Can we quit our obsession with instructing girls what to wear?

Nimisha Bansal
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In India, there is no dearth of people, even in prominent positions making bizarre comments about a woman’s acceptable dress code. Such intellectuals, including power holders like politicians and leaders of religious organisations, seem to equate all social evils imposed on women with what they wear. How or not they are sanskaari (full of values). How wildly inappropriate is it for a girl to wear a skirt? Are crimes against women just linked to their type of clothes?


Sexual Crimes are the result of a sick mindset, not the girl’s clothes

Often, girls are instructed to avoid wearing western clothes in order to avoid unwanted male attention. How sad it is that even after decades, we still seem to blame women for the crimes that happen against them. Rapes, sexual harassment, eve teasing and stalking are universal issues that, unfortunately, women across the world are exposed to, irrespective of what they wear. The critic of constantly projecting women as objects of sexual desire seems to be sidelined over the abstract of the “socially acceptable and safe” dress code.

By blaming the “short skirt” as the cause of rape, aren’t we actually justifying rapes that happen against women who wear short skirts? Accordingly, every woman who still chooses to wear a mini skirt is entitled to be raped by men who were “provoked by her”. Moral policing of such extent against the victims of a crime is not the answer to solve it. It only feeds more substance to the narrow minded intellectuals of our society. Instead, the sexual offenders must be scrutinised and sensitized against the ills of their offense.

Read: Mixed Reactions over the Switch to Trousers from Women Athletes

Politicians always have a lot to say

“Avoid wearing jeans to college.” “Boys will be boys. They make mistakes.” “Avoid going out at night.” “No one commits rapes intentionally. It happens by mistake.” “Western culture is responsible for rapes.” “Stay indoors to prevent rape.” “Urbanisation causes rape.” These are some statements made by prominent politicians regarding rape, molestation, and harassment against women. A concurrent theme across all these statements is the tendency to dictate women to change their behaviour in order to avoid being harassed. None seems to mention that such crimes go beyond what a woman has on her body: it is a larger matter of how she is perceived by men, their attitude towards consensual sex and most importantly, the state of law enforcement in the country.


Read: Do We Need Corrective Dress Code for Women in Sports?

Right to freedom and personal choice

India, being a free country, provides all its citizens with the basic right of choosing what they wish to wear. It is a matter of personal choice and external opinion of any sort is not directly enforceable on any individual regarding the issue. A woman retains the right to wear whatever pleases her. However, men, must at all times, seek consensus before predating onto her personal space. Instructing women to follow dress codes simply increases their vulnerability and reinforces the disgusting notions of women as ‘sex objects’.

If clothes are the only rationale behind crimes, then how do we justify a large number of molestation cases that happen against women who are “fully covered up”? Do we even have a definite list of clothes that DO NOT attract unwanted advances?

About Consent And Choices

As long as men do not become comfortable with women showing too much, too little or no skin at all, crimes against women will simply not be deterred. Rapes are an outcome of an ideology; limiting it to a woman’s clothing is an injustice to the society itself. It is high time for us to drop the regressive outlook towards what a woman wears and instead let her make independent choices. A girl being cultured or spoilt should not be a matter of open debate, and definitely should not be used as a justification for harassment against her!


Read: Are dress codes necessary for work? India’s women entrepreneurs tell us

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