Indonesian women’s rights groups said they were outraged by the comments and called for a stop to the demonization of rape victims

Why is it that men blame women for their own failures? Whenever I hear a variant of the phrase, “Well, he couldn’t help himself,” I can’t but think that this excuse is in need of a lot of help. In Indonesia there is a bill being considered in parliament that would ban female lawmakers from wearing provocative clothing, such as miniskirts. Given that the number of Indonesian lawmakers wearing miniskirts must be a whopping minority, why is this needed? Here is the rationale:

“We know there have been a lot of rape cases and other immoral acts recently, and this is because women aren’t wearing appropriate clothes,” house of representatives speaker Marzuki Alie said.

“Women wearing inappropriate clothes arouse men, so it needs to be stopped. You know what men are like — provocative clothing will make them do things.”

So men rape women because women wear miniskirts. I have not seen the statistics, but I suspect the majority of women in Indonesia do not fall for the idea that all they have to do is dress conservatively and there will be no danger of a man raping them. This notion that the male rapist cannot really be blamed because “provocative clothing will make them do things” is not limited to any national or religious group. What is rather bizarre in this case is that the ban would only be to protect male lawmakers and not for the public at large. So either there is an epidemic of male lawmakers raping female lawmakers in Indonesia or these males are so easily aroused that the ban need only be to stop those provocative female lawmakers. I guess once outside the parliament building, male lawmakers can contain themselves.

Think about the logic here. If I leave a nice car (say a Tom Friedman Lexus) in my driveway and someone steals it, is it my fault for arousing a desire to steal in the thief? If I am about to score a goal on the soccer field and someone trips me, is it not a foul because I aroused the other player to do it? If I am a lawmaker charged with drafting laws for the benefit of the citizens, am I not able to control my own urges, just because I am a male?

Is it really the case that men can’t help it when they see a woman’s legs. There are still a few societies out there where the missionaries have not aided the clothing industry, where women still bare their breasts in public and where rape is virtually unheard of. Perhaps we should clone the DNA of males in such groups or train them to be lawmakers in countries like Indonesia. But let’s go to an extreme that almost never happens: a totally naked woman in public. Does such a woman give up any human right not to be raped? Does she deserve it because she aroused a male?

Both Islam and Christianity, and so many philosophies and other worldviews, grapple with the notion of “free will.” To what extent are humans free agents, able to make rational decisions? When people do harmful things to others, is it because they can’t help it? Arguments can be made that mind-altering drugs can induce people to do things that they normally would not do, even “good” people. But when it comes to free will, it is a self-serving alibi for males to assume that they are free to do whatever they want with their willies if a woman dares bare some part of her anatomy.

There is no lab-based scientific evidence and no ethnographic support for the idea that human males do not possess the ability (unless otherwise disabled) to control sexual urges. Muslims have an example from the life of the Prophet. When Muhammad went one day to visit his adopted son Zayd, he found Zayd’s wife Zaynab not fully dressed. Did Muhammad jump on the woman and rape her? Not at all; he called on Allah and went home to his wives. The Quran is also quite clear that men are to avert their gaze if they happen to see a woman who shows her adornments. Admittedly no Muslim can live as pure a life as the Prophet, but is he not the example to follow and isn’t Allah powerful enough to help a man deal with the urges that the Creator created with the creature?

Christians have historically suffered from the same mentality. The ascetic syndrome in which closeness to God equals distance from sexuality, in which priests and nuns must be “married” to their devotion rather than to other human beings, builds on the self-hating notion of “original sin” (not as original in the tradition as people assume). Adam sinned and Eve seduced him because Eve was seduced by the snake (a telling Freudian symbol if ever there was). Thus, because women fall prey to the wiles of the Devil, men fall prey to the wiles of the woman. Ergo, blame the woman, the way Adam does in Genesis. But God did not buy Adam’s alibi, nor Eve’s, nor the serpent’s. Adam’s life would require work that breaks a sweat, but the point is that Adam should have known better and blaming the woman was no excuse. He disobeyed God, exercising his free will. If you think in this theological scenario that Adam had no choice, then you must assume that the living soul that God breathed into Adam was not in fact in the image of a loving God. Creating a man that has no chance to make the right decision and creating a woman that has no chance to resist the wiles of a beautiful creature would make God a rather evil force.

But think again beyond the doctrinal dogma. What did Adam do when he knew both he and Eve were naked? Did he rape her? The story says that they both sewed leaves to hide their nakedness and these figs probably did not meet the standard of a full hijab. Both the original parents tried to hide their shame from the God who created them naked. If Adam really could not help being aroused after eating the apple, but could before, then he could hardly be blamed.

Regarding the Indonesian lawmakers, I suspect that most of them are not aroused by the mere sight of their female colleagues in miniskirts, but are far more excited by the jingle of a cash bribe in their pocket.

Daniel Mariin Varisco