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.