not letting men off the hook for taking responsibility for their own actions?

 

Hey guys. Today my friends and I were harassed by a woman at a restaurant for me wearing a short dress. This middle aged woman you’ll see in the video addressed seven men at the restaurant to rape us because she felt we deserved it for wearing short clothes and bashing her unsolicited opinion. For speaking up against her primitive mindset. Our instinct was turn away from the drama but supported by our colleagues, we took her on at a shopping centre, nearby. We gave her the chance to apologise, to no avail, of course. Nothing moved the needle for her, not even another woman who learned the story on the spot and implored the ghastly woman to apologise. See for yourself. And share.

Posted by Shivani Gupta on Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Many of these comments, ranging from calling her 'aunty' to 'bitch/whore' are sexist in nature and do nothing to dismantle the patriarchal mindset of our society which produces people like Soma.

While Shivani Gupta and her friends did the right thing by standing up against Soma Chakraborty's ridiculous act, supporters circulating screenshots of someone's social media profile and encouraging others to unleash their wrath upon the person amounts to targeted harassment. Calling out a person's regressive ideas with equally regressive actions will get us nowhere.

In the social media moment, we seem to have forgotten that this woman, Soma, is only a symptom of what is wrong with our society. If we're truly honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that many people around us – people in our family and friends circle – have the same abhorrent views about rape culture, and actively perpetuate it. We ourselves may not be free of these ideas, as is obvious from the responses we're seeing on social media. Shouting down one person and forcing her to flee from Facebook will not solve anything.

What we need is debate, dialogue and introspection – none of which is possible when the narrative becomes violent.

Views expressed are author's own

Sowmya Rajendran is a journalist who writes on gender, culture and cinema. She also writes children's books.

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