To say that we live in 2018, we expect a lot. We expect others to be civil, polite, respectful most of all open. I say this because I live in a country that has a very rich and diverse culture, we have saris, salwar suits and so many other forms clothing derived from different tribes and societies. We also live in a globalising world where we get exposed to cultures of other countries just like they get exposed to ours. I loved the Vogue India issue where Kim Kardashian wore an Indian attire and similarly I loved Priyanka Chopra on a magazine cover even if she is not wearing an Indian attire because guess what? Clothing is a personal choice.
I have been on trains, metros, airplanes, autos and cabs and almost all forms of transportations except a rocket. I am making you aware of this fact because I am almost always told to wear a certain attire when I leave the house.
I am also told to wear a certain attire when I am visiting my grandparents or my village. And to a certain extent I understand where my grandparents are coming from and for their respect I do as I am told.
As women we go through a lot of policing when it comes to our clothes and the way we dress up. It is not fair especially when it comes to clothes that are defined as revealing. I interviewed almost fifty women to come on a larger consensus when it comes to what we wear, I shall be quoting some of them. The main point of the essay is to clear out the misconceptions that people hold about the way we dress up.
- CLOTHING AND CULTURE: Being a student of sociology I have studied a lot of things in great detail and most people have much generalised knowledge of those concepts. Culture is one of those things.
Culture first off is not entirely man-made, it is not something that you design or come up with on your own. Culture is composed of your ideas and various other external factors. Someone living in the Antarctica will wear clothes made out of thick animal fur to keep themselves warm or thick woolens or something that will shield him from the external environmental conditions. So environment plays an important role in formulating your culture. Similarly if someone lives in a desert region he cannot expect to eat fruits and other tropical food items, though now it is possible because of goo transportation and advanced technology.
So culture includes your clothing, cuisines, beliefs, ways of behaviour, ways of communications, forms of kinship, response to crisis, response to marriage and family, occupation and so on and these become a part of the culture due to various external factors such as the climate, environment and various other external factors.
So, generally girls in India and maybe elsewhere are often judged for wearing a certain kind of clothing especially if it shows too much skin. However, the same people who judge the women on the basis of their garments should look at a couple of things.
- Are you following your culture in its true sense? For example, I am a Rajput and women are expected to behave in a docile and subservient manner and also not wear western clothes that reveal too much skin. But if these ‘keepers of the culture’ are so worried about the women going against the traditions and customs then maybe they should stop doing it themselves. I see Rajput boys wearing western clothes all the time. They even wear aviators, I mean aviators are meant for pilots but every Tom, Dick and Harry is wearing them. Also if you are a Rajput then essentially you are of the warrior caste, then why do I see so many Rajput Caste people doing business, engineering, MBA etc. Join the army bro. As culture evolves you adopt elements from other cultures and that is truly acceptable. But you should also accept that women too are adopting elements from other cultures.
- Is your culture open to changes? Again, culture is susceptible to external factors. And Globalisation is an on-going phenomenon. However this is something that faces a lot of backlash. Most of the cultural institutions in our society often don’t want this. The Sabrimala Temple restricts women of the menstruating age (10-50) from entering the temple, there is now a petition in the Supreme Court that is fighting against the draconian rule. While the Kerela Government says that it would respect the decision there are a few who have made deplorable statements:
“If women are allowed, we can’t ensure their security. We don’t like to convert it as a sex tourism spot like Thailand. Even if the court opens its doors I don’t think self-respecting women will dare to go up to the hill shrine.”
2. THE MENTALITY: Often girls who wear short skirts, dresses, shorts or just about anything that reveals a lot are subjected to a judgment that is simply not fair. Our clothes have a scale attached to them and it is just unfair. We have sexualized the female body so much that every limb is associated with sexualisation. If your skirt is too long then you are a nun and if too short then you are a whore. It’s as if labels are just around the corner waiting to stick on our foreheads. A man whether wearing a trouser, shorts, speedo or underwear will be called a man but a girl won’t. And labeling and judging a girl on the basis of her clothing actually tells more about you than her.
3. WE WANT ATTENTION: This is the worst thing I have heard ever and most men think like this. Till date I have never dressed to impress a man or anyone. I also went to an all-girls college where a very large section of the students would wear very fashionable clothes and ‘revealing’ clothes, I mean who did we impress? When I dress well, I do it for myself. I love dressing in the latest trends and I love to even do makeup! The length of my skirt has never tried to enchant or entice anyone. I just like looking good and feeling good about my body and these clothes help me do that.
In Hindu societies, however, a woman’s dressing up is equated to enticing her husband. That is why after her husband’s death she is not allowed to ‘dress up’. No man no glam.
In my interview I had asked the ladies the question, Do you think that women essentially are craving for attention when wearing ‘short’ clothes? And some of the answers are as follows:
“I don’t think most of them wear short clothes to gather attention. They wear just because it makes them feel good and pretty.”
“Not at all but it depends on what the person feels comfortable wearing because if the person always wears shorter clothes and that is their style that wouldn’t be craving attention. Although, when someone suddenly starts to wear shorter clothes could come across as craving attention but I disagree with that.”
“I don’t think that women are craving for attention. I go to a girls’ school and girls wear short skirts all the time just for themselves, to make themselves feel ‘beautiful’ in their own way.”
“I believe there is a certain time and place for wearing anything. If you’re bathing topless on the beaches of St.Tropez, go ahead and do as you please. However, if you decide to wear shorts and go to Chandni Chowk and get your ass pinched then you’re to blame.”
“Absolutely not. Clothes is fashion, clothes is creativity, clothes is fun!”
4. SHORTER CLOTHES EQUATES TO RAPES: absolutely not, infants have been raped, nuns have been raped, boys have been raped; committing a rape is a mentality of criminal and nothing can justify that. However most girls do feel extremely conscious when wearing short clothes because of the lecherousness present in the society.
During the interview these were a few of the answers:
“THE MOST SAID THING EVERRRRR!!!!!! I 100% disagree with this all the way, my shorts do not have rape me written all over them they do not invite u to slap my arse or wolfwhistle at me!!!! Society stop blaming the clothes worn by the victim blame the person who did it”
“No. It is not the women wearing the so called ‘short clothes’ who need to be educated on what to wear. It should be the men who harass innocent women who need to be taught what’s right and wrong.”
“Tbh, it depends on my mood. Sometimes I’ll wear tight freaking jeans, and like the idea that, “Wow, look at them thunder thighs.” (lmao) and other times, I’ll wear the same jeans and be uncomfortable at the fact that some Perv is watching me. Also, I think the reason why I never feel truly unsafe in certain clothing is because I’m never alone in public.”
I intend on clearing these misconceptions because I don’t understand the schooling of a female’s body. Why is it that we differentiate between a girl wearing a skirt and one who wears a trouser? Dressing up is creativity, dressing up is an art, deciding what to wear and putting together an outfit requires a brain. Most of the women don’t wear a certain attire to entice anyone but themselves. The mentality that a man is the cynosure of our universe is just pathetic, we are more than that.
This particular essay was based on a general consensus by fifty women from all over the world (mostly India), I communicated with them via Instagram messaging, Whatsapp and Google Docs. I am grateful to all the girls for sharing their views with me.