As a journalist, there is almost no end to the diversity of people I meet on a day-to-day basis. Having worked a year and a half in the media, my experiences have almost all been good ones and I can say the same for the people I have met. I learned today though, that this may not always be the case.
I was covering an event with a colleague of mine and was accosted by a lady who asked to speak to me in private to which I agreed, thinking that maybe I could ask her for an interview after the event. She introduced herself as a counselor who worked with children and then proceeded to ask me a series of invasive questions – first, what my age was and then, if I was married.
I answered her truthfully and politely wondering where this would lead when she hit me with it: “Darling”, she said sweetly, patting my arm, “I cousel young children on their attire. Now, there are young boys and priests here and when they see you dressed like this, you give them temptation. And that is not good for you”. I was so appalled that, at the time, I couldn’t do anything but nod and take her card as she went on to offer me her counseling services.
I walked numbly out of the room, hardly believing what she had told me. I will not even mention what I was wearing because I think that is quite beside the point. As for the temptation part, well, if I’m a woman and attractive, I will not apologize for it.
I wanted to confront her as soon as I had my thoughts in order but she had left the place, and left me seething. I came back to office and wrote her the following letter:
Ms. Anne Gunasekera
I am the journalist you met at the Caritas event this morning, to whom you offered your card and services as a counselor based on my attire. I was not only highly insulted by what you said to me today but also, quite simply, appalled. Out of respect for the place we were in and the event about to begin, I only smiled and nodded but now I feel if I do not reply you, I would be letting down all the women that I interact with on a daily basis; all strong, independent women I am proud to know. Women who would not compromise their own identity for anything.
I am proud to count myself amongst these women and would not change for any reason, much less the ones you gave me today. Which, by the way, insulted not only me but also my parents, my upbringing and my place of work. My parents are well known and respected people and I have had the choicest upbringing and attended the best schools and universities – if my attire does not offend my parents or the professionals with whom I work (my superior is one of the strongest women I know and one of the most well respected female journalists in the country) then that is all I need. I certainly will not change what I wear so that “young boys and priests” will not get tempted when they see me.
I am a woman, proud of my body and the way I look. If these young boys and priests look and me and feel “tempted” then I think you should be giving your business card to them and not me. It is precisely your brand of judgement that, in its most extreme manifestation, renders the rapist innocent and instead blames the victim for bringing unwanted attention to herself. In my opinion this is not the way to address this problem. Men should be able to respect a woman and treat them accordingly no matter what their attire. I think your services would be of much better use if you counsel chauvinist men instead of encouraging impressionable young women to cover up for fear of men looking at them.
No woman should have to stifle herself and her identity to avoid tempting men. The idea is, quite frankly, ridiculously outdated and anti-feminist. And as a born and bred feminist, it stands against everything I believe in.
Incidentally, I met and interviewed priests and nuns at the event and got none of your patronizing judgement from them – merely, friendliness and a healthy respect for me in my professional capacity as a journalist.
I would not even have accepted your card if it had not been that I wanted to make sure I had a way of contacting you to tell you exactly how I feel. And it is this: that you are doing much more harm than good talking to young women the way you do – making women cover up does not solve the problem. Encouraging young men to treat women with respect and without judgement is a much more valuable service – one which I hope you will turn your efforts to in the near future.
I do not mean to be insulting – I merely wish to share my point of view as you so freely gave me yours without any thought to whether you might offend me or not. If I am being judgemental it is because you invited it upon yourself by being judgmental of me.
I am an adult and, above all, a woman. A proud and independent woman. I think you should endeavour to find some pride in your own femininity instead of trying to stifle it in others.
Originally published on Groundviews.