Posted by Palak Dawar
As per the Indian Constitution, there is no such right as the “right to wear”. However, what one wears is a matter of choice, regardless of their gender and not just that, but more so, it is about an individual’s freedom to express that right. This has also been ascertained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Recently, there has been a recorded incident about how the principal of St Francis College, Hyderabad, where girls have been asked to come to college only wearing kurtis (a shirt like garment (longer than a shirt) worn by women in some south-east asian countries with side slits, usually with a bottom wear, unlike a dress) “below” their knees in length because “thighs attract men” and that “long Kurtis will fetch good marriage proposals.”
There has been social media upheaval about the same but the video pointed out to some larger lingering questions regarding gender sensitivity in the society and the mindsets of people coexisting in it.
Recently, there has been a recorded incident about how the principal of St. Francis College, Hyderabad, where girls have been asked to come to college only wearing kurtis “under” their knees in length because “thighs attract men” and that “long Kurtis will fetch good marriage proposals.”
Regulations Of Patriarchy: Policing And Curbing Women’s Bodies And Agency
In the video, it is noticeable from the rear view angle (from which it is recorded) that a woman is selectively allowing some girls to enter into the college premises while others are asked to stay back with the crowd. The biggest problem with this “selective allowance” lies in the mere fact that it was just an over assertion of power.
It is clearly visible that none of the girls in the video wears a shorter upper wear or a kurti without a bottom wear, be it even a jeans. The girls did adhere to the principal’s demand (because women become agents of patriarchy out of an instinct of self preservation) but she still selects a few girls out of the lot on the basis of the length of their kurti to enter into the college. The incident taking place right at the entry gate is itself another problem. Is wearing a Kurti not enough when their legs are anyway covered? None of the female thighs are visible, in which case, what could be the justification for such a denial to entry into an academic environment where values of equality, freedom and democracy are to be taught? Evidently enough, it is just an attempt to deny women with the agency over their own bodies, in order to use them as a tool to control.
By taking away their rights on their own bodies, they simply try to police them into a set pattern. Not just that, there is an attempt to shift the blame on the victim (the gazed at) as opposed to the gazer, reducing them to be guilty of what they never invited!
Male Gaze Prevalent Even In The Female Sphere?
St.Francis College is a girls’ college in Hyderabad. Even if there are male teachers around the campus, such rules and restrictions by the college authorities impose a larger question mark on the student-teacher relationship as a whole, which should be liberal and open instead of a fear provoking patriarchal one.
How far is the male gaze spread is easy enough to analyse because even in an all girls academic environment, female students are asked to move out of the sphere just because they do not wear “long” kurtis. It is therefore quire comprehensible how well the norms of patriarchy have imbibed themselves in the very mindsets of people, where women themselves are the promotional guardians of unjust laws regarding what to wear and what not. It is surprising also, how the patriarchal chaos travels through the ones it only has always victimised.
If male gaze is attracted towards thighs, there are numerous members of the male sex that wear shorter bottom wear because it is acceptable easily and comfortably by the societal gaze. Still not sure about how heterosexuality is prevalent. Come on, we all do have thighs, don’t we?
We cannot let the fact slide away that the incident took place in a “college”, which promotes education for “girls” and instead of inculcating them with values of self-sufficiency and independence, it promotes the idea of how longer garments can attract better marriage proposals.
Clothing As A Parameter Of Marriage?
We cannot let the fact slide away that the incident took place in a “college”, which promotes education for “girls” and instead of inculcating them with values of self-sufficiency and independence, it promotes the idea of how longer garments can attract better marriage proposals. If this is not a part of the masculine comfort zone, what is this? Sitting right inside the concentric circles of their comfortable patriarchal areas, hoping for a perfect wife, the male sex denies any agency to women even before it takes an official hold on them. Does clothing decide what kind of proposals women require?
The primary purpose of female education is the allowance of an individual agency over her own self. If such rules dictate how she is supposed to behave at such a place, she certainly remains still there, fulfilling their demands serving them with what they need. If the aim of the female life still remains marriage, serving a man whom they were trained to serve, our educational goals have taken aback.
Why Is This A Problem?
While indeed every environmental boundaries set up their own rules for dress codes, an academic institution like St. Francis College, a supposed place of liberal practicing of democracy, has no rights to curb the girls’ right to wear what they choose as far as they are themselves comfortable wearing it. It is a matter of choice of individual freedom. This is an extremely orthodox situation of curbing individual liberty by a brain already dictated by prevalent patriarchal laws created within the comfort zone of the male gaze, which yet after so many years of feminism demanding equality denies the space of liberty to the opposite sex.
The second problem pertains to how conditions are laid on female education as if it is just an obligatory favour on them. Right to education is equal educations to all, regardless of what sex they belong to, also without any superficial conditions laid just for an over assertion of power.
Thirdly, attracting the male gaze is not the fault on the part of the victim. How long should this victim blaming continue for?
Is There Any Hope At All?
Where hope still lies is the way in which dissenting minds come forward in solidarity against such incidents and speak forward to protect the rights and dignities of women who have been denied such an agency, to shower them with support and empower them to fight back all odds fearlessly. And they, who come forward to bring out such incidents to the open masses freely to practice equality and teach those in power the very core of what feminism believes in equality.
The ability to think critically in a male dominated world is a required parameter of surviving, as Adrienne Rich in her essay “Taking Women Students Seriously” said that “To think like a woman in a man’s world is to think critically, refusing to accept the givens, making connections between facts and ideas which men have left unconnected. It means remembering that every mind resides in a body; remaining accountable to the female bodies in which we live…” It is only the power of a critically thinking mind that lets them break the clutches of the strong societal norms that go against their agency.
Indeed, like many other battles fought for freedom, this battle turned out yet another victory, but for how long such battles require fighting is a long way to go. Power and strength to you, womankind!
Palak Dawar has completed her Bachelors in English Literature from Hansraj College, University of Delhi and is pursuing Masters in English Literature from the same university. She has a critical insight for social issues pertaining to gender injustices. She believes strongly in an opinionated voice of the self. She likes to write poetry. You can find her on Instagram.
Featured Image Source: The News Minute