Section 509 of our Penal Code states that:
Section 299 of the Sudanese Penal Code also states... well, it states the same thing too, but ends with "... or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished.
Here, we should come to problematise our notion of the woman and modesty. In effecting such laws, we are only reproducing dominant patriarchal norms on gender roles and behaviour. The woman, although being thought to be empowered by legal and institutional protection, is actually slowly being placed into the category of weak and vulnerable; while the man, of course, will be seen as the active oppressor.
The modesty of the man is thus not conceived at all. You could turn to biology and say that men are generally more aggressive and sexual, but the point is, society has forgotten about the modesty and dignity of men, while attempting to make women seem more vulnerable and weaker - a double whammy for humanity.
Gender norms of the status quo are reproduced in the Penal Code. It implicitly targets the male aggressor, because it creates a victim status for which the woman is expected to assume. The law itself is highly patriarchal, obsessed with the disciplining of men, because it has been informed by positivist information that men are more prone to commit such deviance and acts. In the act oral sex (of the heterosexual nature), when it was once criminalised, the man is punished, whether he is the actor or the acted upon. Women here are once again symbolically annihilated. The woman becomes measured and defined not only with respect with the man, but also the interests of the man.
For all we know, it may be physiological, as the man statistically has a physical advantage over the woman, but the conceptualisation of victimisation is culturally ascribed. What about the violence and vandalism done unto men? Or should they just "take it like a man" and shut the hell up?
What is the modesty of a man any way? Is modesty truly exclusive to women?
This is Victorian morality/conduct, uncritically adopted by us Singaporeans, explaining why our Penal Code is like that. It has become so embedded in our legal and social culture, and we have even come to ascribe upon it notions of Asian-ness and Asian values. When we talk about moral conservativism in Asian values, it is actually Victorian morality that is at play. Well, any way, women are perceived to be not as sexual as men, probably even asexual. They must hence be protected from the ills and the corruption that are exclusive to men. It is very natural and normal for a woman to have this thing called a modesty. It is unnatural for a man to have modesty, because that is probably equal to shoving a straw up your nose and drinking through it.
Male-oriented society has, through the criminalisation of harrassment of women and their modesty, carved out a female space for women. Another problem, on another level, is that women too readily internalise the notions of "modesty" and feminine vulnerability. These women are actually soaking in the views, expectations and anxieties of (ideologically) male-dominated society. The woman is more prone to embarrassment and loss of dignity, therefore she needs more institutional protection; the man on the other hand, doesn't need the same amount of protection. Patriarchy, in this case, serve neither women nor men.
I think it's very sad that society subscribes to all the oppressive notions of gender (and sexual) identity. So much expectations are created, which shape how people behave and think. Moreover, the law, policy and welfare are all initiated based on these expectations. Disproportionately more men are incarcerated, for example, because the notion of crime is gender-coloured.
I believe it's about time we start thinking about how the notions of man and woman are straight-jacketed in our society, and how these contribute to a form of desired social order. But who is desiring this? Whose interest does this form of social order serve?