Saturday, February 24, 2018

What ‘Miss’ wears is not the issue

If Clarance Mendoza, first vice-president of the National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA), has sound evidence that there is a causal relationship between the way women dress and physical molestation by men, we invite him to present it for public and academic scrutiny.

Mr Mendoza did not see the need to present such evidence to Parliament's Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Wednesday when he claimed male pupils physically harass female teachers because those teachers dress in “a tight skirt or a skirt with a big slit”.

Should Mr Mendoza not be in possession of studied substantiation, his statements, supported in part by NPTA president Raffiena Ali-Boodoosingh, are nothing short of reckless and an encouragement for men to do what they will with women based on how women are dressed.

Should he be in possession of that data, international agencies and a medley of NGOs here and around the globe would be grateful to review it since hitherto there has been no reputable analysis establishing that causation.

What have been presented are illimitable examples of women fully covered in hijabs and burqas being assaulted, of women pensioners being raped, of female stroke victims being sexually assaulted in their beds, and of female toddlers in diapers suffering sexual torture by males.

Women wearing baggy trousers and spectacles are pawed. Sexual assault of women is pervasive, regardless of how women dress. The profile of sexual assault of women reinforces the point that too many men see woman as objects of sexual pleasure and approach them thus.

It is instructive that Mr Mendoza spoke expansively to Express reporter Camille Hunte about the way female teachers dress—including detailed descriptions of what he considers their inappropriate work clothes—but was reticent when asked what consequence was faced by the perpetrators. He answered that he was not aware whether those matters were reported to the police.

In so doing, Mr Mendoza communicated greater diligence in policing women's bodies than on holding the perpetrators of assault accountable for their actions.

Implicit in statements like the NPTA's is a common tendency to blame victims of sexual assault and absolve perpetrators from responsibility for self-control and self-discipline, lessons that are urgent for young men in our school system.

Thinly veiled too is an impractical premise that male pupils are so incapable of restraint that the only solution is to remove all temptation from their environments.

The NPTA has also occluded analysis of the modern male's attention to his body and fashionably tight-fitting shirts and trousers worn by men among female pupils. If in such circumstances female pupils are not molesting their male teachers, a conclusion of gender bias appears inescapable.

This newspaper advocates the formulation and enforcement of dress codes for male and female teachers. National conversations about this issue, however, cannot morph into excusing the assault of any teacher based on how he or she is dressed. Pupils' “inappropriately touching” any teacher must be met with unqualified condemnation by all education stakeholders, including the NPTA.