You know that apocalypse is surely coming when even the internet asks you not to wear shorts in India. In what has become the clash between tradition and modernity, the pull of the latter is often stronger. But that does come with a price.
In India, the most sought after way to gain popularity these days is to make a sexist remark. From the Prime Minister who uses phrases like ‘despite being a woman’ to address the Bangladeshi counterpart, to college professors who teach liberal arts, sexism is omnipresent.
The issue of women’s clothing is particularly important because, as we have been forced to believe, ‘inappropriate clothing’ can be fatal in this country. I’m more likely to be killed for not covering my legs than by diabetes.
You walk into a professor’s room to talk about your shortage in attendance. And the professor says “Let me tell you something personal, I don’t appreciate you coming in front of me inappropriately dressed. Not in front of me” Notwithstanding the sexist undertones of the person, the crucial question here is why would you even comment on someone’s attire. Nobody asked for opinion. Would you post a Facebook status asking people to vote on whether you should get a haircut? No person in their senses would, because there is concept called individual freedom. Wearing shorts in very simple terms, is a choice. And no one has the moral/ethical/political/cultural right to question it.
One thing about an argument is that it should have some rational understanding. There are many arguments that people make explaining why women shouldn’t be wearing shorts. Logically analyzing each one of them, it can be narrowed down into the following.
The Culture argument: Culture is an umbrella term. The answer to the question “Why shouldn’t I wear shorts?” cannot be “Because it is not our culture.” Before delving into the intricacies of culture, it is mandatory that we realize that the Indian culture is not the high resolution images of holi celebrations and Rajasthani women carrying water pots across hot deserts. To a great extent, Indian culture refers to the traditions and practices within the geographical boundaries of India. But what we tend to overlook is the diversity within this broad realm. This culture witnessed the creation of Khajuraho Temples and Kama sutra. This culture also thrashed women for covering their breasts through an oppressive breast tax system. Ours was the culture which once said, if a girl looked at a boy’s face, she’ll get pregnant. Well, I have committed that sin and as far as I know, I am not running into motherhood. If something can be justified because of its historical implication and religious/cultural justification, then untouchability would still be valid.
Why many people find shorts or any other revealing garment unacceptable is due to the socially constructed linkage between body and sexual expression: the more our bodies are exposed, the greater our sexual drives are. Think about it, why should our body be always aligned with our sexual drive? Shorts are not a means of sexual expression. They are just a meter of cloth stitched into a particular design.
The Western Import Argument: This argument is typically associated with communists and people who think along those lines. Shorts are a western invention. Hence, when we adopt that practice we are directly contributing to the Western hegemony. This is a very stupid argument, especially when we Indians make it. If you can live one day without having to deal with any Western influence, I’d invite you for some filter coffee! Even the bread and jam that is served in the mess every morning is a Western influence.
The Potential Rape Argument: It might not be applicable to the New York Penthouse, but at least in some parts of the world, it is considered cool to apply brains. How in the world can a woman wearing shorts increase rape? It makes sense if you say that a woman wearing shorts can increase mosquito bites. The rape argument is almost as saying that I am a vegetarian because NASA found traces of water on Mars. There is absolutely no link!
When you make the rape argument, you are proving that you yourself can also be a threat, irrespective of your gender. I really don’t know how human brains work but I am pretty sure that it wouldn’t go ‘Oh my God! She’s wearing shorts. I should totally harass her now!’ How did humans create an excuse to rape? There can never ever be a justification to cause harm.
The Irrational Humans: The only other possible reason as to why one gets annoyed at seeing a woman wearing shorts is that, you have psychological issues. You simply don’t like to see naked legs. End of story. Maybe you have scary thoughts associated with shorts since childhood. Or you fell into a well while wearing shorts. In that case I would recommend you to fix an appointment with a counsellor, because it is clearly your problem and not of that paavam girl who cut short her jean to beat the summer heat.
Due to the power politics in play, many at times people who make sexist remarks go unnoticed or uncorrected. Nobody will fight back and argue about women’s freedom, when you are sure that the professor has the power to determine whether you fail a course or not. This is where the ‘threat’ or the ‘blackmail’ element comes into play.
How hypocritical can a society get? Alexa ranks Pornhub as the 88th most visited website in India and still people have problem seeing naked legs! What does our ‘society’ expect? Do they expect women to wear sarees and burqa in this scorching heating of 43 degree Celsius?
People’s reaction to certain pieces of clothing has no cultural, religious, ethical or political explanation. It’s all about attitude. It was always about attitude.
I hope, if not in the near future, at least some millennia later (if we still walk the earth), there might be some real versions of an Utopian society where women can wear shorts without failing a course. Deer and monkeys in my campus roam naked. Nobody cares. And they teach stuff like Deep Ecology. Humans these days.
Yeah, now I should find some food.