When it comes to what women wear, the entire world has an opinion to offer but nothing is more demoralising than other women dress shame you. Every woman in this world has the right to wear what she wants to. She isn’t answerable to anyone on her choice of clothes. But often it is women who take it upon themselves to police other women’s clothes on the grounds of either morality, fashion or even body size. Doesn’t this entirely defeat the purpose of our cry for liberation from dress policing?

SOME TAKEAWAYS

  • A Cornell University student stripped down to her undergarments to protest against the comments made by her professor on her clothes previously.
  • Women have internalised the blame for female objectification, which is why they often dress shame other women and police them.
  • The onus of deviant male gaze lies with men and the entitlement our society has bestowed on them.
  • Every woman in this world has the right to wear what she wants to. She isn’t answerable to anyone on her choice of clothes.

A Cornell University senior student reportedly stripped down to her undergarments during her thesis presentation, to protest her female professor’s stand on the clothes she had worn previously. According to New York Post, Letitia Chai live streamed her demonstration, which took place days after her professor, Rebekah Maggor, questioned whether the denim cut-off shorts Chai was wearing during a test run of the presentation were too short. “The first thing that the professor said to me was ‘is that really what you would wear?” Chai wrote in a Facebook post about the incident. “The professor proceeded to tell me, in front of my whole class, that I was inviting the male gaze away from the content of my presentation and onto my body,” she further alleged.

While some may feel that Chai took the protest against dress shaming a bit too far. However, we can’t overlook the subtext here. A woman dress shamed another, publicly, on grounds that her clothes would distract men. Is it Chai’s fault, should the male gaze rest on her legs rather than her presentation? And yet, this is the kind of comment most women have to endure from other women. This is very common especially in India, where the male gaze feels entitled to gawk at you and objectify you unabashedly.

The problem has been around far too long and is far too commonplace. It almost seems impossible to course correct the deviant male gaze.

Seldom do people step in to reprimand the male gaze or question its entitlement. The problem has been around far too long and is far too commonplace. It almost seems impossible to course correct the male gaze. Thus it is women who have to endure dress policing, because clearly someone needs to bear the blame. Numerous women actually internalise this blame for the roving male eye. They think that prevention is the only cure here, so it is women who must censor what they wear.

This attitude becomes especially problematic at workplaces where women do not shy away from policing or shaming female colleagues on their choice of clothes. Are you sure you want to wear that neckline to the office? Isn’t this skirt too short to wear at a meeting? A woman who dresses “inappropriately” is automatically insincere. She is a distraction at work and it is she who is to be blamed if her male colleagues stare at her cleavage or legs when she walks past them. But this shaming does nothing more than to enable men to continue with their behaviour. Censoring women’s clothes isn’t the solution to female objectification and women must realise that the onus for this lies with men, not them. Besides, clothes do not make a person sincere or capable, so why should they be used to brand a woman as otherwise?

Censoring women’s clothes isn’t the solution to female objectification and women must realise that the onus for this lies with men, not them.

Chai’s move to strip down to her undergarments speaks of the exasperation that women feel. She may have taken an extreme step, but aren’t we all fed up of constantly being put under the microscope for what we wear, and that too by no one else but other women?

Picture Credit : New York Post

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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