Dress Code Blues

Reading this made me think about the effectiveness of imposing a dress code by an educational institution, particularly on female students. More importantly, is it right for an educational institution to impose such restrictions, which smack of sexism? The arguments most often given to support such a stand are about how ‘proper’ dressing prevents sexual harassment of women and leads to less distraction of their male counterparts. But this, once again, is looking at things from a typically paternalistic viewpoint.

To argue that a woman who dresses in modern clothes will serve as a distraction or make her more prone to sexual attacks is forgetting one important point here. It is the male who is essentially a problem here. The Indian male, for the most part is still caught in a time-warp where a woman dressing in, say a sleeve-less or low waist jeans, would make him automatically assume that she is loose and not to be respected. It is a problem which stems from a society that has taught men that only women dressed conservatively are to be considered respectable. So for an educational insitution to attempt to ‘protect’ female students from this essentially male problem reeks of hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness.

This begs another question, touched upon nicely by the above article. Is it right for a place of learning, meant to promote egalitarian values, to impose such cultural mores? Who is right here? One does not attend a college to learn how to dress. On such potentially divisive issues it is best, I feel, to leave the matter to the students and their parents. Let them regulate themselves. Externally imposed restrictive orders will only make matters worse.


One response to “Dress Code Blues”

  1. […] Later, when I was older, I’d listen in horror as my female friends recounted incident after incident about how disgusting and desperate the average Indian male is in public. I was ashamed and embarrassed that the freedom I took for granted came with so many reservations for them. To think that every time they were out in public they had to deal with innumerable snide comments which would range from ‘kya potti hai re’ to men in cars slowing down to ask ‘ati kya?’ showed me how different a world it is for an Indian woman compared to her male counterpart. They had to be on constant guard to not let men get too close in public spaces. For if men got too close more often than not their body parts would be groped, grabbed or pawed in the most obscene way. My friends often would not take it lying down if they were in a group and always tried to fight back. But they also knew that it was safer to keep quiet especially if they were alone. They knew from practical experience how unsafe it is for an Indian woman to walk on the street alone even in a big city like Hyderabad. And these were the so called elite upper middle class women who were confident, educated and unapologetic about what they wore or how they behaved and who therefore, according to some, are asking for such abuse by dressing or behaving unlike a ‘traditional Indian woman’. A male friend, upon listening to such incidents from my female friends, even had the gall to say that if they stopped wearing dresses befitting a whore they would be given more respect! If only the truth is so simple. Even women who wear ‘traditional’ Indian dresses are not spared such abuse. I recall a nonsensical dress code directive by Anna University along the very lines of such an argument about which I had blogged here. […]

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