Clothes Will Get Tinier: Why Do Men Feel Entitled To Dress Police Women?

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The Freddy Birdy-Deepika Padukone controversy has ruffled feathers just days prior to the release of Gehraiyaan, with claims of sexism taking centre stage. Adman and influencer Freddy Birdy drew much flak last week for an Instagram post, which read, “Newton’s Law of Bollywood: The Clothes will get tinier as the Gehraiyaan release date approaches.”

He further took a shot at the “plunging necklines” allegedly aiming his comment at the two women leads of Shakun Batra’s film, Padukone and Ananya Panday. Padukone is believed to have given a covert retort to Birdy’s comments on her own social media by sharing a quote about “morons.” More on the incident here.

Birdy, who has now locked his verified account that was public until the controversy, finds himself in the middle of a heated debate on the internet around the culture of dress policing women.

Should any man feel entitled to make casually sexist remarks about a woman, Padukone or not? Will this not lead to normalising our already deep-rooted tendencies of slut-shaming women? Especially given the kind of reach – over three lakh followers – people like Birdy have on social media.

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Can quips like these intended to elicit a few cheap laughs, at the cost of someone’s dignity be justified?

When Padukone took an indirect dig at him, the adman put up a follow-up post, in which he wrote, “Dear Deepika, I’m not mocking you for wearing tiny clothes. You can wear your hemlines till your toes or your ears. For all I care. And thank you for calling me a moron. It’s the only non-fake thing you’ve uttered in your entire career. Love, Fred.”

The toxic tradition of hating on women and moralising on what they should and shouldn’t wear is entrenched in our society. Indian women, who have to battle judgments by the patriarchal male gaze counting every thread on their bodies both on and off the internet, know this well. Our clothes are always too short for one or the other.

And such sexist dialogue covered as humour, that feminism is trying to relentlessly combat every day, is taking us back years.

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Twitter rightly gave it back to Birdy, who allegedly limited the comments on his controversial Instagram posts that disallowed many people from reacting under the comments section.

“Most sexists, when called out by women, do what Freddy Birdy has done. They try to slander the women’s competence, success and capabilities. Right out of the Rulebook for Sexists, this one,” one user wrote. “He blocked me just for commenting to mind his business,” one comment read. “Freddy Birdy shame on u…passing sexist comments is not cool it’s bullying. How dare u comment on a womans dress or how she works and think it’s a joke,” another read. 

“He has repeatedly put up bite-sized quotes that he thinks will pass off as “witty,” when all they are is downright offensive and derogatory to women,” one user wrote, claiming Birdy is a repeat offender on the sexism front.

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Influencers with a sizeable internet presence would do better in minding their words since they are never without consequences. Expectedly, Birdy’s controversial post emboldened and encouraged other sexist comments, one of which poked fun at how there will be “no clothes left” by the time Gehraiyaan releases. A comment Birdy acknowledged with crossed fingers.

Exchanges such as this might pass themselves off as harmless humour. But can their humourless implications go ignored? Do they not typecast women who wear a certain kind of clothes as immoral? Aren’t these the very starting points that metastasise into incidents like the bois’ locker room that are a menace to women’s safety?

Thousands of women, in India and elsewhere, are living through a daily hell of being shamed for what they choose to wear, where they work, what they say and how they are. Patriarchy grips every move we make. Would men ever know what being moralised for something as simple as clothes feels like? If not, the least they can do is hold their tongues and listen to women when they call out sexism. Without condescension.

Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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