Mannequin Lingerie Ban in Mumbai – It’s about controlling women, not men

by Ritwik on May 29, 2013


The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has decided that lingerie bearing mannequins are akin to “sex toys” and their public display is “embarrassing” to women. Furthermore, according to the Shiv Sena controlled BMC,  such mannequins provoke men into sexual crimes against women.

A few observations:

While the BMC is trying to spin this move as a means to control men by removing from sight a ‘provocative’ object, it should be more than clear that the real attempt is to control women’s sexuality. The argument is eerily similar to one adopted by apologists for the burqa or by those advocating “traditional”, “decent”, “appropriate” dress for women – don’t provoke men, because if a women does, then the sexual harassment shes faces is, if not justified, at least causally linked to her mode of dress and her “behaviour”.

In an article published under the byline of “FP Staff”, the news website has asked the BMC to cut the men some slack. Much digital ink has been spilled in proving how the mere sight of lingerie, particularly on mannequins does not excite men into sexual violence. While this is true, the story only takes the claims of the BMC at face value and tries to refute them. But the action of the BMC cuts deeper, and needs to be understood as a step against women’s freedom and only peripherally against men’s (presumed) desire to get their sexual kicks off lingerie-clad mannequins.

The political and religious right has long been terrified of the appearance in public of any activities related to love, sex and individual choice. We can recount valentine’s day vandalism, the actions of the Sri Ram Sene in Mangalore where they attacked women in pubs and at parties, demands for ban on sex toys, frequent demands for censorship of films, support for curfews on women, exhortations to women to not forget their “Indian culture” and numerous other instances.

Coming as it does from the same political stable, the mannequin lingerie ban in Mumbai should be seen as yet another attempt to somehow efface sexuality, particularly, female sexuality, from the domain of everyday sights and sounds. This move is, thus, part of a larger political project which is inextricably opposed to liberal modernity as characterized by free choice of the individual.

Of course, the proponents of this political project will gladly take the technological side of modernity – they are particularly fascinated by guns and tanks and the like – but the individual freedoms side of modernity – upon which liberal democracy is based – is for them extremely cumbersome, as it necessarily involves questioning of tradition and continually altering or even rejecting past practices and prejudices.

This fear of individual freedoms is precisely why secularism means “India first” (=hyper nationalism) to the tall leaders of such ideologies. This is why their focus in multi-million dollar campaigns led by American PR agencies is on “development” – as they dream of imparting to India the gleaming external gloss of modernity, but at the same time they want a a highly hierarchical, ordered, mechanical, hedonistic and gender-unjust society.


You are absolutely right. By removing lingerie-clad models from the public eye, it is an attempt to de-normalise the female body, making lingerie into something forbidden, hidden and shameful. As a woman, I have never, ever been embarrassed by bras and panties hanging like streamers from the counters of lingere shops – because it reassured me that after all, these items are merely products, after all, an essential functional part of a woman’s life, rather than something clandestine. It is for the same reason that it makes me angry that medical stores use black polythene packets whenever they sell packets of sanitary pads. Why? Because the message they’re conveying is that menstruation and any evidence of its EXISTENCE, is something to be ashamed of.

Anything and everything to do with a woman’s body is ‘effaced’ in the name of a woman’s righteous embarrassment. It is a specious argument which 1. claims to represent some fictitious category of women who are universally cringing at their own shadows 2. further perpetuates the over-sexualisation of a woman’s body by seeing every need of a woman’s body as ‘provocative’ and dangerous and 3. therefore creates an atmosphere that excuses sexual violence as a natural reaction to said provocation.

by Laboni on May 29, 2013 at 5:18 pm. #

Laboni, thanks for a thoughtful comment. I especially liked the step by step analysis of the patriarchal strategy.

by Ritwik on May 29, 2013 at 11:30 pm. #

Reflects your political acuity where you don’t jump headlong into the debate taking off from the premises set by the opposition. The brilliance of this analysis lies in standing back and reflecting on the deeper motives guiding all such actions.
Politics of this kind is antithetical to the very idea of liberal democracy which rests on a precarious balance between rights and freedoms. It is a dangerous situation when we are led to believe that certain basic human rights can (and should) be guaranteed to us only if we are ready to forsake a few seemingly insignificant freedoms.

by Sukhvinder Shahi on May 30, 2013 at 12:01 am. #

It is strange that so many of us have so easily bought the argument that liberation of women lies in looking desirable to the male. What i pray ask is the progressive aspect of lingerie, fashion shows etc that reduce women to objects of consumption. So long as female sexuality remains trapped in the logic of competitive sexuality, where every woman is trying to look more desirable than the rest to win male attention healthy sexual life and love are impossible. Sexuality of women is not autonomous, in our society is it informed and governed by the male desire which itself is shaped by the market that caters to it. Female sexual desire is structured by the market and by the male desire that it constantly needs to cater to. this form of sexuality is also deeply oppressive to the women who are not considered desirable in the conventional sense of the word and also men who cannot win attention of the conventionally sexually desirable women due to lack of social status, economic status and good looks in the conventional sense. The entry point of the Hindu right is certainly wrong in the sense that they try to curb this form of sexuality because they consider women the repository of the community’s honor, and we must certainly oppose this line of thinking. but opposing Hindu right by no means necessitates that we must succumb to the market notion of ‘desirable females’ that itself is deeply oppressive to women and men who cannot live up to its ideals, objectification of women, and commodification of their sexuality is no reply to the attempts of the Hindu right to fix them as the repositories of the community’s honor.

by Ankit Tarkik on June 1, 2013 at 8:30 pm. #

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