Clothes – A Woman’s Trap

All my life, one way or another I have always heard remarks made on women’s clothing. I am very sure this experience is shared by many (men and women included). There is a strong perception built on a person’s character based on the amount of clothing worn. This does not just happen in our community, but happens around the world. This judgment falls within a spectrum, either women are chastised for overexposure; looked down upon or risk being viewed with suspicion for covering up (i.e. women were banned from wearing hijab in France).

Focusing on our part of the world, it is not uncommon that a woman is labelled as a slut for wearing clothes that are revealing. She is perceived to be too westernized and has forsaken her culture. Only a few months back, a group of crusaders who wanted to preserve the Indian culture threatened to spray paint women who dress inappropriately (their exact parameters of ‘inappropriate’ remains undefined) during Thaipusam. On social media, it is very common to see derogatory comments made when women post pictures of themselves. Instantly, it becomes everyone’s problem what a woman chooses to wear. The way a woman clothes herself has become a societal problem because there is a segment that still believes rape happens because of overexposure of skin, that clothing represents respectability and that virtuous women should dress a certain way.

How have years of progress, education and exposure resulted in this? I am not only calling out men who do this because a lot of women do it too! Why do we as a society feel that women’s clothing should be monitored, or that it reflects our cultural standing? When did our society’s achievement became intertwined with the yards of cloth covering the bodies of women?

I think it is very important to accept that we are moving towards a time period where globalization is inevitable. Our way of dressing is a mere reflection of that. Clothing has become a form of expression, a tool to dress our personalities or even our insecurities. There should be space in society to accommodate this because every human has the right to exercise their individual freedom. For those who argue that it is important to police women’s clothing because it is tied to respectability you should really ask yourselves a really important question, “What story does the clothes she wears tell you that her voice does not?” We have women who say and do amazing things, yet are judged for their sense of style.

In my opinion, we have not progressed holistically if women still have to justify their choice of clothing. Encroachment on a person’s right to clothe themselves by labelling them negatively is regressive. Progress simply means understanding and accepting that a person’s character or value lies in their ability to think and act in empathy. We progress through intellectual conversation and critical thinking, not age-old dogmatic thoughts.

The real victims of this regressive school of thought are those who are raised to believe that their clothes is reflective of their character/value. Women who have the exposure and knowledge will continue striding because they are aware, and have moved beyond having to justify their choice of clothing. The others are not so fortunate, there is a fear of being labelled if they don’t live by society’s rules. That to me is cruelty; we can’t equip women with education that does not question or is uncritical of what they are used to. Norms often get redefined, so there should be constant reflection and space to exercise their personal choice.

This is a conversation that needs to happen more often and more loudly. We should talk about it, understand it and grow from it. At the end of it all, within a society, women should be able express their individuality in a manner they deem fit. I think we can safely trust women to make smart choices with all the wisdom that they possess, in this case, what is deemed as appropriate clothing.


Change Agent

Such a lofty goal to want to change the world. We grow up reading about it and look up to those who have somehow left an impact in this big world. Growing up, it is easy to aspire to change the world. Then, adulthood happens. In a split second, we are left to face a sobering reality that maybe it is not possible to change the world, and yet again, it remains just as a lofty goal.

Even if we persist on changing the world, the hurdles are aplenty. The limitations of our own existence, personal responsibilities and of course the emotional quotient. Changing the world requires drastic actions, being able to call out to people and mobilise a movement. In today’s digitalized world, perhaps inventing something for humanity would go a long way.

The realist in me quickly realised early on that changing the world is not for me. I was already struggling with adulthood myself. Figuring out where I fit, career directions and of course people is already exhausting enough. So, I shelved the aspiration for another lifetime.

I was wrong. Changing the world is not lofty aspiration after all! I owe this realization to some ordinary human beings who try so hard to impact humanity positively. Maybe it is difficult to rally up a movement, have a trending hashtag or change the course of history. However, showing up in our daily lives with kindness and thoughtfulness is not. Interacting with our environment with empathy is doable. The size of the footprint left behind is not important, just that there is a mark.

Of course, all those are just words. Without actions, they mean nothing. When I tried it, I realized that helping people in need was easier for me than others. My struggle was on an emotional level, like refraining from making a sarcastic remark, to genuinely wish well for someone when I myself am not doing too well, to not be envious or even to show up in a positive way. My struggles were very apparent during times of difficulties. But it took some effort to not fall off the bandwagon and to practice kindness in a conscious way. This definitely shifted my perspective!

I began to realise that these people I so admire, who are trying to make an impact, have one thing in common. They are positive, kind and are willing to open their lives. Be it in sharing something material or their experiences. They touch lives because they empathize instead of judging. They smile, lift and encourage. That’s everyday leadership. Alone it may not look much, but a single act of kindness changes a person’s life at that moment. Collectively, that changes the world!

So, how do we fit in? I think we start with kindness, empathy, love and perhaps a small dose of courage. Because it is not only vital that we demonstrate kindness within our own circle, but it is perhaps more important that we voice out in the face of injustice. Start small, save that kid from being bullied, call out someone who is racist/sexist, share your story, avoid being mean and just show up for people. That also changes the world.


Brave Girls

Disclaimer: I am not a parent. This piece is written purely based on my observations and from my experience in working with young children.

We are raising our girls wrong. In many ways, parents today are focusing on their girls’ education. They are interested in ensuring that their daughters’ have employment opportunities. Girls today are being exposed to various opportunities. However, there is one virtue that we don’t emphasise when we raise girls – bravery. We demand from them perfection instead of encouraging them to be brave. Think about it, how many times are we overprotective of our girls? Be it when they are leaping from one monkey bar to another, riding a bike or engaging in any activities that look dangerous. When the girls are allowed to do it, there is obviously always an adult hovering with careful supervision. We do it to boys as well, however, the extent of scrutiny is much lesser.

Parents are likely to be okay if the boys suffers bruises when partaking in these activities because it is perceived as a toughening up process. However, when it comes to girls, parents are concerned. An injury from a fall is magnified and instantly the activity becomes unsafe. We teach boys that risks are good, and that challenges will help them grow. But, with girls on the other hand, the narration is that risks are painful and too dangerous. This happens to even the most progressive parents who tend to caution their daughters more than they would their sons. So, we groom them to be perfectionist but not brave. We instill the idea that helplessness is cute.

We see the results of this conditioning outside playgrounds. In my classes, the boys are likely to be eager to try something outside their comfort zone in comparison to the girls. Even if the new thing interests them, there is a moment of hesitation before the girls partake in it. More often than not, the boys spearhead the enthusiasm. This hardly means that girls are not bright or not as intelligent, it just means that they are likely to play it safe.

There has been research that has shown that when challenging scenarios are presented to a group of children, the girls who are brighter tend to give up while the boys tend to view it as a challenge. This conditioning has resulted in girls finding it hard to move out of their comfort zones. You see this is their demeanor where girls strive to be likable and have difficulties expressing their disagreements or discomfort.  This carried into workplaces as well where women are likely to have difficulties asking for a raise or challenging an appraisal. This boils down to an upbringing where they are not trained to be brave, to ruffle the feathers. Hence, the status quo remains regardless of how bright the female is.

This of course may not be the rule, there are many parents who are actively trying to do better in raising their daughters. But, when posed with scenarios it is important to examine our prejudice of whether we are over cautioning our daughters. It is very important to drill in the virtue of bravery and resilience at a young age before they grow up to face the pressure of being perfect in their teenage years. Every bruise and cut will help mold stronger and bad-ass girls. This virtue is so important because life does not dish out challenges only based on our gender. So, it is vital to equip girls with bravery and a sense of adventure, to steer them to take risk and live outside of their comfort zone instead of striving for perfection.