Law · Public Policy

How Much Dignity Are You Wearing?

For as long as I can remember, the length of a girl’s clothes has been the most distinguishing feature of her ‘dignity’ and ‘self-respect’. As we grow older, our dresses become longer to protect us from glaring eyes everywhere we go. Clothes, are a common parameter to judge a woman’s character, and an excuse for men to objectify her.

It is common knowledge that one of the most widely accepted practice in India to protect women against any man who could outrage her modesty is social exclusion of women. This basically means imposing curfews on girls, controlling who they go out with, where they go out and what they wear. Non adherence to any of the above is blasphemy. It provides a leeway for men to harass women and a reason for society to blame the girl who dared to go against tradition.

Problems stemming from clothing ideas:

Street harassment, catcalling and sexual harassment in public places have been conveniently linked to how a woman dresses. If I get harassed, few will support me, but a majority will definitely ask me what I was wearing at the time.

‘Why do you want to invite trouble?’

‘Are you trying to grab attention of men?’

‘Is this how a girl from a decent family dresses?’

‘You must dress modestly and keep your head down.’

‘If you dress like a cheap girl, men will leer at you.’

‘Women wear tight and revealing clothes to entice men.’

These are some of the most common phrases associated with the illogical assumption that a girl’s clothes have something to do with how she is treated by men.  The pressure to conform to such blatantly biased practices that allow men to exert power over women and place the blame on a woman’s clothes, drinking or partying habits is absurdly strong. It is strange that our society places such emphasis on how a woman must dress, whereas it is seen and proven that women who are dressed ‘decently’ or are completely covered from head to toe have also been victims of various forms of sexual objectification and harassment.

The difficulty in overcoming such practices increases manifolds when people who are in public life directly or indirectly condone men’s behaviour and condemn women who face these harassments. 

 The freshest instances are the statements of some of our political leaders. Public statements where women are called “dented and painted”[1], where a politician believes that rape victims and women who have sex outside of marriage should be hanged[2], where another leader says that “boys make mistakes and shouldn’t be made to pay with their lives for rape or molestation” have created a highly unstable situation as far as the question of defending and promoting women’s rights go. The dismay and angst that we feel when our so called representatives speak such words without a second thought is indescribable.

You would think that it’s only men who’ve made such dismaying comments, but one particularly distressing comment made after the horrible Nirbhaya case, was by a woman, who was ironically a member of a State Women’s Commission[3]. Meet Asha Mirje, who believes that rapes take place because of a woman’s clothes, her behaviour and her presence at inappropriate places.

In the midst of such shockingly backward mentalities, it does not help that our popular television and film culture knowingly or unknowingly abets such activities by showing women who fall for men after the ‘chase’ which begins with stalking and ends with a song and dance between the boy and girl. Because of course, the cardinal rule is that if a woman says no, you must persist till she says yes or threaten her into saying yes. The happy ending we all dream of, isn’t it?

Needed: Social and Political Makeover

Laws and punishments are futile till our social system harbours perpetrators in its rich collection of methods to blame women for the crimes committed against them. It is important that norms which promote suppression of women’s right to freedom and expression are challenged.

Only when a large number of us challenge the bizarre practices and those who endorse them, some semblance of change and progress will be possible. Accountability amongst the creators, protectors and upholders of law & governance in the country must be enforced. There will be no hope of change if we have unsupportive and narrow minded individuals in decision making positions.

At your home, at college, at your workplace or at a public place, be vigilant and proactive. So many of us don’t react or confront harassers due to fear. We have become too accustomed to finding fault in our own behaviour or clothing for how someone treats us. This needs to be modified. The change in mindset and social norms are the most important tools to bring about a real and lasting transformation in how our society sees a woman, irrespective of the clothes she wears.

In the end, we must remember that sexual abuse or street harassment can happen to anybody. From a girl in a burkha, saree or salwar kameez to a girl in jeans, shorts, skirts or dresses it can be any woman, and all women will vouch for that. Molesters don’t have a target clothing type. So it’s unreasonable to blame a woman’s attire while we should be condemning the molester and bringing them to justice.

Many people have been vocal in expressing their dismay and protesting against this practice. From celebrities and intellectuals to the liberal youth of today, several important criticisms have been highlighted in the television, print and social media. The impact of these assertive comments and opposition to unfair customs is being felt slowly but surely among the media savvy generation. Access to such information which oppose and aim to break down social taboos against women is highly important. Permeating these positive ideas among the larger population who is unaffected by internet revolutions and social media trends is the biggest challenge we face in bringing about the much needed social makeover across barriers of economics and social stratas in the country. 

About the Author

riddhimaRiddhima Sharma

A patriot and hopeful change maker, Riddhima is a believer in the power of women to change the world. She has studied Political Science with special reference to the feminist movement, feminist theory and the position of women in Indian politics. She is currently pursuing Law and hopes to specialize in women related laws and work with an organization in a related field. She enjoys public speaking and is not afraid to speak her mind. Sharma is a quick learner and is keen to gain new experiences especially in the areas of public policy, politics and strategy


2 thoughts on “How Much Dignity Are You Wearing?

  1. Author emphesises on the right of women to wear dress & choose partner/s of her choice.

    Picture changes completely if “her concent” is introduced. Is it fight between men -women for supremecy or matter of right/wrong, acceptable/un , justice/unjust. I think she is immature and biased in her thoughts & understanding.

    I feel women’s (mother, wife, daughters, friends, madam, dr…) dignity should be protected at any cost. But this cannot be by “taming males” & against the “law of nature”. It can be by understanding and participation of both genders. Law of land & civilized society can help.

    Talking about the topic “dress”. Why do ù want to wo-men? Why do ù want to look attractive & sexy ? Who do ù want to attract in public place? Yes ù should look good presentable decent.

    Why not go to jungle unprotected alone and blame wild animals of attacking ? Yes they cannot be permitted to enter your village & attack. Can we keep milk in open un-attended and blame a dog/cat of having drunk.

    THINK for solution & not supremcy

    1. Dear Hement,

      I have emphasised on numerous occasions that society as a whole needs to be transformed into a more liberal space. Believe it or not, there is more to a woman than the clothes she puts on her back. No, it is not a fight for supremacy, nobody gains anything from that. It is a fight to be seen as an actual human being and not simply an object of desire.

      Please note that consent and sexual abuse, street harassment are poles apart. It is ridiculous to assume that if a woman wears short clothes, she wants men to abuse her. Nobody wants to voluntarily cause harm to her person. Or perhaps this is your bias against the so called more modern women.

      A woman dresses up because she wants to. It’s as simple as that. We don’t have a hidden agenda of wooing random men on the streets. It’s the lecherous mentality of people who stare which is to be blamed not our dressing. Decency is a relative term. What I consider decent may not be true for you. But that doesn’t give anyone the right to violate my body.

      You speak of a civilised society and understanding between men and.women, yet you equate women to milk which is an inanimate object and men as dogs or wild animals. Is this all women represent? Inanimate sexual objects to be devoured by men? How can there be a civilised society if there are people who think us to be possessions who should be protected when needed and abused when you wish? That is double standards.

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