I was shocked when a client of mine, a man in his 40s or 50s, sent me a message, commenting on my Whatsapp profile picture. My profile picture was simply a silhouette of myself wearing short pants and sleeveless shirt against sunset at the beach.
Apparently, this kind of photo disturbed him. At first, he complimented the beautiful sky on the background. Then he started commenting on my clothes: "Bajunya buat koleksi pribadi aja.” The outfit should just be for private viewing.
I did not really grasp what he was actually saying. I believe my clothes were proper enough, and the photo only showed a silhouette of myself. He then continued saying how I as a woman, should uphold my honor by wearing “proper clothes” so that men will not scoff at me or think I'm an easy girl.
It did not stop there.
This man continued telling me how my body does not belong to myself, but rather it actually belongs to God. Jaw dropping? Yes. Though, maybe not for a Christian like me, as I do hear the phrase a lot and even know that it is stated in the Bible. But to have a male client telling me this after seeing my Whatsapp profile picture was totally unexpected. I was judged for the clothes I wore, for the photo I chose to post.
A male colleague who knew the story asked me if I changed my profile photo after this exchange. I proudly said no. Why “proudly” ? Because I believe I have the freedom to choose the clothes I want to wear. I believe my honor should not be measured by what kind of clothes I am wrapped in and what body parts I choose to show. My body is a gift from God and I believe I have all the rights to make my own fashion statement.
No wonder the culture of victim blaming and slut shaming is strongly rooted in our society. Rather than teaching men to control their sexual desires, women are asked to cover themselves. They are defined by the clothes they wear.
Rape victims are blamed for the amount of skin they show. As long as we still see women as the cause of rape, we do not treat sexual crimes appropriately. It is men who need to be educated on how to control their sexual urges. Isn't it degrading for men to be assumed as beasts who have no control over their sexual desires?
Being told to cover myself up so that men will not think I'm easy was extremely disturbing to me. The lack of sex education and closed-mindedness of most Indonesians might be the root of the problem. You’ve seen how TV shows blur cleavages as if they are the problems. The problem is not the cleavage: the problem is in the mind of the beholders.
We should teach our kids that sexual urges can and should be controlled when there is no consent and that girls can wear whatever they want without having to fear being raped. I believe it all comes back to educating the mind and having a paradigm shift on seeing women and men equally.
HD is a graduate from Universitas Indonesia who is currently working at a multinational advertising agency. She hopes to get out of Jakarta one day and start a fresh breath of life, living by the beach.